If Fodderstack Could Speak: Walker Valley Lore

Written by Jeremy Lloyd, Manager of Field Programs and Collegiate Studies and author of A Home in Walker Valley: The Story of Tremont

This occasional series is named for the mountain overlooking the Walker Valley campus of Tremont Institute in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. If Fodderstack Mountain could speak, these are a few things it might reveal.

Frederic Webb taught at the Walker Valley Settlement School during the summers of 1902 and 1904. He was only the second teacher to ever do so in the one-room schoolhouse. The journals he kept provide a unique perspective into the life of the community. 

Also a minister, Fred jokingly referred to himself as the “bishop” of Walker Valley. A native of Cincinnati, Ohio, he took his roles as both pastor and teacher seriously. Everyone with whom he came into contact seems to have appreciated his efforts. 

Historical photo of Walker Valley Teacherage, a log cabin with a surrounding fence.At the turn of the century, religious organizations were at the forefront of literacy programs. Using the Bible as a teaching tool served the dual purpose of fostering reading skills as well as emphasizing the importance of character formation and spiritual discipline. 

Moving to Walker Valley, deep in the Southern Appalachians, would have been demanding for anyone, and this was no less true for Fred Webb. Yet, from what we know, he rose to each challenge that he faced.

His journals give us insight into the way he saw the world. His journal-keeping also provides evidence of the extreme hardship experienced by mountain people who had no way of recording their daily lives themselves. If his tone at times sounds negative to us today, it is helpful to remember that he lived during a period when value judgments played a much more overt role in education than they do today. 

Fred and his mother Emilie were not respected by all residents of the valley, at least not right away. At the end of one day during which Emilie had a difficult time teaching class, Fred wrote, “I am sorry for her. It is too bad to think the work can’t have the support of all the valley people.”

When they returned two summers later, however, Fred and Emilie were more readily accepted. Making calls at one another’s homeplaces was common. Fred reported in a July 24, 1904, entry that a family from Greenbriar (probably Little Greenbrier) who were “inemies” (his rendering of the local dialect) with him the previous summer came for a visit. 

It was important to maintain a good relationship with Will Walker and keep his support. Fred made sure he had it by helping Will on projects, such as putting up fences. He worked side by side with Will for days on end while building a teacherage for him and Emilie to live in. 

During the construction period, Emilie took over teaching duties. She kept a journal herself, and wrote the following in a report to the Tennessee Federation of Women’s Clubs: “The children were greatly interested in school and applied themselves diligently to their tasks. They delighted to sing at the morning exercises, and each child must have a book open before him, even though he had not learned the alphabet; and they sang without the slightest regard as to time, words or tune. How I wish you could have heard them when they had learned “Old Tennessee”! Their mothers could hear them from their homes, and I know the sound filled their hearts with joy. Many of the children had slates and pencils for the first time, and also lead-pencils with erasers, treasures indeed and carefully guarded. The little ones were taught to read and spell; to count; and read numbers, so that in short time they could find the numbered page in their hymn-books when the morning song was announced. This alone filled them with pride and a certain amount of independence.”