The Story of the Walker Sisters in the Smoky Mountains
The seven Walker Sisters – Margaret, Polly, Martha, Nancy, Louisa, Sarah Caroline, and Hettie – spent their entire lives in a cabin in Little Greenbrier Cove that was built by their grandfather in the 1840s.
The cabin was obtained by their father, John Walker, after he returned to the area after fighting for the Union in the Civil War. John and his wife Margaret had eleven children: seven daughters and four sons!
When John Walker died in 1921, the property was left to his unmarried daughters. Without any men around, the Walker Sisters assumed all of the responsibilities on the farm and so for the next 40+ years, the sisters raised livestock, grew vegetables, and made their own clothes.
The Walker sisters at home in Sevier County, Tennessee, c.1962 ~ Margaret Jane (seated) & Louisa Susan.
The National Park Moves In…
Although Nancy died in 1931, the five remaining Walker Sisters were still going strong when the Great Smoky Mountains National Park was officially dedicated in 1940. While most locals moved away after the creation of the park, the Walker Sisters refused to give up their family farm. Eventually, a deal was struck in which the sisters received $4,750 for their land and permission to continue living in their cabin for the rest of their lives.
With the establishment of the national park came a host of new restrictions. The Walker Sisters weren’t allowed to hunt, fish, cut wood, or graze livestock. To compensate, the sisters became quasi-ambassadors for the national park. When visitors came to Little Greenbrier, they would say hello and sell their handmade products, such as fried apple pies, crocheted doilies, and children’s toys. Louisa even wrote poems that were available for purchase!
The Old Ways are the Best Ways
Why did the Walker Sisters insist on living like they were still in the 19th century? For the sisters, if the old ways were good enough for their father and grandfather, it’s good enough for them. The sisters put it best themselves when they said, “Our land produces everything we need except sugar, soda, coffee, and salt.”
Polly Walker passed away in 1946, with Hettie following her the next year. When Martha died in 1951, the two remaining sisters asked the National Park Service to take down the “Visitors Welcome” sign at their cabin, because they were simply too old to do all of their chores and entertain tourists as well. Margaret died in 1962 at the age of 92, and Louisa lived in the house until she passed in 1964. Sarah Caroline, the only sister who got married and moved away, died in 1966.
See the Walker Sisters Place for Yourself
The Walker Sisters may be gone, but their historic cabin is still standing in the national park. The Walker Sisters Place is located along the Metcalf Bottoms Trail. To get to the homestead, first take the 0.7 mile hike from Metcalf Bottoms to the Little Greenbrier School, which was built by John Walker. Then, continue on the trail for 0.6 mile, where the path crosses over a footbridge. After 1.1 miles, hikers will reach the 0.2 mile side trail that leads to the Walker Sisters Place.