Meet the 'mayor'

Inman family history runs deep and wide on Cold Mountain

By Fred Brown, News-Sentinel Staff Writer

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Inman Chapel at Little East Fork was started by James Anderson Inman in the early 1900s.

WAYNESVILLE, N. C. - Ted Darrell Inman is a ruddy-faced man who always wears a black hat. His pants seem always to be slipping over his slim hips. A red truck sits beside his house. Live things are growing from the truck bed and a sign on the windshield says, "Broke."

But don't let that charm you. Ted Darrell will tell you right quick he is in charge, he is "the mayor."

If you ask him the mayor of what, he smiles and looks around. In and around Waynesville, along Lake Logan Road, you are in Ted Darrell country.

"I'm kin to everyone around here," he says. "If I'm not kin to them and don't know them, they aren't worth fooling with," he says.

He means it.

Ted Darrell is part of a family that seemingly grew out of the ground around Little East Fork of the Pigeon River. Inmans have been here since, well, since dirt, as the saying goes. There were Inmans in this jagged country at the beginning of the 19th century. Ted Darrell is part of that line, and is more than proud of that fact. He has the family photos and genealogical history to back him up.

The way Ted Darrell figures it, being an Inman gives him bragging rights.

Many of the Inmans were blacksmiths. So is Ted Darrell, of a sort. He has done some smithing, but today he says he is in "road building."

But probably more important than what he does is who he is and the history he has collected on his family, which roughly coincides with the history of Little East Fork and what took place there more than 130 years ago.

Ted Darrell is a distant cousin of novelist Charles Frazier, who wrote the best selling novel "Cold Mountain," a story that uses the Civil War as a backdrop and is based on some Inman family history.

Ted Darrell owns two copies of the book, but has yet to read it. He points to what he says is the real as opposed to the fictional. He isn't too fond of Frazier, he says, because as Ted Darrell sees it, the writer let a lot of good fact go to waste in the fiction.

Take "Inman" the Frazier character who deserts from the Confederate army in Raleigh and walks 300 miles across North Carolina and over the mountains home to "Cold Mountain."

"That was Pinkney Inman," says Ted Darrell. "He and John Swanger were killed at Big Stomp."

He swings an arm toward a gap in distant mountains. Over the gap, he says, is an area known as Big Stomp.

Before you can digest these facts, Ted Darrell is in his car, tearing off down Logan Road to Inman's Chapel.

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A portrait of James Anderson Inman.

"James Anderson Inman, Pinkney's brother, started this church," he says. James Inman is buried behind the chapel. Ted Darrell is off again, this time in the direction of Big Stomp.

"Pinkney and that Swanger boy were killed at Big Stomp by Home Guard. Joshua Inman, Pinkney's father, took a sled and walked a footpath around West Fork of Pigeon River from Little East Fork to Big Stomp and brought them back."

In fact, all five of Joshua Inman's sons enlisted in the Confederate Army. Three of them died in the war. Anderson Inman, who returned from the conflict, began the church at Inman Chapel and handed down most of the stories that Ted Darrell tells today.

In the car, Ted Darrell winds up at Bethel Community Cemetery, where Joshua Inman and his wife, Mary are buried. He stands on a plot of green, sloping earth and points a finger to his feet.

"I'm standing where Pinkney was buried, too. Only I haven't found his gravestone. Back then, they just put up a slab of rock."

* * *

Clay Woody, 73, lives on a farm in Cold Mountain's shadow not far from Ted Darrell. It is a quiet place, carved from the deep green forest of hemlock and hardwood.

Woody jerks a thumb over his shoulder. "Up there," he says, thumb up, "is The Lookout. That's what they called it."

The Lookout is a peak rising up like the bow of a sinking boat behind his house. It is several hundred feet high and from its peak, the valley of Little East Fork spreads out.

Little East Fork of the Pigeon River squirts down through the hills and lowlands. Behind The Lookout, Cold Mountain blots out the horizon. On a overcast day, Cold Mountain dominates and darkens the adjacent hills.

The Civil War was fought hard here. Home Guards, perhaps the same Home Guard who shot down Pinkney Inman, roamed and mauled at will, irrespective of which side you were on. Bushwhacking as it is called, was a way of life during and after the war.

The Little East Fork, a river that splits off of the great Pigeon River, and falls down through green gouges, was particularly coveted. Its rich bottom land farms were productive. The forests offered protection. And in a real sense, the folks of the Little East Fork didn't see much need in fighting for either side, though they were sympathetic to the federal cause.

It is in this backdrop that Woody recalls stories he often heard as a boy. His father moved the family from Little Catalooch, now part of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, in the 1930s when the nation was taking over that land for preservation.

"My father bought these 300 acres," he says while sitting on his screened front porch with his wife Wanda, a smiling, friendly woman.

Woody recalls stacking hay around poles and split rail fences. Cattle roamed on the mountains with marks in their ears to identify the ownership. The farmland edging up to the river was productive, but it was especially good for pasturing cattle.

The Civil War took a great toll in Little East Fork. Most families worried what the warring over the mountain would do once it climbed the ridges and found the beautiful valley land and Little East Fork.

When it did arrive, there was a terrible toll, which also set in motion a history that continues today in the memories of the families of the Little East Fork.

"I heard about The Lookout all my life," says Woody. "Nobody lived on Cold Mountain. It's too rugged. A lot of people are looking for it now since that book. They come by here."

As a boy growing up on the farm of deeply grooved land, he also heard stories from a woman who had been a child living on Little East Fork in the war.

"She told me that local folks would go to The Lookout. They could see up to the head of the river. They tied their horses there. I know they did because I found horseshoes and bullet casings."

Behind Woody's home, Cold Mountain looms up, fighting the horizon for attention. The Little East Fork River, where the Inmans lived and were blacksmiths, runs by Woody's farm.

The river that helped foster early families is fed by a mountain that is now weaving its way into the national awareness.