The story below is an excerpt from our January/February 2017 issue. For the rest of this story and more like it subscribe today, log in to read our digital edition or download our FREE iOS app. Thank you!
The Vannie Cook story takes place back in the spring of 1910, before the national park was established. Ten-year old Vannie and her sister were urgently employed by their father in “spotting” a raging fire on their mountain farm. Local tradition has it that Vannie’s father Sam Cook had an argument with a neighbor that rapidly escalated into an arson fire being set on Cook’s property. When the fire was discovered, Vannie’s father and some other adults raced to try to slow its progress.
Before racing off, Vannie’s father stationed his two daughters on a flank of the fire, up a rise of land, to act as lookouts on the spread of the blaze. It was late March and the full “green-up” of spring vegetation hadn’t occurred. To add to the fire danger, afternoon winds fanned the blaze. Unfortunately for the two girls, the inferno blew up around their location and surrounded them. Trapped, they screamed and yelled, but help did not arrive until after a large limb fell from an overhanging tree, striking the girls and burning Vannie seriously.
Vannie was hurriedly taken to a house where some women of the community attended to her. Immediate emergency medical care in those days in the mountains was non-existent, so the good women of the community did the best they could. According to one telling of the tale, while Vannie lay injured in bed, a dove landed on the window sill of the room and stayed in that vicinity over the next several days. On the third day, poor Vannie died and the dove was not seen thereafter. For many folks involved in Vannie’s care, the dove was a sign, a symbolic angel sent to escort the young girl to “The Promised Land.”