The story below is an excerpt from our Jan. / Feb. 2016 issue. For the rest of this story and more like it subscribe today, view our digital edition or download our FREE iOS app!
His sister’s efforts—60 years later and with the help of dedicated Smokies ranger—led to the solving of what happened to her 12-year-old brother.
In March 1915 a boy struggled up a path deep in the Smoky Mountains, having run away from his family. He didn’t have outdoor clothing or food. He was alone, and climbing in a spring snowstorm. He would die in the mountains this night, and for the next 60 years his identity would be unknown. His sad fate, and the solving of who he was, is a compelling story of the Great Smoky Mountains.
The mystery of this boy might have gone into eternity had it not been for a chance meeting between his adult sister and a park ranger. In May 1975, Virgie Smith drove 45 miles from Knoxville, Tennessee to Great Smoky Mountains National Park. There she talked to park ranger Glenn Cardwell, and asked about any possible information on a young boy dying in the Smokies around 1915. She told Cardwell she had a compelling need to find something about her long-lost brother, Edd McKinley.
Cardwell knew 1915 was before the national park era, but he vaguely remembered a letter a Gatlinburg resident, Lucinda Ogle, had sent to the park earlier. In it, Ogle said her husband Earnest remembered a boy who’d “froze to death” in the mountains in the 1910s. The boy was brought to “The Sugarlands” by local hunters, but was unknown. So folks finally gave him a Christian burial in a local cemetery. And that’s where her story ended, with an unidentified grave in a rural cemetery on land that would later become Great Smoky Mountains National Park. ...