Remembering Little Archie

The grave of Archie Smith beside the Sheltowee Trace in the Big South Fork.

N36.50233 – W-84.65020

The Sheltowee Trace National Recreational Trail runs through many counties in eastern Kentucky and eventually works its way to the terminus in Tennessee.  Along this 353-mile path through the woods, thousands of hikers each year enjoy the sights and sounds of nature.  Their treks lead them past unique rock formations, sprawling vistas, the remnants of long-forgotten settlements, homesites, and several cemeteries.

Of the graves that hikers might visit along the trail, none of the cemeteries are as close to the trail as the grave of Archie Smith.  Many pass by this grave each year, pause a moment and hike on knowing nothing of the child that rests on a hill overlooking the Big South Fork of the Cumberland River.   

“Little Archie” was one of eight children born to Alford and Elva (Choate) Smith and one of the thirteen that Alford would father with his two wives.  Alford Smith (occasionally spelled Alfred) was born in the small community of Elva in Scott County, Tennessee, on April 17, 1890.  He was the first-born son of John J. “Hawk” and Polly Ann Blevins, descendants of some of the earliest European settlers to cross the Appalachian Mountains into what is now Tennessee.  Not much is known of Alford’s early life, only that he attended third grade before stopping his education to work on the family farm.

In 1913, at the age of 22, Alford Smith married Nancy J. Burke in a small ceremony at the home of her father, Isaac S. Burke, shortly after her 18th birthday.  The couple established their home near Oneida on property rented from William Smith.  Unlike many of their neighbors, Alford and Nancy could both read and were able to write during a time when such skills remained optional among the farmers of east Tennessee.  Their first child arrived just two years later in 1915 and another in 1917. 

The rumblings of war in France and Germany reached the east Tennessee plateau in 1916.  On June 5, 1917, Alford reported to the Scott County Draft Board to register in the St. Camp precinct to go to Germany to fight the Kaiser.  Many young men from this section of the Appalachian foothills answered the same call including Alvin C. York who lived a short distance away in the community of Pall Mall in Fentress County.  At the time of his registration, the county registrar described Alford as short with a medium build and with black hair and brown eyes.  Although he registered as required by law, Uncle Sam never called him to duty most likely due to rheumatism in his leg that caused a slight limp.  

The grave of Nancy Smith, Alford’s first wife.

While the war raged in Europe and other Tennessee boys won glory, farming continued on the Smith place.  His family grew in rapid succession and Nancy delivered sons in 1919, 1922, and a son, Dallas Leon Smith, joined the family on September 19, 1924.  His birth was difficult and Nancy never regained her strength.  Nancy died February 8, 1925, less than 5 months after Leon was born, from lingering complications of childbirth.  The family buried her near relatives in the Alticrest Cemetery in Fentress County, Tennessee.

Faced with a house full of young boys and a small baby, Alford, age 34, soon married a second time.  On June 18, 1925, a little more than 4 months after Nancy’s death, Alford and Elva Choate, age 19, were married in a quiet ceremony by Magistrate L. E. Blevins.  Alford settled into a job that took him off the farm to work in the timber industry.  He soon rented (for three dollars a month) another farm in the Three Forks area of Scott County and moved his family there on the banks of the North Fork of Fall Branch near the spot where Fall Branch empties into the Big South Fork of the Cumberland River.  Here he settled his family near the timber and coal operations.      

Alford and Elva had eight children including a small, premature child born on May 27, 1932.  Alford named his infant son, Archie, and many in the family were concerned that the child would not survive the night in his fragile condition.  But survive he did and appeared to prosper until a round of fever and cough in the late fall.  After more than a week of high fever, the child stopped eating and died the next day on October 22, 1932, at a little over four months old. The family identified the cause of death as a likely case of flux.

There was no funeral.  No procession was made to the grave.  Elva and his family washed the child and put him in a white nursing gown.  Alford constructed a small, pine coffin, lined it with some crushed velvet, and buried the child on the top of the hill not far from the house.  As was the tradition, a formal memorial service was held at the grave in the Spring of 1933 and a small tombstone was placed on the grave sometime later by his family.

Life continued for the Smith family.  Their lives took them away from Fall Branch and the 123,000-acre Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area was later created on March 7, 1974, around Archie’s grave. 

Alford Smith died in 1970 at the age of 78.  Elva remarried and became Mrs. Harry Crooks.  She died in 1996 at the age of 90 having outlived 8 of their children.  They were buried in the Hazel Valley Memorial Cemetery in Oneida, Tennessee.

Archie Smith rests today on a lonely hilltop near the Cumberland River and is visited every year by thousands of hikers who pass by his grave never knowing the sad story of the little boy buried beside the Sheltowee. 

It is important to remember that a part of the task that each of us has to do to maintain and preserve the Big South Fork and the Sheltowee, also means that we preserve the human history of the area including the cemeteries.  We should treat them with even more appreciation and respect than we do when we hike the trail. When you pass by, do so with respect and pause for a moment to remember Little Arch.

Archie Smith’s grave in Tennessee.

Find out more about the trail and the Sheltowee Trace Association here: Sheltowee Trace Association.


About sdbowling

Director of the Breathitt County Public Library and Heritage Center in Jackson, Kentucky.
This entry was posted in Big South Fork, Hiking, Sheltowee National Recreation Trail and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Remembering Little Archie

  1. Rich says:

    Such a interesting story. Thank you.


  2. Veronica Byrd says:

    Thank you for this story. I passed his grave in the snow yesterday. What seemed random them, is clearer now. History is important to remember and it sounds like they really loved their little fighter.


  3. Pingback: 2021 STA CHALLENGE SECTION 1 – Burnt Mill Bridge to Bandy Creek – basically hiking

  4. David N. Smith says:

    Thanks for posting the story about Archie. My dad was Claude Smith, who was Archie’s older half-brother. Dad said he actually died from what was called ‘the flux,” which almost claimed the life of my grandpa Alford, also. Neighbors kept bringing him different roots and natural remedies and he finally came out of it. The flux is mentioned in the bible, and was eventually proven to be caused by contamination, especially from the buckets they used to carry water. Many times people then would use the same bucket for many things during the day, and they would get contaminated. The reason Archie was buried there at that place was because John Hawk had previously marked off a area there for a Smith Family Cemetery, and he said he wanted to be buried there. But in the years after Archie’s death, the Smiths began moving away, and several of John’s grandsons went off to World War 11. So thats why no one else is buried there.


  5. Kevin Burk says:

    Thank you for posting this history. I had the honor of passing by this on my hike this year, and made it a point when I got home to research the gravesite of such a young person.


  6. Dan Schultz says:

    Thanks for the history and the comments. I saw Archie’s grave while hiking on Thanksgiving and wondered about it.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s