AUTHOR: Tim Pruitt
Isaac Burleson “Ike” McGaha ca. 1833-1919
A longtime resident of the “lawless” Big Bend region of Cataloochee, Haywood County (Hicks Cove area), Ike was a farmer and sometime moonshine maker like most. He was noted for his long red chin beard and stamina. He was a son of locally-famous hunter Sam McGaha of Cocke County, Tennessee, and father of 10 children.
During the Civil War, most of the people in his neck of the woods voted Unionist, and 3 of his brothers served in the Union army. Ike may have avoided service simply by being so remote—the Bend was reachable only by horseback on very steep and rough trails on the Pigeon River gorge. Yet there is a tale of his aging father Sam encountering the Home Guard in the area.
Ike’s eldest son Wilse was killed by a younger son, Bob Smith, either in self defense or in an argument over land. After that, Ike was approached by two acquaintances who were seeking moonshine. They saw that he was very distraught over the death of his eldest son Wilse and was weeping there at the kitchen table while his wife worked. His wife Jane yanked his beard hard, and one of the men asked why she “mistreated the poor old man so.” She replied that she only had “time for the living, and the dead are beyond caring.”
As Ike aged, he claimed to be older than he was. By the time of his death, he claimed to be 108 (he was actually about 85). A tombstone erected much later assumed his stated age was correct and got his birth year wrong.
Ike had never been on a train until he came to visit his son Robert in Weavers Bend, Tennessee near the end of his life, 1918.
On the day of his death, old Ike hauled a “turn” of corn on his own back across Longarm Mountain to have it ground at a mill and hauled the ground corn back home.