Hooper Bald  - A History

The 5,429 foot high Hooper Bald is named for Dr. Enos (or Ennis) Hooper (1796-1872), the first active doctor in what is now Graham County, North Carolina. When he was 45 years old Dr. Hooper brought his family from Monroe County, Tennessee, and settled in the Snowbird section around 1840, soon after the Indian Removal Act forced most of the Cherokee to leave the area. Enos, his wife Margaret, five sons, and three daughters lived on West Buffalo Creek and took up several thousand acres of land that had been opened up to settlers. On June 1st 1853 Enos paid $60.00 to the state of North Carolina for 300 acres of land that included the bald itself, where the Hoopers started raising cattle and ponies. They became famous for their own breed, called the "Hooper Pony." It was a good horse for riding and working with cattle, and they sold them all over the country. Dr. Enos Hooper was also the first cattle herder in the area. He grazed his cattle on the lush grass on the bald and people started calling it the Hooper Bald.

Life changed when all the Hooper boys went off to fight in the Civil War. When they came back times were very hard. Although they owned 13,000 acres of mountain land from Robbinsville to the top of the Unicois at the Tennessee state line, they were broke and needed money.  They borrowed $1,200 from a man in Tennessee and put up the land for security. They couldn't pay him so they lost much of it, but they were able to keep their homesteads and continued to raise cattle. One of Enos’ sons, Riley (or Rial) was the father of Sim Hooper, who brought the first Angus cattle into Western North Carolina.  The Sim Meadows is named for him.

Dr. Hooper continued his practice as a doctor until his death in 1872 at the age of 76, the same year that Graham County was formed from Cherokee County.  Enos had many descendents, some of whom sold their shares of their land inheritances back to the government when the Nantahala National Forest was established, but others kept their land on the mountain and many of Enos Hooper’s descendents still reside in Graham County.

By the early 1900’s the Great Smoky Mountain Land and Timber Company held much of the land in the Snowbird area, including a section on the south side of Hooper Bald Mountain.  In 1908 this timber company sold an expansive tract to the Whiting Manufacturing Company. Whiting was a Michigan based company that logged the forestlands of this area for some time during the early 1900’s.  George Gordon Moore of St. Clair, Michigan was an agent for Whiting, and during this transaction Whiting agreed to a 100-year lease to Moore of 1600 acres of mountain land on which to establish a European type shooting preserve for the entertainment of wealthy clients and friends. Arrangements were made for English Capitalists to fund the project.  Moore selected for his location the remote section of Hooper Bald.


Three years were spent in preparation before the operation could begin. No small task was the construction of a road to the Bald. The road could be used by the ox wagons, but it was always necessary to have from one to three teams of oxen attached to each wagon depending on the load it was carrying. A clubhouse was constructed of logs, 90 feet long and 40 feet wide, containing ten bedrooms, two baths, a kitchen, and dining room. The lobby was 45 x 20 feet. Telephone lines were strung across the Snowbird Mountains from Marble. There was a lower house that served as home for a caretaker - a four-room cabin with a porch all the way around. As caretaker and keeper of the preserve Moore hired a local, Garland “Cotton” McGuire.


Huge enclosures appropriate for its various occupants were constructed, including a 600-acre boar enclosure and an enclosure for buffalo over a mile in circumference. It is said that twenty-five tons of double-strand barbed wire was hauled in by wagon to fence the various game lots. The wild boar lot was built of huge chestnut rails, nine rails high.


In 1912 the selected game animals began to arrive in wooden crates by railroad in Murphy and Andrews. Captain Frank Swan, a retired State Guard Cavalry officer, vividly recalled serving as master of the ox wagon train in transporting all the animals into the Hooper Bald refuge. The first animals were moved in from Murphy by wagon trail pulled by oxen over Hanging Dog Mountain. Others were moved in later from Andrews over the Snowbird-Unicoi Hardwood Railroad to Little Snowbird, then transported by ox wagon train from there to Hooper Bald. The moving process was a large-scale operation with many unique hardships extending from early spring until the close of summer.  The eleven sows and three boars, purchased from an agent in Berlin, Germany, were said to have come from the Ural Mountains of Russia. Each of the hogs weighed between 50 and 75 pounds.


Finally all constituents of a modern sportsman's preserve were present on the Bald. The repertoire included eight buffalo, fourteen young wild boar, fourteen elk, six Colorado mule deer, and thirty-four bears including nine huge Russian brown bears. Two hundred wild turkeys and ten thousand eggs of the English ring-necked pheasant were brought in. Additional turkeys were purchased by Moore and scattered about the mountain in an effort to get them started.


However, the location proved to be too remote for the genteel Englishmen or anyone else and Moore himself soon became disenchanted with the Hooper Bald project and moved to Monterey, California. By the mid 1920's only Cotton McGuire, the respected old man of the mountains who had been hired as keeper of the preserve, remained.


The Snowbird Mountains proved ideal for wild boar, and the boar discovered early that they could root their way out of the split rail enclosure to freedom any time and would come and go at will. The relocated animals found the extreme conditions favorable and immediately began to proliferate. In the early 1920s the population in the lot was estimated at 100 hogs, but many others were living free. A hunt with dogs was conducted in the pen and only two hogs were killed.  The rest escaped in the frenzy, joining those already living in the dense wilderness. Today the Russian blue boar population continues to grow in spite of hunting and the encroachment of civilization.  


The big bear learned to climb out of the stockade to search for food. Local poachers soon exterminated the turkeys. The buffalo did poorly, eventually being driven to Andrews and disposed of. The Elk thrived and even multiplied, but ultimately were sold, too.


It was while working on the mountain that Cotton McGuire met Mabel Hooper, a daughter of Sim Hooper who himself was a grandson of Enos.  The two were eventually married and after George Moore’s final departure, Mcguire was given the lease.  Cotton and Mabel stayed on the mountain, living and starting a family in the caretaker’s house.  They farmed and raised cattle, and Cotton continued to host hunting and fishing parties in the lodge.  The house was later lost in a fire and the Hoopers were forced to reside in the lodge for a while, but as their children reached school age they too left the mountain.  The lease reverted back to the logging company. 


During the 1930’s and ’40’s a few local farmers would still take livestock to the bald to graze, but small farmers have become fewer and fewer, and that practice has all but ceased.  Without these grazers, trees have started to encroach back into the grasslands at the bald. 


At some point the Snowbird logging tract passed from Whiting to the Bemis Lumber Company and logging continued near the mountain, but eventually Bemis held a public sale and the land was sold to private owners.  The old lodge had fallen into terrible disrepair by this time and was bulldozed off the side of the mountain to make room for a new residence.


Even though it was in a very remote location Hooper Bald remained a popular destination for hunters and hikers, but only reachable by vehicle with a rugged four-wheeler or motorbike.  But in the 1990’s the construction of the Cherohala Skyway made the mountain easily accessible to everyone, passing within less than a mile from the bald.  Only land on the south and east sides of the mountain are privately owned today.  Most all of the areas to the north and west are now in the Nantahala National Forest.  The bald itself is split between the two.  There are a few private homes on the mountain, on inherited Hooper land, and on tracts purchased from Bemis.  With its curvy steep runs, the Cherohala has become very popular with motorcyclists in spring, summer, and fall, but in the winter months Hooper Bald can still be a very remote, desolate place.




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