Skip to main content

The Great Smoky Mountains Adoption in 1911

Winter in the Great Smoky Mountains


It was 1911 in the Great Smoky Mountains of Tennessee, outside the icy winds

howled as they blew through Backers Creek Hollow, sending chilled puffs of air

between the tiny cracks of the old wood church.

The only warmth was an old wood stove that acted as a heater, which furnished

warmth for all the mothers with babies who sat on the front rows. Blankets were

spread on the wood benches, to make it more comfortable for all.

After the congregation sang its last song, Preacher Miles called for any

announcements, and Brother Sampson stood up. However, he did not speak until

Preacher Miles knotted his approval to do so.

Then Brother Sampson told them what the preacher in Sandy Hill Gap had

informed him about yesterday. He said that a train was bringing two children

from New York for adoption; and the two little girls were six years old. And

Brother Sampson said that the children would be brought to the choir practice on

Wednesday, to Backers Creek Hollow.


“Mama,” asked Little Billy Sands, “Adoption—is that something bad?” His mama

said for him to be quiet in church. So, he would wait for his answer later.

Well, that was the best news Becky Sue had heard since forever, now maybe she

would have a sister. And, she was sure her daddy would get her anything she

wanted; after all she was eight years old, and almost a full-grown lady. Mimi said so

herself, and her Mimi was always right.

Everyone, was buzzing about this for sure, and was wondering who would want

more children, or better yet, who could afford more children. Now, this

conversation went on for the next few days, wherever, any two women met to

talk. All up and down the hollows it was carried, to all the neighbors, friends or

foes in the Great Smoky Mountains.

Why bring more children to the poorest of people, the mountain people, no one

knew the answer, only God knew—that was the only answer.

By Wednesday, the weather was not accommodating to the people of Backers

Creek Hollow’s plans, as the icy wind sent the swirling snowflakes and snow

flurries throughout the mountainsides. Sometimes, it was difficult to see the

way around the Hollow. The snowy weather was not omitting any Gap or Hollow,

everyone, was being blessed the same.

As the snow piled higher than normal, outside the humble homes, their occupants

had prepared as best they could. Papers and old rags were stuck into the cracks

and card-boards were nailed over them, as their fireplaces blazed with Hickory,

Oak and White Ash, which was plentiful in the mountains.

Yes, inside the homes an abundance of warmth from the fireplaces

and from their hearts. These were good people, and since being poor was not a

sin, they were also, very proud.


The congregation finally all arrived at five o’clock in the afternoon, the darkness

was coming too fast because of the bad stormy weather, so the church women lit

candles at the altar and put lit candles in the crude wooden sconces on the walls

around the inside of the church.

Everyone, was talking quietly, until the big double doors opened, and the wind

blew in the flurries of snow in front of the guest and behind them.

The two children looked frozen and scared to death, but not the man

with them. Who was introduced to everyone, as Mr. Finworth, secretary to

the Tennessee Adoption Agency.

The man apparently felt very important as he walked into the church. Strutting like

a banny rooster with his chest stuck out, so full of himself. He thought he was doing

a great service for these poor backwoods people.

He was a small shrimp of a man, and his manner was borderline rude. He

went straight to the front of the church and shoved the little girls ahead of him.

He stopped and turned around and proceeded to give his little speech, as he told

the little girls to--stand up straight and look ahead---so the people could see


The little girls had on ill-fitting shoes, and hand me downs that were too big for

them. Their coats had holes in the elbows, and both coats had missing

buttons and pockets. And, their red hair was long and uncombed. However, through

all the rags and dirt one could see they were very beautiful children.

Well, now this did not sit well with Becky Sue, but she listens quietly for a while,

literally biting her tongue so she would not speak out. She kept inching her body

to the edge of her seat really to bounce at a second’s notice.

Mr. Finworth said, “These children are here for adoption purposes, and as you can

see they are twins. Do you people know what the word twins mean?”

Well, he continued, “They were born the same time, one after the other. (No one

in the congregation said anything) Fine, I will carry on.”

Becky Sue stood up, and said, “Mr. Finworth, I am eight years old, and I know

what twins are, we are poor, but not illiterate.” Then she smiled her

lady like smile and returned to the edge of the bench.

Preacher Miles looked at his wife and then his daughter, and smiled—two peas in

a pod—yes, he was one lucky man. His wife and Becky Sue would keep any man

on their toes, and he was happy that he was that man; he loved his

strong outspoken ladies.

Then Mr. Finworth made a grave mistake, he bellowed out, “Well, I am standing

here waiting for someone who wants to adopt these girls to say something.”

And the twins started crying.

That was all she wrote, the man had dug his grave right there in church.

Before anyone could say a word, Becky Sue had kicked Mr. Finworth in the

shins of both legs, one for each twin she later said to her friends in the Hollow.

“Daddy, this Mr. Finworth has not told us anything about the twins, he has only

made them cry and made me mad here in church.” The twins had

stopped crying, as four big blue eyes were turned on Becky Sue, their hero.

Becky Sue rolled her big green eyes, as she put a red ribbon back in her

long black hair that had fallen out during Mr. Finworth’s introduction of her foot.

Mr. Finworth made a movement towards Becky Sue, and Preacher Miles stood in

front of his daughter, shielding her from him. He whispered low to Mr. Finworth,

“Sir, if you want to be able to walk out of this church you will conduct yourself as

a gentleman and I will be writing the Agency, about how you treat children.”

And, after saying this—Preacher Miles pocked him in the chest with his finger

several times making him back up into the coldest corner of the room.

Mr. Finworth backed down as the Preacher was a tall man with muscle to back up

his words.

Preacher Miles asked Mr. Finworth if he could tell them anything about the twins

and their background. Then, Mr. Finworth said in a superior tone, “Their names are

biblical, because one is named Ruth and the other one is named Esther and their

last name is not known to us, and the twins do not know it, either.

They were brought to the orphanage by their grandmother who was very ill-when

they were two years old. Their parents died in an accident, and that is all we know.

So, if anyone will come forth to adopt them I will be able to signed the papers with

two witnesses.”

Becky Sue stood up with her hands-on her hips and said, “Nobody had better

raise their hand, or stand up---because Daddy, I want them---these are my

sisters.” Even before the word sisters were completely out of her mouth—the

twins ran to their new older sister and hugged her and would not let go.

So the three children stood in front of the altar, with arms wrapped around each

other, and Preacher Miles and his wife Margaret joined them.

Yes, in a matter of minutes their family had grown from a miracle, which had spread

its love over the Miles family, and the congregation.

All the children of the congregation went up front to welcome Becky Sue’s new

sisters. Becky Sue was already planning on what clothes she was giving them

because unlike so many of the children of the Hollow, she was blessed with her

Mimi, who gave her lots of clothes; toys and games.

She always shared with the other children. She believed in sharing if you can

because her Papa said in his sermons that it is better to give than receive, and

truthfully Becky Sue liked both.

And, that was the same logic she used when she kicked Mr. Finworth in his shins.

She felt he deserved her gifts of those kicks, to make him a better person, and if

that didn’t do it, well; she left those lessons to a higher teacher.

Becky Sue would teach her new sisters about being strong ladies. She would

especially teach them how not to let rude people intimidate them. She would make

sure her sisters were educated, also be blessed with a good life. Yes, she now had

responsibilities above and beyond herself, not aware that she would become a

better person herself, by giving of herself.

Little Billy Sands asked his mother as they walked out of church, “Mama,

adoption--is that something bad?”

“No, that is something good. Becky Sue’s parents chose the twins to love, and

that is very special. Tonight, Billy, I believe Jesus is smiling down on our

little church in our Hollow because he is pleased about the adoption.”

“Mama, it was Becky Sue who really adopted them, right?”

His mama smiled and put her arm around him as they went out the door in the

freezing night.

© 2021 Barbara Purvis Hunter

Related Articles