Whitehead Genealogy

Whitehead Brothers, Early Settlers of Carter County,Tennessee






The Legend of Tiger Whitehead

 Nestled on a hill shaded by pines and hardwoods in Carter County, Tenn., lies the grave of probably the most famous hunter who ever called East Tennessee home. James "Tiger" Whitehead was laid to rest in 1905 ‑ but not before he left his indelible mark on the people and land of Carter County. Today, two areas of the county, Tiger Creek and Tiger Valley, bear the great hunter's name as living testimonies to both the man and the legend.

Tiger ‑ aptly named because he once had to hunt and kill a tiger that had escaped from a traveling circus near Bristol, Tenn. ‑ is said to have killed 99 black bears during his life­time. According to legend, when Tiger became deathly sick, some of his friends went into the mountains and trapped a bear cub. They brought the cub to Tiger's bedside and asked him to kill it to make his 100th kill. Tiger told them: "No! If it's not free and running wild, I can't kill it." So the bear was soon released back into the hills, and Tiger passed into the myth of the Tennessee mountains

 One of Tiger's most exciting adventures almost cost him his life. According to the story, Tiger shot a black bear and only wounded the animal. The bear charged with gleaming teeth and razor‑sharp claws ready to pounce upon the hunter's throat. Since Tiger's rifle ‑affectionately named "Tick‑lick‑ ‑was a muzzle‑loading rifle, he did not have time to reload and shoot the bear again. Instead, Tiger waited until the bear was within a few feet before he shoved the rifle barrel into the animal's gaping mouth. He then pulled his knife from its sheath and killed the bear. From that day on, Tick‑licker bore the teeth marks of the bear that almost ended Tiger's life.

 After his death in 1905, two areas of Carter County were named for the hunter. Tiger Valley and Tiger Creek are scenic mountain areas which lie between Hampton and Roan Mountain, Tenn., along Highway 19E. 

 Tiger's grave lies 2 miles up Tiger Creek Road. Here the hunter rests next to his wife, Sally Garland Chambers. His tombstone reads: "THE NOTED HUNTER, JAMES T. WHITEHEAD, BORN 1819, DIED SEPT. 25, 1905, (KILLED 99 BEARS), WE HOPE HE HAS GONE TO REST." 

 Sally's tombstone also has an amazing story to tell. Etched in her tombstone are the words: "NOT ONLY A MOTHER TO  THE HUMAN RACE, BUT TO ALL ANIMAL KIND AS SHE GAVE NURSE TO ONE FAWN AND TWO CUBS." According to legend, Sally adopted two orphaned bear cubs and a fawn and raised them until they could take care of themselves. 

  Many years after Tiger's death, Johnny Cash released a song on the Columbia label as part of a children's album in memory and honor of the hunter. Cash's song, "The Ballad of Tiger Whitehead," tells the legend of Tiger and Sally.


 The Legend of Tiger Whitehead - Song

Click HERE for the recording by Johnny Cash

 Wild blackberries bloomin' in the thickest on the mountain
Sheep shire and water cress are growin' round the fountain
Where a big black bear is drinkin' lappin' water like a dog
Tiger Whitehead's in the bed sleepin' like a log
But tomorrow he'll see bear tracks seven itches wide
And by sundown he'll be bringin' in the hide

Pretty Sally Garland comin' down the mountain side
Where Tiger Whitehead's tryin' to nap a mill, at the mill
She sits down on a bearskin and she says you'll be my man
I'll have me the best bearhunter in these hills
A wild child was Tiger Whitehead and they say he killed
Ninety-nine bears before he went to rest, went to rest
Once he left two bearcubs orphaned but he brought 'em right on home
And Sally nursed the two bearcubs upon her breast
Wild blackberries bloomin'...

Tiger now is eighty-five and he lay upon his bed
And the bears he killed now numbered ninety-nine, ninety-nine
Some fellers trapped the bears but Tiger said just let him go
If he ain't running wild he won't be mine
But at the night when the wind howls cross the hills of eastern Tennessee
And when the lightnin' flashes there's the strange thing that the people say they see
An old grey headed ghost runnin' through mountains there
It's Tiger Whitehead after his one hundreth bear
Wild blackberries bloomin'...


Tiger left his name and mark on the Carter County area during a time when this area was still hostile and wild. But he left us with more than his name and adventures. He left us a legacy of sportsmanship and respect to all of God's creatures when this attitude was not popular. We can only hope Tiger's legacy will live for many generations to come.

Note: We are not for sure who Tiger Whitehead's parents were, but it appears he was raised with Whispering Tom Whitehead who would be John Harvey Whiteheads grandfather.

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Maryville Times, 1 Nov 1893

A week in the mountains, the following composed a crowd that spent a week hunting in the mountains: Dr. James MARTIN, Alex GAMBLE, James HARMON, David POLAND, Bud HITCH, Andy WHITEHEAD and sons, Harvey and Will, Able CARPENTER, James McCOY, Lee Razor, and the publisher of this paper and son, Clyde.

The crowd landed in the place known as Jeffrey's Hell after a two-day journey, about 15 or 20 miles of which had to be traveled on foot as a team could not be taken into the mountains. A deer drive was the program for the first day and this resulted in the killing of two deer and quite an assortment of squirrel and mountain "boomers." (chipmunks/ground squirrels) Some of the boomers were dressed and some were put in the pot whole. After everyone had satisfied their hunger, Mr. HARMON concluded he would have some more of the mess and happened to pull out one of the whole ones. When he saw its condition he concluded he didn't care for anymore boomer and remarked that he was glad he hadn't eaten any of the meat. The old saying "Good beginning, bad ending" proved true in this case, for no more deer were killed during the hunt. Several bears were heard, but as there were no bear dogs along, none of the crowd felt disposed to investigate very closely.

There is an immense amount of valuable timber in these mountains. There are cherry trees--so the crowd says--six feet through and from sixty to seventy-five feet to the first limb. Any amount of yellow poplar, spruce pine and ash. One curly ash was seen that was estimated as being worth five hundred dollars, if it could be gotten out of there.

GAMBLE killed a rattler which had swallowed a full grown grey squirrel, and that about ended the excitement. When one gets to the bottom of Jeffrey's Hell, it looks like it would be impossible to get out again. But after staying there and breathing good pure mountain air for six days, it made the crowd able to climb almost as well as do the little boomers and they were able to easily walk the distance back to the teams. It can be sworn to however that some of them were rather sore for several days after reaching home.

Question: Where would Jeffrey's Hell be located?

Between Tellico Plains, TN and Citico, TN, in the Smoky Mountains. I am not sure, but think it is on the NC side of the mountains, Probably very near the road from Tellico Plains to Robbins, NC.

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Maryville Times, 4 Jan 1932

The body of Harvey WHITEHEAD, who it was feared had been slain in the mountains the past week, was found late Thursday (New Years Eve) afternoon by Doug BORING, one of more than 50 men who were searching for the body. Death was from natural causes. The funeral was held in Happy Valley Friday afternoon at 2 o'clock, conducted by Rev. E. Z. BUCHANAN.

The deceased is survived by his widow and 10 children, also 5 brothers, D.L.WHITEHEAD of TX; R.B.WHITEHEAD of Six Mile; W.E. WHITEHEAD of Mint; W.M.WHITEHEAD of Chilhowee; and Jeff WHITEHEAD of Rasar; also 3 sisters, Mrs. Martha HENDRIX of Oliver Springs; Mrs. Mary McKINLEY of Knoxville, and Mrs. Lula PAYNE of Rasar.

Harvey WHITEHEAD and his brother, Jeff, went hunting last Tuesday (Dec 29), and were returning home Wednesday (12/30) morning before daylight. Harvey's dog started off on the trail of an animal, and Harvey told his brother he would go with the dog and for him to wait where he was. In about an hour after Harvey left, Jeff heard a gun fire, and when Harvey did not return in a few hours, Jeff started in search of him, fearing he had been slain. After an all day hunt Wednesday by a large company of men, news was sent to Sheriff PATE Thursday (12/31), and he and his deputies assisted in organizing other men for the search. More than 50 went on the hunt for WHITEHEAD's body. WHITEHEAD's dog finally led them to Wildcat Branch where the body was found. There was no mark upon the body, and it was believed he had died from natural causes.

The WHITEHEAD brothers had run into still operators on Tuesday afternoon, and were returning to Chilhowee to get other men to help them pull the still. It was feared some of the operators had killed him, as many threats had been made against WHITEHEAD, who had done more than any other man in that section, said residents, in trying to break up moonshining.

WHITEHEAD had served many years as forest ranger, and on fire protection signs which he posted in the mountains, threats against his life had been written by those who feared he might be responsible for capturing their stills, said neighbors. He had also served as a deputy sheriff.

Harvey WHITEHEAD was the first of a family of 9 children to die, the youngest of the 9 being 47 years old.

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NOTE: Charles Benton WHITEHEAD  is the son of John Harvey WHITEHEAD  & Laura Josephine ANDERSON Whitehead.

John Harvey WHITEHEAD  is son of Andrew Jackson WHITEHEAD  & Elizabeth Jane BORING Whitehead

Andrew Jackson WHITEHEAD  is son of Thomas WHITEHEAD JR.  & Elizabeth OAKS Whitehead

Tom WHITEHEAD JR. is son of Tom & Sarah WHITEHEAD, Sr of Carter Co., TN.   Tom SR.  was probably born in Chatham Co., NC