Hike explores site of Valley’s first European settler

Anne Chesky Smith
Special to The Black Mountain News

Those who know local resident Bill Alexander know he has many stories to tell. One of his most popular stories relates the tragic tale of his ancestor, Samuel Davidson.

Davidson’s grave marker, along with Alexander’s stories, will be featured in the Swannanoa Valley Museum’s third hike in its Valley History Explorer Hiking Series to the Samuel Davidson grave marker and the Alexander Farm Ruins on Saturday, May 14.

In a December 2011 interview, Alexander related part of the exciting story of the first European settler in the Swannanoa Valley.

“In the spring of 1784, Samuel Davidson and his wife Rachel - who was an Alexander - came across the Swannanoa Gap, built a cabin, and tilled the land,” Alexander said. “He was only there four or five months before an Indian hunting party came by and saw the smoke from the cabin and his horse wandering nearby with a bell around its neck.

“Davidson had tied the bell on his horse so that he could find it easily, and the next morning he decided he needed to take his horse to Old Fort to get supplies. He heard the bell and stepped out of the cabin. What he didn't know was that the Indians had taken the bell off the horse and were luring him to the top of Jones Mountain,” Alexander said. “When he got there, they jumped out and killed him. His wife heard the shot and looked up above the door and there was Samuel's rifle hanging in its place.”

She ran from the house with her child and their slave, Eliza. They strayed from the trail so as to not be discovered and hiked more than 16 miles across the mountains back to their old home at Davidson’s Fort.

“The next day, a group of kin, Alexanders and Davidsons, my kin, came cross the gap and began searching for Samuel and found his body where he had been shot,” Alexander said. “Immediately, they dug a grave and buried him. There was a big oak tree a short distance away, and so they carved the initials ‘SD’ in the tree.”

In 1913, a group of his surviving descendants gathered on the top of Jones Mountain to place a grave marker, which still stands and reads, “Here Lies Samuel Davidson, First Settler of Western North Carolina, Killed Here By Cherokees, 1784.” Though the grave is now surrounded by privately owned homes, the Swannanoa Valley Museum has special permission to take tour participants to the site. There is a short, somewhat steep walk up a paved drive to arrive at the marker.

After Davidson’s ill-fated attempt at settling the valley, another group of his relatives came and founded the Swannanoa Settlement at the head of Bee Tree Creek. Alexander proudly stated, “…my immediate family has been here since, and were inn owners. We owned two inns actually. Alexander Farm, which is now nothing but ruins and Alexander Inn that's on the Old 70 Highway, and still in existence today.”

The second part of the museum tour will feature Alexander Farm, which was one of the earliest inns to provide housing for tourists in Swannanoa. Bill Alexander’s great-great-uncle, Charles H. Alexander, built the farm in 1879. It operated continually until 1956. Much of the farm’s foundation can still be seen, and the museum will provide several vintage photographs that can be used to identify what structures stood on each foundation and will help participants visualize what the farm looked like during its heyday.

After viewing the ruins, participants may continue on an optional self-guided hike to the top of Jones Mountain, along the path that may have been used by Samuel Davidson before he met this untimely end over 200 years ago.

Valley History Explorer Hike No. 3

Hike: Samuel Davidson Grave Marker and Alexander Farm Ruins

When: 10 a.m., Saturday, May 14

Meet: Black Mountain Savings Bank, 200 E. State St., Black Mountain

Cost: $20 museum members, $30 nonmembers, 669-9566