From A Missionary’s Diary

Deacon Scott Maentz Diocese of Knoxville

Fr. E. F. Callahan (on the right) pictured with his family.

One of the first Roman Catholic priests to minister in East Tennessee was Fr. Emmanuel Francis Callahan. Fr. Callahan was ordained June 29, 1897 and spent many years serving the missions of East Tennessee. These words from his diary describe what life was like for some of the first Catholics of the area. He and his horse Rebel lived quite a different life than we modern day priests.


“Rebs” the old “fox-trotter,” fed before dawn and “Chapel” and saddle-bags packed. Mass at dawn in the Mission House–coffee and biscuits and a lunch for noon–then “boots and saddle” and the rising sun shadows us riding south for the trail of Doe, when it breaks through the Holston range of the Great Smokies. Noon finds us “off-saddled” and lunching by Tiger Creek at the foot of the Roan. “Conn, The Shaughran,” the red Irish Setter, spends his noon chasing mountain “boomers”…Rebs best with his “turkey” of oats. At twilight, the Catholic families of Elk Park greet the “Soggarth.” Thirty miles done with horse and man prime. The peaks have been topped and rivers forded. A long evening and a pleasant one at the hospitable home of John Bateman, an old “Reb,” who had marched with General “Jeb” Steward in ’63. But, the Altar must be arranged on the parlor “bureau” catechism given, confessions heard, rosary and night prayers recited; for the rule must be: An early Mass and an early saddle. 


What a pleasure–morning after morning to see every Catholic of the hamlet approach Holy Communion! As the mists break and fade before the opening day, “Rebel” is breasting the Smokies, traveling up through cloud land. As the “Smoky Trail” winds to the summit lands up from the sea of vapor comes a rim of fairy golden fire and the sea becomes a vista of dancing light and color, painted by the rising sun, while gorge and vale are filled with phantom-white, crested waves of rolling and foaming, sierrated with isles of balsam peaks. In the distance the Grandfather and the “Blowing Rock” lift their hoary heads proudly above the rising sun. We make Pianola (a forest camp of singing mills, lumber jacks and log-ponds in the heart of the Great Smokies) early in the afternoon, with leisure, to visit the Catholic Flock. After supper the neighbors, non-Catholics, come to see the Altar and hear an explanation of the Catholic Lord’s Supper (the Mass). Some return for the Mass itself on the morrow–guests of Mr. Callahan. 


Mass over, adieus said, soon we are off. “Conn the Shaughran” pacing “Rebs” on the downtrail to Falls of Linnville. Dinner with mine host of the “Falls Inn” is a thing to be remembered. (Linnville trout, corn pone, honey-dew honey). Then down the “Steps” into North Cove, riding under the balsams where, at mid-day, it is twilight, with the pleasant company of rhodendrons, wild birds and leaping waterfalls: here journeying along afoot with some sturdy Mountain Man, explaining the Faith or the Bible, while Rebs and Conn meander by our side; and there stopping by some dark pool to drop a line to the “speckled beauties” while Rebs blows. Sombre night tides us into camp…with welcoming shouts from the children of North Cove, some seeking to ride Rebel, some to run with the trout to their Mothers, some to hunt their Catechisms. (This is construction camp of tent-lean-to and clap-board wickie-up; of go-devil and steam shovel). The Altar must be set up, confessions heard…a long sleep needed on a balsam-bud mattress in a wickie-up of Mike Bateman.


An early rise and early Mass…babies baptized….first confessions heard….another Catechism lesson….justice done to trout and bacon; Rebel hits the trail for the top of the Blue Ridge, where Summit-land is reached, as the “day is leaping down the declevities of the west.” (Far off across the green sierras rise the Twins of Block and Mount Mitchell, where Mitchell, the Geographer, fell to his death as a loosened rock let go.) Visits here and there, and some daylight is left to gather armfuls of bracken and balsam and wild flowers for the Altar. A congregation gathers to hear a Catholic Priest “talk.” Then confessions and sweet sleep amid the saprific balsams in John Elmore’s camp. This is the Tunnel Camp of the C.C.& O. where “hard rock” men spring tunnel after tunnel through Alta Pass.


Mass is extra early for old Rebs has to cross the “Yellow” and the “Green” and a river or so. Mile after mile we travel through the clouds, heading westward, while the trail, like a Tennyson’s Brook, “Winds about and in and out.” There, far off on some neighboring height, comes the deep “cologne! cologne” of the large Smoky Mountain Raven; or some deep cove is heard the shrill two-syllabled whistle of the great Ivory-billed woodpecker. Noon and a trout from a darksome pool on Rock Creek, wrapped in leaves and baked in a stick fire, with sandwiches, made a fine lunch. The “Shades” of Eve are falling fast ere Green Mountain is won, and we defile down a long run to Jacob Bailey’s pleasant home in a Cove of the Green. All converts here, and the Creed and Mass with the ceremonies must be gone over and many questions asked, propounded by interest and kindly non-Catholic neighbors, explained, and Scripture given for their proof. Altar prepared on a hundred year old bureau….confessions heard and preparations for Holy Communion on the morrow….Rosary, Litany and Prayers….and to bed drifting off into dreamland to the music of sighing pine and singing balsam.


Mass over….small visits with visiting non-Catholics….breakfast (a real mountain meal-buckwheat, maple syrup, corn pone too, with young squirrel.)….Good-Byes exchanged with demands from Joe and Bish and Alice to “stay over”; our homeward course is set “down the creek.” Mr. Bailey guests us to the crossing of the North Toe. Lunch is eaten at Indian Grove Gap, the “pass” of the “Unakas.” Rebel breaks into a fox-trot and “Conn” capers ahead as darkness enfolds hill and vale. The distant lights of Johnson City and Mission Hill signal “Welcome” to the “Circuit Rider.”