(Pictured above is the infamous rhododendron and mountain laurel thickets of Jeffrey’s Hell.)
If you’re from this corner of East Tennessee, then you might be
familiar with the folklore of this rather ominously named region of the
Citico Creek Wilderness Area–Jeffrey’s Hell. Jeffrey’s Hell is located
opposite from Fall Branch Falls, ironically descending into a
rhododendron and mountain laurel infested thicket that we locals refer
to as “hells”. Technically speaking, Fall Branch Falls lies within this
strange realm, a jungle of sorts in the higher elevations of southeastern Tennessee.
According to local legend, Jeffrey’s Hell received its rather unusual
name after an unexplained disappearance that occurred sometime during
the 1800s. An ornery old man by the name of Jeffrey went hunting in the
Citico Creek Wilderness Area one day with a buddy of his, whose name is
never mentioned. After a day of hunting, the two men were getting ready
to turn around and head for home. However, Old Man Jeffrey’s hunting
dogs were nowhere to be found, lost within the deep tangle of the hells,
their barks echoing throughout the mountain. Understandably upset, Old
Man Jeffery begins to frantically call for his dogs, but no avail, his
dogs never returned. Bound and determined to find them, he resolves to
find them himself, despite the warnings of his friend, who reassured him
that the dogs would eventually find their way home.
As he walked
into the dense tangle of mountain laurel, Old Man Jeffrey turned around
to face his friend for one last time, his words seemingly sealing his
“I’ll go to Hell and back to find these dogs if it’s the last thing I do!”
That was the last time anyone had seen Old Man Jeffrey. His body was
never found, perhaps swallowed whole by the very hell he damned himself
They say that this area is haunted by the spirit of Old Man Jeffrey, who searches endlessly in vain for his missing hunting dogs. Some say that he can be spotted, carrying a lantern on the night of a full moon. Others say that his frantic calls for his dogs can be heard, sounding throughout the laurel thickets as the muffled sound of barking can be heard in the distance.
While I am unsure of these supposed occurrences, I will say that Alicia, Greg, and I experienced something rather odd while on the way back from Fall Branch Falls, an experience that I will describe later. It is up for interpretation at this point, but it was pretty unsettling, given the possibilities.
We were about 4000 feet above sea level in this part of the Citico Creek Wilderness Area, so this naturally meant that it
would be much colder here than it would be in the valley. During our
hike, we noticed that there was still snow and ice and on the ground
from last week’s winter storm. This made for a rather difficult and
tedious trek to the falls.
This is in the Cherokee National Forest outside of Tellico Plains, Tennessee.