The Graveyard on Devil Step Island

My friend Adam and I had been planning to take his boat out on to Tims Ford Lake, and this Sunday seemed like the last possible day to do it until springtime. It was an unseasonably warm November day. Why not, we thought, and out we went for some “messing about in boats,” as Rat puts it to Mole in The Wind in the Willows.

This was no idle trip, though–far from it. Adam wanted to scout out some island campsites. Myself, I was interested to see another island feature–the Shasteen Cemetery on Devil Step Island.


Tims Ford is a man-made lake, and not an especially old one. The TVA began flooding it in the 1960s, and by 1971 is as you see it, about 34 miles long and as much as 175 feet deep. The town of Awalt–or Mashbread, as some locals had called it–was abandoned and flooded, along with many other properties. Not everybody was happy about losing their homes, of course. An older friend of mine once told me, “Chris, you haven’t lived till you have stood at public auction to buy back property from the government that was in your family for generations.” As a girl, she had played on the hilltop which is now a headland on the lake, a point she was lucky enough to buy and build a home on.

The TVA made a point of relocating old cemeteries that the flood would cover. The Shasteen cemetery, however, was on top of a high hill, and so was left in place. So while some of the people buried there were carried up by carriage, now you have to get there by canoe.

Why is Devil Step–the island, and the hill which it used to be–named for the Devil? I haven’t found the reason for the place-name, but there are various possibilities. The hill might have been difficult to climb, giving early settlers a devil of a time to get up. Perhaps there was a folktale of the Devil’s occupying the place: some sulfurous caves are named for the Devil, given the smell. Or maybe the nearby Boiling Fork creek, now submerged, suggested demonic activity. A political reason may also be in the background: some Native American sacred places were associated with Satanic worship and witchcraft by European settlers and thus connected with the Devil.

In any event, nothing demonic is suggested by Devil Step Island today. It’s a peaceful place with a pleasant little campsite that is, perhaps, a little too close to the graveyard. Below are some pictures from our outing, my favorite of which is the detail up above from the gravestone of Mary E. McCoy, wife of R.S. Shasteen, who died in 1910. It features a pretty dove in flight over the word HOPE. Doves are usually associated with Peace, of course, but perhaps this is the one released by Noah, who “could find nowhere to perch because there was water over all the surface of the earth” (Genesis 8:8), thus anticipating the flooding of area by the TVA? No place to perch, that is, but Devil Step.

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About Uncomely and Broken

I am a classicist in Sewanee, Tennessee.
This entry was posted in Bible, Birds, Cemeteries & Funerals, Emblems, Nautical, Race, Tennessee, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

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