Photo: Chris Smith, a student at Tennessee College of Applied Technology in Huntsville, demonstrates a tooling machine to Tennessee Governor Bill Lee (Ben Garrett)
The people of Scott County have always been a fiercely independent people. In 1861, after voting to preserve the Union by a larger margin than any other county in the state, Scott Countians elected to secede from Tennessee and form the Independent State of Scott in defiance of Tennessee’s decision to join the Confederacy.
That heritage of independence has been a driving force in Scott County for more than 150 years. Primarily a blue collar, working-class people, Scott Countians have also made their mark as a charitable and neighborly people. For several years running, the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life in Scott County has placed among the top in the state in fund-raising per capita. The community has a well-forged tradition of reaching out to neighbors in times of need.
The same aspects that make the land between the Big South Fork of the Cumberland River and the Cumberland Mountains beautiful also made it largely unsuitable for farming. So, in the late 1800s and early 1900s, many of the people here turned to the logging and mining industries as a way of life. And so it remained for the next several generations. It was tough work, but work that made Scott Countians appreciate their culture and the land they call home even more.
Most people from Scott County live full and satisfied lives without ever making the printed page. But there are a few people connected to our county who you have perhaps heard of.
Davy Crockett: The Crockett family hailed from upper East Tennessee before moving west in the late 1700s. Some of them wound up in the Wolf River Valley area of neighboring Fentress County, while some of them held land grants in what is today the Bandy Creek area of the Big South Fork National River & Recreation Area in western Scott County.
Howard H. Baker, Sr.: After serving as a newspaper publisher and Board of Education member in Scott County, Baker ventured into politics — including an unsuccessful bid for governor against Prentice Cooper in 1938. In 1950, Baker was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives and served six terms until his death in 1964.
Howard H. Baker, Jr.: A veteran of the U.S. Navy during World War II, Baker was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1967, in the process becoming the first Tennessee Republican to be elected to the Senate since Reconstruction. During his noted 18-year career in the Senate, Baker rose to prominence during the Watergate scandal, famously asking of President Richard Nixon, “What did the President know and when did he know it?” He later ascended to the rank of Senate Majority Leader and served as President Ronald Reagan’s Chief of Staff from 1985 to 1988. Later, he was appointed U.S. Ambassador to Japan by President George W. Bush. Sen. Baker always made his home in Scott County, which he frequently referred to as “the center of the universe.”
John J. Duncan Sr.: Born on a small farm in Huntsville as one of many children to Flem and Cassie Duncan, John Duncan famously threw down his hoe one day as he and his brothers were tending the garden, and declared he was tired of the farm life and was moving to Knoxville — where, he proclaimed, he would someday be mayor. Duncan famously hitch-hiked to Knoxville with $5 in his pocket, obtained a law degree from the University of Tennessee, and then indeed was elected mayor of Knoxville, where he helped sooth racial tensions during the civil rights struggles of the 1960s. He was later elected to Congress, where he represented East Tennessee until his untimely death in the 1980s.
B. Ray Thompson: After getting his start as a miner, Thompson built and sold a major coal company, in the process becoming one of Tennessee’s richest men. In the 1980s, he donated $100 million to found the Thompson Cancer Survival Center in nearby Knoxville, Tenn. The University of Tennessee’s Thompson-Boling Arena, the nation’s largest on-campus basketball arena, is named for Thompson.