Early Years


Higsby*, Tennessee, was first settled in 1816 at the confluence of the Watauga River and Cobb’s Creek by Ezekiel Butler. Butler built a small shelter here as he searched the area for iron. Eventually finding it, he was joined by John McComb and the two built the first permanent structures - two cabins and a work shed. As the two men began mining, they were joined by workers and their families.

By 1820, there were fifteen families living nearby, and Jebediah Cooper opened a grist mill along the Watauga River. At that time, the settlement became known as Cooper’s Mill. Primarily a mining town, Cooper’s Mill enjoyed relative prosperity in those early years. In particular, the Cooper, Butler and McComb families quickly rose to affluence, and the regulation of the mining industry required them to give regular reports to the county seat offices.

The trip to the county seat at Elizabethton required traveling over several mountains and crossing large rivers several times. This prompted the local citizens to become involved in the movement to establish a county separate from Carter County. Johnson County was organized in 1836 and named for Thomas Johnson, an early leader deceased in 1835, but who had owned property on Roan and Doe Creeks and in the upper part of the county.

The Civil War

Controlled by the Confederate army of occupation during the Civil War, the loyal Johnson County citizens were largely brutalized. During this occupation, the Confederates renamed the town Higsby, though no one is certain exactly why. The Union 13th Regiment Tennessee Volunteer Cavalry was organized in 1863 and provided some protection from the Confederate home guards. Roderick R. Butler was a leader in the 13th Regiment, and after the Civil War, one of the downtown roads was renamed Butler Street in his honor.
Cobb’s Creek Seminary, a secondary school, was established in Higsby in 1881. In 1906, it was purchased by the Watauga Educational Foundation, which renamed it Butler Academy.

In late 1915, the Butler family sold their half of the iron mine to the McComb family and started a logging and paper company. In 1916, they began cutting on Iron Mountain and haven’t stopped since, making the Butler family the wealthiest in the area.

The McComb’s were not so lucky, however. Shortly after acquiring the entirety of the mine, the iron vein began to run out. After a mining accident in January of 1917 buried five men, the mine was permanently sealed.

Recent Times

In the 1920s, the Holston River Power Company began making plans for a large-scale dam-building project in the South Fork Holston River watershed, and had identified two possible dam sites along the Watauga River, one of which was just downriver of Higsby at Carden’s Bluff. Local objection managed to quell those plans, but in early 1941, the Tennessee Valley Authority had assumed oversight of flood control operations in the Tennessee River watershed and began surveying the Carden’s Bluff site once more. The dam project garnered more widespread support this time, especially from Elizabethton, which had been ravaged by a flood in 1940. While no dam has been approved, Higsby itself seems to sense its days are numbered, destined to one day lie beneath a great reservoir…

*One will note that the spelling of the town is inconsistent throughout this wiki. This was done on purpose to give the reader the feeling that the town's name is in flux. Names are a powerful thing in magic, to know somethings or someone's true name is to have power over it. As the town changes hands either through election of new town counsel, or the election of a new mayor the town name also changes either spellings or pronunciation, or both. In this way the person in control of the town has the true power of it, until the next election at least.

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