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How Tennessee's Holy Butt Mountain Got Its Name

In southern Appalachia, Tennessee the unique name of a mountain top came from a recognizable shape, and so it was called Holy Butt.

Jim Matheny(WBIR)

Scour the skyline of the Great Smoky Mountains and you will see peak after peak melt into another.

Long before the national park existed, the rugged mountain people of Southern Appalachia tried to distinguish all of the nooks and crannies of the hills with various names. Many of the monikers come from topographical features that resemble recognizable shapes.

This was the case with a heavenly peak along the edge of the Park in Sevier County now known as Holy Butt.

"This is Holy Butt, a map showing the location of Holy Butt above the Chalet Village there in Gatlinburg," said Allen Coggins, author of Place Names of the Smokies. "It's a fairly insignificant place, but it has one of the most unusual names in the Park."

Coggins said the name "butt" comes from a sculpted shape, but it has nothing to do with a person's posterior.

"There's a topographic feature known as a butt. A butt is a mountain or a ridge that comes to an abrupt end. It's like the butt of a log. A broken off end of the mountain," said Coggins. "There are several places in the Park that have the name 'butt' associated with them. There's Butt Mountain. There's Cobb Butt. There is Molllies Butt. There is Big Butt. Those are ones I can just think of off the top of my head. Of course, the most irreverent sounding of them all is Holy Butt."

Coggins said many people confuse the topographical terms butt and butte, which is pronounced like the word beaut.

"A butte is a flat-top mountain. You find them mostly in the west. A butt, like I said is a broken off end of a ridge or a mountain. The butte is cut off horizontally at the top."

Coggins tells a classic story about some matrimonial rebuttals between husband and wife over the pronunciation of Mollies Butt.

"These guys would plan where they would go hiking in the Park and kept saying, 'Let's go up to Mollies Ridge and Mollies Butt.' And his wife said, 'Would you stop using that vulgar word!' He asked which word and she said, 'Butt! It is b-u-t-t-e.' He said, 'Honey it's not. I'll show you on a map here. It doesn't have an e on it, it's butt. She said the topographers just messed it up and they left the e off. He said, 'Okay. Yes, dear. You're right as usual. Mollies butt is a butte (beaut).'"

Holy Butt did not start with its divine moniker. It was originally called Holly Butt due to the abundance of American Holly trees along the ridge. The stream that flowed down Holly Butt was known as Holly Branch. It now runs beside what is Ski Mountain Road.

Holly Branch was home to a legendary old-timer in Sevier County known as "Aunt Lydia" Whaley lived during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

"Aunt Lydia Whaley lived up near what is now the Chalet Village. She was a very religious lady. She was a 'preacher woman,' they called her back then. Besides being a preacher lady, she was a midwife and an herb doctor. She was a cobbler and she used old shoes to make new shoes. She made men's suits. In fact she'd make a man's suit for a dollar, so she supported herself like that," said Coggins.

It was Aunt Lydia's faith that inspired her to christen the creek at her home with a new name.

"She comes along being really religious and takes an 'L' out of Holly and makes it Holy Branch," said Coggins. "The peak or mountain near there had been called Holly Butt. Then they changed it to Holy Butt."

Today a few chalets at the top of Holy Butt offer heavenly views of the Great Smoky Mountains. Fittingly, one of the rental properties is named "Amazing Grace." But there is no marker at the peak to identify it as Holy Butt. Coggins doubts most owners know the name of the peak where their property sits has one of the strangest names in the Smokies.

"If they look at a topographic map, they've probably seen the name Holy Butt and wondered about it. A lot of the folks who own property there are new to the area and the old-timers who would have known the area as Holy Butt are long gone. But to this day, it's right there on a map."

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