Up in the hills of Sevier County between Pigeon Forge and Pittman Center, you'll find the small community of Oldham. Many residents refer to the town as "Oldham's Creek." Yet for more than 150 years, the most common moniker used by locals to describe these rolling hills is "Boogertown."
"Boogertown is a real place in Sevier County that part of my family settled in a long time ago," said Keith Watson. "Boogertown is officially known as Oldham, but it is Boogertown. Nobody says Oldham or Oldham's Creek anymore. That's what you say to outsiders so they can find it on a map."
The U.S. Geological Survey's official maps label the town as Oldham. However, the bottom of a nearby ridge is officially recognized by the USGS as "Boogertown Gap." For Keith Watson and his wife, Ruth Barber, that is a name worth singing about.
"We play old-time music professionally since 2006 and we named our band Boogertown Gap. When Ruth and I were trying to come up with names, that was the one all of our family and friends unanimously agreed that we should use," said Watson. "For us, this old music has a deep connection with our heritage and the culture of people who made a life here in Boogertown."
"People ask us about the name and we are always reassuring them that it has nothing to do with what is in your nose," said Barber. "A lot of people buy our t-shirts because they want that word 'Boogertown' on their chests."
"This area is full of old-time names, especially Boogertown," said Theresa Williams, genealogist with the Sevier County History Center. "In the context of the 19th century, a 'booger' is a word for a ghost or a demon-possessed person like 'the boogerman.' A booger can also be used to talk about children."
The publication Sevier County Tennessee and its Heritage featured an article in 1994 that offered a few explanations for the name Boogertown. One story referred to a man who relocated from what is now Gatlinburg to the Oldham's Creek area. "When asked why he would want to live way out there, he answered, 'I'll move there and raise me a bunch of little boogers.'"
A second explanation appeared in the publication and is often told by residents that utilizes the more haunting definition of the word "booger."
"During the Civil War, a soldier had been told not to go through Oldham's Creek because there were all kinds of boogers and ghosts," said Williams. "Sure enough, in the dark of night a booger appeared in front of him. He could see some eyes in the bushes and froze in his tracks. The man reached down and picked up a rock to throw it at the booger. Then the booger mooed at him. It was a cow."
"Other men found out about how the cow scared him and that became his 'booger.' They made fun of him for being scared of boogers and started calling this place Boogertown," said Watson.
Watson and Barber offered a third explanation that deals with home remedies.
"We were recently told by an old Cherokee from Gatlinburg that Boogertown got its name when the white settlers and Native Americans started to intermarry in this area," said Barber. "The whites introduced new illnesses like chickenpox and the sores on their faces looked like hornet stings. The medicine man made a facial mask to soothe the sores that was made with a hornet nest and it was called a booger-mask. He said this area became known as Boogertown because of all the people here wearing booger-masks."
The historical archives do not provide a documented and definitive answer regarding the true reason the area earned its booger moniker.
"It is all folklore and nobody knows which one is actually the truth," said Watson. "Truth or not, you just pick which one you want and go with it."
"I like to believe the Civil War story," said Williams. "I think it is because I can understand the young man's feelings when he was frightened by the cow. I've been out at night and been afraid of something. Normal things can take on different shapes at night and your mind can play tricks on you when you let your imagination go."
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