Thursday, November 17, 2011

Buried Waterfalls of Smith Lake

Buried Waterfalls

When I was about eight years old, my dad and I went fishing with my uncle William Roy Walker to one of the most beautiful yet mysterious places I remember visiting as a small country boy.  In the late afternoon as we were making our way down the hill, you could hear the roar long before you could see what was making all that noise.  I remember the eerie sounds of wind and water were emerging from a deep canyon as the noises mixed with the thunderous roar of water crashing into a deep clear pool some 50 feet below.  Just upstream was another sound of a waterfall with the same size and magnitude of those we were approaching.  The sights and sounds of that afternoon are still a vivid memory of a fishing trip which lasted well into the night.

Lower falls of Clear Creek Falls

After dad parked his old Chevrolet car on the side of the road on top of the hill, we walked a long way down a trail to the place called Clear Creek Falls.  The double waterfalls were about 250 yards apart with each waterfall dropping some 45 feet from sandstone ledges.  These waterfalls were located in Section 9 of Township 12 South and Range 7 West on Clear Creek about a mile from its junction with Sipsey River.

Both of Clear Creek Falls

We finally made our way to a large flat rock beside the creek as it plunged over the ledge some 45 feet above the pool of water we were going to fish.  After nightfall, the sky was totally black and made the place seem even more mysterious to a young boy.  I remember throwing my line with a small lead sinker and hook full of worms into oblivion not knowing when or where it hit except the line stopped coming off my little Zebco 33 reel.  After dark you could not see nor hear the bait strike the water because of the roar of the two largest waterfalls in the Warrior Mountains.

Clear Creek Falls were known by some folks as the "Falls of Black Warrior" and were a major landmark to the Indians and early settlers of the area.  The falls became historically important during the Civil War as a campsite for the Union Army.  According to the Annals of Northwest Alabama by Carl Elliott (1972), General James H. Wilson formed the world's largest cavalry of 13,480 mounted Union soldiers at Gravely Springs in Lauderdale County, Alabama.  The Union troops were armed with Spencer repeating rifles, and they were riding some of the best horses in the country.  After being split in Lauderdale County into three units, the brigades of Wilson's army united and camped near Clear Creek Falls on March 25, 1865.  One brigade of the Yankees of Northern Aggression traveled by way of Kinlock and Hubbard's Mill in Lawrence County, Alabama  on March 24, 1865, before uniting with the rest of Wilson's command at Clear Creek Falls on the following day.

Major General James Harrison Wilson

The 27 year old boy general, Major General James Harrison Wilson's Union army went from Clear Creek Falls to capture Selma, Alabama on April 2,1865, and four other fortified cities in Alabama including Birmingham and Montgomery.  On Easter Day on April 16, 1865, Wilson's army captured Columbus, Georgia which was considered the last major battle of the Civil War.  During May 1865, Wilson's army captured Confederate President Jefferson Davis as he was fleeing through Georgia.

As a young boy on an exciting fishing trip, I was totally unconcerned with the past history of the Falls; however, after reaching the edge of a large flat rock cliff next to the creek which was plunging some 50 feet, we set down our lantern, bait, and fishing equipment.  We selected a place next to the creek on a flat sandstone rock at the edge of the bluff.  I was in total amazement that we were going to fish off that cliff some 50 feet above the pool below.  At first a feeling of fear overwhelmed me as I thought about a fish pulling me off the high perch into the swirling pool of water a long way below where I was setting.

As soon as we had cast our bait into the pool of water many feet below, we began catching bream on the worms.  We fished late into the night by the light of the old lantern and only caught a few small catfish.  I will never forget the trouble of trying to wind the little reel to get a fish to the top of the falls.  On almost ever occasion the fish would get loose before we could get them to our precarious perch high above our fishing hole.  We fished until about midnight before taking our catch up the hill to the old car.

Today the old fishing hole along with all its glory and history is gone and so are the spectacular falls of the Warrior Mountains.  A few years after the memorable fishing trip about 1957, Lewis Smith Lake Dam flooded the great falls in the early 1960's.  Now only a depth finder on a boat can locate the falls of Clear Creek on Smith Lake.  As you cross over the top of the falls in a boat, the depth finder will instantly drop or rise about 45 feet.  The great falls of the Warrior Mountains now lie deep under the backwaters of Smith Lake with all their history and beauty buried forever in a watery tomb.


  1. hey Butch, This is Tim Guyse, do you know the spot where the Yankee's camped? Probably under water but lets go find it anyway. We spend a lot of time on Smith Lake since I got a boat earlier this year.

  2. Thank you for this story, my 4th great grandfather Adam Campbell had land where some of the lake is today, his grave and grandmother Campbell's graves are protected by a fence about 100 yards off the road that crosses the dam. This adds a nice touch to understanding the history of the area.

  3. If you go out to the falls.... I would love to get video footage of it. :-)

  4. I haven't been to a lot of different places, but this is by far MY FAVORITE. THANKS for sharing. I used to live there and still come back just for Smith Lake.