Namesake: "No Business" in Scott County at Big South Fork

10:45 PM, May 3, 2013   |    comments
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  • The remains of Rance Boyatt's chimney at No Business.
  • 1965 photo of No Business, TN.
  • The remains of Rance Boyatt's homestead at No Business, TN.
  • Moonshine at Slaven property in No Business, TN.
  • Historic photo of baptism at No Business, TN.
  • NPS Archaeologist Tom Des Jean reaches clearing where No Business was once located.
  • Historical photo of resident Lee Crabtree farming in No Business, TN.
  • NPS sign directing tourists to No Business in Big South Fork.
  • Crossing No Business Creek in Scott County.
  • Cliffs tower over the remote valley where you'll find the abandoned community of No Business, TN.

To navigate to one of the most isolated places nestled in the hills of Big South Fork, you have to drive for several miles on narrow dirt roads, cross a creek bed that is a couple of feet deep, and then hike an additional mile on foot. 

When you finally reach the clearing between the creeks and the cliffs, the only thing you will find other than an open meadow is a large chimney and stone remnants of a now nullified neighborhood named "No Business."

"This is No Business and right beside it is No Business Creek," said Tom Des Jean, a long-time archaeologist with the National Park Service at Big South Fork.  "This was the frontier and an area that was unexplored for a long time.  People lived here from approximately 1815 until around 1965."

The large stone chimney was once part of the Ranse Boyatt farmstead that was established in the 1880s.  Des Jean said the community of No Business got a relatively late start because settlers pushing west turned away from the area's treacherous terrain.

Some of the more ambitious adventurers roamed into the remote ravines of No Business and found a happy hunting ground.

"The first Europeans to come into the area were long-hunters hunting for pelts. It wasn't until 1815 and 1820 that people actually started coming in here and looking at this as a good area for settlement."

The families that initially ventured into the isolated valley found a hidden gem full of fertile ground and fresh water creeks to let them live off the land. 

"Richard Harve Slaven came here in 1815. Jonathan Blevins also came in 1815. Jonathan Burk arrived at No Business in 1820. The valley just began to fill up with all these people.  Today you still find hundreds of Blevins, Slavens, and Burks in Scott County along with other early 19th century settlers like the Terrys, Phillips, and Sextons."

Transforming an unforgiving landscape into a tenable homestead took teamwork.

"Nineteenth century farmers did it all. They made their own shoes, cured their own ham, they raised their own hogs, they raised their own tobacco. The people here raised sheep and collected their own wool. So they were self-sufficient for several generations," said Des Jean. "No business had that traditional farming value of cooperation. We talk in business about 'team players.' Everybody down here was a team player."

Des Jean said the hearty people of No Business valued hard work and had no time for slackers.

"If you didn't pull your weight, your neighbors would come and shame you and do your work for you and give you a bill."

Tight-knit families and neighbors worked hard to carve No Business into a positive place they could call their own.  The people quickly developed a territorial nature that resulted in the community's negative moniker.

"People ask a lot how No Business got its name.  Local oral tradition has it that when people would come here, they would be looked on with suspicion. The inhabitants would say, 'Y'all don't have no business being here.' Or among themselves they would say, 'They don't have no business being here.' Over the decades No Business kind of became a synonym for this valley.  We don't know exactly when it took on the name, but know it was called No Business before the Civil War."

The name No Business was not meant to imply the people here were void of commerce.  The items they made were traded and sold.  Some residents eventually discovered a lucrative opportunity in an illegal business that benefited from brewing in isolation.

"In the middle of prohibition, we find a lot of moonshining going on. Moonshining was rife, especially in areas close to logging camps and close to coal mine camps.  A lot of people in this area participated in it."

The remaining chimney at Ranse Boyatt's home stands today as a sort of memorial for a tragic tale during the days of brewing clandestine white whiskey.  In 1933, Ranse Boyatt's son Jerome was involved in a shooting that killed the local sheriff and the deputy, too.

"When Jerome went into hiding, a group of vigilantes knew where his family lived in No Business.  They took the whole family, the mom, pa, and kids out to another location and held them.  Then they let the Ranse, the father, go home and he ended up being found hung in his barn.  The assumption by a lot of people is he was lynched for helping his son hide.  Jerome ended up turning himself in, but when he was in jail a group of men stormed in and took him captive.  They took Jerome out in the woods and murdered him.  The whole Ranse Boyatt family was marred by this tragedy and it was a terrible ordeal," said Des Jean.

Moonshining and tragedy were not what led to the death of No Business as a community.  The reason stone foundations are the only thing you will find there today is because younger generations found business somewhere else.

"After World War II, the families begin to move out to look for more lucrative employment.  They find jobs in mines or northern industrial plants.  There was a slow depopulation of the area. The last inhabitant was Dewey Slaven who left here in the mid-1960s," said Des Jean.  "When most people vacated the area, all of the wooden structures slowly disintegrated and so now the only things that remain are the more permanent stone features like Ranse Boyatt's chimney.  It is just a remnant of what it once was, but we maintain it for its cultural significance."

Now nobody lives in No Business.  The National Park Service viewed that double-negative as a positive when it established the Big South Fork National River and Recreational Area.  Today tourists can hike or ride horses to the area and savor the solitude that attracted settlers centuries ago.  While the residents are gone, the old nay-saying nickname is alive and well.

Plenty of No Business

There are a few other places in and around Tennessee called "No Business."  In many cases the origin of the name is comparable to the story of No Business in Scott County.  Areas are generally remote and may have activities that outsiders should avoid unless you have business with the residents.

There is a No Business Mountain in Bedford County, Virginia.  You can also find No Business Knob near Erwin, Tennessee.  Some stories of peaks with the name No Business come from adventurous people who were injured during their trip and replied, "I had no business being up there in the first place."

Des Jean spoke of his surprise to discover another No Business Creek in nearby Cumberland County.

"I always thought, 'No Business, there is only one.' But then I was driving south of Jamestown and there was a sign that said No Business Creek.  That is way over toward the west from here [Scott County]. So there is more than one No Business Creek. I guess people didn't have no business being there just like they didn't have no business being here," laughed Des Jean.

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