This is one of the most historic cemeteries in Henderson County, as it contains the grave sites of James Stepp and his wife, Mary “Polly” Mills Stepp, among the earliest settlers in today’s Henderson County.
This cemetery is located in the area of Little Hungry Creek (headwaters of the Hungry River), near its confluence with the Big Hungry River.
Today, a black wrought-iron fence surrounds this lovely, wooded cemetery in the gated development of Oleta Falls.
On Sept. 3, 1789, James Stepp enters land that “includes his own improvement where he lives.” As early as 1778 Stepp claimed land on the north side of the Green River.
In 1780, Tory Militia Lt. Anthony Allaire and his men were heading westward in the colony of North Carolina. On Sept. 28, 1780, they crossed Mountain Creek in Rutherford County, the Broad River and the Green River at McDaniel’s Ford, according to Allaire’s military journal. On the morning of Sept. 29, they walked three miles farther west to the “James Stepp Plantation,” where they halted. (Note that the word plantation at this time simply meant the homestead or the home).
James Stepp’s land was in the Dana community near Oleta Falls.
Most likely the first settler into today’s community of Dana, and one of the earliest settlers in all of today’s Henderson County, was James Stepp.
There is a Revolutionary War marker at the grave site of James Stepp (1744-1821). The only record of his service was a pay voucher for militia service.
James Stepp is also documented as having one of the earliest grist mills in what is now the Dana community.
“At the foot of Oleta Falls stood one of the county’s first grist mills,” said Frank FitzSimons in his book “From the Banks of the Oklawaha.”
The stories surrounding Mary “Polly” Mills Stepp have been handed down from generation to generation in Henderson County. This pioneer woman is said to have fought off Indians twice and became a local legend.
Tory Militia Lt. Anthony Allaire confirms in his journal the story of Mary “Polly” Mills Stepp’s first encounter with Indians.
Indians broke into the cabin while her husband was away. They seized an infant and dashed its head against the chimney. Mary Stepp was scalped.
“Her recovery is astonishing,” Allaire wrote. “She is suffering more from the loss of her oldest son, who was taken by the Indians.”
The couple’s oldest son was never heard from again.
Mary shot one of the Indians in that encounter, Allaire states.
The legend continues when Mary “Polly” Mills Stepp fights at an Indian attack at Point Lookout (not the Point Lookout in Henderson County).
“She became angry over the lack of marksmanship of the menfolk at the palisade,” FitzSimons writes. “She grabbed a muzzleloader, aimed at the leader of the attacking Indians and fired, killing him. The Indians retreated.”
When the developers of the Oleta Falls gated development bought the property, they discovered the small cemetery.
“We made it a part of the property to preserve the history,” said A.J. Ball, project manager for Renaissance Communities.
The undergrowth was cleaned, leaving the wildflowers and large trees. Headstones were put back up.
The headstone of James Stepp was discovered and the grave next to his is assumed to be that of his wife, Mary “Polly” Mills Stepp.
Also in the cemetery is the marker for Abraham T. Stepp. He enlisted in the Union’s 2nd N.C. Mounted Infantry, Co. H, on 10-1-1863. He deserted the Union Army on 4-21-1864. He was restored to duty on 11-2-1864 with loss of pay. He was ineligible for mandatory Confederate service until 1863. He died in 1893.
There are 21 unmarked headstones in the well-preserved and maintained cemetery.
Descendants may visit the cemetery by making arrangements with Ball.
For more information, see http://hendersonheritage.com/polly-mills-stepp/