The first Bailey settler in Mitchell County is said to have been John Bailey (1771-1838), who was the son of pioneer Edmond Bailey. Family tradition holds that following service in the French and Indian War, Edmond Bailey moved from Pennsylvania to North Carolina. According to researcher Dr. Lloyd R. Bailey, Sr., who has compiled numerous volumes of Bailey family history, other children of Edmund settled in the Toe River Valley. Ansel Bailey (1763-1855) settled in what is now Yancey County, and William Bailey (ca 1775-1848) settled on Mine Creek. Mary Bailey (1762-1836), wife of Isaac Cox, and another Bailey who married David Cox may have been daughters of Edmund.
Many writers, including Ashton Chapman of the Tri-County News, John Parris of the Asheville Citizen, and Muriel Earley Shepherd, author of Cabins in the Laurel, told the tale of “Deer Park John.” He married Ruthia Ellis (1771-1843), whose family purportedly came from Maryland in a wagon train in 1806. Her brother John Ellis and his wife died on the journey or soon after arriving in the Toe River Valley, and Ruthia assumed care of her nephew William Ellis and nieces Polly and Sally Ellis.
The story goes that neighboring bachelor John Bailey shared meat from his hunting with Ruthia and her young charges, fell in love with and married her. John and Ruthia had 3 children of their own: Nancy Bailey Buchanan (born 1812), Joshua (born 1814), and James (born 1816). John and Ruthia Bailey, with many of their descendants, are buried in the Deer Park Cemetery.
The label “Deer Park” originated in 1875, when James Bailey, son of John and Ruthia, began “the first game refuge to be established in Western North Carolina.” The deer herd within the refuge grew to about 100, and some were so tame they came when Polly “Polly” Cox, James Bailey’s wife, called. The deer, which wore red flannel collars with tinkling bells, attracted visitors from far and wide. However, with the number of deer in the region declining due to over-hunting, the deer in Bailey’s preserve were a great temptation to local hunters. “In the face of repeated reprisals upon their personal property the family stoutly maintained the sanctity of the deer refuge.”
According to Shepherd, James Bailey sold to Isaac English the property which became known as the English Inn. Deer Park Baileys also had the distinction of building the first lumber mill in the region, in 1872. James built a second in 1880, with a dam across the Toe River to supply power for the cross-cut saw. Several mines were also opened on Bailey land, worked for beryl and mica, and later for feldspar.