Garrett B. Forbes was born in 1904 in the Tiger Creek section of Carter County, TN. His parents, James Harrison and Mary Vista Moffitt Forbes, moved their family to Mitchell County when Garrett was two. He had older sisters Pearl Forbes Yelton and Bertha Forbes Burleson. Younger siblings included Dave (died aged 2), Earl Forbes, Ed Ray Forbes, and Zeda Jane Forbes.
Garrett’s wife was Della Laws (1905-1987), daughter of Moses and Cleopatra Adkins Laws. They were married on 10/2/1926 in Red Hill by Magistrate Jeff Garland. In 1976, Garrett and Della celebrated their Golden Anniversary.
Elizabeth Hunter, author of the fine history of Mitchell County, Voices of the Valley, said that Garrett Forbes was a man close to her heart. She wrote a full-page article on Forbes for The Mitchell Journal issue of 11/2/1978. “He and his wonderful wife Delia are the closest things I’ve got to kin here in North Carolina,” she said. Due to her friendship with the couple and the fact that he had a recent cancer diagnosis, she hoped her “story would do him justice.”
Hunter’s article did do Forbes justice; his history and his character are on display as he described “a poor boy’s story of part of his hard life.” He regretted his limited education and having to give up on his ambition to become a medical doctor. He developed considerable veterinary skills, however, during his long career of owning and trading livestock. “I always liked to have things growing on the farm,” he said, “young horses, cattle, pigs and chickens coming on.”
In his early years, Forbes made a living logging, cutting timber and hauling it to Toecane to be transported out by railroad. He also farmed extensively, growing potatoes, for example, that he took by wagon to Johnson City to sell. There was as yet no paved road over Iron Mountain, so the trip from Red Hill took all day.
During World War II, Forbes worked in the defense industry, first in a Maryland plant making bombers, then in Kingsport and Oak Ridge, TN. Although his long-cherished desire was to go West and “get a little spread there,” he returned to Mitchell County and accumulated considerable land through the years. He told Elizabeth Hunter, “I love land. I like to till the soil,” and spoke further of “the pleasure and enjoyment” he found in “tending to it and taking care of it.”
His other love was trading; Hunter described how he “traded everything – land, timber, cows, horses, pigs, stoves, appliances and machinery,” enjoying the exchange as much he liked to talk and crack jokes.
According to Forbes’s Johnson City Press obituary of 4/29/1979, he was a member of Russ Memorial Presbyterian Church. He and Della are buried in the cemetery there. In Hunt
er’s article, Forbes commented on teachers sent by the Presbyterian Church; “The Presbyterians did more for our little community than anybody.”
Mitchell County’s heritage is rich with people like Garrett Forbes, who asserted “I was just like everybody else. I was born to make my way in the world, and I’ve tried to do it.”