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By J. M. Moseley


Attractions of the West


Virginia was from the beginning unbounded toward the west. The other colonies were more or less definitely bounded and defined in their charter limits. Not so with Virginia. The west was hers. At Fort Stanwix in New York, in 1768, a treaty was made between Virginia and the Six Nations of Indians. This was Thomas Walker’s treaty, securing a quit claim deed to the western lands to the Mississippi. Nearly half the middle west became part of Virginia so far as the claims of the Indians were concerned. There were 3,000 Indians present at this treaty.

There was great attraction for settlers in the fine fertile lands of Kentucky and the Ohio Valley. The Indian word from which Ohio originated was “Oyo!” an exclamatory expression equivalent in English to “How beautiful!” The Indian word “Ken-ta-kee” meant “among the meadows”. This is the origin of the name Kentucky.

Isolated Lee County constituted the main part of the narrow connecting link, or that part of the great Wilderness Road through which all movement from the east to the west for a time had to pass. It was the real strategic Gateway to the West. The Wilderness Road, the longest, blackest and hardest road of pioneer days, was truly through a wilderness. Most roads lose their early names, but this is kept in loyal remembrance. The breaking through the impenetrable barrier of mountains, rivers and jungles and the establishment of a vital artery from Virginia and North Carolina into Kentucky and the great west, was a masterpiece of timely heroism and success unparalelled in all our history. The first settlers in Lee County and beyond, in the beautiful “Ken-ta-kee” country, were mostly English of Scotch-Irish and Welsh descent.


Daniel Boone


At the time when the Long Hunters were searching out the country, there was another character appearing on the horizon who was to play a very important part on the stage for a number of trying years. Daniel Boone had been a soldier in Braddock’s Army. He was middle-aged, medium slender build, dark-haired, thin-lipped, wide-mouthed and grey-eyed. His wife was black-eyed Rebecca Bryan. They lived on the Yadkin River in North Carolina. Boone had already had experience in Indian warfare. He knew another soldier in Braddock’s army named John Finley. One day Finley came to the Boone cabin in North Carolina as a peddler, and told of Kentucky where he had been a trader among the Indians. The two old friends soon talked up a plan for a trip to Kentucky. That was in 1769.

Daniel Bryan, Boone’s nephew and namesake, described Boone’s first trip over the Wilderness Road in a letter to Dr. Lyman C. Draper, written in 1843. He says Boone had five men with him: John Finley, John Stewart, Joseph Holden, James Mooney and William Cooley. Boone had been only part of the way before. He once carved on a beech tree near Jonesboro south of Kingsport (TN): “D Boone cilled a bar on tree 1760". He had been perhaps as far as Moccasin Gap. But on this trip, in May, 1769, they started from the head of the Yadkin River in North Carolina. They came by Moccasin Gap in Clinch Mountain. They came on across Powells Mountain and Wallens Ridge and down Powells Valley, on through Cumberland Gap into Kentucky.

A month later the Long Hunters, James Knox and party, passed over the same route. They had started from Reedy Creek, a branch of New River, and traveled down the Holston and through Moccasin Gap, and on into Powells Valley and through Cumberland Gap into Kentucky.

When Long Hunters followed the same route the next year, 1770, on a hunting trip to Kentucky and return, they found Martins Station occupied by Martin and 20 men.

Daniel Boone’s brother-in-law, John Stewart was with him on this first long trip for exploring and hunting in Kentucky. His son James was then eleven years of age, and could help Rebecca with the crop and provide game for meat. The trip was to keep Boone away for nearly two years, though he did not intend to make it so long a stay.

Boone and Stewart were captured by Indians in Kentucky, but made their escape. They were joined by Squire Boone, Daniel’s brother, and Alexander Neeley. Stewart was later killed by the Indians while hunting along. This left the Boone brothers by themselves, and Neeley became homesick and left them. Not long after, Squire took the furs they had collected and left for North Carolina to sell them and get supplies and return.

Daniel Boone was persistent in trying to make good on his trip. He remained alone to explore and hunt and gather pelts. One day he felt lonely and began to sing as he lay on a deer skin. Kasper Mansker was near, and thought Boone’s singing was a new trick of the Indians. In his long beard and fringed shirt he creeped cautiously up, his long flintlock rifle ready for action. Both men were greatly surprised at the meeting in the deep forest.

Squire Boone returned with supplies, and the brothers resumed their hunt together. On their way home, they were attacked by six or eight Cherokees in Powells Valley, who took their horses, skins and supplies, including their guns, and ordered them to leave the country. Boone had to return to Rebecca empty handed after being nearly two years. But he took back with him a great and burning desire to remove to Kentucky with his family some day and make his home there.


Death of James Boone


In the year 1773, Daniel Boone and Benjamin Cutbirth went to Kentucky on a hunting trip. As they returned, they met Captain William Russell in Clinch Valley. Russell lived at Castlewood. They told him of the rich lands in the Cumberland and Ohio Valley. Russell joined heartily into a plan with them to make a settlement in Kentucky. They determined to arrange at once for a trip. Boone could get flour, seed corn and farming tools from Russell for the proposed settlement. Boone went on home to make immediate preparations to return for the undertaking.

He was enthusiastic about the plan. He sold his home on the Yadkin River in North Carolina, and organized a party to go from the Yadkin, from Castlewood and from the Valley of Virginia. There would be quite a company coming from different points to join in the undertaking. Arrangements were made for the different groups to meet in Powells Valley the last of September, 1773.

When Boone and his family and party reached Abingdon, then called Wolf Hills, he sent his son James, 16 years of age, and John and Richard Mendenhall of Guilford, North Carolina, to Captain Russell’s place to inform him the party had started. They were to obtain the flour, seed corn and farming tools, and join the party at the appointed place in Powells Valley, apparently near the head of Station Creek about the foot of Wallens Ridge, where the whole force would assemble for the trip.

This prearranged meeting place was accessible from all points, as some were coming from Powells Valley, some by the Lovelady Road, and some by Kanes Gap and Stickleyville. Most of the travel at that time was by Kanes Gap on Powells Mountain above Duffield. The Pattonsville route across to Stickleyville did not come into general use until about 1804. The Kanes Gap route was evidently the one taken by Boone and his party.

Colonel Robert Spear was a very intelligent man who lived to be more than a hundred years of age. He was a native of Lee County, and removed with his father to Speers Ferry, then a part of Lee County, in his boyhood days, in the year 1800, he made the trip several times over the Boone Path, and knew the route well. Colonel A. L. Pridemore talked with Spear in his old days. He was a man of good memory, and served in the Virginia Legislature after he was ninety. In talking with Pridemore, he definitely placed the route across Kanes Gap, down by Stickleyville, and across Wallens Ridge to Station Creek. The road passed a large spring just north of Stickleyville, on the south side of Wallens Ridge. From this spring it is about three miles to the foot of the Ridge on the north side.

It was a good day’s journey from Holston settlement to Powells Valley by Kanes Gap. James Boone and companions were expected to join his father at the appointed camping place by nightfall. From Captain Russell’s place James and his party were joined by Henry Russell, 17 year old son of Captain Russell. Two of Russell’s slaves, Charles and Adam, were along. Besides John and Richard Mendenhall there was Isaac Crabtree. The party was heavily loaded. They came through Rye Cove, and across Powells Mountain at Kanes Gap. They lost their way and were delayed on the way. Night came on, and they were three miles short of the goal, and had to go into camp at the Fannon Spring. J. H. Duff’s map (Draper Mss 6 C 89) locates this point on the south side of Wallens Ridge near Stickleyville. But they had gotten in sight of Cumberland Mountain from Powells Mountain at Kanes Gap.

That night, when wolves howled dismally around their camp, the Mendenhalls became afraid. Isaac Crabtree joked them and said that in Kentucky they would hear “buffaloes and wolves howling in the tree tops.”

At daybreak the next morning the party was attacked by Shawnee Indians. They were taken by surprise. There were no indications of a struggle or battle. In fact there is no evidence that they were even armed. They were heavily loaded with supplies, and as they were preceded by Daniel Boone’s party, and followed by William Russell and David Gass, and as they expected to reach Daniel Boone’s camp that night, it was perhaps thought that rifles would not be needed. At any rate they were powerless before the enemy.

Only two of the party escaped, Isaac Crabtree and Adam the slave. The two young men, James Boone and Henry Russell, were killed, also John and Richard Mendenhall. Among the attackers was “Big Jim,” a Shawnee who had once visited the Boones at their cabin. He was recognized by James. Young Boone pleaded for his life and that of his companions, but the Indians cruelly tortured them with knives. When they would strike young Russell with a knife, he would seize the knife with his hand. This caused his terrible bloody mutilation. When the torture continued, James begged the Shawnee to end his work quickly and not torture them any longer.

Charles the Negro was taken captive. It was learned later from the Indians that two of the warriors quarreled on their way over which would own the slave. To settle the quarrel, the chief killed the Negro with his tomahawk. The other Negro Adam, wandered several days and made his way back home to the settlement. He was set free several years later by the will of Mrs. Russell.

Soon after the tragedy, Captain William Russell and Captain David Gass came along and found the mutilated bodies of the victims. Daniel Boone was reached at his waiting place and apprised of the tragedy. Some of the party rushed back to Holston settlement for aid, and made the trip and back the same day. This was good time over a trail like they had to travel at that time.

Isaac Crabtree witnessed the killing of James Boone and his companions. He was so enraged that ever after he tried to kill any Indian that he might reach, friend or enemy. He would not tolerate the presence of an Indian. Once while attending a horse race on the Watauga, he spied there Indians watching the race, two men and a squaw. One of the men was “Cherokee Billy,” a relative of Chief Connastota. Crabtree shot Cherokee Billy and tried to get the other two, but was prevented by the crowd with much difficulty. It was greatly feared that this might bring trouble from the Indians. There was a local reward of fifty pounds sterling, and one hundred pounds more by the governor, offered for Crabtree, but he was never apprehended. Still he did not desist in his efforts to contact the Indians. The only way those in authority could prevent him from doing some overt act to cause grave danger to the pioneers along the sparcely settled frontier was to keep him busy with necessary military duties.

On the day of the tragic death of James Boone and his party, Boone’s expected reinforcements arrived from different routes. There were forty new comers, quite a good crowd on their way to Kentucky to make the new settlement. But finding the grave situation, they were all for immediate return to their home settlements. Only Daniel Boone was for pressing on to their goal. He had sold his home on the Yadkin and had nothing to go back to. His one big purpose was to make a settlement in Kentucky, and he could hardly give up under my circumstances. But the large company prevailed, and insisted on going back to await a more favorable time.

James Boone and his companions were buried there at their camping place. Their lonely graves remain unmarked and undiscovered. Daniel Boone was known to have made a hasty visit to the place in 1775, but it seems that no effort was ever made to permanently mark the graves.

The grief stricken father and mother of James Boone sadly returned to Captain Russell’s place at Castlewood, and there lived in a deserted cabin belonging to Captain David Gass. It was two years before the trip could be undertaken again because of Indian troubles.

Colonel A. L. Pridemore once expressed the opinion that the James Boone massacre occurred somewhere near the western end of Lee County. This was based on no apparent evidence other than the view of Cumberland Mountain from that point and the idea that Boone’s Trail led down Wallens Creek instead of across Wallen’s Ridge near Stickleyville and out by Jonesville. This theory Colonel Pridemore himself came to abandon after looking further into the situation. He learned later that Cumberland Mountain is visible from Powells Mountain near Kanes Gap, and being convinced of the authentic evidence of Colonel Speak and others that the Wilderness Road crossed from Stickleyville to Station Creek and out by Jonesville, he got a different view of the locality. He confessed his changed viewpoint in a letter to Dr. Lyman C. Draper, dated April 6, 1889. This is Draper Mss 6 C 27 and is on filed with the Wisconsin Historical Society. Conclusive evidence of this is that Wheeler in the western part of the County is some sixty miles from the Holston settlements by the Wilderness Road, which would have required two days travel instead of one. While we must take tradition alone with caution, there has been kept up a continual line of tradition among the older citizens of the community that the Fannon Spring, from which is now piped the water to the Stickleyville High School, was the scene of the murder of James Boone and companions. This is substantiated by reliable records which we have mentioned.

[NOTE: Daniel Boone had three sons and two daughters. One son was killed by Indians in a battle on Kentucky River. The other son lived at Charette, Missouri later, 50 miles west of St. Louis. After the death of his wife, Rebecca, Daniel Boone lived with his son there until his death, and was buried in Frankfort, Kentucky, in 1822.]


Brown’s Journal - 1782

Filed in the Library of the University of Chicago. A section from William Brown’s Journal helps to locate the Gateway definitely:

Flat Lick

To North Fork of Clinch (Duffield) - 1 mile

To Powells Mountain (Kanes Gap) - 1 mile

To Wallens Ridge (Stickleyville) - 5 miles

To Valley Station (Station Creek) - 2 miles

To Glade Springs (Jonesville) - 4 miles

To Martins Station - 19 miles

To Big Spring - 12 miles

To Cumberland Gap - 8 miles

There were several journals that refer to this Road, all corresponding reasonably close, so as to leave no real doubt as to its location.


The Wilderness Road


Daniel Boone did not first find the course of the Wilderness Trail through Lee County, but he first marked it out. In 1775, he and several others, explorers and hunters, had been over the course before. But this was the first organized effort to establish it as a definite trail. By that time he and many others were familiar with the locality down Powells Valley and through Cumberland Gap. In fact Martin’s Station was already established at that time. But after the trail was marked out by Boone and his party, it remained about the same, unchanged. It lies along the present highway No. 58, and the L & N Railroad in the western part of Lee County.

At the Block House in Scott County (VA), where roads converged from other points, began the one Wilderness Road that passed through Lee County. Here the roads from Philadelphia in the north, from Richmond in the east, and from Yadkin Valley in North Carolina, via Kingsport, all converged into one. From the Block House to Powells Valley it was about 25 miles. Thence to Cumberland Gap about 50 miles more.

One is impressed by the great influence upon history the Gaps or Passes have had. Moccasin Gap in Clinch Mountain, Kanes Gap in Powells Mountain, Cumberland Gap, in Cumberland Mountain and Pine Mountain Gap at Pineville have each played parts in history. But for these, how much more difficult would have been the conquest of the wilderness. Buffaloes were the first to adopt the passes and make trails through them; then the Indians. These were natural trails marked out ages before the pioneers came.

The travelers of those early days could have bypassed Powells Mountain and Wallens Ridge by keeping up Wild Cat Valley from Duffield to Big Stone Gap, and then down the main Powells Valley. But this would have required some twenty-five miles more distance. It was the policy of the pioneer, as well as the habit of the buffalo and the Indian, to take the shortest distance where possible, even though more difficult. The trails or roads followed valleys as much as possible, but often deviated from the direct course at rivers to reach suitable places for fords.

We pause with reverence as we think of the herculean task of moving 200,000 people over such a Road, through such obstacles and with such hardships, with women and children and all the supplies, up to the year 1800. And in the records and journals kept, there was scarcely a complaint of the hardships and suffering that must have been endured. There is in this fact the inestimable mark of real courage and patience. Greatest of all these hardships and dangers was the menace of the Indians which continued to be a threat until after Lee County was organized in 1792.

The Wilderness Road was very important in pioneer days, though very rough and beset with many dangers. Over this Wilderness Road through Lee County struggled hundreds of thousands on their way to establish the first state beyond the mountains. The history of this route through its remarkable natural gateways is rich with events of achievement, picturesque and romantic. Yet how soon are such connecting links of history forgotten. Only the historians and the few remaining very old people with good memories prevent the noble records from passing into oblivion. It has been easy to forget, though its picturesque achievements were made at great cost to our ancestors.

In the time of the settlement of Lee County, the Indians occupied the territory southward as their homes, and northward in the Ohio Valley; but a strip of land consisting of Southwest Virginia and a part of Tennessee and Kentucky constituted a kind of no-man’s-land for them. It was likewise visited by contending tribes in war.

By its strategic location this territory was dangerous ground for settlement by the whites. Lee County was especially so situated, not only in time of conflict with the Indians, but also in the Civil War.


Sycamore Shoals Treaty


Richard Henderson was a Virginian by birth and a North Carolinian by citizenship. He conceived the idea of purchasing the land extending to Kentucky from the Cherokees. The Indians called him “Carolina Dick.” He promoted a company to purchase the land to and including the Kentucky wilderness, as a big money making plan. He organized what he called the Transylvania Company. His partners were three Hart brothers, Nathaniel, Thomas and David, and John Luttrel, James Hogg, Leonard Bullock and William Johnson.

Henderson was dignified and strong, an imposing figure, protruding chin, square jaws, tall, proud and authorative. He was a man of organizing type, one who would press on fearlessly to gain his purpose.

He and Nathaniel Hart worked up a plan to meet with the Indians for a treaty by which they would purchase the land. The meeting was arranged through the old Chief Attakullakulla, who was a friend to the whites, and himself a strong leader, though advanced in years. He was called the “Little Carpenter” because of his influence in building up agreements at treaty councils. The meeting was arranged for at Sycamore Shoals on the Watauga fifteen miles south east of Kingsport, near where the Elizabethton rayon mills are located.

In January, 1775, six wagons loaded with goods for the treaty at Sycamore Shoals passed Royal Oaks, the home of the Militia Commander, Arthur Campbell. They were loaded with corn, flour, salt, rum, ribbons, guns, powder, lead, wristbands, blankets, brooches, mirrors and trinkets, all valued at about ten thousand pound sterling. Henderson was in the lead, giving out his authorative commands. Near the wagons was the frail old Indian Chief Attakullakulla who, assisted by an Indian woman, had helped select the cargo at Cross Creek, North Carolina. Good were stored in cabins on the Watauga until the Treaty.

At the treaty meeting gathered several Chiefs and Warriors, squaws and papooses, in all about 1,000. Daniel Boone was there in the services of Henderson and Hart. He knew Kentucky and desired to make his home there. He knew the way through the wilderness. He knew most of the Indian Chiefs.

There were: Attakullakulla, the Little Carpenter; Oconostota, the War Chief; Savanooka, the Raven, nephew of Oconostota; Onistosetah, the Corn Tassel; Willanaugwa, the Great Eagle and Dragging Canoe, the son of Attakullakulla.

Dick Henderson had already made arrangements with Daniel Boone to start cutting out the Road as soon as the treaty was over. He had thirty men prepared for the job of blazing the trail, in waiting and camped at Long Island near Kingsport. (TN)

This great meeting convened in March, 1775. The first day was taken up with a big barbecue, feasting and formality, with friendly speeches. On the second day Daniel Boone stated the demands - all the land between the Kentucky River and the Tennessee River - in consideration of goods and money valued at 10,000 pounds sterling.

Many condemned Henderson for his plans. The Indian Chiefs warned that the Shawnees claimed the land, and would not fail to give trouble. But Henderson replied that Cornstalk, the great Shawnee Chief, had made a treaty of peace after the battle of Point Pleasant, and had given up all claims south of the Ohio.

The great chief Attakullakulla, 75 years of age, had once visited England and was received by the King in 1730-31. He was always afterwards a friend to the English. He favored the treaty and the sale of the land to the whites. The other Chiefs were ready to agree, except Dragging Canoe. He arose and spoke against the treaty. He said, as translated:

Whole nations have melted away like balls of snow before the sun. The whites have passed the mountains and settled upon Cherokee lands, and now wish to have their usurpation sanctioned by the confirmation of a treaty. New sessions will be required, and the small remnant of my people will be compelled to seek a new retreat in some far distant wilderness. There they will be permitted to stay only a short while, until they again behold the advancing banners of the same greedy host. When the whites are unable to point out any further retreat for the miserable Cherokees, they will proclaim the extinction of the whole race. Should we not therefore run all risks, and incur all consequences, rather than submit to further laceration of our country? Such treaties may be all right for men too old to hunt or fight. As for me, I have my young warriors about me. We will have our lands.

The Indians were impressed by Dragging Canoe’s speech. There was much excitement, and Henderson proclaimed a recess, feasting the people and trying to sooth and ruffled feelings of the Cherokees. At last the other Chiefs were induced to sign the treaty, which conveyed a territory estimated at 20,000,000 acres, on March 17, 1775. Dragging Canoe did not sign the treaty, and was never friendly to the whites. He told Henderson: You have bought a fair land, but there is a cloud having over it. You will find its settlement dark and bloody. This was indeed prophetic.

Though the land was thus bought, Henderson then asked that an extra deed be made to the trail from Watauga to Cumberland Gap, with hunting grounds on either side. This offended Dragging Canoe still more. He said, You have made a deed for the whole land; what more do you want?  He was a bitter opponent and enemy always after, and devoted every effort to making the treaty of no avail. He never would enter a treaty with whites again. The deed to the boundary of land was recorded at Rogersville, Tennessee, in 1794, but no copy of the Path Deed is known to exist anywhere, though such a deed was signed at that time.

On March 10, 1775, Daniel Boone and his crew of thirty men began preparations to mark out the famous Wilderness Road. Familiar names among his trail blazers were his brother Squire Boone and his son-in-law Will Hays, also Michael Stoner, Benjamin Cutbirth, William Bush, David Gass, Richard Callaway, William Twetty, Samuel Coburn, Thomas Johnson, James Bridges, William Hicks, and James Peeke.

They came through Moccasin Gap, then by Speers Ferry, Stock Creek, Natural Tunnel, Horton’s Summet, Duffield, Kanes Gap, Wallens Creek, Stickleyville, Wallens Ridge, Station Creek, Powells River, Jonesville, Natural Bridge, Martins Station, Cumberland Gap and on into Kentucky, northward to Boonesborough. Indians attacked them at Richmond, Kentucky, and Negro Sam, William Twetty’s servant, was killed and two others wounded. Boone rallied his men and drove the Indians off. They built a barricade and cared for the wounded there. Captain Twetty died the next day. He and his Negro servant were buried in the stockade. 


Henderson on the Trail


Henderson started to follow on, March 20, 1775. He had not the consent of Virginia nor of North Carolina. Lord Dunmore issued orders against his undertaking, March 21, and Governor Martin of North Carolina opposed it and called Henderson an invader. British agents ordered Henderson’s arrest. But Henderson went boldly on his mission, with supplies - food, ammunition, seed corn, garden seeds, farming tools, live stock and household goods. He arrived at Martin’s Station March 30, 1775, and found Joseph martin much interested in his plans. Henderson appointed him to take entries for land with the Transylvania Company, and gave Brice Martin, Joseph’s brother, the first entry of 500 acres in the neighborhood of Middlesboro. Henderson stayed at Martin’s five days. They had to leave their wagons there and change to packhorses. They had bee compelled to take wagons apart in places along the way, and reassemble them, because of the impassability of the road. Henderson left Martin’s April 5, 1775, for Cumberland gap. He received a letter from Boone about the trouble with the Indians as he camped in five miles of the Gap.

On April 8, they started across Cumberland Gap, and began to meet people turning back, about forty fleeing from the troubled area. Several Virginians turned back from his company. There was much confusion and fear, but at last Henderson’s party arrived at Boone’s Camp. Henderson took command, set up his office, and began to administer government.

George Rogers Clark was a young surveyor. While Daniel Boone and Dick Henderson were founding Boonesborough, Clark was surveying the vicinity of Frankfort. He sometimes visited James Harrod’s settlement at Harrodsburg, and saw the spirit of opposition to Henderson’s claims among the settlers. Hundreds of settlers were flowing into Kentucky over the Wilderness Road, independent of Henderson’s authority.

Henderson sold half a million acres in six months. Boonesborough was his flourishing capital  of Transylvania. There was ever a growing conflict between Henderson’s capitalistic movement and the free settlements. Clark saw, but did not say much. He returned to Virginia in 1775, and back to Harrodsburg the next year. He advised the people to make a protest to the Virginia Assembly against the North Carolina proprietor Henderson. The people at once sent a petition to the Virginia Convention at Williamsburg, then the capitol of Virginia. They stated that the price of land had been raised from 30's to 50's per hundred acres, and might be raised higher. Eighty-eight names were signed on the petitioners’ list.

In the very early days settlers began to follow into the wilds of the as yet unexplored west. William Poage and his family went with Daniel Boone on one of his trips to Kentucky. Poage settled at Boonesborough in September, 1775. He was a skillful man and made vessels of wood. He is reported to have made the first wooden plow stock ever used in Kentucky, and the first loom in the State. His wife is credited with bringing the first spinning wheel into Kentucky from Augusta County, Virginia, over the Wilderness road. She made the first linen cloth from the lint of wild stinging nettles. She made linsey from lint of nettles and wool from the buffalo.

The Stevensons, Gays, Allens, Dunlaps and Trembles and others went Kentucky from the Valley of Virginia and erected the first church in Kentucky at Pisgeh near Lexington.


Jones and Clark


George Rogers Clark called a meeting of the independent settlers at Harrodsburg, June 6, 1776. The people prepared a much stronger protest against Henderson and also the British, and selected Clark and a young attorney, John Gabriel Jones, as delegates to carry the petition directly to Williamsburg.

The two young men started on the Wilderness Road. They got along very well at first. But on the third day, Jone’s horse gave out and had to be abandoned. They put their packs on the other horse, and took turns riding and walking. Heavy rains set in , and they found hard going. They could not even make a fire to dry their drenched clothes for fear of the Indians. Their feet became “scalded” and sore. They heard guns in the forest, and were sure the Indians were near.

They passed through Cumberland Gap and on up Powells Valley to Martins Station, expecting relief there, but found the place deserted, and there were Indian tracks around. They were exhausted, and had 60 miles yet to go to reach a settlement. There was corn in a crib near by, and a hog in a lot. They formed a plan. Clark selected a small cabin standing out from the rest. He climbed to the roof, working his way inside, and cut the lock that secured the door. Jones went after the hog with his sword. He got a keg of water, brought in some corn, and the carcas of the hog. Then they barred the door and made a fire. They cut out portholes in the wall, and arranged their rifles, sabers, pistols and ammunition on a table, and planned for defense in case of attack. They prepared food, and bathed their aching feet with water in which oak bark had been boiled.

They were very well fixed to stand a siege. When night came they heard the tinkle of a bell. They awaited an attack from the Indians, but soon discovered two white men creeping toward the cabin. They opened the door and called loudly to the men. They were from Fort Blackmore, returning to take up some things they had left a few days before. They had seen smoke from the chimney and thought Indians were in the cabin. They were creeping up to make an attack.

Jones and Clark rested several days to allow their feet to get well, then they resumed their journey. When they reached Fincastle they learned that the Virginia Legislature had adjourned. Jones returned to the Holston settlement and Clark went on to Hanover to the home of Governor Patrick Henry.

The Governor was ill, but he received Clark and heard his account of the west, and his wishes. Henry had spoken his famous words against King George III, and had taken bold stand for liberty. He was ready to aid the liberty-loving, free settlers in the west. He heard Clark’s request for 500 pounds of powder, and gave him a letter to the executive council at the capitol.

Clark went to Williamsburg at once, but the Council did not want to let him have the powder, because a war with Great Britain was on hand. Those settlements were not officially recognized. To give them the supplies would indicate a duty to protect them. It was a hard case, but they would only loan the powder to Clark. But the careful representative would accept no compromise. He said: If a country is not worth protecting, it is not worth claiming. They at length yielded, and gave him the powder.

All of the extreme southwestern part of Virginia was then included in Fincastle County, which was represented by Colonel Arthur Campbell. Kentucky had not yet been made a County of Virginia. When the Assembly met, Clark and Jones presented themselves as delegates on the strength of instructions from the Harrodsburg Convention. Colonel Campbell opposed them. Colonel Henderson was also there to lobby against them because of his claim on the land he had bought from the Cherokee Indians. But Clark and Jones won. The Virginia Legislature passes an act which made Kentucky a County from a part of Fincastle County. This measure was passed December 6, 1776. When Kentucky thus became a County of Virginia. George Rogers Clark and John Gabriel Jones were its first representatives in the Virginia Assembly. Henderson was later partly compensated by a grant of 200,000 acres of land along the Ohio were Henderson, Kentucky was founded.

Clark and Jones had trouble getting their grant of 500 pounds of powder to Harrodsburg. It was sent down the Ohio River, and Jones went up from Harrodsburg with some men to get it. They fell into an Indian ambush, and Jones and three of his men were killed.

The British stirred up the Indians from Detroit to attack the settlers in Kentucky. Clark sent spies to Kaskaskia in Illinois, to learn about the British forces at Vincennes and Detroit. The trouble increased, and young Clark decided to go to Williamsburg and see if he could get a commission to take action. In October, 1777, he again made his way over the Wilderness road through Cumberland Gap and Powells Valley. He was with a large company of men, women and children, trying to get into the Holston settlement for protection. They necessarily traveled slowly. They camped at Cumberland Gap where Indians were lurking in the neighborhood. The next day they reached Martin’s Station. They thus continued their slow journey.

At Royal Oaks, then in Fincastle County, Clark spent a night with Colonel Arthur Campbell. From there he left the company and hastened to the Capitol, where he talked over the wester situation with Governor Patrick Henry, who was favorably impressed.


Clark’s Expedition


Governor Henry took the matter up privately with Thomas Jefferson, George Mason and George Wythe. All were agreeable, but the matter was treated as a secret plan. They got the Virginia Assembly to agree to send 500 militia to defend the Kentucky frontier. Privately the Governor authorized Clark to go into the Illinois Country.

But Clark was never able to get 500 men. He got four companies of volunteers. Some went by the Ohio route down to Louisville, some volunteered from Kentucky settlements, and some marched over the Wilderness Road through Lee County. When the time for action came, he had only 175 available men.

He gathered his meager forces on a seven-acre island in the Ohio River above the falls (Louisville). He built a fortification, and had part of the island planted in corn. He kept his ultimate plans secret, even from his men. On June 24, 1778, he and his small force went down the rapids while the sun was in eclipse, and on to the objective outposts of British Forces. They captured Kaskaskia and Kahokia. He sent John Montgomery and John Rogers on the 1,000 mile journey to Williamsburg to report the victory to Governor Henry.

Clark was in difficult straits, being without authority to administer civil government of the captured territory, and without funds and not enough force to go on to Vincennes. He later sent a young man, William Myers, over the Wilderness Road with letters to Governor Henry at Williamsburg.

Four long months passed in silence over Myer’s mission. On February 25, 1779, Clark marched his ragged soldiers through icy waters and captured Vincennes, and the British Commander Henry Hamilton. Two days later, young Myers arrived by boat on the Wabash with cheering messages from Governor Henry. The Virginia Legislature had provided for civil control and management of the new territory of Illinois, and promised funds for Clark’s needs.

Clark sent William Myers back with his late report on March 13, 1779, to Governor Henry. Myers went down the Wabash with three other men in a canoe, and reached the Island garrison on April 4. He started from there no horseback over the Wilderness Road, with John Moore. They were immediately attacked by Huron Indians and Myers was killed and Moore taken prisoner. Clark’s report on Vincennes was taken from Myer’s pocket.


Colonel Henry Hamilton


The British Commander, Colonel Henry Hamilton, and several other prisoners were sent over the Wilderness Road to Williamsburg. The trip was quite severe on the British Commander. He made some entries in his journal along the way. He was not so much impressed with Cumberland Gap, but he made a special note of the Natural Bridge near Jonesville.

He wrote: A very copious stream of fine water breaks out of the ground in a beautiful valley well clothed with clover, skirted with rising ground ornamented with a variety of timber trees, evergreens and shrubs. At about 250 yards from its source it passes under a rocky ledge with serves for a bridge, being about 60 feet wide at the top, and covered with trees. The road passes over this Natural Bridge, which is hollowed into several arched cavities, some of a considerable dimension. This pretty stream and peaceful scene would have engaged me a considerable time, but I had no allowance and just took two light sketches on cards. I went to see the cave from which the creek (as ‘tis properly called) issues. It is arched over naturally and the covering is really very smooth and even. A tall man may stand upright in it and walk 70 yards, a breach in the top taking in light sufficient. I thought it singular enough to take a view of it.

The trip occupied three days from Glade Springs (Jonesville) to Moccasin Gap. They reached the Capitol June 17, 1779, and Lord Henry Hamilton was put in the Williamsburg jail.


Famous Trail


In colonial times, as the Revolutionary period came on, the scattered settlements here were in a specially precarious position. The British outflanked the colonies on the west, and used this advantage, not so much for direct attack as to insight the Indians to cruel treachery and attack against the struggling and helpless pioneers. But for their own tenacious courage and daring efforts the exposed peninsula of settlements of North Carolina and Virginia in the Holston and in Southwest Virginia and Kentucky would have been destroyed. The British especially disliked the movement of pioneers int he settlement of Kentucky as a threat to them there. This led to every effort being made to stir up the Indians against the settlers who were ready to start an ever increasing stream westward over the Wilderness road in 1775. The right to Kentucky had been given Virginia by treaty with the Six Nations at Stanwix (Roan) New York in 1768. This included all the lands between the Ohio and Tennessee Rivers.

Most of the travel to the west during 20 years, 1775 and 1795, was over the Wilderness Road through Lee County. The small balance of travel was over the mountain roads to Pittsburgh and down the Ohio. Travel eastward was almost all by the Wilderness Road, add going east against the flow of the river was not easy then. We even note that a military order for a trip from Cincinnati to Washington in 1792, the year Lee County was organized and Kentucky was made a state, specified the Wilderness Road by Cumberland Gap and Powells Valley. In fact this condition prevailed for two decades afterward. More than 100,000 pioneers traveled this famous Trail before it became even a wagon road. All classes of settlers, home seekers, teachers, lawyers, doctors, preachers, came over this Road for the founding of a great society and state. Kentucky was settled over this as a bridal path 200 miles long, from Holston through Lee County to central Kentucky. Much travel passed this way to the Cumberland River settlements at Nashville and middle Tennessee. This should make the Road famous for all time.

To be continued............