GATEWAY TO THE WEST
By J. M. Moseley
Importance of Martins Station
As we have already seen, Joseph Martin is outstanding in Lee County history. He was doubtless the founder of the first settlement in the bounds of the present Lee County. His Station near Rose Hill made travel through Powells Valley possible by giving aid to travelers along the Wilderness Road. This Valley is famous, but rather silent in those days. Trying days they were. We have seen how Richard Henderson had purchased twenty million acres of land from the Cherokees, which gave impetus to westward expansion. This purchase and treaty was made one month prior to the outbreak of Lexington and Concord which began the Revolutionary conflict. Martin’s Station gave help to hundreds passing this way. Travelers going either direction were much dependent upon Martin for supplies, shelter and protection on the way. It is said that as many as 50 families were dependent for bread upon the supplies of Martin’s Station at one time.
A letter from John Williams at Boonesborough to Captain Henderson referred to a complaint by the settlers in Powells Valley against travelers bringing in cattle to lodge and graze on the range. William seemed to acknowledge the injustice of overgrazing by outsiders, but defended Colonel Hart’s right to stop with cattle in passing over the Road, because Hart was a partner with Henderson.
Indians sometimes came to Martin’s for badly needed food and supplies. Indeed there is no doubt that the inroads upon Indian domain reduced them to dire need at times, which caused them to make raids on travelers for food and supplies. At one time, they made a raid in Kentucky near Cumberland Gap, and took supplies from packhorses, but the travelers escaped. The Kentuckians returned with help and tracked the Indians in the snow. They found them stripped and drying their blankets by a great fire. Taken by surprise, the Indians fled naked in the snow. The pursuers, well-clothed, had frost bitten feet. One can imagine what punishment must have fallen upon the needy and naked savages. They had even tried to strip bark from trees to protect themselves against the cold.
In fifteen years, between 1775 and 1790, seventy-five thousand people passed through Powells Valley. During the last decade before 1800, the population of Kentucky raised to 220,000. No other definite movement of population in America ever equaled the movement through Lee County and Cumberland Gap, during a quarter of a century up to 1800. Lee County was indeed an isolated but all important gateway to the west. Martin’s Station was an all important supply point and rest center for this great movement.
We have seen Dick Henderson come and go in his capitalistic movement. We have seen the influence of the British broken by George Rogers Clark in Kentucky and Illinois. We have seen Kentucky made a new State in 1792, and Lee County organized in 1792-93, with Jonesville as its county seat. Still the tide of emigration surges on.
In 1796, Moses Austin, owner of a lead mine near Ingle’s Ferry, and James Bell, traveled through Lee County over the Wilderness Road. They report spending a night at Benedict Yeary’s house near Stickleyville, where they slept on the floor. They report spending the next night at Mr. John Ewing’s house in Jonesville. At the County Seat there were ten houses and two stores at that time. Their next stop was at Mrs. Davis’s Tavern in Middlesboro. Austin said he saw a great emigration going over the Wilderness Road, families traveling in ice and snow, crossing rivers and creeks, without shoes or stockings, and with hardly enough clothes to cover their nakedness, and no money nor provisions, except what they could get along the way. Most of these were striving to get to the famous Kentucky to get land, passing good places that could have been taken free. On reaching Kentucky they found most of the good land already secured by others, and met with great disappointment. Such is the restless nature of men.
Bishop Francis Asbery, lank and tall, with sharp eyes and long white hair, was the first bishop of the Methodist Church in America (1784). He was never married. He traveled on horseback forty years, from the Atlantic to the Mississippi. He crossed the Allegheny Mountains sixty times, ordained 3,000 preachers, preached 17,000 sermons, and traveled 275,000 miles. He went to Kentucky first in 1793, through Lee County, the year it was completely organized for county government. He spoke of the stream of adventurers he saw along the Wilderness Road, four or five hundred, many almost naked, barefooted, laboring over the rocky hills, often with little or nothing to eat, camping in the woods and rain.
There has for centuries been friction, controversy and conflict between England and Scotland. The Scots were mountain people, Protestants, and liberty-loving. But during the 16th and 17th centuries they were victims of English political and religious controversy and oppression.
Many of the Scots were removed and colonized in Ulster, a district of northern Ireland. Their worship as Presbyterians was suppressed. They had never been permitted to own their homes free of oppression. They at length were required to pay two-thirds of the crops they raised on lands they had cleared, and were heavily taxed besides.
The Scots and the native Irish were not always congenial, but they had common interests, as both were oppressed. There were intermarriages among them and amalgamation. Thus the Scotch-Irish became a distinctive class of hardy mountain folks who longed for freedom. They were the descendants of the Presbyterian Scots and the Irish of Ulster.
Fortunately the new lands of America opened up to a great opportunity to the oppressed Scotch-Irish. They came over by thousands. They settled in Pennsylvania where they could have religious freedom. They began to come to America as early as 1635. From Pennsylvania they soon began to spread southward into the Shenandoah Valley and the Valley of Virginia. Their love of freedom urged them into the wilderness where they might not be molested by oppressive land owners.
One family among the many who came from Pennsylvania was the Boones. Daniel Boone’s father and family came in 1755. Daniel Boone was then 17 years of age. They stopped in Rockingham County, Virginia, for one season, and made a crop. Then they removed to North Carolina and settled on the Yadkin River.
The ancestors of many prominent historical characters passed this way. The ancestors of David Crockett, Samuel Houston, John C. Calhoun, “Stonewall” Jackson and Abraham Lincoln made their way westward over the Wilderness Road. Through Lee County and Cumberland Gap.
The early Scotch-Irish settlers predominated in Lee County and the Holston settlements. They often lived in their covered wagons until the cabin could be erected. Many who first came did not have wagons, but used packhorses. They would camp in the open with sometimes nothing more than a quilt stretched up on stakes for a shelter until the cabin could be erected. The cabin was usually put up quickly of round logs or poles and covered with bark or clapboards.
They made most of their possessions, including homes, furnishings, tools, clothing, and all equipment. Clothing was made of homespun linen or deer skins. The hunting shirt was universal. Breeches, leggings, and moccasins, and a hand-made hat of coon skin, beaver or other fur skins, constituted the clothing. Moccasins were made usually of one piece with a gathering seam up the front. A belt of skin was tied behind. To this belt were attached a sheathed knife, a tomahawk, bullet bag, and sometimes skin mittens.
The settlers naturally drew together in sympathy and developed a spirit of unity. This fostered the principle that all men are created free and equal, and a deeply fixed belief that government is to encourage this principle.
Both men and women were brave, and hard workers, clearing and fencing land, building cabins, and sharing hardships together. Every progressive settlement had its church, school house, mill and blacksmith shop. Children had to be taught reading, writing and simple arithmetic. If there were no teacher, the mother usually instructed the children. Everyone had to be resourceful, self-reliant and unyielding in the face of obstacles, difficulties and dangers.
The early pioneer was innocent of pride or false modesty. They were plain clothing, and used plain home-made furnishings in their humble cabins. They were, however, very frugal. One writer said of the Scotch-Irish pioneer that, “He keeps the Sabbath, and everything else he gets his hands on.”
Later, as the years passed, there came a period of increasing pride of life. “Brought on” clothing, furniture and other articles came into use. Then came a time when most everyone was ashamed to wear or use home-made goods. They wore fashioned up-to-date goods at greater cost. This continued until it took in all of life. The inexpensive midwife gave way to the regular physician. The burying by neighbors, including everything from the home-made coffin and shroud to the digging of the grave, was done by the neighbors at no cost at all. This passed to the expensive funeral, the undertaker, the factory made casket, and the flowers and the ceremony, at incalculable expense. All the changes were along a line of great advancement, but changes indeed they were.
The Scotch-Irish came mostly through Philadelphia port and then through western Pennsylvania. A very few came through Charleston. They made their way down the Valley of Virginia and into Lee County and on to the west, to Kentucky and to the Cumberland settlements of middle Tennessee. A few stopped and made settlements in Lee County. Very few came from the eastern Virginia settlements and mingled with the Scotch-Irish and German settlers. The two classes were uncongenial at first, but merged into one people in a single generation.
The tidewater Virginians were more aristocratic, rather belonging to the gentry. While the Scotch-Irish and German people were less exacting and little concerned about appearances. They were humble folks, seeking a place to make homes. They were noble, hardy, industrious and high-strung. They were satisfied to erect a cabin of unhewed logs, and a lean-to shed for the stock by the cabin or fort. They would make their own way in any condition. They were well suited to pioneer life.
The more exacting class from eastern settlements were, for the most part, the class who preferred more taste, erected better houses when possible, hewing logs and erecting more permanent buildings, some of which still remain after the middle of the twentieth century. They build barns for their stock. There is a sprinkle of such hewed log houses still standing which were built about the year 1800. Not all were of this origin, but they were in the majority.
One wonders why the homes of this type were placed back in less prominent situations away from the Wilderness Road and the various Hunters’ Trails. This was a wise measure, when we consider that the surest place for trouble in the whole realm would be on the trails which were frequented by roving bands of marauding Indians from different and often warring tribes. To illustrate, one locality where an early settlement was made on the Wilderness Road was the Scott Station near Kanes Gap at the head of Wallens Creek not far from Stickleyville. This seems to have been the second settlement in the County. There was much tragic history enacted in that vicinity, doubtless more than in any other section of Powells Valley.
We are proned to think of all the wilderness as being generally occupied by Indians. This was not the case. While there were a few small Indian villages along the streams in Lee County, Powells Valley and adjoining territory was really a no-man’s-land between the Shawnees and Mingoes of the Ohio Valley and the Cherokees, Creeks and other tribes southward in Tennessee and Georgia. This territory was used by both northern and southern tribes as a common hunting ground, and in tribal wars as a battle ground. This made it all the more dangerous for settlers or passers by. Danger lurked near when least expected, and pioneer life, which destroyed the hunting ground of both northern and southern Indians, was hated by all tribes. This also made travel over the Wilderness Road always a great risk.
Sectional leanings between the eastern and western parts of the state of Virginia are still traceable in slowly fading degree, after more than a century. A conscious respect for the stern mountaineer spirit is still noticeable in the attitude of many northerners. They still cling to the idea of a high-strung, fighting disposition of mountaineer Virginians. This has been enhanced by family feuds which arose in spots among the mountains, such as the Howards and Turners, the Martins and Tollivers and the Hatfields and McCoys.
Withall, the mountaineers have retained their friendliness and hospitality. They have retained their customs of bounteous tables, and kind entertainment of both neighbors and strangers. They have been slow to adjust to changes of time due to isolated location of the County, but in modernizing there has been rapid progress. Improvement in every line was markedly parallel with development and improvement of roads, and of transportation and communication. The progress of the section now compares favorably with other parts of the state.
When Dick Henderson’s Transylvania enterprise was denied by Virginia in 1776, he turned his attention to North Carolina. The boundary between Virginia and North Carolina was in doubt. Middle Tennessee was thought to be in Virginia territory. A Boundary Commission was appointed and served in 1777-79. David Smith and Thomas Walker represented Virginia. Richard Henderson, John Williams, and William Bailey Smith represented North Carolina.
At that time the Chickamaugas were giving a great deal of trouble. Evan Shelby and a company of pioneers went down the Tennessee in canoes in April, 1779, and surprised the Chickamaugas, burning their villages and recovering loot they had taken from the settlements. This checked their operations for a while. But under the encouragement of the British, they kept up their plans for mischief. They made offers of peace in 1782, but at the same time a band of their warriors came into Powells Valley and killed two settlers. It was during the next decade that the notorious Benge, operating from Running Water and Chickamauga, ran his fearful career.
The Chickamaugas were dealt another blow in 1794, when Colonel William Whitley led a force against them from Kentucky.
The second settlement in Lee County seems to have been Scott’s Fort near Kanes Gap on the north side of Powells Mountain east of Stickleyville. Archibald Scott married Miss Fanny Dickinson of Russell County. They removed to the head of Wallens Creek in 1782. There they took up more than 1,000 acres of fine land. The Scotts built their cabin and fort there, and cleared much of the land.
In June, 1785, the Scotts were attacked by the notorious Benge the Half-Breed and his band of 20 Shawnees. They entered the cabin after the occupants had retired for the night. They killed Scott in bed, and also killed the five small children. They took Mrs. Scott prisoner, and plundered and burned the house.
Taking the woman with them, and the scalps of her husband and children, they traveled 200 miles, across the Cumberlands and across Kentucky. Near the Ohio River, they paused for a few days to hunt. They planned to give Mrs. Scott to one of the Indians for a wife. He was left to guard her. He fell into a sound sleep. She picked up his tomahawk to kill him, but feared that she might fail, due to her weakened condition. She laid the weapon down and slipped away. She went to the spring near by, and waded down the stream to a canebreak.
For weeks she wandered, trying to get to the Cumberlands. Coming to a river (the Kentucky), she found a trail which she followed up the stream. She sometimes heard Indian hunting parties. She would hide and wait until they passed, and then go on her way.
At length she came to a fork in the path. She started on the left fork, when a tiny bird fluttered past her and lighted in the other path. There was nothing unusual about that. But when it did this twice, she took it as a warning and changed to the other path. This led through the Pound Gap. At length she reached Castlewood, where she found relatives. She safely reached her people in Russell County, where her story is well known, having been preserved all through the years. Her youngest daughter, Mrs. Elizabeth Johnson, lived in Russell County for many years. The story substantially the same was known by Dr. James W. Sage of Stickleyville.
Mrs. Fanny Dickinson Scott was later married to Thomas Johnson, for whom Johnson County, Tennessee was named. She lived to be very old. She was buried at Hyters Gap in Russell County.
This story is substantiated by Draper Mss 3 XX 4, a letter of William Martin, son of Joseph Martin, to Lyman C. Draper, July 7, 1842. Joseph Martin had visited the home of the Scotts just four days before the massacre.
Benge the Half-Breed
Benge the Half-Breed was the son of a white trader, John Benge, and a Cherokee woman. He became notorious in Southwest Virginia. Mothers sometimes threatened their children with him if they did not be good. The State of Virginia offered a reward for him, dead or alive. He was notable, being one of only two known red-headed Indians. The other red-headed Indian was called “Will”. He was the founder of Willtown in Tennessee.
Moses Cockrell was a noted Indian fighter and big game hunter. He and Benge had been acquainted in former years, and at last both came to seek a combat. On March 31, 1793, they met on top of Powells Mountain at Kanes Gap, in Lee County. Cockrell was a large, handsome man and an active border ranger. Benge had become jealous of his prowess and desired very much to capture him alive that he might torture him. Likewise Cockrell had boasted of what he would do, and Benge had doubtless heard of it. Benge and his warriors waylaid Cockrell and his companions with their pack train on the Mountain, and killed all but Cockrell at the first fire. Cockrell had no choice but to run for his life, and Benge had ordered his warriors to leave the ranger to him. It was two miles to a cabin down the mountain side near the head waters of Wallens Creek, doubtless the Robert Duff Cabin, not far from where the Scott cabin had been destroyed. Benge pressed down on Cockrell int he race, only a few jumps behind. Cockrell was swift on foot, but he had a bag of $200.00 in specie which was a handicap. He reached a rail fence at the cabin yard and vaulted over it. Benge threw his tomahawk, but missed, the weapon siking in the top rail as Cockrell went over. Cockrell entered the cabin safely, and Benge had to beat a hasty retreat very much enraged.
The first time Benge is mentioned in his career was in Tennessee, where he murdered Harper Ratcliff’s wife in Stanley Valley 20 miles from Rogersville, April 6, 1792.
Benge was a fierce, cruel leader in horrible depredations, and was accused of killing 40 to 50 people. But after all he was hardly as bad as some have tried to picture him. He had a way of doing unexpected favors sometimes. Once he came upon a party of seven men and five women traveling through the wilderness. The seven men put spurs to their horses and ran away, leaving the five women and a boy helpless. Chief Benge came up, shook hands with the women, hitched up a horse for their use, and went on his way and left them unharmed.
There were other desperate warriors roaming the mountains and often associated with Benge. The day before he killed Harper Ratcliff’s wife, some horses were stolen in Powells Valley and taken from the Cox settlement in lee County through Cumberland Gap. Two men followed in hot pursuit, but the Indians escaped. Colonel Cox reasoned that they would recross the Cumberland Mountain further west, so he went down on the south side. On Old Town Creek he found some Indians camped. He fired into them and killed Chief Hootequah (Big Aaron) and wounded two others who escaped.
Chief Doublehead and a small group of his warriors were accused of cannibalism on one occasion. In the wilds of Kentucky, at Dripping Springs, they killed two white men, Overall and Burnett, and were said to have eaten some of their flesh. They were supposed to have done this not for hunger but as a ceremony to imbibe some of their strength and courage. Chief Doublehead once said in a talk to the Chickasaws in Mississippi Valley that the white man’s flesh was too salty.
George Rogers Clark had done a very great service for Virginia and for the future of the Untied States. But his worth was not recognized at the time, and even yet is often overlooked. Virginia was very neglectful of the great hero. He served six years without receiving a penny as pay. He had spent all he could get of his own, and borrowed funds from friends in the cause of his great conquest. What was left of his men were in a wretched condition. They had not received so much as shoes, stockings or hats in two years. None of them had received any pay for military service.
This was the deplorable plight of George Rogers Clark as he passed once more over the Wilderness Road through Cumberland Gap and Powells Valley. He went to Richmond to where the Capitol had been removed in 1779. This was in 1783. He asked Governor Benjamin Harrison for something on account to get clothes and support. He received thanks, two swords, and 3,300 pounds sterling, which scarcely paid expenses.
Clark went back to the Falls of the Ohio (Louisville), and spent the rest of his days in depression, after the early age of 31 years. He said, “When Virginia needed a sword, I found her one. Now I need bread.” This was his great rebuke at the presentation of the second honorary sword in his old age. Fifteen years after his death, his estate was allowed $30,000.
Adjustment of Land Claims
Aged and enfeebled Colonel William Fleming was sent to Kentucky over the Wilderness road in 1779 as a chairman of a land commission. It was a great task to check on land claims of the settlers and adjust irregular entries and disputes.
He noted the terrible plight of the Wilderness Road, and the difficulty of travel. To make his formidable task more trying he encountered the most severe and relentless winter weather, continuing from November to March, 1779-80. Travel over this famous Trail was almost stopped, and many tragedies occurred. People froze to death, and as many as 500 head of cattle perished along the way. Even deer and buffalo were starved and frozen to death in the forest.
Finishing his work in the spring of 1780, Fleming returned an exhausted old man. He came again over the unimproved Road through Cumberland Gap, stopping at Martin’s Station, Glade Springs, Station Creek and Stickleyville on his way home. His work was the first serious effort of Virginia to extend order into the new territory of the west, and prepared the way for the rush of settlers after the victorious close of the Revolution.
An urgent and outstanding need was the improvement of the Wilderness Road. The delegates who represented Kentucky County in the Virginia Assembly in 1779 were Colonel Richard Callaway and Major James Harrod. They took up the subject of road improvement. It remained as it was when Daniel Boone first cut out the Trail, only as it was worn by travel. Through the efforts of Harrod and Callaway, the Assembly passed an act to improve the Path as marked out by Boone. Colonel Richard Callaway of Boonesborough and Colonel Evan Shelby of Sapling Grove (Bristol) were appointed Commissioners.
Neither of these Commissioners were over able to serve. It was found that Shelby lived in territory then belonging to North Carolina (later Tennessee), and Callaway was killed by Indians soon after returning home to Boonesborough in the spring of 1780. The Road work was turned over to Captain Kinkead after he returned from a campaign which culminated in the famous Battle of Kings Mountain, October 7, 1780. Kinkead worked over the Road from Moccasin Gap to Cumberland Gap, and on into Kentucky over the same route that Boone had marked out. But about all he could do was to widen the road and clear the way better for packhorses. This was Virginia’s first recognition of the route as a public road.
Reverend Lewis Craig
In the autumn of 1781, the Rev. Lewis Craig and his entire congregation, a Baptist Church from Spotsylvania, started for Kentucky. Craig planned to go as a missionary, and his whole congregation decided to go with him. Outsiders also wished to join in the exodus, and Craig accepted them all. The congregation brought their wagons, household goods and supplies, and their live stock. But they sadly learned at Fort Chiswell that they could not take their wagons further because of the impassable road. They had to transfer to packhorses. This was a great blow, but they proceeded to Wolf Hills (Abingdon). There they learned more bad news. Colonel Arthur Campbell and Captain Joseph Martin were battling to clear out the Cherokee marauders from Powells Valley and on into the Cherokee country. It would not be safe for Craig’s company to go on. They had to remain there for a while, and their usual worship was not neglected.
This was the time of Cornwallis’s surrender at Yorktown. Early in November Craig’s emigrants started on their journey again along the Wilderness Road. They had a very difficult journey, taking three weeks to go from Moccasin Gap to Cumberland Gap. After the long, hard journey, they at last reached their destination and founded Gilbert’s Creek Church, December, 1781. This was the third Baptist Church in Kentucky.
In the Autumn of 1784, Colonel James Knox led a party of emigrants down the Holston and out by Bean’s Station, and through Cumberland Gap on the Kentucky Road without passing through Lee County. After that, part of the travel was over that route; but by far the greater part of the stream of travel continued over the Lee County route.
Dangers of Pioneer Days
The story of Katy Sage has a strong appeal for citizens of Southwest Virginia through relatives in prominent families. James Sage was a soldier in the American Revolution. He was at Brandywine, Monmouth, Germantown and Valley Forge. He witnessed the surrender of Cornwallis at Yorktown. He married Lovice Ott in December, 1780, in Montgomery Co., VA. He later removed to Elk Creek in Grayson Co., VA.
On July 6, 1792, James Sage was at work in his clearing. The wife and four small children were at the cabin. The mother went to the branch not far away to build a fire for washing clothes. She had left little Katy, age five, chasing butterflies in the garden. When the mother returned to the cabin, Katy was gone and could not be found. She called the father and the alarm went out to the neighbors. Search was made, every foot, every yard, for miles around, and for days and months. No trace of the little girl could ever be found.
Many years passed. Three sons married and moved away, one to Missouri, one to Kansas and one to Lee Co., VA in the neighborhood of Stickleyville. The father, James Sage, died in 1820.
In 1848 Charles Sage of Kansas had occasion to visit the government office of the Indian Agency. The agent noted Sage’s features and asked if he had a sister or relative there among the Indians there in Indian Territory. He was makin reference to a woman among the Shawnees there. Of course Sage was not aware of such a connection, but had a little sister lost over sixty years ago.
The agent sent for the woman. She did not know a word of English. Charles through she was his sister, and took her home with him, sending for the older brother in Missouri. As soon as he saw her he burst into tears. She informed them through an interpreter that she was carried off by a white man, and lived for years among the Cherokees, then the Creeks and Shawnees. She was married three times to Wyandottes. She had lost her only child and was then a widow.
They wrote her mother in Grayson Co., VA, and asked if she knew of any way of further identification. The mother wrote them that her child had a brown spot on her shoulder. Examination revealed this birth mark as a final identification. They arranged to take her home to her mother, but before starting she took pneumonia and died. One of her sisters lived at the old home place in Grayson County, and a brother Samson Sage lived in Stickleyville in Lee Co., VA.
She was not carried off by Indians as everyone thought for so many years. A horse thief had stolen some horses from her father and took them into White Top Mountain and hid them. Sage with a number of men followed the trail and found the horses tied up in the woods, and took them back home. The white thief in revenge returned and stole Katy, taking her to the Cherokees.
Charles Sage visited Katy a number of times and planned to take her back to Virginia but she lost her vision. In March 1853 he started to Wyandotte to see her but heard that she had died of pneumonia in January and was buried in Quindaro Cemetery.
We have seen how Dragging Canoe, son of Chief Attakullakulla, rebelled against the idea of the treaty with Henderson at Sycamore Shoals, which transferred this land and all territory between the Ohio and Tennessee Rivers to the whites. In his determination to defeat the purpose of the treaty, he went so far as to secede from his tribe and create a new tribe of his own which he called Ani-yunwiya, the real people.
Chief Dragging Canoe’s followers were not only rebellious young Cherokees, but included unruly members of the Chocktaws, Chichasaws, and stray members of Shawnees and other northern tribes. His mixed band of ruffians was generally known as the Chickamaugas. They were dangerous and terrible. Even white outlaws from the border joined them. Dragging Canoe gathered them between Chickamauga Creek and Running Water, the home of Chief Benge the Half-Breed. These kept up trouble while others desired peace. In their retreat was Nickajack Cave, out of which flowed a stream that would carry a canoe three miles into the mountain. The Chickamaugas built their villages there among the high mountains, caverns and ravines, and from there they went on raids to different parts of the backwoods pioneer settlements to do dreadful crimes.
Dragging Canoe’s chief associate was Chief Benge. We first take not of the bloody work of Benge in Virginia in August, 1791. This was before the Ratcliff murder in Tennessee. He left Running Water with five warriors, and went to Russell Co., VA. There near Moccasin Gap they killed and scalped Mrs. William McDowell and a young girl, Frances Pendleton. They took prisoners Mrs. Pendleton and Frances’s young brother. Three days later they struck again, killing Mrs. Elisha Ferris and her daughter Mrs. Livingston. They killed Mrs. Livingston’s small child of three years, and captured Mrs. Nancy Ferris. Chief Benge returned to Running Water with five scalps and three prisoners.
Chief Benge was a frequent visitor in Powells Valley, where on one occasion he stole two fine by mares from Vincent Hobbs, with their saddles and blankets and other equipment. We have already referred to his massacre of the Scotts, and his foray on Powells Mountain where Moses Cockrell barely escaped his bloody clutches. Vincent Hobbs had occasion to get well acquainted with Chief Benge, and played the big part in his downfall later.
Chief Dragging Canoe and his associates led raids on the Great War Trail and in Holston, Clinch and Powells Valleys, spreading death and destruction among the settlers. Mrs. William Bean was captured and told she was to be burned. She was tied to a stake on top of a mound and a fire lighted around her. But Nancy Ward intervened and scattered the fire brands, cut the bonds and released Mrs. Bean, taking her to her own house. She was later released to the Virginians.
Nancy Ward, first the wife of warrior Kingfisher, killed in battle with the Creeks at Taliwa, was with her husband there. She took up his rifle and fought through the battle. This was in 1755. For this she was given the title of “Beloved Lady.” She afterward married Brian Ward, a white trader. She warned the whites of danger as the Cherokees prepared to attack the settlement in 1776. Joseph Martin, founder of Martins Station in Lee County, married her daughter Betsy Ward.
Chief Doublehead and Chief Tilotiskee led the Chickamaugas along the Wilderness Road in Kentucky for some 10 years, while Chief Dragging Canoe and Chief Benge were terrorizing Holston, Clinch and Powells Valleys.
Chief Benge’s Last Raid
Near Mendota, a few miles from Abingdon, lived Peter and Henry Livingston. On the morning of April 6, 1794, Chief Benge and his band of eight warriors, attacked the home of the Livingston brothers. The men were away from the house. Old Mrs. Livingston was in the garden. Mrs. Elizabeth Livingston was in the house with her baby and two other children of two and ten years of age. When the dogs gave the alarm, Mrs. Livingston saw seven horribly painted Indians coming toward the house. She barred the door, and the Indians demanded that she open it. They fired two shots, one coming through the door. Mrs. Livingston returned the fire through the door with her husband’s rifle. The Indians seemed to retire from the door, but soon the house was on fire. Mrs. Livingston had to take her baby and dash out with the other two children, expecting to be scalped. She then saw that they had captured Susanna, the young wife of Henry Livingston, and the rest of the children, who had been in an outbuilding.
The Indians left with Mrs. Elizabeth Livingston and Mrs. Susanna Livingston, and two Negroes, a man and a woman. They crossed Clinch Mountain into the Copper Creek section, and camped for the night. The next morning they crossed Clinch River on McLean’s Fish Dam and went northward to the head of Stony Creek, where they camped the second night. They traveled leisurely into the High Knob, and did not keep out any watchers. The next morning they did not leave camp until an hour after sunup. They traveled five or six miles slowly, and then went into camp again at the foot of Powells Mountain.
Benge became talkative and lively. He told the prisoners he was going to take them to the Chickamauga towns, and that his brother, Bob Benge, and two other Indians were hunting to bring in provisions by the time they got there. He said he had several white prisoners at his camp, with horses to carry them to the Indian towns. He asked about several people in the Holston settlements. He wanted to know about General Shelby. He said he would be back during the summer and take all of Shelby’s Negroes. He indicated a plan to take a circuitous route through High Knob, and then westward toward Chickamauga and Running Water, his home town. But he could have turned northward through some mountain pass, perhaps Big Stone Gap, to go toward the Shawnee country on the Ohio.
On April 9th they moved northward over the High Knob, sending two scouts ahead. That day the Lee County court was in session when word of the capture of the Livingston women came. The messenger came up the Wild Cat Valley and crossed the Lovelady Road to Yokum Fort on Powells River south of Dryden. The messenger, John Henderson, reached the fort before dawn. Then word was relayed to Jonesville. Court was in session when the messenger arrived, and court was adjourned at once. Lieutenant Vincent Hobbs, a veteran of the Revolutionary War, was sent with the Lee Co. Militia to aid in apprehending the Indians. Some men were recruited at Jonesville, and others were taken from Yokum Station.
Lieutenant Vincent Hobbs was familiar with the territory and hastened to the Gap of the Mountain north of the present site of Big Stone Gap. With him were George Yokum, Abraham and Job Hobbs, Steven Jones, John and Peter VanBibber, Adam Ely, Samuel Livingston, James Huff, and a man named Dotson whose first name we have not learned.
Lieutenant Hobbs thought the Indians had already passed, but he and Peter VanBibber soon found the two scouts building a fire, and killed them. They judged that the rest of the Indians was behind with the prisoners. They found loot in possession of the two scouts that showed they were of the party. So Lieutenant Hobbs hastened back on the trail and lined up his men in ambush, he and VanBibber taking the rear position. He secreted his men on either side of the trail, instructing them to let the Indians pass, so that when he and VanBibber should fire on the lead ones, the posse would have them hemmed.
Soon the Indians came along. Chief Benge with Mrs. Livingston was in front. Lieutenant Hobbs fired, killing Chief Benge, and VanBibber got the next Indian in line. Then the rest of the party rushed into action from the over-hanging Rhododendrons and Laurel. The one in charge of Mrs. Peter Livingston tried to kill her with a tomahawk, but she warded off the blow with her arms, and was only stunned. She fell over a log and lay unconscious for a while, but recovered. Four Indians in all were killed, the rest escaping, carrying the Negro man with them. There had been nine Indians there in all. The five that escaped divided into two groups. The group taking the colored man camped the next night in a cave, and the Negro escaped.
Soon after the battle, Peter and Henry Livingston came on the scene with some men from Washington Co. There was a happy reunion of the Livingstons. Henry and Susanna had been married only three weeks.
Lieutenant Hobbs sent the scalp of Chief Benge to Colonel Arthur Campbell, who forwarded it on to Governor Randolph, who recommended to the Virginia Legislature that they reward Hobbs. On his recommendation they voted to give Hobbs a beautiful silver mounted rifle as a reward. There was no trouble to recognize the red-headed scalp of Chief Benge.
The last survivor of Lieutenant Hobbs’s brave band was Dr. James Huff of Kentucky, who verified the story substantially as recorded in state records. His testimony came forty-six years after the event took place. There have been many stories about Chief Benge with the uncertainty that goes with tradition. Many of these we cannot credit, for lack of substantiating evidence and consistency. This account as given here is verified by Draper Ms, 10 DD 61, a letter by Governor David Campbell, Abingdon, VA, and by newspaper clippings from the “Jacksonian”, Abingdon, VA, 1846. These are recorded with Lyman C. Draper, MSS, Wisconsin Historical Society, Madison, WI.
This story was also related by Mrs. Solomon Osborne, daughter of Elizabeth and Peter Livingston. It was also related in substantially the same way by Dr. James Huff, who was in the battle with Chief Benge.
Thus ended the bloody career of the notorious Chief Benge the Half-Breed. He was intelligent, swift, strong and enduring, and greatly dreaded by the pioneers of Southwest Virginia and the Holston, the Cumberland and the Kentucky settlements. He was the powerful agent of Chief Dragging Canoe, a relentless foe of the whites.
It has been claimed that Benge was the son of an Indian warrior and a white woman. This seems to have no foundation in proof. The weight of authority is on the assertion that his father was the white trader John Benge. Otherwise he would hardly have been called Benge by the Indians. Errors creep into traditional stories by getting events mixed. There was a story rife in early pioneer days of a boy who had been stolen by the Cherokees, and later rescued by his father, who preferred Indian life, and returned to them in rebellion against his parents. But this was not Benge the son of Captain John Benge or Bench as it is sometimes recorded and a Cherokee woman.
Benge had spent much time among the Shawnees up north, and this gave rise to the belief that he was a Shawnee. He had a brother who remained among his mother’s people and was recognized as a Cherokee. They called him “The Tail,” though his English name was Bob Benge.
On September 25, 1794, Chief Tilotiskee and Chief Doublehead massacred several whites at Covet’s Station, 7 miles southwest of Knoxville. They had promised the people protection if they would surrender. Bob Benge, who spoke good English, pleaded for the people, but 13 of them were slain. This was more than five months after Chief Benge had been killed by Lieutenant Vincent Hobbs near Big Stone Gap.
Moses Cockrell, who had an ambition to dispense with Benge, died at the Holston settlement on the North Fork, in 1798. An old comrade paced the puncheon floor of the cabin and said: “Poor Cockrell, he is gone! He was a noble fellow after the Ingins and varmints, and I hope he has gone to where there is as much game and as desperate good range as he had on Holston.”
The Indian power in Southwest Virginia was finally broken by John Sevier in the last battle with them in Hickory Flats, Lee Co., in 1795.
John Sevier was born near Fredericksburg, VA, in 17945. He early became an Indian fighter. He was in the Battle of Kings Mountain, October 7, 1780.
Sevier was a leader in the move to create the State of Franklin in east Tennessee territory. He was elected its governor. After this failed, he was elected to the North Carolina State Senate. When Tennessee was made a state he became its first Governor in 1796. He was later elected to United States Congress.
To Be Continued...........