This an article which I found over the Internet and purchased. It was written at the turn of the century. Entitled Through Cumberland Gap on Horseback, it was published in Harper’s Monthly Magazine, a leading cultural tract of its time. The writer evidences his prejudice toward mountain people with impunity. It took me by such surprise that I had to read it twice to fully comprehend the level of its one-sided reporting. I believe that it is important that I share this article with you. I have also included the drawings thatwere part of the article. They are lovely and show a different attitude than the writer.




Harper’s News Monthly Magazine




Fresh fields lay before us. We had left the rich, rolling plains of the blue grass region in central Kentucky, and had set our faces toward the great Appalachian uplift on the southeastern border of the State. There Cumberland Gap, that high swung gateway through the mountain, abides as a landmark of what Nature can do when she wishes to give an opportunity to the human race in its migrations and discoveries, without surrendering control of its liberty and its fate. Such wayside pleasures of hap and scenery as might befall us while journeying thither were ours to enjoy; but the especial quest was more knowledge of that peculiar and deeply interesting people, the Kentucky mountaineers. It can never be too clearly understood by those who are wont to speak of the Kentuckians" that this State has within its boundaries two entirely distinct elements of population elements distinct in England before they came hither, distinct during more than a century of residence here, and dis tinct now in all that goes to constitute a separate community, occupations, manners and customs, dress, views of life, civilization. It is but a short distance from the bluegrass country to the eastern mountains but in traversing it you detach yourself from all that you have ever experienced, and take up the history of English-speaking men and women at the point it bad reached a hundred or a hundred and fifty years ago.


Leaving Lexington, then, which is in the midst of the blue grass plateau, we were come to Burnside, a station on the Cincinnati Southern Railway, some ninety miles away, where begin the navigable waters of the Cumberland River, and the foothills of the Cumberland Mountains.


Burnside is not merely a station, but a submountainous watering place. The water is mostly in the bed of the river. We had come thither to get horses and saddle bags, but to no purpose. The hotel was a sort of transition between the civilization we had left behind and the primitive society we were to enter. On the veranda were some distinctly modern and conventional red chairs; but a green and yellow gourd vine, carefully trained across so as to shut out the distant landscape, was a novel bit of local color. Under the fine beeches in the yard was swung a hammock, but it was made of boards braced between ropes, and was covered with a weather-stained piece of tarpaulin. There were electric bells in the house that did not seem to electrify anybody particularly, and near the front entrance three barrels of Irish potatoes, with the tops off, spoke for themselves in the absence of the bill of fare. After supper, the cook, a tall, blue-eyed white fellow, walked into my room without much explanation, and carried away his guitar, showing that he bad been wont to set his sighs to music in that quarter of the premises. Of a truth be was right, for the moon hung in that part of the heavens, and no doubt ogled him into many a midnight frenzy. Sitting under a beech tree in the morning, I had watched a child from some distant city, dressed in white, and wearing a blue ribbon around her goldenish hair, amuse herself by rolling old barrels (potato barrels probably, and she may have had a motive) down the hillside and seeing them dashed to pieces on the railway track below. By-and-by some of the staves of one fell in, the child tumbled in also, and they all rolled over together. Upon the whole, it was an odd overtopping of two worlds, and a promise entertaining thing, to come. When the railway was first opened through this region a young man established a fruit store at one of the stations, and as part of his stock laid in a bunch of bananas. One day a native mountaineer entered. Arrangements generally struck him with surprise, but everything else was soon forgotten in an adhesive contemplation of the mighty aggregation of fruit. Finally he turned away with this note. "Blame me if them ain't the damnedest beans I ever seen!"


The scenery around Burnside is very beautiful, and the climate salubrious. In the valleys was formerly a fine growth of walnut, but the principal timbers now are oak, ash, and sycamore, with some yellow pine. I heard of a wonderful walnut tree formerly standing, by hiring vehicles to go and see which the owner of a livery stable made three hundred and fifty dollars. Six hundred were offered for it on the spot; but the possessor, never having read of the fatal auriferous goose, reasoned that it would bring him a fortune if cut into many pieces, and so ruined it, and sold it at a great loss. The hills are filled with the mountain limestone that Kentucky oolite of which the new Cotton Exchange in New York is built. Here was Burnside's depot of supplies during the war, and here passed the great road made in part a corduroy road at his order from Somerset, Kentucky, to Jacksborough, over which countless stores were taken from central Kentucky and regions further north into Tennessee. Supplies were brought up the river in small steamboats or through in wagons, and when the road grew impassable, pack mules were used. Sad sights there were to be seen in those sad, sad days: the carcasses of animals at short intervals from here to Knoxville, and now and then a mule sunk up to his body in mire, and abandoned, with his pack on, to die. Here were batteries planted and rifle pits dug, the vestiges of which yet remain; but where the forest timbers were then cut down a vigorous new growth has long been reclaiming the earth to native wildness, and altogether the aspect of the place is peaceful and serene. Doves were flying in and out of the cornfields on the hillsides; there were green stretches in the valleys where cattle were grazing; and these, together with a single limestone road that wound upward over a distant ridge, recalled the richer scenes of the blue grass lands.


Assured that we would find horses and saddle bags at Cumberland Falls, we left Burnside and were soon set down at a station some fifteen miles further along, where a hack was to convey us to another of those mountain watering places that are being opened up in various parts of eastern Kentucky for the enjoyment of a people that has never cared to frequent in large numbers the Atlantic seaboard.


Capps was the driver of the hack a good looking mulatto, wearing a faded calico shirt and a straw hat of most uncertain shape and variable colors.


Capps stopped frequently on the road: once to halloo from the lofty ridge along which we were riding,. down into a valley, to inquire of a mountain woman, sitting in her door with a baby in her arms, whether she had any"millons"; and again at a wayside grocery to get a bushel of meal from a man who seemed to be dividing his time pretty equally between retailing meal and building himself a new house. Here we asked for a drink of water, and got it hot from a jug, there being no spring near. Capps knew a hawk from a handsaw when it came to talking about "moonshine" whiskey, and entered with some zest into a technical discrimination between its effects and those of " old Bourbon" on the head after imbibing incontinently. His knowledge seemed based on experience, and we waived a discussion.


Meantime the darkness was falling, and the scenery along the road grew wilder and grander. A terrific storm had swept over these heights, and the great trees lay upturn and prostrate in every direction, or reeled and fell against each other like drunken giants a scene of fearful elemental violence. On the summits one sees the tan-bark oak; lower down, the white oak; and lower yet, fine specimens of yellow poplar; while from the valleys to the crests is a dense and varied undergrowth, save where the ground has been burnt over, year after year, to kill it out and improve the grazing. Twenty miles to the southeast we had seen through the pale-tinted air the waving line of Sellico Mountains, in Tennessee. Away to the north lay the Beaver Creek and the lower Cumberland, while in front of us rose the craggy, scowling face of Anvil Rock, commanding a view of Kentucky, Tennessee, and Virginia. The utter silence and heart-oppressing repose of primeval nature was around us. The stark white and gray trunks of the immemorial forest dead linked us to an inviolable past. The air seemed to blow upon us from over regions illimitable and unexplored, and to be fraught with unutterable suggestions. The full moon swung itself aloft over the sharp touchings of the green with spectral pallor; and the evening star stood lustrous on the western horizon in depths of blue as cold as a sky of Landseer, except where brushed by tremulous shadows of rose on the verge of the sunlit world. A bat wheeled upward in fantastic curves out of his undiscovered glade. And the soft tinkle of a single cow bell far below marked the invisible spot of some lonely human habitation. By-and-by we lost sight of the heavens altogether, so dense and interlaced the forest. The descent of the hack appeared to be into a steep abyss of gloom , then all at once we broke from the edge of the woods into a flood of moonlight; at our feet, were the whirling, foaming rapids of the river; in our ears was the near roar of the cataract, where the bow-crowned mist rose and floated upward and away in long trailing shapes of ethereal lightness.


The Cumberland River runs and throws itself over the rocks here with a fall of seventy feet, or a perpendicular descent of sixty-two, making a mimic but most beautiful Niagara. Just below, Eagle Falls drops over its precipice in a lawny cascade. The roar of the cataract, under favorable conditions, may be heard up and down stream a distance of ten or twelve mile& You will not find in mountainous Kentucky a more picturesque spot. The hotel stands near the very verge of the waters, and the mountains, rising one above another around, shut it in with infinite security from all the world.


While here, we had occasion to extend our acquaintance with native types. Two young men came to the hotel, bringing a bag of small, hard peaches to sell. Slim, slabsided, stomachless, and serene, mild and melancholy, they might have been lotos eaters, only the suggestion of poetry was wanting, and they had probably never tasted any satisfying plant whatsoever. Their unutterable content came not from opiates, but from their souls. If they could sell their peaches, they would be happy; if not, they would be happy. What they could not sell, they could as well eat; and, since no bargain was made on this occasion, they took chairs on the hotel veranda, opened the bag, and fell to. One of us tried to catch the mental attitude of the Benjamin of his tribe, while the other studied his bodily pose.


"Is that a good coon dog?"


"A mighty good coon dog. I ain't never seed him whipped by a varmint yet.”


"Are there many coons in this country?"


" Several coons.


"Is this a good year for coons?"


"Amighty good year for coons. The woods is full of varmint."


Do coons eat corn ?"


"Coons is bad as hogs on corn, when they git tuk to it."


"Are there many wild turkeys in this country?"


" Several wild turkeys."


" Have you ever caught many coons?"


"I've cotched high as five coons out of one tree."


"Are there many foxes in this country ?


" Several foxes."


" What's the best way to cook a coon?" " Ketch him and parbile him, and then, put him in cold water and soak him, and then put him in and bake him."


" Are there many hounds in this country?"


" Several hounds."


Here, among other discoveries, was a linguistic one the us of " several" in the sense of a great many, probably an innumerable multitude, as in the case of the coons.


They hung around the hotel for hours, as being utterly exempt from all the obligations and other phenomena of time.


"Why should we only toil, the roof and crown of things?"


True to promise, the guide bespoken the evening before bad made all arrangements for our ride of some eighteen miles was it not forty?-- to Williamsburg, and in the afternoon made his appearance with three horses. Of these three horses one was a mule, with a strong leaning toward his father's family. Of the three saddles one was a side saddle, and another was an army saddle with refugee stirrups. The three brutes wore among them some seven shoes. My own mincing jade had none on. Her name may have been Helen of Troy (all horses are named in Kentucky), so anciently must her great beauty have disappeared. She partook with me of the terror which her own movements inspired, and if there ever was a well-defined case, outside of literature, in which the man should have carried the beast, this was the one. While on her back I occasionally apologized for the injustice by handing her some sour apples,.which she appeared never to have tasted before, just. as it was told me she bad never known the luxury of wearing shoes. It is often true that the owner of a horse in this region is too poor or too mean to have it shod.


Our route from Cumberland Falls lay through what is called " Little Texas," in Whitley County - a wilderness some twenty miles square. I say route, because there was not always a road; but for the guide, there would -not always have been a direction. Rough as the country appears to one riding through it on horseback, it is truly called " flat woods country," and viewed from Sellico Mountains, whence the local elevations are of no account, it looks like one vast sweep of sloping, densely wooded land. Here one may see noble specimens of yellow poplar in the deeper soil at the head of the ravines; pin oak, and gum and willow, and the rarely beautiful wild cucumber. Along the streams in the lowlands blooms the wild calacanthus, filling the air with fragrance, and here in season the wild camellia throws open its white and purple splendors. There are few traces of human presence in this great wilderness, except along the road that one comes to by-and-by; and it seems easy to believe that Williamsburg had a population of one hundred and thirty-nine in 1870, having increased fourteen souls in ten years. Since then, indeed, railway connection has caused it to double its population many times--once within the past two years.


There is iron in Whitley County so pure as to require some poorer one to be mixed with it to smelt it successfully, while other requires only limestone to flux it; but we did not come upon " Swift's

Silver Mine." From the Tennessee line south to the Ohio line north one may pass through counties that claim the location of "Swift's Silver Mine"that El Dorado spot of eastern Kentucky, where, a hundred and twenty-five years ago, one John Swift said he made silver in large quantities, burying some thirty thousand dollars and crowns on a large creek; fifteen thousand dollars a little way. off, near some trees, which were duly marked; a prize of six thousand dollars close by the fork of a white oak; and three thousand dollars in the rocks of a rock house: all which, in the light of these notes, it is allowed any one who will to hunt for.


It was not until we had passed out of "Little Texas" and reached Williamsburg, bad gone thence to Barbourville, the county seat of the adjoining county of Knox, and thence again into Bell County, that we stopped between Flat Lick and Cumberland Ford, on the old Wilderness road from Kentucky through Cumberland Gap. Around us were the mountains around us the mountaineers whom we wished to meet intimately face to face.




Straight, slim, angular, white bodies; average or even unusual stature, without great muscular robustness; features regular and colorless, unanimated but intelligent, in the men sometimes fierce, and in the women often sad; among the latter occasional beauty of a pure Greek type; a manner shy and deferential, but kind and fearless; eyes with a slow, long look of mild inquiry, or of general listlessness, or of unconscious and unaccountable melancholy; the key of life a low minor strain, losing itself in reverie; voices monotonous in intonation; movements uninformed by nervousness these are characteristics of the Kentucky mountaineers. Living today as their forefathers lived. before them a hundred years ago; bearing little of the world, caring nothing for it; responding feebly to the influences of civilization near the highways of travel in and around the towns, and latterly along the lines of railway communication, but sure to live here, if uninvaded and un aroused, in the same condition for a hundred or more years to come; utterly lacking the spirit of development from within; utterly devoid of any sympathy with that boundless and ungovernable activity which is carrying the Saxon race in America from one state to another, whether better or worse. The origin of these people, the relation they sustain to the different population of the central region in fine, an account of them from the date of their settling in these mountains to the present time, when, as it seems, they are on the point of losing their isolation, and with it their distinctiveness would imprison phases of life and character valuable alike to the special history of this country and to the general history of the human mind. The land in these mountains is all claimed, but it is probably not all covered by actual patent. As evidence, a company has been formed to speculate in lands not secured by title. The old careless way of marking off boundaries by going from tree to tree, by partly surveying and partly guessing, explains the present uncertainty. Many own land by right of occupancy, there being no other claim. The great body of the people live on and cultivate little patches which they either own, or bold free, or pay rent for with a third of the crop. These not unfrequently get together and trade farms as they would horses, no deed being executed.. There is among them a mobile element - squatters - who make a hillside clearing and live on it as long as it remains productive, when they move else where. This accounts for the presence throughout the country of abandoned cabins, around which a dense new forest growth is springing up. Leaving out of consideration the few instances of substantial prosperity, the most of the people are abjectly poor, and they appear to have no sense of accumulation. The main crops raised on the patch are corn and potatoes. By the scant gardens will be seen little patches of cotton, sorghum, and tobacco; flay also, though less than formerly. Many make insufficient preparation for winter, laying up no meat, but buying a piece of bacon now and then, and paying for it by working. In some regions the great problem of life is to raise two dollars and a half during the year for county taxes. Being pauper counties, they are exempt from State taxation. Jury fees are highly esteemed and much sought after. The manufacture of illicit mountain whiskey "moonshine" was formerly, as it is now, a considerable source of revenue to them; and a desperate self destructive subsource of revenue from the same business has been the betrayal of its hidden places. There is nothing harder or more dangerous to find now in the mountains than a secret still.


Formerly, also, digging " sang, " as they call ginseng, was a general occupation, For this, of course, China was a great market. It has nearly all been dug out now except in the wildest parts of the country, where entire families may still be seen"outranging." They took it into the towns in bags, selling it at a dollar and ten cents perhaps a dollar and a half a pound. This was mainly the labor of the women and the children, who went to work barefooted, amid briers and chestnut burrs, copperheads and rattlesnakes. indeed, the women prefer to go barefooted, finding shoes a trouble and constraint. It was a sad day for the people when the “sang" grew scarce. A few years ago one of the counties was nearly depopulated in consequence of a great exodus into Arkansas, whence had come the news that there "sang" was plentiful. Not long since, too, during a season of scarcity in corn, a local storekeeper told the people, of a county to go out and gather all the mandrake or " May apple" root they could find. At first only the women and children went to work, the men holding back with ridicule. By-and-by they also took part, and that year some fifteen tons were gathered, at three cents a pound, and the whole county thus got its seed corn. Wild ginger was another root formerly much dug; also to less extent "golden seal" and " bloodroot." The sale of feathers from a few precarious geese helps to eke out subsistence. Their methods of agriculture if methods they may be styled are of the most primitive sort. Ploughing is commonly done with a "bull tongue," an implement hardly more than a sharpened stick with a metal rim; this is often drawn by an ox, or a half yoke. But one may see women ploughing with two oxen. Traces are made of hickory or papaw, as also are bed cords. Ropes are made of Lynn bark. In some counties there is not so much as a fanning mill, grain being winnowed by pouring it from basket to basket, after having been threshed with a flail, which is a hickory withe some seven feet long. Their threshing floor is a clean place on the ground, and they take up grain, gravel, and some dirt together, not knowing or not caring for the use of a sieve. The grain is ground at their homes in a hand tubmill, or one made by setting the nether millstone in a beegum, or by cutting a hole in a puncheon log and sinking the stone into it. There are, however, other kinds of mills: the primitive little water mill which may be considered almost characteristic of this region; in a few places improved water mills, and small steam mills. It is the country of mills, farm houses being furnished with one about as frequently as with coffee pots or spinning wheels. A simpler way of preparing corn for bread than by even the hand mill is used in the late summer and early autumn, while the grain is too bard for eating as roasting ears, and too soft to be ground in a mill. On a board is tacked a piece of tin through which holes have been punched from the under side, and over this tin the ears are rubbed, producing a coarse meal, of which "gritted bread"is made. Much pleasure and doubtless much health do they get from their " gritted bread," which is withal a sweet and wholesome bit for a hungry man. Where civilization has touched on the high ways and the few improved mills have been erected, one may see women going to mill with their scant sacks of grain, riding on a jack, a jennet, or a bridled ox. But this is not so bad as in North Carolina, where, Europa-like, they ride on bulls.


Aside from such occupations as have been herein pointed out, the men have nothing to do a little working the spring, and nine months rest. They love to meet at the country groceries and crossroads, to shoot matches for beef, turkeys, or liquor, and to gamble. There is with them a sort of annual succession of amusements. In its season they have the rage for pitching horseshoes, the richer ones using dollar pieces. In consequence of their abundant leisure, the loneliness of the mountains, which draws them thus together, their bravery and physical vigor, quarrels among them are frequent,,and feuds are deadly. Personal enmities soon serve to array entire families in an attitude of implacable hostility, and in the course of time relatives and friends take sides, and a war of extermination ensues. The special origins of these are various. blood heated and temper lost under the influence of " moonshine"; reporting on the places and. manufacturers of this; local politics; the survival of resentments engendered during the civil war these, together with all causes that lie in the passions of the human heart and spring from the constitution of all human society, often make the remote and insulated life of these people turbulent, reckless, and distressing. But while thus bitter and cruel toward each other, they present to strangers the aspect of a polite, kind, unoffending, and most hospitable race. They will divide with you shelter and warmth and food, however scant, and will put themselves to trouble for your convenience with an unreekoning, earnest friendliness and good nature that is touching to the last degree. No sham, no pretense a true friend, or an open enemy. Of late they have had much occasion to regard newcomers with distrust, which, once aroused, is difficult to dispel, and now they will wish to know you and your business before treating you with that warmth which they are only too glad to show.


The women appear to do most of the work. From the few sheep, running wild, which the farm may own, they take the wool, which is carded, reeled, spun, and woven into fabrics by their own hands and on their rudest implements. One or two spinning wheels will be found in every house. Cotton from their little patches, too, they clear by using a primitive hand cotton gin. Flax, much spun formerly, is now less used. It is surprising to see from what appliances they will bring forth exquisite fabrics; all the garments for personal wear, bedclothes, and the like. When they can afford it they make carpets.


They have, as a rule, luxuriant hair. In some counties one is struck by the purity of the Saxon type, and their face% in early life are often very handsome. But one bears that in certain localities they are prone to lose their teeth, and that after the age of thirty-five it is a rare thing to see a woman whose front teeth are not partly or wholly wanting. The reason of this is not apparent. They appear passionately fond of dress, and array themselves in gay colors and in jewelry (pinchbeck), if so be that their worldly estate justifies the extravagance. Oftener, if young, they have a modest, shy air, as if conscious that their garb, is not even decorous. Whether married or unmarried, they show much natural diffidence. It is told that in remoter districts of the mountains they are not allowed to sit at the table with the male members of the household, but serve them as in ancient societies. Commonly, too, in going to church, the men ride and carry the children, while the women walk. Dancing in some regions is hardly known, but in others is a favorite amusement, and in its movements men and women show the utmost grace. The mountain preachers oppose it as a sin.


Marriages take place early, and they are a most fecund race. I asked them time and again to fix upon the average number of children to a family, and they gave as the result seven. In case of parental opposition to wedlock, the lovers run off. There is among the people a low standard of morality in their domestic relations, the delicate privacies of home life having little appreciation where so many persons, without regard to age or sex, are crowded together within very limited quarters.


The dwellings - often mere cabins with a single room - are built of rough-hewn logs, chinked or daubed, though not always so. Often there is a puncheon floor and no chamber roof. One of these mountaineers, called into court to testify as to the household goods of a defendant neighbor, gave in as the inventory string of pumpkins, a skillet without a handle, and "a wild Bill." "A wild Bill" is a bed made by boring auger holes into a log, driving sticks into these, and overlaying them with hickory bark and sedge grass a favorite couch. The low chimneys, made usually of laths daubed, are so low that the saying, inelegant though true, is current, that you may sit by the fire inside and spit out over the top. The cracks in the walls give ingress and egress to a child or a dog. Even cellars are little known, their potatoes sometimes being kept during winter in a hole dug under the hearthstone. More frequently a trap door is made through the plank flooring in the middle of the room, and in a bole beneath are put potatoes, and, in case of some wealth, jellies and preserves. Despite the wretchedness of their habitations and all the rigors of a mountain climate, they do not suffer with cold, and one may see them out in snow knee deep clad in low brogans, and nothing heavier than a jeans coat and hunting shirt.



The customary beverage is coffee, bitter and black, nor having been roasted but burnt. All drink it from the youngest up. Another beverage is "mountain tea," which is made from the sweet scented goldenrod and from wintergreen the Now England checkerberry. These decoctions they mollify with home-made sorghum molasses, which they call "long sweetening," or with sugar, which by contrast is known as "short sweetening." Of home government there is little or none, boys especially setting aside at will parental authority; but a sort of traditional sense of duty and decorum restrains them by its silent power, and moulds them into respect. Children while quite young are often plump to roundness, but soon grow thin and white and meager like the parents. There is little desire for knowledge or education. The mountain schools have sometimes less than half a dozen pupils during the few months they are in session. A gentleman who wanted a coal bank opened engaged for the work a man passing along the road. Some days later he learned that his workman was a school teacher, who, in consideration of the seventy-five cents a day, had dismissed his academy.


Many, allured by rumors from the West, have migrated thither, but nearly all come back, from love of the mountains, from indisposition to cope with the rush and vigor and enterprise of frontier life. Theirs, they say, is a good lazy man's home.


Their customs respecting the dead are interesting. When a husband dies his funeral sermon is not preached, but the death of the wife is awaited, and vice versa. Then a preacher is sent for, friend and neighbor called in, and the respect is paid both together. Often two or three preachers are summoned, and each delivers a sermon. More peculiar is the custom of having the services for one person repeated; so that the dead get their funerals preached several times months and years after their burial. I heard of the unspeakably pitiful story of two sisters who had their mother's funeral preached once every summer as long as they lived. You may engage the women in mournful conversation respecting the dead, but hardly the men. In strange contrast with this regard for ceremonial observances is their neglect of the graves of their beloved, which they do not seem at all to visit when once closed, or to decorate with those symbols of affection which are the common indications of bereavement.


Nothing that I have ever seen in this world is so lonely, so touching in its neglect and wild irreparable solitude, as one of these mountain graveyards. On some knoll under a clump of trees, or along some hillside where dense oak trees make a midday gloom, you walk amid the unknown, undistinguishable dead. Which was father and which mother, where are lover and stricken sweetheart, whether this is the dust of laughing babe or crooning grandam, you will never know: no foot stones, no headstones; sometimes a few rough rails laid around as you would make a little pen for swine. In places. however, one sees a picket fence put up, or a sort of shed built over.


Traditions and folklore among them are evanescent, and vary widely in different localities. It appears that in part they are sprung from the early hunters who came into the mountains when game was abundant, sport unfailing, living cheap. Among them now are still hunters, who know the haunts of bear and deer, needing no dogs. They even now prefer wild meat even "possum" and "coon" and ground hog to any other. In Bell County I spent the day in the house of an aged woman eighty years old, in fact who was a lingering representative of a nearly extinct type She had never been out of the neighborhood of her birth, knew the mountains like a garden, had whipped men in single-handed encounter, brought down many a deer and wild turkey with her own rifle, and now, infirm, had but to sit in her cabin door and send her trained dogs into the depths of the forests to discover the wished for game: a fiercer woman I never looked on.




Our course now lay direct toward Cumberland Gap, some twenty miles southward. Our road ran along the bank of the Cumberland River to the ford, the immemorial crossing place of early travel and a beautiful spot thence to Pineville, situated in that narrow opening in Pine Mountain where the river cuts it, and thence through the valley of Yellow Creek to the wonderful pass. The scenery in all this region is one succession of densely wooded mountains, blue tinted air, small cultivated tracts in the fertile valleys, and the lovely watercourses.


Along the first part of our route the river slips crystal clear over its rocky bed, and beneath the lone green pendent branches of the trees that crowd the banks. At the famous ford it was only two or three feet deep at the time of our crossing. This is a historic point. Here was one of the oldest settlements in the country here the Federal army destroyed the houses and fences during the civil war; and here Zollikoffer came to protect the Kentucky gate that opens into East Tennessee. At Princeville, just beyond, we did not remain long. For some reasons not clearly under stood by travelers a dead line had been drawn through the midst of the town, and not knowing on which side we were entitled to stand, we hastened on to a place where we might occupy neutral ground. The situation is strikingly picturesque: the mountain looks as if cleft sheer and fallen apart, the peals on each side rising almost perpendicularly, with massive overhanging crests wooded to the summits, but showing gray rifts of the inexhaustible limestone. The river when lowest is here at an elevation of nine hundred and sixty feet, and the peaks leap to the height of twenty-two hundred. Here in the future will most probably pass a railroad, and be a populous town, for here is the only opening through Pine Mountain from the brakes" of Sandy to the Tennessee line, and tributary to the watercourses that center here are some five hundred thousand acres of timber land.


The ride from Princeville to the Gap, fourteen miles southward, is one of the most beautiful that may be taken. Yellow Creek becomes in local pronunciation "Yaller Crick." One cannot be long in eastern Kentucky without being struck by the number and character of the names given to the water courses, which were the natural avenues of migratory travel. Few of the mountains have names. What a history is shut up in these names! Cutshin Creek, where some pioneer, they say, damaged those useful members; but more probably where grows a low greenbrier which cuts the aforesaid parts and riddles the pantaloons. These pioneers had humor. They named one creek "Troublesome," for reasons apparent to him who goes there; another, " No Worse Creek," on equally good grounds; another, " Defeated Creek;" and a great many, " Lost Creek." In one part of the country it is possible. for one to enter "Hell fur Sartain," and get out at "Kingdom Come." Near by, strange to say, there are two liquid impersonations of Satan, "Upper Devil" and " Lower Devil." One day we went to a mountain meeting which was held in it a “schoolhouse and church house" on "Stinking Creek." One might suppose they would have worshiped in a more fragrant locality; but the stream is very beautiful, and not malodorous. It received its name from its former canebrakes and deer licks, which made game abundant. Great numbers were killed for choice bit of venison and hides. Then there are " Ten-mile Creek" and " Sixteen- mile Creek," meaning to clinch the distance by name; and what is philologically interesting, one finds numerous " Trace Forks" originally " Trail Forks."


Bell County and the Yellow Creek Valley serve to illustrate the incalculable mineral and timber resources of eastern Kentucky. Our road at times cut through forests of magnificent timbers-oak (black and white), walnut (black and white), poplar, maple, and chestnut, beech, Lynn, gum, dogwood, and elm. Here are some of the finest coalfields in the known world, the one on Clear Creek being fourteen feet thick. Here are exceedingly pure cannel coals and cooking coals. At no other point in the Mississippi Valley are iron ores suitable for steel-making purposes so close to fuel so cheap. With an eastern coalfield of ten thousand square miles, with an area equally large covered with a virgin growth of the finest economic timbers, with watercourses feasible and convenient, it cannot be long before all eastern Kentucky will be opened up to the great industries of the modern world. Enterprise has already turned hither, and the distinctiveness of the mountaineer race has already begun to disappear. The two futures before them are, to be swept out of these mountains by the in-rushing spirit of contending industries, or to be aroused, civilized, and developed. Long before you come in sight of the great Gap, the idea of it dominates the mind. At length, while yet some miles away, it looms up, sixteen hundred and seventy-five feet in elevation, some half a mile across from crest to crest, the pinnacle on the left towering to the height of twenty-five hundred.


It was late in the afternoon when our tired horses began the long, winding, rocky climb from the valley to the brow of the pass. As we stood in the passway, amid the deepening shadows of the twilight and the solemn repose of the mighty landscape, the Gap seemed to be crowded with two invisible and countless pageants of human life, the one passing in, the other passing out; and the air grew thick with ghostly utterances primeval sounds, undistinguishable and strange, of creatures nameless and never seen by man; the wild rush and whoops of retreating and pursuing tribes, the slow steps of watchful pioneers; the wail of dying children and the songs of homeless women; the muffled tread of routed and broken armies all the sounds of surprise and delight, victory and defeat, hunger and pain and weariness and despair, that the human heart can utter Here passed the first of all the white race who led the way into the valley of the Cumberland; here passed that small band of fearless men who gave the Gap its name; here passed the "Long Hunters"; here rushed the armies of the civil war; here has passed the wave of westerly emigration, whose force has spent itself only on the Pacific slopes; and here in the long future must flow backward and; forward wealth beyond the dreams of avarice. Beneath the shadows of the pinnacle the limit of our journey reached we slept that night in the Poor Valley of Tennessee.










Return to Home Page