Transcribed by Janette West Grimes


Sept. 9, 1948 - Reprinted February 15, 1979




†† In our last article we closed with apromise to write something about our return to Middlesboro, which is in Bell County, Kentucky. However, there are a few episodes that should perhaps have a little additional attention before we begin the account of our return to the southeastern corner of Kentucky during our stay in the vicinity of Van Huss's Chapel, we did a lot of rambling through the mountains. On one of these trips brother Old had the misfortune of tearing his pants in a pretty bad way. He asked me to go to the home Marcrum and ask Mrs. Marcrum for a needle and some black thread. We spoke to her and asked for the articles wanted. She offered to do the sewing, but her offer was politely declined. We took the needle and thread into the woods and there our preacher brother removed his pants, sat down on a log and began a task for which he was wholly unfitted. We do not recall having ever seen a worse job of sewing done by any one than that done by our fellow laborer, Brother Oldham. But he managed to get by with the job and we went our merry ways. After spending the night in the home of Elder Ewing, we went a few miles further on to the home of L. G. Minter, who who was a substantial farmer and whose treatment of two "wayfaring" men could not have been better. We spent one night in his home and on the next day, he took us to the bus line some miles to the north of his home. Each of us rode horseback, Oldham getting an old trotting mare and the writer being " blessed " with a saddle animal. It was a distance of perhaps six miles and we had to make fair time. Oldham's " nag " went trot, trot, and the poor preacher was jolted until he could hardly keep " his seat." We laughed and laughed at his plight, but finally he got part of the joke back on us. We arrived at the bus line sometime before the bus was due and our man Minter suggested that we wait at the home of a Methodist minister who lived on the highway in the valley. We entered his home to find the good man about ready for the morning devotions. He was informed as to who we were. He gave Oldham a look and then the writer a look, and then said to the writer, " You are the older, so you read our scripture lesson and lead in prayer." Oldham got a great kick out of this as he was four or five years older than the writer. After we had taken charge of the devotions in the home of the minister, we had only a short time to wait for the bus which would take us back to Middlesboro, a distance of perhaps 20 miles.


†† One thing we forgot to mention in our travels from the home of Minter was that we saw a water wheel operated by one of the creeks through a valley, the wheel being used to furnish power to pump water across a mountain to one of the small Southwest Virginia cities. It was a sight to us to see a stream running a wheel which was in turn pushing water clear over a mountain to furnish water to a city in another valley. The wheel turned slowly but with a regularity that was somewhat fascinating to watch. The slow motion of the water wheel was in some measure like the manner of life in that out of the way place. It was also like life used to be in Middle Tennessee a century ago and less.


†† We have already mentioned the fact that part of the scenes of the story of John Fox, " The Trails of the Lone Pine, " was laid in that very part of the world. We also made mention of our mind going to the heroine of that story when we met Miss Marcrum, daughter of the man in whose home we lodged at the first. There was something pathetic about the general situation in those high hills and deep valleys. It was not a very good farming country, although there was little mining. The timber had been cut from the accessible portions of the country and the result was that practically all the young men left home for places in the North and elsewhere as soon as they could get away. This left a land of old men and women, children and maidens, for the most part. The romance of the tale by John Fox was sadly missing in the lives of the young people of those mountains and valleys. And the feuding of the story was largely a matter of the past, and perhaps the best part of the changed conditions to be found there. We found nothing to indicate the hatreds, the feuds, the strife and gun-toting of the story by Fox.


†† We arrived in due time in Middlesboro and were met again by our friend, H. F. Cole, who took us to his home and treated us as nicely as one could wish to be treated. But we do not recall any more of that 45-cent butter. We attended church services in Cole's church for two or three nights, and Brother Oldham was finally persuaded to preach one time, which he did in a very creditable manner. The writer also " thundered once or twice." During the day time we roamed through the hills and mountains.


†† We recall going to the tunnel through which the L & N Railroad reaches Middlesboro. Here we saw layers of coal in the cut that lead to the tunnel. In other words, those mountains about Middlesboro, were so full of coal that it was " sticking out " of the mountains almost everywhere. Never had we seen coal so abundant.


†† We climbed one day to Cumberland Gap and spent some time in this break in the Cumberland Plateau. The corner of Virginia and Kentucky is brought down to such a fine point that we were able to stand at one time on one foot which was in parts of three states at once. On the south side was Tennessee, and on the north side were Virginia and Kentucky. We always thought we had a " whale of a foot," but this was the first time we had been able to cover parts of three states at one time with our big, ugly foot.


†† Cumberland Gap is perhaps the most historic place we ever visited. This gap is about 2,000 feet above sea level, with the mountains on either side rising about 2,000 feet higher. It is a northwest - southwest break in the mountains, the only one in the Cumberland chain for many, many miles. Southward the next break is that above Crab Orchard, not far from Rockwood, Tenn. These gaps or breaks in mountain chains formed the passage way for the earliest travelers from East to West. Perhaps Daniel Boone was one of the first white men over the pass through the Gap. A big rock almost in the top of the Gap is called Indian Killer Rock, the supposition beingthat Boone had killed an Indian there. This huge rock has other inscriptions on it, concerning Boone and his passage through there which was about 1769. He was on his way to the Kentucky country, where he sought to establish a home.


†† Through this Gap have passed some of the most noted men of our earlier history. These included James Robertson, John Sevier, most of the early pioneer settlers of Kentucky and many of those who first came to Tennessee. Some miles south of Lafayette is the old Fort Blount road. This old trace or road was named for a fort located in Jackson County on Cumberland River. This was the very road used by the early travelers to Middle Tennessee. It connected with traces and roads leading from Cumberland Gap. We recall having heard of the first settlement in what is now Smith County. It was made at or near the mouth of Turkey Creek, a few miles north of Carthage, the present county seat. Signs of the old cellars and other ruins are still to be seen where these pioneers made their early homes. It was an unhealthful location and fever and chills beset the pioneers who located there. It was deemed best to give up the settlement and to return to Virginia or North Carlina. These settlers gathered together their scanty belongings and started toward this very Gap on their way to their old homes. However, at Fort Blount, they met a large number of emigrants whom they knew from their old home country, who were going on still farther west to locate new homes. These upset and returning andreturning pioneers were persuaded to re-trace their steps and went on still further west to locate again in a more favorable section. The writer was born and reared on the old Fort Blount road and has often pictured in fancy the passing of those early travelers with their covered wagons, their driven cattle, hogs and sheep; their children some of them perhaps riding in the wagons and others walking and driving the livestock. In fancy we saw them stopping at some spring along the old trace, of their wagons drawn up in a circle for protection against a possible assault by Indians, of the men, women and children gathered about the camp fires, of the cooking of the plain meals of those days, of the children's romping and playing about the camp, of the grazing oxen, the cattle and horses, of the bleeting of the sheep and squealing of the hogs, the crowing of the roosters and other things that went with an emigrant train of 150 years ago. Sometimes we have wished we might have lived then and been among the pioneers who moved from the Eastern States to the wilderness of the what was then called the West. Perhaps we see in our imaginations only the romantic side, and we do not see the side of labor, and toil, and privations, dangers from Indians, the loss of companions from the older sections and a thousand other difficult things that belonged to pioneer life.


†† In our mind we can go back to those wagons and see the fruit trees, the seed corn, the beans, the peas, and other seeds and fruits and vegetables, the flower seeds to be planted in the wilderness and to grow into lovely flowers to ornament some cabin in the wilds of Kentucky or Tennessee, or Missouri. But most interesting of all would be the people, who bravely left their homes, to travel hundreds of miles in covered wagons, making only a few miles a day, to know the weariness of a journey whose hardships the rising generation will never know, to leave many relatives behind with perhaps never a chance to see them again on earth, to face a future largely unknown to them, to try the difficulties of pioneer living under adverse circumstances, to be without neighbors in some instances for miles. But the wilderness beckoned to them, offering lands for virtually nothing, freedom without measure, and opportunity for the growing families whose children could not have many favors in the older settlements.


†† As we stood in Cumberland Gap, we saw in our fancy Daniel Boone himself, clothed in the garments of nearly 200 years ago, slipping through the Gap, alert and watchful. We saw his family follow him later, with one of his sons to die at the hands of the Indians not a great many miles further on in Kentucky. We saw others following in the footsteps of the Boones and the whole precession passed, as it were, in view before our mind's eye. Some of these were perhaps our very own ancestors who arrived in what is now Smith County, Tennessee, in the fall of 1791 coming from Chatham County, North Carolina, from the Hillsboro District. We saw also our mother's people pass, with numerous others, guarded by soldiers, in 1795. The Ballous settled in what is now Sumner County. Old man Ballou had driven a herd of cattle to Philadelphia from North Carolina during the Revolution, contracted smal pox there and died. His widow and large family of children left their North Carolina home and crossed the Cumberlands either at the Gap above mentioned or at the Crab Orchard crossing. But next week we hope to come back to our visit.