Eight Horsemen Killed in Powell Valley

By Emory L. Hamilton

Both Waddell, in his "Annals of Augusta County", page 315, and Dr. Robert Kincaid, in his "Wilderness Road", page 167, tell generally the same story of this event. Waddell gives as his authority for the story the "Memoirs" of Mrs. Jane Allen Trimble, wife of Captain James Trimble, but does not state where this Memoir can be found.

In 1781 (1) and entire Baptist Church of Spotsylvania County moved enmass to Kentucky when their Pastor, the Reverend John Craig decided to go there as a Missionary. After this mass emigration many such other movements became more frequent. In October 1784, a large number of families, Allens, Trimbles, Moffets, and others gathered at Staunton in Grace Valley to prepare for a long journey to Kentucky over the great and dangerous Wilderness Road, particularly hazardous at this time since the Cherokees to the south had been harassing traveling parties along the road in Powell Valley and across Cumberland Gap since 1781.

On the Sunday preceding their trip the people of Augusta County attended church for a farewell sermon delivered by this frail, "blind preacher", the Rev. James Waddell who was Pastor of the United Congregations of Staunton and Tinkling Springs churches. It is written that the sightless man of God waxed so elegant in words of blessing and benediction that not a dry eye was to be seen in the entire assemblage. This scene can easily be imagined as the friends and relations remaining behind had scant hope of ever seeing the departing again, even if they survived the Indians, for a return visit was too far to be attempted except by the most stout hearted.

As the party traveled down the Great Road toward the western waters they were joined by settlers along the way who had decided to go along. That this movement was known in advance by the people of the Clinch and Holston settlements is almost positive since relations who had left Augusta several years before and settled on the western frontiers of Washington County joined the emigrants.

Captain James Trimble who became one of the leaders of the trip had left Augusta long before, being in Botetourt when that county was formed and was one of the Commissioners to treat with Augusta County regarding the lines separating the two counties.

Captain Robert Moffet, another who joined the caravan, and who was a half-brother to Captain James Trimble, had been living in the present bounds of Tazewell County since 1772, and Mrs. Samuel Scott and her family also were of this group, and she had been living on the Clinch in present Scott County since 1772.

By the time the party reached Abingdon it had increased to 300 persons and was joined at Bean's Station by another 200, most of whom were from North Carolina. Kincaid writes:

Instead of striking northwest into the wilderness from the Blockhouse to follow Boone's Road to Cumberland Gap, the party took a recently opened path through Carter's Valley on the Holston to the newly established Bean's Station fifty miles directly west of Long Island. (Now Kingsport, TN).

At Bean's Station, Colonel (James) Knox took command of the company for the trip through the wilderness. Colonel Knox selected the armed men who had no family obligations and divided them into advance and rear guards, each party to alternate daily in position. He placed the families, women and children, and the long line of packhorses between these armed groups. As they could proceed only in single file, the line extended for nearly two miles along the trail.

Three miles out from Bean's Station the party came to Clinch mountain. They moved slowly up the steep sides, and many of the packhorses were unable to make the ascent. The rear guard discovered signs of Indians and sent frantic word ahead to Colonel Knox. He dispatched the advance guard to Clinch River, six miles away, to reconnoiter above and below the crossing with instructions to wait there until the arrival of the main company. He ordered the women to advance slowly, and turned back to bring up the struggling packhorses.

The advance guard headed by Captain James Trimble reached the river and found it greatly swollen by recent rains. Realizing that it was impossible to cross at the usual ford, Captain Trimble took his men to a big band above the ford and crossed over. Because he believed that Colonel Knox should be in the advance party of the women, Trimble did not leave a guard at the main ford. When Mrs. Trimble arrived, on her horse with little William at her back and baby Allen in her arms, she saw some of the guards on the other side. She supposed they had crossed at the place and immediately plunged into the river with Mrs. William Ervin following her. Captain Trimble seeing their danger, shouted to them not to attempt it but his voice was drowned by the rushing water.

The horses of the two women were soon swimming in the current, and Mrs. Ervin's horse was washed against a ledge of rocks. With great difficulty the animal struggled to get a footing and managed to clamber back up the bank. A huge wallet thrown across her horse in which two Negro children were carried was washed off in the current. A man coming up at the time plunged into the stream and managed to save the children and the boys.

Mrs. Trimble's horse continued to struggle against the current, with his head turned toward the opposite shore. Firmly grasping the bridle and mane with her right hand, clinging to her baby with the left and calling to William behind her to hold fast, she urged her swimming horse forward and at last managed to reach the opposite bank. Frightened and anxious, the men lifted her and the children from the exhausted horse. She sank to the ground uttering a broken prayer, completely spent.

Because of danger of attack at Cumberland Gap, Colonel Knox sent Captain Trimble with fifty men to examine the precipe about the mountain. Another group of ten men was sent to Cumberland Ford to see if the way was clear that far. The advance spys, though discovering frequent signs, reported that apparently no large body of Indians was ahead of them. Feeling a little easier, Knox led his long caravan through the pass and down into the canebrakes of Yellow Creek. Arrived at Crab Orchard, November 1, 1784.

William Trimble, the three year old tot who had struggled through the water of Clinch River became a distinguished soldier of the War of 1812, and his younger brother, Allen, became a future Governor of Ohio.

A party of eight horsemen overtook the party at Clinch River and proceeded them on the route. Between Clinch River and Cumberland Gap, the emigrants came upon the remains of the eight horsemen who had passed on before them. They had been tomahawked, scalped and stripped by the Indians, and some of the bodies had been partly devoured by the wolves. General James Knox who had taken command of the caravan at Bean's Station, with his party stopped long enough to bury the remains of the unfortunate men.

(1) Really 1783



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