Scott County Historical Society
Scott County, Virginia

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High Knob's Unsolved Mystery

By JAMES TAYLOR ADAMS

Editor's Note: This story was written several years ago, It is now more than 100 years since the event described took place.

One of the deepest of all the unsolved mysteries of Southwestern Virginia (and there are many of them) is the one surrounding the strange' disappearance of a young man named Brickey on High Knob, about 75 years ago.

Word-of-mouth rendition and an old and faded newspaper clipping has kept the story alive, but the exact date of the event has been lost through the intervening years. But, most old citizens agree that it was around 1875.

At that time there lived on Stoney Creek, near the southern foot of Stone Mountain, a man named Pinckney Carter who owned, or controlled, vast boundaries of land, most of which was wild, unimproved mountain land on which he grazed large herds of cattle.

In addition to his large farming and cattle raising activities, Pinckney Carter was renowned as a millwright; and there is some of his handiwork still preserved in old, abandoned water mills along various streams in Wise, Scott, Lee and Russell Counties.

In the same neighborhood in which Carter resided, there lived a young man or boy (he was only 16) named Brickey, an orphan lad who earned his living by working about for Carter and other neighboring farmers. So it came about that, on a winter's day, Carter employed young Brickey to help him drive some cattle from his Stoney Creek farm to the top of High Knob, where Carter owned a large tract of cleared land which he used to grow fodder for Wintering his stock.

The rendition is that it was getting late in the afternoon , when the two, driving the cattle before them up the mountain trail, reached a point about 300 yards from the entrance to the field. Carter, so he told later, stopped at that point and sent young Brickey through the woods, by a cut-off trail, to reach the gate ahead of the cattle so that they would not go on beyond or scatter along the fences.

After he had allowed some five minutes to elapse, Carter pushed the cattle on around the main trail and reached the field about ten minutes later only to find that the youth had not arrived, and the gate still fastened. Thinking the boy had, in the gloom of the waning day, wandered from the trail, he called him, but there was no answer. He repeated the call, time after time; still no answer.

He slid off his horse and turned the cattle into the field and struck out down the cut-off to see what had delayed his hired hand. He went all the way back to where the two had parted company, stopping to peek into every clump of bushes and to call the boy's name, but there was neither answer to his calls, nor any sign of the companion of only a few moments before.

Carter searched till far into the night. He did not sleep that night, according to what he told his neighbors early the next morning when he rode up and down the Stoney Creek Valley, spreading the alarm. Soon the entire countryside was aroused and joined in the hunt for the missing youth.

Officer s of both Scott and Wise County were informed of the young man's disappearance and they joined the search. The entire south side of Stone Mountain and the High Knob area was gone over foot by foot, but no trace was found of the missing youth. The search was first concentrated along the 150 yard cut-off trail, which the boy had been following when Carter last saw him, and from there it spread out for miles in all directions.

Investigation continued in full force for several days, employing practically every man and boy, and some women, in all the Stoney Creek community, and these were joined by searchers as far away as the Hurricane east of Wise and from the Three Forks of Powell's River.

Finally the officers and a few of the boy's closest friends and relatives went on with the hunt. Then, after some weeks of fruitless thrashing through the brush and peeping into hollow logs, the search was abandoned altogether.

The only clue discovered was a hickory club, the heavy end of which was stained with blood, and on which was found two hairs which were believed to be human. This club, whittled out in the form of a mallet like those used in that period to pound a frow while riving boards, was found sticking down in a drift of leaves behind a large chestnut log, a few feet from the trail from which the youth had disappeared.1t was about halfway up the trail between the point where young Brickey had parted with Carter and the gate which he had been on his way to open.

The years rolled by. About 1900, an old lady, who had lived in the Stoney Creek neighborhood, lay on her deathbed. Just a few hours before she died, she told a story which revived the Brickey disappearance that had been almost forgotten. She said that on the night he disappeared she saw a light in the garden of one of her neighbors and that it seemed someone was digging in the ground. Following the report, the old lady went on to relate that she and her husband made it a point to visit their neighbor and investigate the garden the next day.

They found that during the night, or sometime in the very recent past, the neighbor had spread several shocks of fodder over the ground enclosed in the garden and had turned some 15 head of cattle in to feed. The animals had so tramped the thawing ground that it was impossible for them to discover any recent diggings.

The neighbor, whom the old lady suspected, had sold the' farm and moved to another section where he was residing at a very advanced age. The place was in an abandoned condition, so it was easy for some of the men of the community to do a little digging on their own. They did do some digging, but found nothing.

Again the years rolled on.

Another quarter of a century had passed into history. Then some men, excavating for a building on the ground once enclosed as the garden spot in which the old lady had seen the midnight light, unearthed a number of bones which were pronounced by all who viewed them to be parts of a human skeleton. With this end, the ground was dug up for several yards in every direction, but nothing more was discovered. At the time of this last discovery, the man who had aroused the old woman's suspicion by turning his cattle into the garden to tramp up the ground, had been dead for several years.

So again the investigation was stopped. Now, after 75 yers, the strange disappearance of the Brickey boy is as much of a mystery as it was that long ago evening when he handed his reins to Pickney Carter and trotted off up that cut-off trail.

 

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