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History of Southwest Virginia and Southeastern Kentucky
as told by Hoyt Mullins

(taped by Kathy Mullins Dingus)

(This was transcribed directly from a tape, and is pretty much word for word as if he were speaking to you)


As I mentioned to you once before, for more information on the history of this area you might check with Kentuckyís Last Frontier, a book by Scaff, the information on Pine Mountain Gaps and some of the history of Pine Mountain from the early pioneers and on up through the civil war and into the coal mining early days there. It also has quite a bit about the battle of Pound Gap as well as Garfield being headquartered there in Pikeville and it also mentions the Battle of Middle Creek. There is quite a bit of information there about the mountain in that book. It mentions the Gaps in Pine Mountain that were used by the early settlers, Pennington Gap, Pound Gap. the Double Skaggs Gap and right here I just might mention that Christopher Gist came up through Pound Gap.

Well letís see, he started his trip from Fort Pitt and came down the Ohio River and then I believe he came up the Kentucky River to the headwaters there near Payne Gap, over through Pound Gap down to the vicinity of Pound and over to Indian Creek toward where Wise is now. The Indians had a camp there on Indian Creek somewhere from whence it got itís name and the Chief that lived there on that creek was called the Crane and had symbols painted or carved on some of the trees around his camp of a crane, the bird.

That was about 1750. Skaggs Gap of course, as I mentioned to you before was named from my fourth great grandmother Nancy Skaggs. the daughter of John Skaggs who was a Revolutionary War Veteran who was wounded at the Battle of Kings Mountain in South Carolina in 178l.

They lived on the Holston River, in the vicinity of Abington or perhaps near Bristol. The Indians had made a raid and probably had come up through by the Big Sandy through Skaggs Gap and right on up the McClure River and over the mountain there near Dante through Clint Gap as the highway goes now, and on to Castlewood through Little Moccasin Gap there where the John Douglas Wayside is presently. They raided the settlements there on the Holston and captured two of John Skaggs daughters, Nancy and one of the other younger girls, who they later turned loose, or she escaped, (when they got as far as Pine Mountain they didnít have her anyway).

So the settlers there, her Dad and some of the others, and a young man who was courting her by the name of George Reed were following them and trying to rescue them and they came to the foot of the mountain there where Skaggs Branch runs into the river, a big hole of water called Skaggs Hole, the names have all been taken from this incident. They decided that the Indians were too far ahead of them and they didnít want to get ambushed down in the wilderness any deeper and they wanted to turn around and give up.

But the young man insisted on going on to the top of the mountain, which he did alone. Getting up there near dark, or possibly just after dark, he looked off down the mountain and saw a campfire or smelled smoke, and sneaked up there later into the camp and untied her, rescued her, got her out and back down the Virginia side. It was getting pretty close to daylight by then so they crossed the River there near the Skaggs Hole upper end, in the shoals being careful not to leave any trace of their crossing and climbed the big cliff on the far side of the river which is called Skaggs Rock and the railroad tunnel goes through the rock which is now called Skaggs Tunnel.

They climbed up in the face of this cliff where there are some slanting ledges that come down the side of this cliff. The Cliff looks like the bow of ship that is sinking. Only the bow is sticking out of the water. This incline strata continues up the side of this huge rock, and they went up into some of those little rock shelters or eaves in the face of this cliff and hid. They watched Indians come off the mountain the next day to look for them, they didnít cross the river and so forth they werenít discovered. They spent the night there and went on back to the Holston the next day. She later became pregnant as a result of this wilderness trip and they later were married. They became my fourth great grandparents.

Henrv Skaggs was a member of the party there in block house bottom near Paintsville. right about where the airport is near the four-lane, when Jenny Wiley came to far side of the river when she escaped from the Indians and hollered over to the fort, a block house, and asked for help. Henry Skaggs chopped down some dead trees and poled across the river to her there and got her hack across the river just before the Indians showed up. He was a member of the Skaggs family, a brother to my 5th great grand father John Skaggs who was the father of Nancy. So the Skaggs are familiar to this part of the country.

Skaggs Gap along the old trail that lead to this part of the country was named for them and if you will read the book Dark Hills to Westward, which concerns the story of Jenny Wiley and how she was captured and what she went through while she was a captive and her escape. Later there in the last chapter of the hook her rescuers decided due to the Indians being there in the vicinity and they were but few there in the block house, they decided to return to Virginia and they brought her with them and the book says they came back through Skaggs Gap near the Breaks. The Indians pursued after them and caught up with them there in the Gap and they had a big shootout there near the big cliff. I donít know how authentic that is but it was used in the story.

Another Indian trail, and incidentally this one was pretty well documented by an old fellow by the name of Jim Cypress who was interviewed about 1920 by a local historian in this area, who recorded it and I have a copy of the interview. They were early settlers in the area. He said the trail through this part of the country, the Indian Trail, the war paths and therefore the early American war path that the white man followed was up the Big Sandy River from Ohio through Skaggs Gap, to get around the Breaks, and back to the river and on up to McClure River to Hazel Mountain, and over it to Clint Gap to the vicinity of Dante and the Clinch River and on then to Castlewood. He said it didnít follow the river all the way but where the river would make large bends they would follow a ridge as in the vicinity of Bartlick. where McClure and Pound River Fork. He said they would go up that ridge between the mouth of the river there, called White Ridge now, along the top of the ridge to the vicinity of Clinchco and down a creek to the vicinity of Clinchco and then on up the river. It eliminated quite a bit of loop down around Haysi.

Another trail that I have heard about since, was up the river after you came through Skaggs, up the river to Sandlick at Haysi. This would lead you eastward rather than southward to Castlewood. Up Sandlick. which was fork of the Russell Fork, then take a ridge just past Sandliek community and up that ridge which was called Indian Ridge. This would lead them over by Big A Mountain. Then they would go through Clinch Mountain at Havterís Gap to the Washington County and the Holston River side of the mountain. Then you would Be on the Wilderness Road or the Valley Road eastward then towards the coast. This was the possible route of John Swift in my opinion.

My Dad told me one time that when they were building the road up Sandhick. the WPA which he worked on. (he wasnít there at the time when this was discovered) They were building a road and they were blasting and shooting a cliff off and the steam shovel got in there and was cleaning out the rock that had been blasted, and they found quite a number of silver coins. Also right in that same vicinity a friend of mine tells me that his Dad as a boy heard about a small cave or rock house discovered by loggers right in that same area there, along side Sandlick Creek, discovered some silver coins. Part way up Indian Ridge you could go left to Big A or you could go right and come out on the Clinch near Castlewood down about Hamlin. I have heard tales of an Indian Village, a pretty extensive Indian Village which used to be there near where the trail came off near the river.

The story of Bluehead Gap

In 1913 a band of US Marshals were ambushed and killed. at Bluehead Gap, which was the next Gap eastward from Skaggs. Hunt Hall and his wife and children - his regular clan, lived up in the gap there and made whiskey and they were very hard to apprehend or catch by the local authorities. The US Marshals were asked to help and so they were ambushed there in the Gap. I heard the story from an old man in 1975 whom I happened to meet there in the Gap. They had come up to clean off the old family graveyard, and he said he was twelve years old when this happened in 1913 and so he told me the story. His name was Sammy Hall.

There was a Dickerson family over on the Clinch River near Fort Blackmore in Scott County. Fanny Dickerson, the mother of the familv. was carried off with another woman, who I believe her name was a Scott. The Indians in taking them back towards Kentucky, came by Guest Station there at the Mouth of Tomís Creek, which is now Coeburn along the Guest River. Seeing that the few settlers in the area had gone inside the fort and had been warned and could do no further harm, they continued on and went through Pine Mountain through the Breaks, as per the historical account that I read, and on to Ky. toward Ohio. She escaped later and after many days during which she would hide in hollow logs, as Indians would pass by near her, she came through Pound Gap back to Scott County.

Eastern Kentucky, Pike, Floyd and Johnson, etc., is called Kentuckyís Last Frontier because the Bluegrass was settled first. The choice land - the mountainous hilly areas were bypassed. Thatís why the last Indian raid on Virginia came up the Big Sandy River through Skaggs Gap up Sandlick , past Big A mountain and attacked a Musick family near present day Honaker. This was in 1792.

If you will remember nearly all of western Kentucky had already been settled as Louisville. The Battle of Fallen Timbers, I believe took place way up in Ohio in 1794 in which the Indians were defeated and no further Indian problems were had by the people of Eastern Kentucky and Southwestern Virginia. This area wasnít settled and they had a free route up the Big Sandy from Ohio and came into Virginia and would raid the settlements there. The Musick family was attacked and Mrs. Musick and one of the children were carried off, and they came down to the river there near Haysi about the mouth of Sand lick and were camped near a little island that used to be there.

The white men that were pursuing them discovered their camp before dark or just before daylight as the story is told. They rushed into the camp about daylight and rescued her, she was wounded by a tomahawk as she ran, some of the Indians were killed and another one was heard to be moaning and screaming as they helped him escape. A skeleton was found later under the cliff near there and it has been presumed to be the skeleton of one of the wounded Indians.

Flat Gap, west of the Pound, was the route between the waters of the Cumberland River, on the Kentucky side, and Big Sandy headwaters, or the different forks of the Pound on the Virginia side. Flat Gap, Pennington Gap and Big Stone Gap were used by an Indian Chief by the name of Binge. He was a half-breed and he and his war party were ambushed in the vicinity of Big Stone Gap and he was killed and this ended his raids on Kentucky and Virginia.

I have often wondered why my ancestors, the Mullins Ancestors, which included Counterfeiting Sol, Solomon Mullins, and James which was my 5th great grandfather (Counterfeiting Sol was his brother) why they settled on Grassy Creek near the Breaks. It was said that the coins that they produced had as much silver in them as a genuine coin. It has been rumored that the Swift Silver Mine was near the Breaks. And there have been other counterfeiters as well that claimed to get their silver out of the mountain.

There is supposed to be a lead vein according to legend on the KY side of the mountain near Ashcamp which was used during the Civil War. There was a radioactive slate vein we saw when we were looking at an Indian Inscription rock near Ashcamp. When Uranium deteriorates it goes into lead. There is a possibility that there is some uranium there and certainly the lead was used during the Civil War according to local tales.

My 5th Great-grandfather James Mullins and Counterfeitiní Sol, his brother and John Mullins, Jr., which was also my 5th great-grandfather through another line, were taken to a Russell County Court about 1830 or so and I have the legal paper which charges them with counterfeiting and defrauding the people of the United States by making false coins of the realm as well as counterfeit Mexican dollars, half-dollars and quarter-dollars. Evidently they had dyes and were making counterfeit coins. Counterfeitiní Sol was the main one, his brothers were just helping him, went to West Virginia up near Chapmansville, and died in that vicinity. His descendants, who were genealogists went and discovered his grave. The other brothers werenít convicted and they continued to live here in the area.

You might be interested in a story about Blowing Rock Gap. Sometime in late teens or 1920, the first vehicle to go through Blowing Rock Gap belonged to an old black dentist. Evidently he didnít have a license to practice. He had been run out of the old Virginia Side and perhaps had been working around the coal camps near Norton or Wise and they had run him out of the area. He brought his old high-wheeled Hudson car through Blowing Rock Gap and came down the Kentucky side. There is an area part of the way up the KY side that is very steep and rough. It is called the Red Winds, because the trail switches back and forth quite a hit, hairpin curves and so forth.

The early wagoners who used the road, in particular a grocer in the Skeetrock area, named Artrip. who brought his groceries from Elkhorn City in wagons and mules across the mountain to his general store in Skeetrock. They used to go down the mountain and come up the mountain with their mules, going down the mountain they would rough-lock their wagon wheels by chaining the spokes of the wheels to the axles so that the wheels wouldnít roll but skid, in the very steep places.

This is how the black dentist got his Hudson off the mountain by rough-locking it. He had some ropes and block and tackle and he worked himself down the mountain. It was said by an old man who lived there, he was 80 some years old when I talked to him in the 70's, that he had geese and chickens and young pigs and a calf in the back of that old Hudson that he had taken in as bartering for his dentist work that he had done for the people in the mountain. He settled there in Virgie and started his practice with no questions asked, and I believe one of his sons practiced there until not long ago in the Virgie\Dorton area. That is just a little story about the Blowing Rock Gap

Osborneís Gap was named for some of the Osborneís that had settled there in the area who had come over from the vicinity of Dungannon on the Clinch. This was on the old hunterís trail of the Wilderness Road. They were pioneers and Indian fighters. Jesseís Gap was named for Jesse Ramey, another one of my ancestors. I believe his brother William was the first settler at Elkhorn City, the Potters of course. Potter Flats near the Breaks, named for Richard Potter. His Dad was a Revolutionary War Veteran and fought many battles in the Carolinas and settled in the late 1800's in this area. Potterís Flats was named for him, another one of my ancestors.

The Virginia side is very open and there are many flat branches, creeks, long hollows, winding around with lots of areas for hunting, beech groves, lots of hickory and used to be plenty of chestnuts in the area. The Kentucky side of course. having quite a bit of sliding and was very steep and broken because the Pine Mountain Fault runs down near the top of the mountain, just a short distance from the top, 1/4 mile or less. And this fault line runs the length of Pine Mountain. Now, right through Skaggs Gap crossing the Pine Mountain fault line is another fault line called the Russell Fork Fault line, which runs off to Elkhorn City on the Kentucky side and to Bartlick on the Virginia side. So you have two fault lines here, one crossing the other one.

The reason that Virginia is gently sloping and Kentucky is so steep and broken is because that Virginia tried to slide over Kentucky when the fracture occurred. Due to the jumbled up conditions, especially near Skaggs Gap and the Breaks area, this tells me that there has been quite a hit of earthquake activity and you can see in the rocks where the strata has been tilted and shifted around quite a bit. Very possibly there will be more earthquake activity in that area.

Limestone strata - there are two veins, the upper and lower. Most of the caves are in the lower limestone strata. ĎThis is probably where the great cavern of the Shawnee will be if it is ever discovered. My great uncle, Hiriam Mullins, told me one time when he was a young man, that he was over in Ashcamp visiting the general store. People used to travel back and forth between the VA side and the KY side through Blowing Rock Gap, Jesseís Gap and Grassy Gap. and a fellow came in and worked his way up the creek there in an old car and began to ask questions about the mountain and wanted someone to take him to a Gap called Grassy Gap. He volunteered and as they went up the side of the mountain, walking, he told him his story. He was an Indian from Oklahoma. one of the Cherokee that had been forced out of the Carolinas there, maybe along the Trail of Tears, his family had been forced out at that time about 1830 by General Andrew Jackson especially since gold had been discovered in the mountains of North Georgia.

Thev were forced to leave their homelands and the Blueridge and the mountains of North Georgia. Gold had been discovered, there was a mint there in North Georgia, a US Mint , that made coins from the gold that was found locally. The Indians were forced to leave and go to Oklahoma. He came back to find the grave of one of his grandfathers. They walked up into Grassy Gap and he pointed to a spot then up on the side of the Gap, I forget which side it was on where a great oak tree was growing out of the ground, and he said my grandfather is buried under this huge oak. He had come to find it and to see it again.

Evidently, at one time the Indians in this area were very active, and we have found relics and artifacts under many of the cliffs in this area. The Civil War was not favorable in this area, but there was the skirmish at Pound Gap. General Garfield after running the rebels out of Pound Gap, came on and forced the rebels out of their camp at Wise, Gladeville as it was then called.

He stayed at Indian Creek a day or two at a house built by my 4t grandfather Isham Hall. I have a picture of the old house before it was torn down. Garfield was there in the area, headquartered in Pikeville, and he later became President. I believe for his inauguration ball he sent for his old guide that led him up Robinson Creek and Shelby Creek and that area and Eastern KY during the Civil War to come to Washington to help him to celebrate, He sent him money for a suit of clothes and the man didnít go and later Garfield was assassinated. The man said that he should have went and regretted that he did not go. I forget the manís name but he was a northern sympathizer and didnít want to he recognized.

The state line leaves Pine Mountain about the vicinity of Pound Gap, and the state line sort of dog-legs over and hits the main Cumberland Mountain and runs then onto the Cumberland Gap. Pine Mountain then runs on completely in Kentucky on both sides from Flat Gap on to the vicinity of Pineville. where it more or less breaks up where the river runs through. Pine Mountain proper runs from the vicinity of Pineville, KY to the Breaks.

There is a big balanced rock up on the side of the mountain there and it is called Chain Rock. Someone for publicity I suppose went up there and drilled and put some eye bolts in the balanced rock and attached huge chains to it back to the main cliff and they called it chain rock. It is just a gag I suppose, but it is a sort of a local curiosity that tourist like to see.

The Breaks are about 800 ft deep and they are now kayaking through the gorge. It is said that some have gone all the way through. I donít see how a kayak can go over the falls. They are about 12 feet high. I have been there and walked up to the faIls, and camped there. You can actually get in behind the falls when the water is up, and that is quite an experience. There are some good camping spots. I have taken the Youth Opportunities United Youth Group up there once and we floated back down the river on tubes from the falls all the way back to the mouth of Grassy Creek.

A fellow told me he found an old musket barrel there one time at a spring on Grassy Creek above where we went Ďtubing. There used to be a spring there, and possibly a campsite. He had found a rifle barrel or a musket barrel and maybe some other hardware, a trigger guard or buck plate. Perhaps some tragedy occurred there in times past.

That was possibly a way through part of the Breaks. This would lead over to the Levisa Fork over to where by the Post 001cc, at the Breaks. Through the Gap and down over to the river and run into Grundy. This would be another route Eastward. Another route the Indians used some times was up Tug Fork and into Virginia but it was not used quite as often as the Skaggs Gap Route.

Maybe this has provided a bit of history of the gaps, mountains, trailways in Southwestern Virginia and Southeastern Kentucky.