Daniel Boone Wilderness Trail
One of the nation’s most historic routes, the Daniel Boone Wilderness Trail was blazed by the legendary frontiersman in 1775 from Long Island of the Holston at what is now Kingsport, Tennessee, through the Cumberland Gap of Virginia and into Kentucky. It would become the route for hundreds of thousands of settlers of the western frontier.
Scott County Waypoints Eleven stops on the road are here in Scott County. From southeast to northwest, the stops are as follows:
“Wilderness Road Blockhouse“ Anderson Block House–John Anderson built a blockhouse in East Carter’s Valley sometime around 1775. A blockhouse is a log structure with an upper story that overhung the first. The Anderson Blockhouse was an assembly point for thousands who used the Wilderness Trail to venture into the wilds of Kentucky. Although the original blockhouse is no longer evident, the driving tour passes by its original location. John Anderson built his blockhouse on a knoll just northeast of where the marker stands today. The Anderson Blockhouse functioned as a collecting place for individual pioneers until a party of sufficient size was assembled to make the passage down the Wilderness Trail. It was the last contact with the Holston Settlements, and even though, a few forts existed beyond this point, it really defined the frontier. Once Daniel Boone had gathered his 30 ax men at the Blockhouse, he started his trek to blaze the trail into Kentucky, and forevermore lend his name to what had been known as either the Great Warriors’ Path or as the Wilderness Trail. The trail went north past the Blockhouse on state route 606 to the ford just upstream from the present swinging bridge. The Anderson Blockhouse served as a cork in the bottleneck on the Great Warriors’ Path, and was in an excellent position to intercept the passage of hostile Indian parties coming east on the trail.
Moccasin Gap–This low point in the Clinch Mountain is one of two ground level water gaps leading from the western reaches of the Great Valley of Virginia into the interior of the Alleghenies. This Gap was of great significance to the Indians because it was the main trail connecting the Cherokee Country with that of the Shawnee in Ohio. This last trail ran from the Smokies through Moccasin Gap to Big Stony Creek to High Knob, Pound Gap, Elkhorn Creek, the Big Sandy River and across the Ohio River. The Great Warriors’ Path crossed through here, and American settlers pouring through Moccasin Gap and into Kentucky violated a treaty with the Shawnee, which led to Lord Dunmore’s War in 1774. During the prolonged Cherokee Wars from 1777-1794, Moccasin Gap was a favorite site used by the Cherokee, who were most commonly led by Chief Benge, to ambush settlers using the trail. The best view of Moccasin Gap can be seen from the Scott County Golf Course.
Gate City Courthouse – Truly the gateway into the interior of the Alleghenies, this site was a trail hub in Indian and pioneer days. The Wilderness Trail went west along the road here to the head of Little Moccasin Creek. A station on the trail was built to the north of the high school to guard the area. The station, however, was attacked by Chief Benge of the Chickamauga Cherokee on Aug. 26, 1791 with all killed except for a child who was taken into captivity. Several less significant trails also converged at this point. Elijah Ferris (various spellings) built a station just across the road to the north of the present high school to guard this intersection of trails. Chief Bob Benge of the Chickamauga Cherokee attacked Ferris’ Station and killed everyone in the family with the exception of Nancy, a child who was carried into captivity.
Daniel Boone – A railroad yard and community–this is the only place in Virginia named for Daniel Boone, marking the location where the frontiersman drank from a spring.
Speer’s Ferry – This is the mouth of Troublesome Creek, whose passage was so troublesome to pioneers that the Boone Wilderness Trail avoided it. The trail forded the creek on a shelf of rock that lies under a bridge here.
Stock Creek – The Wilderness Trail intersects the Clinch River here and follows Stock Creek upstream. By 1789, John Wallen built a cabin at the mouth of Stock Creek. Chief Benge attacked it and was driven off after three of his Indian party were killed. The Carter Cabin can be found here, donated to the Wilderness Trail Association and rebuilt along the bank of Stock Creek near Natural Tunnel State Park.
Natural Tunnel – The Wilderness Trail crosses a natural bridge west of this site – pioneers did not use Natural Tunnel itself. As you proceed up the Wilderness Trail from here, you will once again cross Stock Creek.
Wilderness Road Blockhouse – The Wildernes Road Blockhouse, located at Natural Tunnel State Park is a replica of all of the blockhouses that were manned by the Holston Militia during the frontier conflict between the Indians and settlers. There was no blockhouse during that period at the Natural Tunnel site, but similar structures included the John Anderson Blockhouse in East Carter’s Valley, the oldest version of Black’s Fort in Abingdon, the Sapling Grove Fort in Bristol and Martin’s Lower or New Station just east of Cumberland Gap. It is likely that blockhouses were the form of fortification of other forts in the valleys of the Holston, Clinch and Powell whose structure types are not known.
Duffield–(Little Flat Lick & The Devil’s Race Path--At the intersection of State Route 871 and US, there is a major short cut of the Daniel Boone Wilderness Trail, known forever as the “Devil’s Race Path.” Pioneers left the main trail and headed up Purchase Ridge. As the wagons labored up the steep grade at Purchase Ridge, they were easy prey for thieves that lived there. The immigrants would race their wagons to avoid being waylaid by the hoodlums, hence the name. Pioneer journals sited this area as “Little Flat Lick” because there was a salt lick spring that oozed from the ground which enabled the settlers to replace their meat supplies.
Kane Gap – This natural notch was a welcome sight to early travelers of the Wilderness Trail. It was through this gap that countless thousands trudged as they made their way ever westward in search of their dreams. You can see the notch from the Powell Mountain Overlook west of Duffield on Rte 58, or climb to the gap along the Daniel Boone Birding Trail. This is the only significant segment of the Wilderness Trail in Virginia that has not been paved over. The original road bed through the gap and the backside of the mountain is still in its near original condition. When the State of Virginia improved this road as the Fincastle to Cumberland Gap Turnpike, it shifted the route from Kane Gap further west to the site of the present passage of US 58 & US 421. Kane Gap was the site of the 1793 confrontation between Chief Bob Benge and Ensign Moses Cockrell. Cockrell was a famous scout for the Holston Militia and a rival of Chief Benge. Cockrell and two others were bringing up a mule train from Little Flat Lick when Chief Benge and his war party ambushed the trio. The two muleskinners were killed, but Cockrell outran Benge the three miles down the northern face of Powell Mountain to gain the safety of Scott’s Station.
Powell Mountain Overlook–To the north lies the beautiful valley of Wallen’s Creek, which forms in a basin at the juncture of Wallen’s Ridge and Powell Mountain. At the head of Wallen’s Creek, Archibald and Fannie Scott built their home at Scott’s Station in 1782. Chief Benge attacked the Scott’s home in 1785, killing Archibald and the three children and taking Fannie into captivity. Fortunately, Fannie escaped before the war party reached Ohio. The Holston Militia rebuilt Scott’s Station, possibly as a Blockhouse, and it was to this garrison that Moses Cockrell raced for his life in 1793.
“Daniel Boone” The topography of the eastern United States is dominated by the Great Valley of Virginia, which runs from New York to Alabama between the Appalachian Mountains to the east, and the Alleghenies to the west. There are only three significant passages through the Alleghenies that give access to the fertile plains of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers. These routes connecting the east with the west are the Mohawk River-Lake Erie shore trail, the Ohio River, and Moccassin Gap/Cumberland Gap.
The three greatest Indian tribes in this part of the country were the Iroquios in New York, the Cherokee of the Carolinas, Tennessee and North Georgia, and the Shawnee of Ohio and Indiana. Moccasin Gap and Cumberland Gap sit near the center of the triangle formed by the territories of these tribes, and the system of trails that led from these areas of settlement through Cumberland Gap was know as the Great Warriors Path. Beginning in the Hudson River Valley of New York and the plains of Delaware and New Jersey, the various smaller versions of this route gradually came together as they passed to the southwest down the Great Valley. They picked up the trails coming from the Cherokee who lived in the Smoky Mountains. Finally, the trail led through the magnificent Cumberland Gap in Cumberland Mountain, then fanned out onto the Blue Grass of Kentucky and on to toward Ohio.
Gabriel Arthur, a young indentured servant, was the first European to travel the route and see the Cumberland Gap, a natural break in the mountains. Arthur was sent along the trail in 1674 by the Shawnee Indians to secure a trade agreement with settlers. The next recorded man to see the Gap was Dr. Thomas Walker in 1750. In 1775 Daniel Boone took a party of 30 ax men from what is today Scott County and blazed a frontier pathway from the Holston Valley through Moccasin Gap across southwest Virginia to Kentucky. Following the Great Warriors Path of Athawominee, as it was called by Indians, the trail Boone marked was to become the first gateway to the west.
Thousands of Ulster-Scots and Palatine Germans that traveled the trail settled in its river valleys and mountain meadows, forged a new nation, and became Americans in the process. Pennsylvania was the greatest port of entry for European immigrants. As population pressures around Philadelphia pushed the newest immigrants to the west, they hit the impenetrable wall of the Alleghenies, and were deflected down the Great Valley to the southwest. Know it or not, they were on their way to Cumberland Gap along the Great Warriors Path. The Scots-Irish and German pioneers began to refer to it as The Wilderness Trail or as the Great Kentucky Road. The Indians hotly contested the pioneers’ passage down the Wilderness Trail. The warfare lasted from 1774 to 1794, and was the bloodiest to occur within the United States. In 1776 the Cherokee drove out the militia garrisons in Lee County, leaving only the easternmost open. Carter’s Fort, in Scott County had to be abandoned.
The Cherokee attacked as far east as Black’s Fort in Abingdon. The life line to the Kentucky settlements were all but cut, but on at least two ocassions the militia of Carter’s Fort from Rye Cove raced down the Wilderness Trail to save the settlements around Boonesborough. Later, the route of the Clinch Valley Branch of the Wilderness Road was the roadbed of the great stage toll road that ran from the road network in the central part of Virginia to Cumberland Gap. The Fincastle to Cumberland Gap Turnpike was in use from the 1830s to the coming of the railroad in the 1850s. It followed the road that lies at the entrance of the recontructed Wilderness Road Blockhouse site at Natural Tunnel State Park. The Carter log cabin that has been reassembled near the mouth of Natural Tunnel was a relay station on that tunrpike. Horse teams were changed out at that house when it stood in Rye Cove a couple of miles to the east of the park.
For More Information, visit the Daniel Boone Wilderness Trail Association’s website at www.danielboonetrail.com