History of Campbell County, Tennessee

Time Line


By Dallas Bogan

Reprinted with Permission from Dallas Bogan.  This article was published in the LaFollette Press.

     It seems that Campbell County is central to most early history in the surrounding area, possibly because of Powell Valley and its low-lying plain. This valley and its many possible paths became a traveling and stopping off place for its early pioneers. At this time we shall enter into the travels of the early adventurers and their experiences.
     Tennessee, at the time of its first exploration, was a vast and uninhabited wilderness. The Native Americans had no claims on the territory, although the Cherokees settled along and south of the Tennessee River. Tennessee, along with Kentucky, had become a widespread hunting ground for the different tribes. 
     Campbell County was absent of any Indian tribes, although some had previously lived at Cove Lake Park where they had a Council house; there are also Indian mounds in the vicinity of Jacksboro. The Cove was on the Indian path leading to the North. The existing Indian mound at Cove Lake was excavated during the time the Norris Dam Reservoir was built. The Indians often hunted in Campbell County and camped at several places such as caves and springs.
     As was mentioned previously, Tennessee was a vast hunting territory. The first white men who hunted the grounds of Campbell County were known as "long hunters," they being so named because of the duration of their hunt, perhaps as much as three years. 
     The Loyal Land Company, in 1750, employed Dr. Thomas Walker to locate 800,000 acres of land in the western part of Virginia suitable for settlement. Walker was well qualified to make this survey. He was educated at William and Mary College and trained as a physician. He married the widow of Nicholas Meriwether. In 1742, he removed from Fredericksburg to his wife's estate, Castle Hill, near Charlottesville. As an avid vocation, he took up surveying going on numerous exploratory excursions. He had explored, in 1748, land deep into the Holston country with Colonel James Patton. 
     The explorers reached the Clinch River on April 9, 1750, near the present town of Sneedville, Tennessee. Walker's traveling companions were Ambrose Powell, William Tomlinson, Colby Chew, Henry Lawless, and John Hughes. 
     Walker's journal entry for April 13, 1750, is the first written record of the discovery of Cumberland Gap. It was known as Cave Gap when Walker first saw it. His manuscript states that he found very good coal on the banks of Flat Creek (now Yellow Creek), mining about a bushel of the black stuff for their fires. He named the Cumberland Gap and the river in honor of the Duke of Cumberland, then a national hero who had led the English army to victory at Culloden. 
     The frontiersmen then passed on to Cumberland Ford (Pineville) and followed the river a half mile below the narrows; here in a fertile bottom they built a log cabin, the first building constructed by white men in Kentucky.
     Powell River flowed out of Virginia into Tennessee. Ambrose Powell had carved his name on so many beech trees that it was said you could follow his trail from Virginia into Tennessee and on through to the fork of Rockcastle River in Kentucky. And so, Powell River and Powell Valley are both named for Ambrose Powell.
     Elisha Walden, in 1761, gathered a group of relatives and friends for a big hunt. Included was his father-in-law, William Blevins, Henry Skaggs, Walter Newman, Charles Cox, along with a dozen or so trained woodsmen. Each man carried a long Decard rifle, a powder horn, and shot pouch, in which was kept his powder, bullets, tow, pieces of punk and extra flints. A central camp was erected for their skins and furs. The frontiersmen usually hunted in pairs. 
     Crossing the Blue Ridge into the main road leading beyond New River, Walden and his men hunted along the Holston, Clinch and Powell rivers. They observed and killed deer, elk, bear, buffalo, beaver, otter and mink. Other small game was spotted such as turkeys, grouse, quail and squirrel. 
     Animal pelts were packed into bales weighing about 50 pounds; two bales made a horseload. This particular hunt lasted eighteen months. At this time the fur trade was quite attractive. 
     Other long hunters of note were Thomas Sharpe Spencer, Kasper Mansker, Uriah Stone, Richard Skaggs, Abraham Bledsoe, and Isaac Bledsoe, to name a few. 
     Among the early "long hunters" in Campbell County were Curtis Alderson, John Alderson, Joseph Carroll, Obediah Garwood, John Herd, Walter Kelley, Archibald Taylor, Phillip Cooper, John Strutler and Uriah Stone. Some historians claim that Daniel and Squire Boone made at least one hunting trip into Campbell County. 
     (Some of the hunters were shooting buffalo near where Andersonville is now located. After a heavy rain the hunters crossed the Clinch River on a make-do raft. Tittle-tattle has it that somehow Hardy Skipper was knocked from the raft into the swift current. As he was swept toward the northern bank he yelled: "Clinch me! Clinch me!" He was saved from the current and returned many years to Campbell County to become one of its pioneers.)
     History states that in 1771 many more hunters crossed over the mountains and worked destruction among the large herds of game. Some came in-groups while others came alone. Many of the creeks, hollows and mountains are named for the leaders of these "long hunters." While in their travels, many of these hunters and surveyors selected future sites for homes, then returned across the mountains to bring their families. The main road to the West was the Wilderness Road, made by pioneers over the Old Warriors Trail in 1775. 
     These settlers left the Wilderness Road at Cumberland Gap and traveled down the Powell Valley to their different destinations. 
(This article was compiled from the historical writings of the late Ted Miller of LaFollette.)     

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