History of Campbell County, Tennessee

Time Line


By Dallas Bogan

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

Campbell County has much history within its boundaries, from the Native Americans to the Interstate. With the kind permission of the Campbell County Historical Society, we shall look into some "olden times" from the "Land of the Lake" as written by the late Dr. George L. Ridenour.

On June 1, 1792, an Indian named the Bench, or Benjie, along with his three cohorts, were located about 40 miles above Knoxville. Thomas McClain "was riding down the north side of the Holston and twelve miles south of the Clinch and is many miles from the Indian Boundary." McClain was fired upon and "was struck in his clothes and powder horn by as many as four balls but received no further injury." As luck would have it his horse was unharmed and thus McClain put his spurs to the animal. He escaped to the upper community where he gave the alarm.

Thomas McClain was an early settler in Powell Valley, settling upon the land that Richard Henderson had purchased from the Indians. It is said that his tomahawk was an "upraised pick." It is also stated that McClain would flee to the mountain behind him and helplessly watch as the Indians pilfered his home.

McClain rock, appropriately named, is located about halfway between LaFollette and Cumberland Gap. This rock extends outward from the broad spectrum of Cumberland Mountain. The rock allows visitors to see the outstanding views up and down the valley. House Mountain and the butt of Clinch Mountain are clearly visible to the south with the northern environment entirely free from evidence of human surroundings. The view has not changed today from what it was in McClain's time. The tip of the mountain in this area has an elevation of 2,960 feet, several feet higher than the pinnacle at Cumberland Gap. It stands as the highest point for nearly 50 miles.

Thomas McClain was married twice, his first wife's name being unknown. He married second a Miss Crutchfield. They had three children, Thomas the oldest and William and John, twins.

McClain traveled the lower country many times. He built the first stone house in Powell Valley in 1806-1808, which is still standing. The mantles and wardrobes were constructed of cherry and black walnut. All the lumber in the house was sawed by slave labor in a sawpit. 


The Indians predominantly cherished Walnut Cove (Cove Lake area), which was located on the Indians path leading from the Clinch River to the North. From the beginning of Indian inhabitance in the area the Native Americans had made the cove their stopping-off place. From here they ventured out for hunting escapades and would tell of the various adventures they had encountered.

The cove was planted in small patches of Indian corn, beans and pumpkins. During these times and after the first settlers arrived, there were enormous walnut and hickory trees in which the fruit was stored for the Indians' future food needs. Also enclosed within the vicinity was a supply of Indian peach trees, large wild cherries and wild plums, all being well protected. Wild grapes grew in abundance on the mountains.

Needless to say, the council house was located on the banks of Cove Creek, positioned just a few yards from the ceremonial mound just below Eagle Bluff. At this point the Indians experienced the rites of the hunting trip and conceivably more than once discussed the last day's hunt.

Caryville, the Cove Lake State Park, and Jacksboro are located upon a 5,000-acre land grant. This award was arranged by North Carolina in 1793 to Stockley Donelson A short three years later Donelson sold to Andrew Jackson, later President of the United States, 2,000 acres of land on the north side of Clinch River "Beginning on the east side of Coal Creek at the mouth of the first branch that falls into said creek where the path crosses the creek that goes into the Cove."

It was during this time that the Indians lived in the Cove. The Indian mound found at the park in Caryville was excavated during the building of Norris Dam. A structure was discovered about eight feet below the surface of the foundation, area being about 35 feet square. Rows of postholes for the posts used for the walls was discovered along with the support of the roof, which was constructed of cane matting and bark. On one end of the structure was found a baked clay chair and in the center was a hearth about two feet high and about six feet square. This portion was equipped with a fire pit in the center, which was of hard baked clay. The temple floor was hard packed, showing the wear and tear of many feet.

The tribal chief very possibly sat on the throne during religious rites and clannish discussions. The tribe apparently lived around the council house.

An earthen bowl was discovered in the mound. Its dimensions were three feet in diameter, and was divided into many segments. Each portion contained paints representing virtually every color in the rainbow; scientists did not recognize a shade of purple. The paints were perfectly preserved. The determination of the origin of the compositions and whether they were originally liquid or dry escaped the scientists.

The mound produced no artwork, conclusion being that the paints were used by the braves to decorate their faces for battle or by the medicine men in religious ceremonials.

Time Line

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