STINKING CREEK TRACES ITS NAME TO BITTERLY COLD WINTER OF 1779-80 WHEN ANIMALS PERISHED
By Dallas Bogan
Reprinted with Permission from Dallas Bogan. This article was published in the LaFollette Press.
George L. Ridenour was an early writer of Campbell County history, his works being prolific in their scope. This week we shall take from these writings and perhaps discover some incidentals that helped develop the county.
Ridenour recorded that in Indian times the valley of Elk Fork and Elk Valley were abundant in elk population, it being the largest assemblage of elk in the Southern Appalachian Mountains. Trails in a valley between Pine and Walnut Mountain contained many deer runs, and from the rock shelters the Indians were very protective of the deer and elk.
Ridenour writes that pioneer white hunters detested the mountain lion for the vicious slaughter of the big game. This brutal animal was called by the white man by many names such as puma, cougar and catamount. But the early settlers of the eastern mountains called this beast the 'panther.' Some hunters could imitate the terrifying scream of this predator.
Horse Creek is named for a panther that killed an early settler's valuable horse on the banks of this stream. This creek has been recorded as the kill of the largest panther in this vicinity. One who wears the cap of a black panther he has killed was supposed to be free from other attacks from the fierce animal.
I recorded at another time the naming of Stinking Creek, but at this time I shall embark upon Ridenour's actual description. He writes:
"The winter of 1779-1780 was known as a cold winter. Snow began in late October. Intense cold followed for weeks. Streams froze over. Animals that had drifted to the cane breaks and timber perished n the bitter cold. When spring and summer came in the beautiful valley of cane and meadow, all the animals had perished from the cold. It was an animal charnel house. For months Indian and white hunters alike avoided the place by reason of the carrion stench. Turkey buzzards and animal scavengers that had dens in the cliffs gorged on the putrid flesh of the dead animals. From that time until the present the name of the creek and the beautiful valley has remained Stinking Creek."
The first white man to visit Stinking Creek valley was John Tackett, who grew up on the Pennsylvania and Virginia borders. He had a trading post on the present nearby Tackett's Creek. According to early tradition, he often visited the Indians in this section, and was sometimes present at the Cherokee Council House on the present site of Cove Lake State Park.
Soon after Henderson and Company's purchase of the land at Sycamore shoals on the Watauga River in 1775, a gentleman by the name of John Brient constructed a cabin near the head of Stinking Creek, where he resided for many years. He was a 'Bryan' from North Carolina, but the name was spelled and articulated as 'Brient.' He was a distant relative of the wife of Daniel Boone, who was a Bryan. Tradition says that John Brient accompanied Boone in the exploration of the Kentucky country. It is also recorded that Boone first told him of the valley, which the Cherokees called the locality of the Big Bats.
John Brient's wife, Lettice, died in the early 1800's at his cabin which was erected on the land later known as the James Owens place below the head of Stinking Creek. His twin sons traveled to southwest Missouri, and after the death of their mother, John Brient united with his sons in the Missouri Boone country.
Indian raids were prevalent in Powell's Valley during the period of the first settlements. Henderson Johnson and Joseph Crabb, Sr., from nearby Beans Station, traveled to this beautiful valley to do some hunting. Several days after they left, their dogs returned which conceived some belief among the settlers that the Indians had killed the couple.
A Company of 25 men, led by Captain Blair, was raised to find the missing hunters. The remains of the two hunters were found near the Kentucky Trace beyond where Jacksboro is now located. The Indians had murdered the two men and thrown their bodies onto a large, burning log heap. Only a trace of their bodies was found.
Captain Blair and his men, in pursuit of the murderers, followed the trail of the Indians and found their campsite by a stream below the steep rugged mountain now known as Hell's Point. As chance would have it, the Indian dogs barked all night.
As daylight first became evident, an Indian from the camp appeared and moved directly to where Joseph Robertson was hunkered down behind a log. As the Indian crept over the log toward our subject, Robertson killed him with a tomahawk. Due to this disturbance, Blair's men attacked the camp and killed four more Indians. Quickly the remaining Indians fled through the dense undergrowth, and just as quickly, Blair's men set fire to a big log heap.
The bodies of the five dead Indians were cremated in retaliation for the burning of the bodies of the two white hunters.
Blair's group recovered Johnson and Crabbs' horses, and also the Indians' ponies. Blair's men then packed as many skins as the horses could carry and returned home.
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