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. The trail runs 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.
Today, visitors to Scott County retrace their ancestors' footsteps along a two hour self-guided driving tour from Kingsport across Scott and Lee Counties to Cumberland Gap.
Scott County Waypoints
Ten stops on the road are here in Scott County. From southeast to northwest, the stops are as follows:
Anderson Block House - John Anderson built a blockhouse in East Carter 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.
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. 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. 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 it and it 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.
Daniel Boone - A railroad yard and community here 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 -- an original dwelling that was home to the famous Carter Family, then 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 Blockhosue erected 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.
Kane Gap - This natural notch that 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.
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 Warrior's Path. Beginnig in the Hudson River Valley of New York and the plains of Delaware and of 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 axmen from the John Anderson Blockhouse in 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 Warrior's path of Athawominee, as it was called by Indians who used it, the trace Boone marked was to become the first gateway to the west. The thousands of Ulster-Scots and Palatine Germans that traveled the trail, settled its river valleys and mountain meadows ushered in manifest destiny, 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 Warrior's 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 to the region 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
Stop by the Daniel Boone Wilderness Trail website for a photo tour, interactive map, and history of the trail and its stops.
The Fincastle Turnpike was one of the routes settlers used to reach the Daniel Boone Wilderness Trail as they traveled west across the mountains. Today, a driving tour follows this route to many of Scott County's most historic spots.
In the mountains to the north of Duffield, Va. is a natural notch that was a welcome sight to early travelers of the Wilderness Trail.
Along the Wilderness Trail, north of Big Moccasin Gap, near what is now Gate City, Va., stood a welcome way-station for weary travelers.
The territory now occupied by Scott County was in the domain of the Cherokee when the first white settlers arrived in 1769.
The Anderson Blockhouse was built in the late 1700s to protect European settlers from Indian attacks. A replica can be seen at Natural Tunnel State Park.