Dr. Thomas Walker’s Journal, part 3

Jadon Gibson

The Appalachian mountain range stretches from Maine into the deep south. It prevented western migration for nearly three centuries. Dr. Thomas Walker documented his discovery of Cumberland Gap in 1750 leading to a mass migration of settlers into what would become Kentucky and beyond.

Dr. Walker wasn’t the first man to travel through Cumberland Gap and into Kentucky.  He wasn’t even the first white man to do so but he was the first to document his discovery. 

In recent weeks we have examined entries in Dr. Walker’s journal made during his historic journey when the tri-state area was simply a wilderness of dense forest, Indians and wild animals. On April 10 they had to carry much of their baggage on their shoulders two times over the river and then traveled another five miles before camping.

April 11, 1750 We traveled five miles and over a high mountain and traveled along what we called Turkey Creek for four more miles.  It lies between two mountains with the one to the west being higher. (Turkey Creek is believed to be presentday Big Sycamore Creek in Tennessee which flows between Powell Mountain on the east and Wallen’s Ridge on the west.)

April 12  We trekked two miles along the creek until it met a large branch coming from the southwest.  A large buffalo road is evident from that fork to the creek over the west ridge.  We followed the buffalo trail across the ridge and found the descent fairly easy.

We continued our movement four miles to a river that I call Beargrass River.  Ambrose Powell carved his name on several trees. We traveled up the river two miles where we found some small chunks of coal and several yellow flints.  The river is about 70 yards wide and has the clearest water I have ever seen.

(Beargrass River is the name Dr. Walker originally gave Powell River because of the abundance of yucca plants growing along its banks.  Bears were fond of the spikes of white flowers of the yuccaplant which grows four to five feet high.  Yucca plants can still be found growing in sections along the Powell River today.)

Hunters found Powell’s name on the trees eleven years later, in 1761, prompting them to name the river Powell River and other sites after him.

(It is felt that the coal washed down from the headwaters of the river, above present Big Stone Gap where coal is abundant.  Yellow flint it has long been common in the area Dr. Walker described.)

April 13 We traveled four miles to a large creek, a branch of Beargrass River we called called Cedar Creek and then six miles on level land to Cave Gap (Cumberland Gap). A large spring falls very fast and just above the spring is a small entrance to a large cave. The spring emits a constant stream of cool water.

On the top of the ridge are laurel trees marked with crosses and several figures. As we went down the other side a large beech tree stands on which I cut my name. This Gap may be seen at a considerable distance. At the foot of the hill on the northwest side we came to a branch (Yellow Creek) that made a great deal of flat land. (It has been determined that the expanse of relatively level land resulted from an asteroid striking the site years before. It is the present location of Middlesboro, Kentucky, said to be “the only city built in a crater.”)

Coal abounds in this vicinity. We camped on the bank where we found very good coal. I did not see any limestone beyond this ridge. We rode 13 miles this day.

Ten years later Dr. Walker would name the gap after William Augustus, Duke of Cumberland, son of George II and Queen Caroline.  The Duke of Cumberland was born April 15, 1731, and entered the Royal Navy at age 19.  Two years later he became a soldier.

The Duke of Cumberland fought under his father in the Battle of Dettingen in 1743,  commanding the left wing and in 1745 was in command of the army at Flandders. In 1746 his forces slaughtered the highland forces refusing mercy even to the enemy who surrendered or were wounded.  This prompted Byron to nickname him “the Butcher.”  

William Augustus, the Duke of Cumberland, died at age 34. Copyright 2019 Jadon Gibson

Editor’s note:  Dr. Walker and his party explore more of the Cumberland Gap area next week. Jadon Gibson is a freelance writer from Harrogate, TN. His writings are both historical and nostalgic in nature and can be read regularly at bereaonline.com. Don’t miss a single posting!

A Voice for God – a Voice for Good

I revised this to use this week. I worked yesterday and last night and had a good story to include this week but can’t find it early this morning and time restraints caused me to take this second approach.

I sprained my back badly a few years ago. One morning I arose and sat on the side of my bed. I reached down and to my left to get my shoes. I coughed at the same time and immediately felt an intense sensation in my back. I rolled back into the bed and immobile for a long time. Eventually I got to the doctor’s office and a visit to Dr. Mary Moon’s chiropractic office.

Strangely a few months later I was walking in our yard and stepped into a slight depression. When I did it knocked by back outta’ whack again.

Dr. George Day suggested that I take up running, bike riding, swimming or something to strengthen my back. We began walking regularly and after a while I began jogging some of the distance. We increased our activity, (my wife too) until we were jogging all the time.   

I knew it would be easier if we had an incentive so we established a goal. The first year it was to jog to Kansas City. We picked that destination as it was the approximate distance we thought we could accomplish. All of our jogging was done locally, keeping track of how much we jogged each day and year-to-date total for the year. I can’t remember exactly but we arrived in Kansas City on or about December 6. We continued running and applied what we ran to our goal the following year.

Each year we had a longer destination such as Dodge City, Denver and eventually Los Angeles. There were other destinations and we accomplished our goal each year. As we progressed in distance we ran twice most days, once for a total of 16 miles.

The year we ran to LA it was accomplished early thus getting our feet wet in the Pacific by year’s end, figuratively that is. Really all of our running is done locally.

Our good Lord in Heaven has been so good to me. I had a gimpy back for a while and it was so painful I prayed to overcome it. God led me to an exercise regimen in our national, state and city parks. That allowed us to interact with others and to witness God’s wonderful creations.

Everything changed last year as I had two major surgeries and two lesser procedures and I have neuropathy. At years end my muscle tone was depleted. Did I say I had two major surgeries last year and I’m 79 years old now?

I did a lot of praying and it led us to get back out and pound the pavement on our area walking trails like we did before except at a more moderate pace. We got on our newfound program on December 22 (2018) and walked a mile, September 1, 2019, is fhe 226th consecutive day we’ve walked, ran, or a combination of both, since that time. We did this on several area trails, in Turner Arena at LMU during inclement weather and in our driveway on a few occasions when necessary.

Without the goal we couldn’t have accomplished this. There are many days when something will lead or me you to say, “well today we just can’t get it in.” And after missing that one day it’s much easier to skip another day and then another. I say it is much like going to church. I don’t like to miss at all but when we do it is much easier to miss again.

Some area residents see me stumbling about in public settings and wonder how we accomplish our ongoing exercise program. It’s like riding a bike. You can ride a bike when you move along at a good speed but you begin to teeter when you go too slow.

I have neuropathy so my future exercise program is questionable. I put my confidence in the Lord and what He has in store for me. My good Lord in Heaven has been so good to me. I recognize his presence in my life every day. I want to keep his name a’ringing, as Ralph Stanley used to say and sing before he passed on.

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