The Old Path

Route of the Great Indian War Trail vanishing quickly in East Tennessee

BY JOE SWANN
Former President of the Historical Society

            Time has a way of erasing things. One of the things that is vanishing quickly is the route of the Great Indian War Trail.

            Today two major interstates meet just south of the headwaters of Long Creek on the side of Bays Mountain, Interstate 40 and Interstate 81. It is interesting that Native Americans had their own version of an interstate that followed right along these highways thousands of years ago. The old route of the Great Indian War Trail ran the length of old Jefferson County from Bulls Gap to Dumplin and it provided the early settlers a way of getting to this promised land.

            Recently local businessman Bob Jernigan, Cherel Henderson native Jefferson Countian and Associate Director of the East Tennessee Historical Society and I have been looking for something mentioned in old deed records. The reference, from an 1811 deed, located in the area of the headwaters of Long Creek, is to “the Standing Rock on the War Path.” This landmark may still exist and we are trying to locate it.

            There were once a lot of old Indian trails that folks knew about and many were mentioned in public documents. From time to time portions of the Great Indian War Trail have been marked and some of the markers are still there but not many. As time goes by and the trails are not used to water and erosion begin to fill in the sunken path until detection is difficult if not impossible.

            For thousands of years the Eastern Woodland Buffalo roamed the lands east of the Mississippi River. As they did so they made paths to areas that provided food, water, shelter and salt. The paths were well worn and followed the most efficient routes through mountains, across rivers and around swamps. Even today we remember these long gone beasts with the names of creeks (Buffalo Wallow Branch), roads (Buffalo Road) and churches (Buffalo Grove Church). “They have disappeared but they left their mark.

            The Native Americans quickly learned that the old buffalo trails were made to order. They cut a passageway through forests and plains, they led to food and water and they took advantage of the most efficient routes from point to point. The hard packed earth from all those sharp hoofs over thousands of years made a track that was almost as good as pavement. The earliest road within Jefferson County probably was the Bulls Gap to Dandridge road, which roughly followed the Great Indian War Trail. The early settlers, like the Indians, used this trail as the best way to get into the new region.

            According to most accounts the path entered old Jefferson County just north of Bull’s Gap, followed Ben Creek crossing its west fork and proceeding southwest to the Bend of the Chucky. Paralleling the north side it followed Long Creek to its source high up on Bays Mountain near Finley’s Gap. It then made its way across Bays Mountain and continued along the north side of Dumplin Creek by Flat Gap and on into Sevier County through the Dumplin Community. This would explain the large number of early settlers in communities around the headwaters of Long Creek and Dumplin creed which diminished as settlements at Mossy Creek and Dandridge emerged.

            In 1776 on a Revolutionary War campaign Col. William Christian led eighteen hundred men in an expedition against the Cherokees who had allied with the British and who were raiding frontier settlements. The men assembled at the Great Island of the Holston near present day Kingsport, Tennessee and headed down the War Trail for the Cherokee towns. They followed the trail through what would become Jefferson County. Their route took them past the Bend of the Chucky and along the length of Long Creek to its headwaters on the side of Bays Mountain near Finley’s Gap. They crossed over Bays Mountain onto the waters of Dumplin Creek and the beautiful Dumplin Valley. This early exposure of so many settlers to the fertile valleys between the French Broad and Holston Rivers undoubtedly resulted in the intense settlement activity which began less than ten years later.

            Old deeds often give clues to the route of the War Trail. On the seventh of June1784, a 400 acre survey was done for John Blackburn: “Long Creek at the second crossing of the War Path beginning fifty poles above the improvement …” This brief statement tells us that the War Trail crossed Long Creek at least two times and that John Blackburn had begun farming on this property prior to 1784 – a very early date.

            The Finley’s Gap and headwaters of Long Creek neighborhoods were bristling with pioneer families at a very early date. So many Jefferson County natives and descendents can trace their roots back to these earliest pioneer settlers. The heavy settlement activity here may have resulted from the proximity of this area to the War Trail which was the route taken by the first pioneers entering the area. Some of the earliest settlers and families in this neighborhood were James McCuistion, Sr. and Jr., David, Joseph, Andrew, Robert and Thomas McCuistion, John and Rebecca Jacobs, William and Jean Finley, Richard Grace, Richard Grisham, Thomas Dinnel, David Davies, John, James, Edward, and Andrew Blackburn, Samuel Lyle, James Corbett, Thomas Snoddy, James and Reuben Churchman, Bradley, Eli & William Bettis, George W. Jones, James Sherrod, John Sterling, William, Christopher, James and Thomas Bradshaw, Henry Brown, Samuel Gass, John Lang, William Hughes, James MvGuire. James and Levina Scott, Jerimiah and Catherine Nicholson, Ninian Chamberlain, William Givens, John Carson, Andrew and Agnes McAdow, Richard Collins, Rebacca and Elizabeth Grisham, Robert Mansfield, Jacob Crider, William Walker, Samuel McGreary, Patrick and James McGuire, Henry Bradford, Richard Grace, James Gibbons, Robert Miller, Daniel Prigmore, Moses Samples, John Potter, George McGirt, Henry Hagard, John lacey, William Rankin, McGarahs, Kerrs, Bethens, Yells, Kimbroughs, and others.

            Davy Crockett’s in-laws, the Finleys, must have moved onto their home in the gap of Bays Mountain at a fairly early date. The name of the gap, Finley’s Gap, is still in use today. The one hundred acre Finley homestead and David Crockett’s first home were located in Finley’s Gap not far from Collier’s Corner.

            The location of the “Standing Rock on the War Path” has been narrowed down to the area along Sager Road and Hinkle Road on the headwaters of Long Creek between Chestnut Grove and Finley’s Gap. In 1811 it was near property owned by Samual Lyle, Thomas, David and Robert McMuistion, Agnes McAdow, and John Blackburn.

            If any one has any information about the War Trail anywhere in Jefferson County we are interested in knowing about it. We have a particular interest in finding the Standing Rock on the War Path and the trail as it crosses Bays Mountain near Finley’s Gap but would also like to document the trail at any point within the county.