TRACES AND ROADS
Long before the white man first came to the country now called Kentucky,
many traces or trails were well known and used by the various tribes of
Indians. In most cases these traces followed game trails beaten down by
hundreds of years of use by the great herds of buffalo, elk and deer in their
periodic travel from grazing areas to salt springs and from there to fresh
water and back to grazing areas again. In addition these game herds made
seasonal migrations from winter bedding grounds to spring and summer range, in
each case visiting periodically the many salt springs which abounded throughout
the area. These game trails and salt springs played an important role in the
history of early settlement of eastern Kentucky,
being used by both Indians and white hunters in search of meat as well as
routes of travel. It will be remembered that Daniel Boone's first encounter
with buffalo occurred in the fall of 1767 when he and two companions followed a
buffalo trail to the salt springs near the present-day site of the city of Prestonburg,
Kentucky, where a snow storm
forced them to camp. Here they learned the strategic value of a salt spring as
they were able to secure all of the buffalo meat needed without hunting for it.
Undoubtedly many other early hunters had a similar experience.
It is well known by those who have hunted big game or worked in the cattle
country of the west that game such as deer and elk, as well as domestic or
range cattle, have an instinctive ability to select the most favorable routes
through difficult terrain for their travels from grass to salt to water and
back to grass again. Many of our major cross-country highways of today, as well
as less travelled routes, followed the route originally occupied by game trails
or cow paths. It is said that many of the streets of Boston,
Massachusetts were originally laid out by
following cow paths.
The Indians that travelled across Kentucky
usually followed a series of game trails, shifting from one to another in order
to keep their travel in the desired direction. This same procedure was followed
by Daniel Boone and his companions on their first trip to Kentucky.
They were able to travel nearly to the Rockcastle
River by following game trails
before they had to travel cross-country to reach the area they were headed for.
While the more lightly forested areas of early Kentucky
abounded in game trails, only a few had been connected and marked by Indians or
white men in their travels across the country now included in the Daniel
Boone National Forest.
Probably one of the best known Indian trails of the North Carolina-Virginia
frontier country was the Warrior's Path. This ancient trail, used by all of the
tribes in their north-south travel, started at the junction of the Allegheny
and Monongahela rivers where they join to form the Ohio River,
and where the modern city of Pittsburg,
Pennsylvania is located. It
followed the Ohio south to the
mouth of the Kanawha River,
then up the Kanawha and along New River, cross the
divide to the headwaters of the Clinch River, down the
Clinch and across the divide to Powells
Valley which it followed to Cumberland
From Cumberland Gap the Warrior's Path turns north crossing the Cumberland
River near the present city of Pineville, Kentucky and, continuing north
through Flat Lick, it crossed the divide between the Cumberland River and the
Kentucky River to the head of Goose Creek. Continuing slightly west of north,
it followed down Goose Creek and,
passing close to the present town of Manchester,
Kentucky in Clay
County, it proceeded northwest to
the vicinity of Gray Hawk, Kentucky
in Jackson County,
where it crossed through Sand Gap to the headwaters of Station Camp Creek.
Following Station Camp Creek it crossed the Kentucky River near the present
town of Irvine and, continuing west and north, crossed the Red River near its
junction with the Kentucky, continuing north up Lulbegrud Creek to the vicinity
of Es-kip-pa-kith-i-ki (Indian Old Fields). Just north of Indian Old Fields
(which is about ten miles from Winchester, Kentucky) this famous trail forked,
one branch turning northeast and, passing in the vicinity of the present day
city of Mount Sterling, followed Slate Creek to its mouth where it crossed the
Licking River near the present-day city of Portsmouth, Ohio. From that point,
it continued up the Scioto River
and on to Lake Erie.
While one branch of this trail turned northeast at Es-kip-pa-kith-i-ki, the
other branch continued north to the upper Blue Licks where it crossed the
Licking River and continued in a northeast direction, crossing the Ohio at the
mouth of Salt Lick Creek. Just before reaching the vicinity of the present day
town of Flemingsburg, a third fork
took off to the left and ran due north reaching the Ohio River
at the mouth of Cabin Creek.
Probably no single trail or road has played such an important role in the
early settlement and development of that part of Kentucky
in which lies the Daniel Boone
National Forest as the Warrior's
Path. Used by all of the tribes for centuries, in their travels across that
land now known as Kentucky, they
gave it the name which reflects the purpose for which it was most used — the
trail followed by their war parties. The name they gave it
"Athawominee," when translated literally means, Path of the Armed
Ones, or in the language of the white pioneers, The Warrior's Path. This great
trail has ably demonstrated its strategic as well as its topographic excellence
of location. Most of the early hunters entering Kentucky
by way of Cumberland Gap followed portions of it. In
most cases, however, their destinations lay to the west of the country
traversed by this famous trail and so they left it at some point, most commonly
at Flat Lick, where buffalo trails and hunters' traces led to the west and the
northwest. Even as late as the Civil War the terrain traversed by the Warrior's
Path was recommended by a Union Army captain to Union General George W. Morgan,
commander of Union forces at Cumberland Gap, as the most desirable route of his
withdrawal from Cumberland Gap to the country north of the Ohio River.
Many of the present-day highways of Kentucky
had their beginnings long before men, either red or white, appeared on the
scene. In many cases our present day roads follow the routes taken by buffalo
to and from salt springs, cane patches and grazing areas for hundreds of years
These buffalo traces, broad and well trampled, followed with uncanny
sureness the most favorable terrain for travel. For this reason these traces
were often determining factors in the location of Indian villages, principal
routes of cross-country travel and the early exploration and settlement of the
state by the white pioneer. As the country developed, the pioneer improved
these traces which were normally along ridges or high ground which was drier
during winter and spring. For this reason it is possible that early roads on
these locations were known as highways.
Kentucky was a land of the
buffalo. When Daniel Boone first visited the Bluegrass
in 1769, herds of buffalo were everywhere. Travel was made easy by selecting a
buffalo trace, running in the general direction. By following it through hazel
thickets, cane breaks or forests, you were sure of a good travel route.
Sixteen years after Boone's first trip, John Filson, Kentucky's
first historian and press agent, wrote of Kentucky,
"The amazing herds of buffalo, by their size and number, fill the traveler
with amazement and terror, especially when you behold the prodigious roads that
have been made from all quarters, as if leading to some populace city."
One of the most noted of the buffalo traces was found by Boone during his
first trip of exploration in Kentucky
in 1769. It was a trace of unusual width and depth, being about fifty feet wide
and averaging four feet in depth. It entered Kentucky where it crossed the Ohio
River from the north near the site of the present city of Maysville in Mason
County, and continued south by way of the salt springs at the Blue Licks, on
the Licking River, to the vicinity of the present day site of Paris, in Bourbon
County. This particular trace, long known to the Indians as Alanant-o-wamiowe,
and by the white men as The Great Buffalo Trace, is believed to have been used
by the migrating buffalo herds that numbered as many as 8,000 head, since
before the birth of Christ.
The pioneers were quick to take advantage of this route. As early as 1783, a
man named Smith drove a wagon over this particular trace from Limestone
(present site of Maysville) to Lexington.
From that time forward this particular section of trace was known as Smith's Wagon
Road. Travel between Lexington
and Limestone, a popular shipping point on the Ohio River,
was by manmade roads from Lexington
to the southern terminal of the trace at Bourbontown, as Paris
was called in the early days, then by the trace to Limestone. From the earliest
time of pioneer settlement this trace has been known as The Great Buffalo
The Great Buffalo Trace has always exerted a major influence on the
settlement and development of central Kentucky.
It was a principal route for Indians on the warpath travelling from north of
the Ohio to attack Bluegrass
settlements. When Daniel Boone discovered it in 1769, he might well have had a
premonition that it would bring trouble to him and his fellow pioneers.
It was at the Blue Licks that he and his 26 companions were captured while
making salt in the early winter of 1778, by a band of about 100 Shawnees,
led by Chief Black Fish down the Great Buffalo Trace. It was near the Blue
Licks that Boone's brother Edward was killed in 1780, while returning with
Daniel from boiling salt at the Blue Licks. It was at the Blue Licks on the
Great Buffalo Trace that the frontiersmen from the Bluegrass
settlements were ambushed and a large number killed, including Daniel Boone's
son Israel, and
Daniel himself barely escaped with his life.
The Great Buffalo Trace was a principal Indian route into Kentucky
and therefore a dangerous one for use by white settlers.
As early as 1779, the matter of building a highway to the west was studied
by the Virginia Assembly. As a part of this plan, the Lexington-Limestone
Road became the southern part of a new route
through the Ohio Valley
which connected Kentucky with the
growing population of western Pennsylvania
and northwestern Virginia. The
Lexington-Limestone Road later became the northern link between the Natchez
Trace which ran north from Natchez, Mississippi to Nashville, Tennessee, then
continued north through the Kentucky towns of Franklin, Bowling Green, Danville
and Lexington where it connected with the Lexington-Limestone Road which
connected at the Ohio River with Zanes Trace through Zanesville, Ohio and on to
Pennsylvania. It can be said that the Great Buffalo Trace has always been one
of Kentucky's major travel
Today US-68 and US-27 follow almost exactly the route of the Great Buffalo
Trace from Lexington to Maysville
on the Ohio River.
Another of the Indian trade paths in use long before the white man came to Kentucky
was the Great Tellico Trail.
This trail originated at the junction of the Cumberland River and the Big
South Fork, where the present-day village of Burnside is now located, and
followed the wide flat plateau southward, paralleling the Big South Fork River,
and terminating in the Sequatchie Valley northwest of the present day city of
During the early days of white settlement this continued to be an important
communication trail between the Cumberland River area
and the general area of east Tennessee.
About 1780, this trail was used by Indian squaws packing corn from the Sequatchie
Valley to the village
of Chief Doublehead's tribe along Cumberland
River. Many tales of murder, robbery and mystery surround the
history of this important early trail. As with most of these early trails, its
site today is occupied by US-27, and it is still an important north-south
The Boone Trace from Cumberland Gap to the mouth of
Otter Creek on the Kentucky River is probably one of the
most widely known pioneer trails in American history.
Initially it was located and marked in the spring of 1775, by Daniel Boone
and a party of 20 experienced woodsmen, employed by Judge Richard Henderson of
the Transylvania Company, for that purpose. Such a trail was necessary to guide
the settlers to the colony the Transylvania Company proposed to establish along
the Kentucky River on land they had acquired through a
treaty with the Cherokee Indians.
Beginning at Cumberland Gap the trace followed the
ancient Warrior's Path northward, crossing the Cumberland River
at the present location of the city of Pineville
and continuing in a northerly direction to Flat Lick. Here the trace left the
Warrior's Path and followed a buffalo trail, previously marked and used by
hunters, which lead to the northwest. The trace continued in this direction
crossing the Laurel and Little Laurel rivers, through the site of the present
city of London, to a large area
covered with a dense growth of hazel which soon became a landmark on the trace
for the many thousands of people who travelled it. This area, called the Hazel
Patch, still is known by that name to this day.
Continuing across the Rockcastle River
near the mouth of Roundstone Creek, the trace followed that stream, which it
crossed about 50 times to the disgust of many travellers during the next 20
years, to its headwaters where it crossed through a low gap from the watershed
of the Cumberland River to the watershed of the Kentucky
River. This gap, known to this day as Boone's Gap, is located
about two miles from the present day city of Berea.
Breaking out into the Bluegrass the terrain became
less difficult and the trace continued in a northerly direction, passing
through the present city of Richmond
and north to the headwaters of Otter Creek which it followed to its junction
with the Kentucky River, the northern terminal of the
trace and the site of the pioneer community of Fort
Initially this trace was little more than a marked line through the
wilderness. Its tread was rough and narrow, probably not more than 18 inches in
width, and marked by woodsmen's blazes on trees. It was suitable for travel
only by saddle horses, packhorses and on foot. In the years to follow it was to
be marked by many graves of its travellers.
Even for the strong, the trip was exhausting as well as hazardous. An item
in the Kentucky Gazette, published in Lexington
on November 1, 1783,
states, "A large company will meet at the Crab Orchard on the 19th of
November in order to start the next day through the wilderness. It is very
dangerous on account of the Indians and it is hoped that each person will go
The marking of the Boone Trace was completed on April 1, 1775. For the next 21 years this trace was to be
the only route of travel between Cumberland Gap and the
Bluegrass of Kentucky. It is estimated that at the height of the influx of
settlers following the Revolution, at least 20,000 prospective settlers
travelled this trace in a 12 month period.
In retrospect one cannot help but marvel at the skill of Daniel Boone in
selecting a route through the wilderness which was as direct and as travelable
as the Boone Trace. Dr. William S. Lester, in his book, The Transylvania
Colony, summarizes this feat of woodsmanship by the statement, "In 15 days
of wilderness travel Daniel Boone had brought his little expedition 200 miles
over rough country little frequented by men, 50 miles of it through trackless
wilderness, dead brush and extensive patches of cane. With a true sense of
topography of a modern engineer he had followed the most accessible route. He
had followed the rivers and creeks, found the lowest mountain passes and the
best fords with unerring accuracy. It is significant that today's railroads,
surveyed by the most skillful engineers, lie for the most part along the route
Judge Richard Henderson, head of the Transylvania Company, with a party of
about 40, later followed Boone along the newly marked trace by about three
weeks. Accompanying Judge Henderson's party were Benjamin Logan and William
Gillespie, together with several slaves, who had joined the caravan at Powells
Valley for protection on the trip
to Kentucky. When the party
arrived at the Hazel Patch, the Boone Trace continued to the north. At this
point a hunter's trail, which Boone and Stoner had taken the previous year
enroute to the Falls of the Ohio,
lead to the west. Logan and Gillespie and their slaves left the Henderson
party at this point and proceeded on the western trace to a point near the
present day town of Stanford, Kentucky,
where they established a station and grew a crop of corn in the summer of 1775.
This station became known as Logan's
Fort. Later the name was changed to St. Asaph's. The hunter trail that these
men followed from the Hazel Patch was later known as Skagg's Trace in honor of
one of the long-hunters who established it.
From the beginning the danger from Indian attack was always present for
travellers of the Boone Trace. Colonel William Whitley, who had built the first
brick house in Kentucky five
miles west of Crab Orchard and had named it Sportsman Hill, made repeated
attempts to protect the travelers on the Boone Trace and to apprehend parties
of Indians who attacked them.
In October of 1784, Colonel Whitley received word that a party had been
attacked on the Trace at the head of Skagg's Creek and that a number had been
killed and women and children taken prisoner. Colonel Whitley and 21 riflemen
hurried to the scene to find six scalped and mangled bodies. After burying them
they took the trail of the Indians. After a day and night of hard riding they
came upon the Indians in camp wearing some of the clothes taken from the white
victims. Taken by surprise two Indians were killed at the first fire, the rest
scattering in the woods. A Mrs. McClure, her baby, and a black woman were
rescued. Mrs. McClure told them that the Indians had attacked their camp at
night. She and her four children hid in the woods. The baby cried allowing the
Indians to find them. They killed and scalped the three older children and took
her and the baby prisoner. They had forced her to cook a meal for them in spite
of the fresh scalps of her children stretched on hoops to dry. Colonel Whitley
took the victims back to Sportsman Hill where Mrs. McClure was eventually
united with her husband who had escaped in the darkness. Actions like this were
common along the Boone Trace. In another case, Whitley and his men followed a
party of Chickamauga Indians into Tennessee
after an attack. He eventually caught them and recovered 28 stolen horses, a
large amount of stolen goods, $50 in cash and eight fresh scalps. No white
captives were found.
For many years parties of renegade Cherokee and
Chicamauga Indians lurked along the Trace, attacking small parties of
travellers, but avoiding parties large enough to defend themselves.
One of the major massacres on the Boone Trace took place on the night of October 3, 1786. A party of 30
travelers on their way to Fort Boonesborough
camped for the night at a spring in what is now the Levi
Jackson Wilderness Road
State Park near London,
Kentucky. The leaders were the prominent
McNitt, Ford and Barnes families and their servants from Virginia.
During the night a band of Chicamauga Indians attacked the camp, killed and
scalped 21 persons, took five women prisoner and
carried away all horses, cattle, and household goods. Items they did not carry
off they destroyed. Pillows and bedticks were torn open and the feathers
scattered over the ground. It is told that one woman hid herself in a hollow
tree during the attack and, while hidden there, gave birth to a child. They
were found the next day and taken to the settlement where she was reunited with
her husband who had escaped the attack. At that time Colonel Whitley was absent
from his home on a trip to Virginia,
and the Indians were not followed.
On March 21, 1793,
Thomas Ross, the first mail carrier over the postal route established in the
fall of 1792, was following the route from Holston to Danville,
Kentucky, accompanied by two other men.
They were fired on at the crossing of Little Laurel River but were not hit.
After riding hard about a quarter of a mile they ran into a large ambush. Ross
was killed and the other two wounded. Captain John Wilkinson and 13 militia men
went to the scene and found Ross's body, cut into strips and hung on bushes.
They gathered the remains and buried them by the roadside. Five days later, on March 26, 1793, Colonel Whitley
received word of another massacre on the Boone Trace, five miles south of the
Hazel Patch. With a company of rangers he hurried to the scene where a party
consisting of nine men, two women and eight children, led by James McFarland,
had been ambushed as they were riding along the Trace. The men had dismounted
and, in close formation, returned the fire of the Indians holding the attackers
off for about 15 minutes. After that the attacking Indians had moved in and
killed or made prisoners of all of the party but four. Colonel Whitley tracked
the Indians to their camp, scattered them and rescued a little girl and recovered
much of the stolen goods.
By the spring of 1974, the Chickmaugas ambushed a party travelling the Boone
Trace at Richland Creek, killing two Baptist preachers and two ministers of the
Dunkard Order. They were found next day by another party who buried them beside
Colonel Whitley at last determined to end these many attacks on travelers on
the Boone and Skagg's Traces. Recruiting a force of over 500 men he moved into
the Tennessee country and took by surprise the Indian towns of Nickajack and
Running Water, burning both towns and killing 52 warriors as well as taking
prisoner 19 squaws and children, with a loss to his own forces of one killed
and a few wounded. This attack pretty much put an end to the murders along the
Boone Trace which, from that time forward, was comparatively safe for travel.
The Boone Trace has served its purpose well. For the 20 years, from 1775 to
1795, it is estimated that over 70,000 people traveled this famous trace into Kentucky.
It was known throughout the country and had been preserved in our literature
and our history as an important part of our national heritage.
It would appear appropriate, as a part of the celebration of the 200th
anniversary of the founding of Kentucky,
that the portion of the Boone Trace which lies within the Daniel
Boone National Forest
should be reconstructed, appropriately signed and made a part of our National
Throughout the early history of Kentucky,
particularly that having any reference to travel from Cumberland Gap
to the Bluegrass over the Boone Trace, we find mention
of Woods Block House. The best description of Woods Block House is offered by
an article in The Sentinel-Echo, a newspaper of London,
Kentucky, under date of August 20, 1942. The article was
written by Russell Dyche, owner and editor of that newspaper and long a student
of the early history of eastern Kentucky.
Editor Dyche's statement on Woods Block House follows, "The first
building, certainly the first permanent building, in Laurel County, Kentucky
was the Woods Block House at The Hazel Patch, which was erected beside Hazel
Patch Creek about a half-mile above the present US-25. It was also the first
shelter intended to be permanent in the vast wilderness between the new and the
old settlements. It was at the junction of the Boone Trace, from Cumberland
Gap to Boonesborough, and the Skagg's Trace, to the Crab Orchard,
an outpost in the new settlement. According to the log of John Filson, who made
the trip in 1784, the distance from the Hazel Patch to Cumberland Gap
was 62 miles and to Crab Orchard 38 miles. Combining Filson's measurements with
distances recorded by Bishop Asbury on his trip to Madison Courthouse in 1790,
gives us 85 miles to Boonesborough, which possibly is 15 miles more than it
should have been. The road seemed long to Bishop Asbury."
Charles Robert Baugh, in an article on McFarland's Defeat, published in the
Lexington Herald, January 20, 1907,
mentiones the Woods Block House. As authority, he gives his own grandmother who
was born nearby on the Wilderness Road in 1807, and
other old people he had known in his youth. Says Baugh, "There was no
living person in (what is now) Laurel
County and probably none in the
territory between Cumberland Gap and Fort
Estill in Madison
County, except one lone man living
in a block house on Hazel Patch Creek beside the Trace. He was called John
Woods, but it was said that his real name was a long German one and that he had
adopted the name "Woods" for the convenience of his friends. Just why
Woods lived alone so far from the other settlements I am unable to say, but it
may be that he was put there by one Ramey who owned a large body of land in
that section under a survey made in 1785. This is said to have been the same
John Woods who was surveyor in Laurel County after it was established in 1825;
and in the first assessment of Laurel County (Commissioner's Book 1827) is
listed John Woods, Sr., who had 1,000 acres of land on the waters of Rockcastle
River, and John Woods, Jr., who listed himself and one horse. William Chenault,
in his Early History of Madison County, published in the Register of Kentucky
Historical Society, April, 1932, relates, "Archy Woods, Sr., and his
brother John in 1784, established Woods Station on Dreaming Creek near Richmond."
Bishop Asbury in his Journal reported how, "We then pushed through Little and Big Laurel to the Hazel Patch, Hood's Station . .
. . . (lapse in text)." This undoubtedly was Woods Block House, maybe a
typographical error or maybe the Bishop couldn't understand the man's German.
This was Wednesday, April 10, 1793.
It is possible that Bishop Asbury also visited this same place one year
earlier, Tuesday, April 3, 1792
when he says, "After crossing the Laurel
River, which we were compelled to
swim, we came to Rockcastle Station, where we found such a set of sinners as
made it next to hell itself. Our corn here cost us a dollar per bushel."
The next morning Bishop Asbury says he, "Swam
and the West Fork thereof." So the two locations could not have been far apart, and if they were different the Woods Block House was
probably built between the two trips. In 1793, Bishop Asbury mentions,
"The deserted station," which possibly was the Rockcastle Station of
1792 . . . . . (portion of news article omitted).
The site of Woods Block House has been definitely located by several of the
older citizens of that section who in their youth played among its tumbled down
logs. Large quantities of stone used in its construction may still be seen
there. It has been appropriately marked by one of the twenty native stone
monuments erected by the Laurel County, Kentucky Sesquicentennial Committee,
and the monument carried carved in stone, legends of the more important events
mentioned in this brief article.
Though located in the heart of the Daniel
Boone National Forest,
the site of Woods Block House still remains in private ownership. During the
last 20 years several attempts have been made to acquire this piece of land
with the objective of establishing it as a historic site, reconstructing Woods
Block House and possibly rebuilding a portion of the Boone Trace in either
direction as an attraction for visitors to the national forest to give them the
feel of the old Boone Trace. The site of Woods Block House is marked by a large
stone set there in 1941 by the Kentucky Historical Society. This stone,
frequently referred to as the Hazel Patch Marker, is located eight miles north
of London, in Laurel County,
Kentucky on Hazel Patch Creek. The carving on this stone reads, "Woods
Block House, The Hazel Patch 1796, Skagg's Trace — 1795, 1775 — Boone Trace —
1795, and Bishop Francis Asbury lodged here April 10, 1793." This stone is still in place and
should be one of the historic spots in the Daniel
Boone National Forest.
It was at this point that Skagg's Trace took off to the west from the Boone
Trace and lead to the Crab Orchard, to Logan's
Fort and eventually clear to the Falls of the Ohio.
When Governor Isaac Shelby took office as Kentucky's
first governor on June 4, 1792,
he was fully aware of the need of a good route of transportation linking the
new Commonwealth of Kentucky
with the states east of the mountains. For nearly 20 years the Boone Trace had
been the only overland link with the country east of Cumberland Gap.
Over this narrow trail had poured more than 70,000 people, eager for the new
lands of Kentucky. Each year
brought an increasing number of settlers to claim their share of the promised land. Clearly the road which served it must be made
into a highway capable of vehicular travel.
It was evident that something must be done, but the new state had not one
thin dime for such public improvement. As a start, Governor
Shelby passed-the-hat among his friends, starting the fund with his own pledge
of three pounds. Judge Harry Innes and Colonel Levi Todd were named
treasurers of this fund with Colonel John Logan and Colonel James Knox
commissioned to direct and supervise the work. Logan
was elected to keep the account book while Knox recruited the workmen and
directed the work.
For 21 days Logan and Knox worked their crews on the road between Crab
Orchard and Cumberland Gap trimming, widening and
rerouting in an effort to shorten the distance. At the finish of the work the
gash through the forest looked fresh and clean but not much improvement in the
trafficability of the route had been achieved.
In November 1795, Governor Shelby approved a legislature act which
recognized that it was the interest of the Commonwealth to construct a good
wagon road to Virginia. This act
contained seven provisions:
That three men of integrity and responsibility be
appointed as commissioners.
That they be vested with full powers to open a wagon road to begin at Crab
Orchard and to terminate at the top of Cumberland
Mountain in Cumberland
That these commissioners were to have complete discretion
in locating the road.
That the commissioners be given the power to employ guides, workmen,
surveyors, chainmen and markers necessary to do the work in the cheapest and
most effective manner possible.
That the road was to be so constructed as to afford safe and easy passage of
wagons and carriages carrying one ton of weight and to be at least thirty feet
wide, except where digging or bridging was necessary.
That two thousand pounds were appropriated for the
That when completed the road was to be considered as established and could
not be changed, altered, or obstructed by private individuals, or by the court
of any county, without the consent of the legislature.
With the act now a matter of law, Governor Shelby looked about for capable
men to appoint as commissioners to undertake this task. An announcement of the
need was printed in the Kentucky Gazette.
Daniel Boone, at 62 years of age, was living in a cabin belonging to his son
on Brushy Fork in what is today Nicholas
County near the Blue Licks. He
heard about the proposed wagon road and was interested. Nearly 21 years had
elapsed since he had blazed the Boone Trace into the wilderness over nearly the
same route. He was acquainted with Governor Shelby, and he needed the money.
Sharpening his goose-quill pen he wrote the Governor as follows,
the 11th 1796
after my Best Respts to your Excelancy and family I wish to inform you that
I have sum intention of undertaking this New Rode that is to be Cut through the
Wilderness and I think My Self intiteled to the ofer of the Bisness as I first
Marked out that Rode in March 1775 and never Re'd anything for my trubel and
Sepose I am No Statesman I am a Woodsman and think My Self as Capable of
Marking and Cutting that Rode as any other man. Sir if you think with Me I
would thank you to wright mee a Line By the post the first opportuneaty and he
Will Lodge it at Mr. John Miler son hinkston fork as I wish to know Where and
When it is to Laat So that I may atend at the time. I am Deer Sir your very
To his Excelancy governor Shelby"
The Governor's reply to Daniel Boone's letter is unknown, but it is
significant that he appointed Colonel James Knox and Colonel Joseph Crockett to
handle the job.
The summer of 1796, was occupied by Knox and Crockett in implementing the
act and getting the work underway. The appropriation of 2,000 pounds was little
enough to finance the construction of a road, such as was specified in the act,
from Crab Orchard to Cumberland Gap, a distance of
nearly 100 miles through virgin forests, over rough and rocky terrain and
across many creeks and rivers subject to periodic flooding. It was apparent
that the route would have to be selected carefully.
Where the Boone Trace had been laid out for foot and horse travel, and in
many cases followed a buffalo trace or a hunter's path, the new route must be
selected for wheeled vehicle travel with careful consideration given to soil
stability and drainage, to grade and to stream crossings suitable for bridging
or for fording with wagons or carriages. The surveyors laying out the new road
changed the route materially in many places from that taken by the Boone Trace.
From the beginning point at Crab Orchard to the Hazel Patch the new route
passed to the north of the original Skagg's Trace and through the site of the
present towns of Brodhead, Mount
Vernon and Livingston. At the Hazel Patch it crossed
the creek some five miles below the junction of the Boone Trace and Scagg's Trace
at Woods Block House and did not join the original Boone Trace until it reached
the site of the present city of London, where it crossed to the east of the
original route and did not again approach the Boone Trace, until it rejoined it
at Flat Lick to the eastern terminus of the new road at Cumberland Gap. This
new road was the true Wilderness Road.
Throughout the writings of the early settlement of Kentucky,
the Boone Trace and the Wilderness Road are often
confused. These were two separate routes that were used at different periods of
history and were travelled by different types of transportation.
The Boone Trace was a footpath and horse trail marked by Daniel Boone and
his woodsmen for people to travel on foot, on horseback and to carry supplies
on packhorses. From Martin's Station in Powells
Valley, travel by wheeled vehicles
on the Boone Trace was impossible. You will remember that Judge Henderson and
his party started from Sycamore Shoals with much of their equipment and
supplies for founding the new colony on heavily loaded wagons. On reaching Powells
Valley they had to build shelters
for their wagons, store a part of their cargo and pack the rest on horses for
the journey to Boonesborough. This situation continued for 21 years, 1775-1796.
In addition the terminus of the two routes differed. Both routes began at Cumberland
Gap but the western end of the Boone Trace was Fort
Boonesborough. The western end of
the Wilderness Road was Crab Orchard. The period of use
of the Boone Trace was 1775-1796, while that of the Wilderness Road
began in 1796 and has continued to the present time.
With the completion of the new road by Knox and Crockett, it became
officially named The Wilderness Road and was so named to the public by an
announcement in the Kentucky Gazette of October 15, 1796 which read, "THE WILDERNESS ROAD
from Cumberland Gap to the settlements in Kentucky
is now completed. Waggons loaded with a ton weight, may pass with ease, with
four good horses, — Travellers will find no difficulty in procuring such
necessaries as they stand in need of on the road; and the abundant crop now
growing in Kentucky, will afford
the emigrants a certainty of being supplied with every necessary of life on the
most convenient terms. Joseph Crockett, James Knox, Commissioners."
The old Boone Trace was never again used for travel between Cumberland
Gap and the Bluegrass. An act of the
Kentucky legislature of March 1, 1797, authorized Joseph Crockett to construct
a new road from Milford, the county seat of Madison County at that time, south
through the wilderness to intersect the new Wilderness Road at the site of the
present village of Pittsburg, in Laurel County.
At the present time a bill has been introduced in Congress to place the
Boone Trace on the National Trail System. This would be effected
only if funds are made available to purchase the right-of-way or to secure
easements for it. The original route of the Boone Trace, from Cumberland Gap to
Fort Boonesborough, is still largely through country that is forest or rural,
with the exception of a few miles where it passes through the city of Richmond,
Kentucky. This situation leads itself to an opportunity to reconstruct this
most historic trail in Kentucky
as a hiking trail for visitors, particularly during the three dual bicentennial
years directly ahead.
Map Showing Early Traces (click on image for a