I’m sure there are those readers who have heard the story of Jenny Wiley; or at least heard of Jenny Wiley State Park in Prestonsburg, Ky., where there are annual outdoor plays portraying the true story of Jenny Wiley’s life with the Indians. For those who do not know, Jenny Wiley was captured by Indians in 1789 after a raid on her family’s settlement near New River. Her husband, Thomas, was away at the time and the Indians killed most of her children, allowing her to bring with her an infant child.
In that time period, just thirteen years following the birth of this nation, those few frontiersmen who had crossed the mountains into the untamed western world, were predominantly Scotch-Irish descendants who were fiercely independent, mostly because of political and religious persecutions in their former homelands. The Appalachian Mountains, which had long separated America’s early settlers from the various Indian tribes that mostly hunted in what is now West Virginia and parts of Kentucky, provided an area of independence for the early settlers who later became known simply as Mountaineers. These hardened souls lived harsh lives compared to the “low landers” on the other side of the Appalachians. These early Americans had come to a new country and found the eastern coast to be already claimed and settled all the way to the foothills of the mountains, thus the exodus into the dangerous western highlands.
The story of Jenny Wiley is just one of many Indian stories that have been passed down through generations, both verbally and in written form. In our area there is the true story of Aracoma that everyone should be familiar with by now. However, there were other Indian battles in our region that led to the naming of much of the area. For instance, documented history tells us that James Crawley in 1783 was killed by Indians and that Crawley Creek near Chapmanville now bears his name. Peter Huff in 1777 died in an Indian clash, thus the name of Huff Creek in the Man area. Joseph Gilbert was killed in an Indian battle to retrieve livestock stolen by Indians in Wise County, Va. Gilbert, along with others, tracked the Indians to what is now the Mingo County town so named. Hewett’s Creek in Boone County received its name via another Indian murder which in 1782 took the life of Richard Hewett.
Thanks to the writings of such people like Henry Clay Ragland, we know that the first white settlement in Logan was on what is now Midelburg Island in 1794 by James Workman and two brothers who remained there until 1800. There were many surveying parties through these valleys during the 1780s as there were land grants handed out by the government and large tracts also purchased at meager prices.
Jenny Wiley’s story has been handed down through my family as a matter of tradition. As a very young child, my father would put me to sleep telling the story of her capture and escape from the “real” Americans — those red men described as savages. I was told the story upon many nights.
One thing I don’t believe my father knew was that the trail the Indians took after the capture was down the Coal River and then up the Guyandotte through what is now Logan and up Mud Fork, crossing the gap and down 12 Pole Creek. From there, they crossed what was called the “low gap” to what is now known as Jenny’s Creek, Ky. It was there the Indians were angered by her infant’s crying and crushed its skull against a beech tree that was growing on the creek bank.
My dad’s story was that one day when the Indians went out hunting they tied Jenny’s hands with leather and left her behind. It rained and the wetness allowed Jenny to loosen her hands and escape. The Indians returned and immediately began to track “their woman” whom they had held captive for two years. Tired and desperate, she crawled into a hollow log and went to sleep, later awakened by a few of the Indians who rested on the very log in which she lay. After they moved on, Jenny also left and eventually came upon two men in a boat on a nearby river. After yelling and finally getting the men’s attention, she was saved just as the Indians arrived at the shore sinking their tomahawks into the sandy beach in disgust.
Jenny went on to produce several other children, including a daughter who she named after herself. This daughter, Jenny Wiley, married Richard Williamson, who was my grandfather’s great-grandfather. The Williamson clan eventually migrated in all directions, including parts of Wayne, Lincoln, Mingo and Logan counties.
BITS AND PIECES
Longtime Chapmanville coach Ted Ellis recently told me he watched nearly every game of the State Little League Tournament conducted at Chapmanville…..Ted, who I would say is a good judge of baseball talent, said the best pitcher in the tourney was a 12-year-old girl who pitched for state champion Bridgeport…..it is this time of year I miss my good friend the late Dan Dahill…..Dan and I got to be good golfing buddies…..he was a father figure, a friend and mentor; a hard headed one at that……another good man who recently passed after a long and productive life was Ernie Ellis…..anyone who knew this gentleman had to like him…..Logan County deputy sheriff Jason Mathis has taken up the craft of digging up Indian artifacts and has been quiet successful…..I’m told, Mathis, a very talented employee of the Sheriff’s office, really “digs” his work…..I’ve not seen Man Hillbillies baseball Coach Larry Vance to personally congratulate him on the job he and his Hillbillies did in capturing the state championship this year, but I listened intently to WVOW’s broadcast while on the outskirts of Lake Stephens in Raleigh County…..as sports editor with this newspaper, I covered the ‘Billies when Larry was the lefty pitcher for Man High, and a good one he was…..speaking of Hillbillies, I’m hearing mighty good things about this year’s football team coached by veteran mentor Harvey Arms……this could be the season for Man High…..FINAL NOTE — My wife and I recently toured the former Moundsville Penitentiary that has been closed since 1995. It was extremely interesting and inexpensive. I strongly recommend it to anyone who has not visited the former prison which was built in 1866. On a bulletin board at the site are pictures of every inmate who was hanged there. Of a total of 85 hangings, two of the last five hanged were Logan Countians. Paul William Burton was hanged Jan. 2, 1942 and Bud Peterson, a black man, was the last person to die there by hanging in 1948. Electrocution became the next killing process which took inmates lives and it ended in 1959. Ironically, 995 inmates were murdered there from 1900 until the time it closed. Only two of those men were guards.