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Chapter 1

We wait beneath the furnace blast
The pangs of transformation;
Not painlessly doth God recast
And mold anew the nation.
Hot burns the fire
Where wrongs expire;
Nor spares the hand
That from the land
Uproots the ancient evil.

The hand-breadth cloud the sages feared
Its bloody rain is dropping;
The poison plant the fathers spared
All else is overtopping.
East, West, South, North,
It curses the earth;
All justice dies,
And fraud and lies
Live only in its shadow.

Then let the selfish lip be dumb
And hushed the breath of sighing;
Before the joy of peace must come
The pains of purifying.
God give us grace
Each in his place
To bear his lot,
And, murmuring not,
Endure and wait and labor!






A low, square, plainly-hewn stone, set near the summit of the eastern
approach to the formidable natural fortress of Cumberland Gap, indicates
the boundaries of--the three great States of Virginia, Kentucky and
Tennessee. It is such a place as, remembering the old Greek and Roman
myths and superstitions, one would recognize as fitting to mark the
confines of the territories of great masses of strong, aggressive, and
frequently conflicting peoples. There the god Terminus should have had
one of his chief temples, where his shrine would be shadowed by barriers
rising above the clouds, and his sacred solitude guarded from the rude
invasion of armed hosts by range on range of battlemented rocks, crowning
almost inaccessible mountains, interposed across every approach from the
usual haunts of men.

Roundabout the land is full of strangeness and mystery. The throes of
some great convulsion of Nature are written on the face of the four
thousand square miles of territory, of which Cumberland Gap is the
central point. Miles of granite mountains are thrust up like giant
walls, hundreds of feet high, and as smooth and regular as the side
of a monument.

Huge, fantastically-shaped rocks abound everywhere--sometimes rising into
pinnacles on lofty summits--sometimes hanging over the verge of beetling
cliffs, as if placed there in waiting for a time when they could be
hurled down upon the path of an advancing army, and sweep it away.

Large streams of water burst out in the most unexpected planes,
frequently far up mountain sides, and fall in silver veils upon stones
beaten round by the ceaseless dash for ages. Caves, rich in quaintly
formed stalactites and stalagmites, and their recesses filled with
metallic salts of the most powerful and diverse natures; break the
mountain sides at frequent intervals. Everywhere one is met by surprises
and anomalies. Even the rank vegetation is eccentric, and as prone to
develop into bizarre forms as are the rocks and mountains.

The dreaded panther ranges through the primeval, rarely trodden forests;
every crevice in the rocks has for tenants rattlesnakes or stealthy
copperheads, while long, wonderfully swift "blue racers" haunt the edges
of the woods, and linger around the fields to chill his blood who catches
a glimpse of their upreared heads, with their great, balefully bright
eyes, and "white-collar" encircled throats.

The human events happening here have been in harmony with the natural
ones. It has always been a land of conflict. In 1540--339 years ago
--De Soto, in that energetic but fruitless search for gold which occupied
his later years, penetrated to this region, and found it the fastness of
the Xualans, a bold, aggressive race, continually warring with its
neighbors. When next the white man reached the country--a century and a
half later--he found the Xualans had been swept away by the conquering
Cherokees, and he witnessed there the most sanguinary contest between
Indians of which our annals give any account--a pitched battle two days
in duration, between the invading Shawnees, who lorded it over what is
now Kentucky, Ohio and Indiana--and the Cherokees, who dominated the
country the southeast of the Cumberland range. Again the Cherokees were
victorious, and the discomfited Shawnees retired north of the Gap.

Then the white man delivered battle for the possession the land, and
bought it with the lives of many gallant adventurers. Half a century
later Boone and his hardy companion followed, and forced their way into

Another half century saw the Gap the favorite haunt of the greatest of
American bandits--the noted John A. Murrell--and his gang. They
infested the country for years, now waylaying the trader or drover
threading his toilsome way over the lone mountains, now descending upon
some little town, to plunder its stores and houses.

At length Murrell and his band were driven out, and sought a new field of
operations on the Lower Mississippi. They left germs behind them,
however, that developed into horse thieve counterfeiters, and later into
guerrillas and bushwhackers.

When the Rebellion broke out the region at once became the theater of
military operations. Twice Cumberland Gap was seized by the Rebels, and
twice was it wrested away from them. In 1861 it was the point whence
Zollicoffer launched out with his legions to "liberate Kentucky," and it
was whither they fled, beaten and shattered, after the disasters of Wild
Cat and Mill Springs. In 1862 Kirby Smith led his army through the Gap
on his way to overrun Kentucky and invade the North. Three months later
his beaten forces sought refuge from their pursuers behind its
impregnable fortifications. Another year saw Burnside burst through the
Gap with a conquering force and redeem loyal East Tennessee from its
Rebel oppressors.

Had the South ever been able to separate from the North the boundary
would have been established along this line.

Between the main ridge upon which Cumberland Gap is situated, and the
next range on the southeast which runs parallel with it, is a narrow,
long, very fruitful valley, walled in on either side for a hundred miles
by tall mountains as a City street is by high buildings. It is called
Powell's Valley. In it dwell a simple, primitive people, shut out from
the world almost as much as if they lived in New Zealand, and with the
speech, manners and ideas that their fathers brought into the Valley when
they settled it a century ago. There has been but little change since
then. The young men who have annually driven cattle to the distant
markets in Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia, have brought back occasional
stray bits of finery for the "women folks," and the latest improved
fire-arms for themselves, but this is about all the innovations the
progress of the world has been allowed to make. Wheeled vehicles are
almost unknown; men and women travel on horseback as they did a century
ago, the clothing is the product of the farm and the busy looms of the
women, and life is as rural and Arcadian as any ever described in a
pastoral. The people are rich in cattle, hogs, horses, sheep and the
products of the field. The fat soil brings forth the substantials of
life in opulent plenty. Having this there seems to be little care for
more. Ambition nor avarice, nor yet craving after luxury, disturb their
contented souls or drag them away from the non-progressive round of
simple life bequeathed them by their fathers.

John McElroy