The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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Heart of the Blue Ridge

The Border Series - The Long Hunters

By Mary B. Kegley © 1989

Issue: October, 1989

The Border Series is a new continuing series of articles about the Blue Ridge during the time period prior to and during the Revolutionary War, when Southwest Virginia was the border of our new nation.

Men of the American frontier knew that Southwest Virginia and later Tennessee and Kentucky, were excellent places to hunt, a fact known to the Indians for centuries before the arrival of the white man. The so-called long hunts usually began in October and extended into March or April of the following year. The furs and hides were of the finest quality during this extended season, and brought the highest prices. As it became necessary to move beyond the boundaries of present Virginia into eastern Tennessee and Kentucky, the expeditions became more extended, lasting nine to eighteen months and sometimes even two years. When this happened the men who went on these expeditions became known as the Long Hunters.

The hunters were among the first to explore the lands just beyond the borders of civilization. It was the hunters that brought back glowing reports of excellent rivers, bold springs, fertile land, and abundant supply of valuable wild animals. According to Haywood, in his "History of Tennessee", the long hunter could earn as much as $1600-$1700 a season, a sum not often realized in the entire lifetime of a farmer of the same period.

As early as 1750, explorer, Dr. Thomas Walker, reported that he and his party who had traveled for several months in the counties of Southwest Virginia, killed 13 buffalo, 8 elk, 53 bear, 20 deer, 4 wild geese, and about 150 turkeys.

Some of the early hunters went through the Cumberland Gap and headed west to open grasslands called the Barrens, the center of which is now Barren County, Kentucky. In this area, the hunters found buffalo, elk, and white-tailed deer by the hundreds, and sometimes by the thousands. There were also flocks of wild turkey and wild pigeons. Wolves, panthers, and bear were also plentiful.

The hunters came from a wide area to hunt in the forests of Southwest Virginia, Kentucky, and Tennessee. The well-known Boones, Squire and Daniel, came from North Carolina; Elisha Wallen and many of his associates from Smith River in Pittsylvania County; Isaac Lindsey and his group from South Carolina; and the Drakes, Bledsoes, Scaggs, and others from the New River settlements. Many of them later moved to the Holston River in present Washington and Smyth counties, Virginia, and some into Kentucky and Tennessee. Joshua Horton, Uriah Stone, and William Baker came from Carlisle, Pennsylvania, and Michael Stoner and James Harrod came from Pittsburgh.

The first documented long hunt of record began in late 1761, when eighteen men, led by Elisha Wallen, the Blevins (John and William), and Charles Cox traveled into what is now Sullivan County and Carter's Valley in Tennessee. In 1763, another group hunted in upper East Tennessee and on the Cumberland River. Two years later, two Blevins men from Virginia sold furs and hides valued at 1600 pounds, at a store in the Moravian settlement at Bethabara, North Carolina.

Each year following, small groups went out to hunt and explore, and their glowing accounts raised the urge for exploration to a boiling point. In June 1769, twenty or more men met eight miles south of Fort Chiswell on New River probably at the lead mines. From this point in present Wythe County, Virginia, the hunters set out for the great hunt in Kentucky and Tennessee. In 1770 and 1771, the hunting seasons were excellent and there were so many skins that they could not all be taken back to Virginia in one trip. A "skin house" was built to store the valuable skins and pelts until they could be transported to market. One hunter reported that his party had been robbed of "500 deer skins, a camp outfit, and ammunition."

In the 1770s, after the French and Indian War treaties were signed, Powells Valley, Virginia, was a favorite place for hunters, especially William Blanton, Nathan Richardson, Thomas Berry, David Carson, and William McGehee, who went there to hunt buffalo. James Maxwell and Samuel Walker met a party of hunters in the wilderness of what is now Tazewell County in 1772. Uriah Stone, of Carlisle, Pennsylvania, was mentioned by name. William Collier, known as "Lyin Bill Collier" was a hunter and trapper about the same time.

Although the men sometimes moved into the hunting areas in groups of fifteen to thirty, once the hunting ground was reached, they divided into twos and threes and set out from the station camp. The usual dress was hunting skirts, leggings, and moccasins. The equipment included two pack horses each, a large supply of powder and lead for their rifles, a small vise and bellows, a screwplate and files for repairing the rifles, traps, blankets, dogs, and other supplies.

Hunters were not noted for leaving written records; they were always on the move, on the border, on the frontier, and on the edge of civilization. Consequently, the names of all of the hunters are unknown. From various sources, I have found that the following men hunted or were associated with the Long Hunters on their trips in the fifteen year period 1760-1775. No doubt there were many others. The list is as follows: James Aldridge, William Allen, John Baker, Joseph Baker, William Baker and slave, Thomas Berry, William Blanton, Issac Bledsoe, Anthony Bledsoe, Abram Bledsoe, John (Jack) Blevins, William Blevins, Daniel Boone, Squire Boone, Castleton Brook, Cassius Brooks, Joseph Brown, William Butler, David Carson, William Carr, Jeremiah Clinch, William Collier, William Cool or Colley, Charles Cox, Edward (Ned?) Cowan, William Crabtree, Robert Crockett, Benjamin Cutbird, Joseph Drake, Ephraim Drake, James Dysart, John Finley, Thomas Gordon, James Graham, James Harrod, William Harilson, Jacob Harman, Valentine Harman, Isaac Hite, Humphrey Hogan, Joseph Holden, John Hughes, Joshua Horton (Houghton?) and mulatto slave, Henry Knox, James Knox, Isaac Lindesy, David Lynch, William Lynch, Hunberson Lyons, Captian William Linville, John Linville, Casper Mansker, James Maxwell, William Miller, John Montgomery, James Mooney, Robert Moffet, Lawrence Murray, William McGeehee, Alexander Neely, William Newman, Walter (?) Newman, William Pttman, John Rains," old man" Russell, Nathan Richardson, Charles Skaggs, Henry Skaggs, Richard Skaggs, Charles Sinclair, James Smith, Henry Smith, Christopher Stoph (Stopher?) John Stutler, Uriah Stone, Michael Stoner, John Stuart, Obediah Terrell, Elisha Wallen, Samuel Walker, James Ward, John Williams and Edward Worthington.