By James Taylor Adams
A genuine Indian boy passed through the mountains of East Tennessee,
Southwestern Virginia and Eastern Kentucky in the year 1868; and the things
he told started wild speculation and a treasure hunt which has not entirely
subsided, even unto this day.
Travel where you may in the Cumberlands and you are liable to overhear conversation concerning the
prospect of unearthing hidden wealth, somewhere in the dark hollows or the deep recesses of the mountains. Some will be arguing in favor of buried pots of silver and gold; others will be contending that it
is veins of the precious metals; but all, who have faith in the legend, agree that it is
here somewhere and they clinch their case with any bystanding doubter with: "You
know what the Indian said!"The Indian was a lad of about 18. He said he was form the West, the far
place to which his people had been driven from the Cumberlands and Great Smokies
many, many years before. Characteristically, he was a Cherokee, but
no one ever seemed to think of the possibility of his having been recruited
from the hills of Western North Carolina by the enterprising young proprietor of the
medicine show with which he was traveling.
the medicine show stretched its tent in every County seat town and thickly settled community in this region. The show s chief attraction was the Indian boy and his little red, two-wheel wagon. The
"two-wheel wagon" was nothing more or less than a bicycle. But it was the first of
the machines ever to be brought into these mountains; and it created a sensation.
To attract the crowds, the Indian boy would mount the machine inside the tent and then suddenly shoot out and go pedaling it up and down the road at a rate of speed unheard of in the hills.
When the crowd had plunked down their dimes and quarters and entered the tent, the Indian would give a short performance doing stunts and trick-riding. Then, at the end of the show and as the
closing act, he would come onto the stage, dressed in, what the stage manner described as, the tribal costume of his ancestors and tell the story of his people. He would tell how his grandfather who
had fled into the wildest reaches of the mountains to escape the soldiers who were rounding up the Cherokees for their removal to the land beyond the big river; how he and his family were finally hunted
down and forced into the cavalcade of terror for the long march to the barren lands of the west; and how all, but three, of his grandfather s family of nine perished from exposure along the way.
So touching was the boy s story of his people s hardships and suffering that his listeners would forget, momentary, where they were. They would think themselves in church, under the sound of a
preacher s voice; and some of the men would holler "amen!" and women would shout all over the place. But it was his closing words that really got them. With a wave of his hand, as if to designate all the
hills and hollows immediately surrounding the ten, he would conclude his speech
with: "Grandfather has often told me that you white people could shoe your horses
with silver and gold; and that you were fools for not doing it." At these words the men of the
audience would give up their "amening" and the women would cease their
shouting. Everybody returned from what had, for a time been, spiritual things to
earthly things earthy. And, while neighbor looked at neighbor as if accusing one
another of holding out on something which should be divided, the Indian boy slipped
behind the falling curtain and he was never again seen in that particular community.
While the little Indian made no return engagements, he was never
forgotten by the people before whom he had performed, because of his suggestion
that every hill in each particular neighborhood which he visited was fairly
bursting with silver and gold. For everywhere he appeared, be it in Hawkins
Co., TN, Wise Co., VA, or Morgan Co., KY, he left the impression that it was
there, in that very spot, that untold wealth lay buried and could be had for the taking.
It is said that, for several months after the Indian boy and his "little two- wheel wagon" had come and gone, most people in this region abandoned their regular occupations and devoted themselves to digging holes in the ground and blasting away rock from the cliffs and ledges. They had faith in his story of
concealed silver and gold not only because of the telling, but because it tied in so well
with the legendary Swift s Silver Mine, believed by generations to have been
located somewhere in the Cumberland Mountains.
As time went on the Indian s story seeped over the hills from neighborhood to
neighborhood, and, when it was learned that he had told the same story at every
stop, most people lost faith in the gold and silver riches, believed, for a time, to be in
their own backyards, and gave up the search and returned to their usual means of
making a living. But there were some who kept digging. Digging, digging, digging as
long as their health and age would permit them to lift the weight of a pick or
mattock. There were some they say, who, long after they were physically unable to
carry on, put in their declining years in directing others of fewer years in the search.
Sons have put their lives digging where their fathers dug; and grandsons and
great-grandsons are digging today where their grandfathers and great-grandfathers
dug three-quarters of a century ago. Most of them, it is true, are digging on the sly,
as if sort of ashamed of their faith in the legend. But catch them at it and they will
look sort of sheepish and say: "You know what that Indian said!"
[Reprinted from a newspaper article found in a scrapbook purchased at
an auction in Russell Co., VA by Denver
All files on this site are copyrighted by their creator. They may not be reproduced on another site without specific permission from Vickie Sturgill Stevens . Although public information is not in and of itself copyrightable, the format in which they are presented, the notes and comments, etc., are.