While most historians are agreed that Swift's first name was Jonathan, no official records of writing has ever been produced, as far as is known, which reveals his first name; and this writer is inclined to the opinion that the name "Jonathan" is traditional because of the famous Jonathan Swift of
the 17th and 18th centuries who was born in Dublin, Ireland, November 30, 1667, and was the author of many books and papers. But, be that as it may, Swift of the silver mine legend is renowned as a daring,
courageous, cold-blooded Englishman, ever-ready for exploration and adventure into wild and distand lands; and that he was skilled in the smelting of metals. One tradition says that he was a silversmith in
London before coming to America.
Knowledge of Swift's stay in the wilderness of the Cumberland country is preserved only through tradition and a few scraps of paper said, by the holders, to have been maps and legends made by the very hand of Swift.
Some historians have accepted tradition and recorded that by the year 1753 Swift was an established Indian trader; and that he had probably been carrying on trade with the Indians along the
Cumberland and Holston Rivers, perhaps as far west as the Ohio, for several years prior to that time.
Swift a Pirate?
On the other hand we find some writers who believed Swift to have been a pirate who sailed the oceans to prey on Spanish merchantmen; and that he had carried his booty by pack-trains deep into the wilderness to conceal it, using the story of the silver mine as a cover-up - to conceal the actual
purpose of his visits to the Cumberlands. But if so, then the several furnaces which have been discovered in the country where he spent so much of his time had no connection with him or his party
and would have to be explained in some other way.
According to the late William Elsey Connelley, of the Kansas State Historical Society, and himself a native of the "Swift Silver Mine Country" (Eastern Kentucky), the late William J. Reams of
Laurel County, Kentucky, was convinced that Swift and his party were pirates or robbers and that their excursions into the wilderness was for no other purpose than to elude capture and to conceal their loot.
Mr. Reams, who called the fellow Jonathan Swift, told Mr. Connelley a strange story some years ago. He said that he knew of a certainty that Swift, after making his last journey into the mountains, as recorded in his journal, no member of the party sought to find or to claim any part of the
treasure until the year 1790. According to Reams, the members of the party, including Swift, had agreed that none of them would visit a certain cave where they had hidden considerable silver until the expiration of twenty-one years. However, said Reams, Swift or any one of his three companions were
given permission to carry away the money at the expiration of the time agreed upon, provided they kept a record of the removal and wronged no one in the process.
So it came about, according to the Reams story, that in the year 1790, Swift gathered about him the survivors of his party and set out to reclaim the wealth. The party was composed of Swift and a man named Monday and one named McClintock and two Shawnee Indians.
According to the Reams narrative, Monday and McClintock had been Swift's companions during his early explorations. The two Indians had made trips with Swift later to guide him to a rich vein of silver, legendary with their tribe. Also with the party of 1790 were two Frenchmen, presumed to
have been the two fellows who paddled off down the Cumberland River, toward where the city of Nashville now stands, and were never heard of again.
When Swift looked upon the great wealth which he and his companions had accumulated and stored, according to Mr. Reams, he immediately resolved to have it all for himself. So he began making
plans to do away with his companions. The story goes that, one night he arose and, with a scalpling knife, murdered one by one the two Frenchmen and Monday and McClintock as they lay asleep. Then
he went to a cave where the Indians were sleeping and aroused them, ordering them to light torches; and, as he looked upon the shining silver, he suddenly gave a yell, and leaping upon the unsuspecting
Indians, killed them before they had a chance to defend themselves.
Struck Almost Blind
After Swift had killed all his companions he was struck almost totally blind. After many days he succeeded in making his way, groping along, back to civilization, leaving the silver which had been
the cause of his fondest hopes and greatest sorrow behind.
Mr. Connelly concluded his recounting of the Reams story with this comment: "Mr. Reams believed that Swift and his associates were buccaneers; and that they operated in the Spanish seas and
against the Spanish coasts in America. It was his belief that they carried their silver and gold into the wilderness and concealed it there. Their mines were myths and only invented to conceal their real and
unlawful operations. He had no doubt that they left millions of silver and gold coins somewhere in the Cumberland Mountains of East Kentucky, East Tennessee or Southwest Virginia; and that it remains
where they left it until this day."
There is a tradition alive with one of the pioneer families of the Big Sandy River country of East Kentucky which fits in with the foregoing story. This tradition has it that Swift and two companions, one of which was John McKenney (could have been McClintock) carried on mining
operations in the mountains somewhere north or northwest of the earliest settlements on the Holston and Clinch Rivers; and that Swift, with a notion of possessing all the wealth for himself, killed one of
his companions and left the other (McKenney) for dead.
However, says this tradition, McKenney, though blinded for life, recovered and groped his way back to the settlements with the story of what had happened. They say that he made several attempts to
return to the buried treasure but failed on each occasion. This tradition has it that the mining smelting was carried out somewhere in the vicinity of the head of the Cumberland, near the Breaks of the Cumberlands, or in the neighborhood of the Forks of the Sandy, in the present Pike County,
The late John Freeman Beverly believed the lost mine was in the Stone Mountain, near Norton, VA, and he spent the latter years of his life searching for it. There are several others who are convinced it lies not far from the town of Coeburn, in Wise County. One woman, now dead, claimed to have
found a cave full of silver bricks between Norton and Coeburn. She spent the better part of her lif trying to relocate the cave, but
died without finding it.
(By James Taylor Adams)
Swift's Mine Still Eludes All Hunters
Dick Chase and I had stayed the night of December 14, 1941, at the home of Little Jim Hays. It was a pretty cold night and Mrs. Hays had put us to sleep between two heavy feather beds. But nine o'clock the next morning found us clattering along through a deep forest, at the east end of Sandy
Ridge, in Dick's old panel truck, asking everybody we met for directions to the home of Marshall Counts, where we expected to pick up some rare and interesting folklore. The morning was bright and sunny - much warmer than it had been the day and night just past. We had made a wide circle since leaving the Hays place and were driving west. Back of us,
and far across a deep canyonlike hollow, we could hear the creaking and squeaking of the mining car coming out of Straight Hollow Number 2 Mine of the Clinchfield Fuel Corporation, filled with coal;
and the rattle of the fuel as it was dumped at the headhouse and made its way down the mountainside to
the big tipple to be graded and loaded into railroad cars.
We reached the Counts' home about 10 and were given a warm welcome by Mrs. Counts and her father, Dr. Elijah Rasnick, getting up into his eighties. Dick recorded several folk tales and admired Mrs. Counts' cornshuck dolls. Then I brought up the matter of lost mines.
"I'll have you ready to get tools and go to mining before I'm through," said Dr. Rasnick.
"There is no doubt in my mind but what Old Man Swift's mine is right around here somewhere. "I first got interested in this mine several years ago when a man named James Simmons of Johnson City, hearing that I had done considerable prospecting for the coal companies, came to see me.
He talked around a lot and, finally asked me if in my prospecting I had ever run on to anything like a furnace. I laughed and said yes I had found a lot of moonshine still furnaces. He said that wasn't what
he meant; he meant furnaces that were old and might have been used to melt mineral from stone.
"At that time I had not, and I told him so.
"He kept on talking. Finally he told me that his brother had taught school on an Indian reservation in Oklahoma and that an old Indian gave him a map that was supposed to locate Swift's mine. This map, Simmons said, showed the mine to produce gold and not silver, as most people think.
It was shown to be in the fourth mountain north of the Blue Ridge. It was drawn on buckskin and was in Latin. He said that he would tell me this much; Swift carried on his mining in the South of Cumberland Mountain and packed it on horses a day's journey to his furnace. There, he said, they run
out and coined enough crown pieces to amount to a million dollars for a man named Guess who hid it away. With Swift was a half-Indian named Monday, besides Swift and his buddies, Jefferson and
Grover. Jefferson and Grover were sailors and goldsmiths and had come from England to work the metal for Swift.
"Simmons went on to say that these men ran a line from Guyandotte River, south, and as the eagle flies to the mine and another one hundred miles, south, to the top of the Blue Ridge. These goldsmiths said they were going back to England for a rest, and they knew they could always find the
Blue Ridge and the Guyandott River and by following their established lines, could be sure to relocate the mines.
"The one from Guyandotte said, 'South One Hundred Miles as the Eagle flies; no farther; no closer.' At the mine they sat up a three-cornered rock. It was at the mouth of a little stream, flowing southwest, and came tumbling down over rocks from the mountain. Up the stream, three quarters of a
mile, they had built a small furnace in a rockhouse and melted ore with stone-coal which they had mined nearby for the purpose.
"I'll say right here that my father once had a map which agreed with this, in the main.
"But, to get back to the story, me and Marshall Counts, my son-in-law, actually found where coal had been mined, it appeared over a hundred years ago. We could see the prints of their picks on the face of the coal, as plain as if they had been made a week before, and they were not made with
picks like we have this day and time. "Well, Simmons got me interested. I made a trip down to Johnson City to see him. He told me
to come back and go three miles, due south, from the coalbank and I'd find a beech tree with '1761-62- 63' cut on it and the picture of a hatchet; and a wheel carved on it. I went and found it just like he said.
Then he said for me to go due north from the beech and I'd find another beech with a picture of a turkey carved on it. I found that, too. Then he instructed me to go to an old rockhouse, that I knew where it was, and go to east side of the creek, there, and see if I could find a rock with 'M. J. G. 1761-
2-3' cut on it. That, Simmons said, was my final key. I hunted and hunted - but I failed to find that.
"He said the mining operation covered forty acres."
(By James Taylor Adams)
Pound Section of Virginia is Rich in Historic Lore
Strange things have been found on The Pound, in Wise County, Virginia, and they will probably remain a mystery down through the years to come as they have through the years that have passed and gone since the first settlements were planted there, nearly 150 years ago.
The first mention we find in recorded history of white men visiting this region is the journal kept by Col. Christopher Gist who passed this way in the spring of 1751 on his way home from a trip
of exploration of the Ohio country for chartered land concern.
The earliest tradition we find of white men being on The Pound is that of a man named Roberts, and a party consisting of his son and several other men. These hunters, we are told, camped for a time near the present site of Flat Gap, later moving over what is now the Kentucky state line and
made a camp on a small stream, tributary to Cumberland River, which has ever since been known as Roberts Branch, because the hunter Roberts was killed by Indians at the last named camp and was
buried on the spot by his companions.
The first settlers in the Flat Gap community, so-called because of the low, level ridge which forms the Virginia-Kentucky line at this point, were the Shorts and Bollings from western North
Carolina. They established themselves there about 1820; and the following are some of the things they found, some on the head of The Pound, some on the Cumberland River side, all evidence left by visitors to that region long before the coming of these homeseekers and permanent settlers.
Jeremiah Bolling, who made one of the two first settlements on the head of The Pound, found a charcoal pit at what is now known as the Kiser place, near the village of Dewey. Bolling made his first clearing at this point, sometime about 1820, later moving across the ridge to make a clearing and build a home at the place where his 94-year-old grandson, William Bolling, now resides. This grandson remembers his grandfather well. He heard him tell the story of the charcoal pit, which he said was very old at the time. Near the pit were two furnaces that appeared to have been used for many years. The furnaces were on a small stream now known as Bad Branch.
Boyd Bolling, brother to William, and also a grandson of the pioneer settler, says that, when he was a young man he found a pine knot growing through the trunk of a large chestnut oak on Gullett's
Ridge, near the head of Cumberland. He says that it pointed directly east and west, by the compass; and that old Sam Maggard, believing it to be a marker left by Swift who was said to have mined silver
in the region around the heads of Cumberland and The Pound Rivers, grubbed the tree and excavated far below its roots, but that he found nothing...or, if he did, he kept it to himself.
The Bollings, William and Boyd, also tell the story of their grandfather's excursion onto the head of Cumberland, soon after he settled on The Pound, and how he found the skeleton of a horse, old and moldy, having the appearance that might have been there for fifteen to twenty-five years.
An Unusual Story
About fifty years ago, Boyd Bolling was hunting in the woods, along the state line ridge, when he came upon a large rock set up after the manner of a tombstone. It was native sandstone and had been hammered broken into shape; and on it, in crude, but very plain letters, had been carved the single word: "S. W. I. F. T." This stone, still standing, is near the head of Bad Branch, only a short distance from the remains of the two old furnaces discovered by Jeremiah Bolling, the first settler. With Boyd Bolling, when he found the inscribed stone were Ivory Bolling, Noah Reedy and Pat Mullins, according to Mr. Bolling.
Noah Reedy told the story of how old Sam Maggard used to tell about the time when he was a small boy on the head of Cumberland and some men came to his father's house, leading an old man who was blind. They said his name was Swift and that he had once mined silver somewhere in that section of the country; and that he believed he could lead his companions to it. According to Maggard,
as related by Reedy, the old fellow, calling himself Swift, said that he could see a little when the sun was shining brightly; but that they stayed in the neighborhood for several days and all that time it was cloudy and the sun never came out. After about two weeks the old fellow gave up and broke down and cried like a baby.
Another find, made by the pioneer settler, Jeremiah Bolling, lends some support to the foregoing. When he was making his first clearing on the South Fork of The Pound, he found the names "Monday," "Augustas" and "Gufferson" carved on a beech. The tree stood near what is now known as the "Lick Spring," and has long since rotted away.
Students of the "Swift's Silver Mine" tradition are familiar with the tradition that Swift had as one of his companions a man named "Monday" or "Monde". But the names "Augustus" and "Gufferson" were unknown.
Just over the hill, west of Flat Gap, is a natural wonder which has attracted visitors from distant places. There, at the foot of Pine Mountain, deep in the forest, is a little bottom from which gurgles seven springs within a radius of thirty yards; and the strange part of it is that all are highly
mineral and all are of a different and distinct mineral from any of the others. One of the springs has water that is milk-white during part of the year and always of a lightish color, and it gives off a very unpleasant odor; and those who have ventured to try it, say it is as bitter as gall. Each of the seven springs has its own peculiar coloring and the water has a taste from the most pleasant to the impossible
Near the seven springs lifts a small cliff and balanced atop the cliff is a large stone, which appears to have been shaped by human hands; and the stone point directly at the seven springs.
Many of the people living in the neighborhood of the seven springs express conviction that something lies buried beneath the surface of the earth at this point; and that the balanced stone was placed there as a marker.
(By James Taylor Adams)
Interviews Add to Story of Swift's Silver Mine
During my 25 years research on the subject I have accumulated enough material on the legendary Swift's Silver Mine to make a great big book. One of these days I aim to write it out and publish it; but for this week I will do with this:
Going through some of my old papers a few days ago I laid hands on transcripts of several interviews recorded back in the early 1940's. All are of interest to those who like to make a study of old Swift and his mine.
I'll start off here with my talk with James Bascom (Caleb) Layne, the famous saw filer of Wise, VA.
Here's what Mr. Layne said to me in Walter Kennedy's store on December 6, 1941.
"I've heard my grandfather, John Ritchie, tell that, when he was a boy, he heard a man in Scott County tell that Swift and his partner would stop at his house on their way to and from their mine; and that it would take them two days to go to their mine and return; and, always, when they came back, that it would take both of them all they could do to unload the sacks from their horses.
"This old fellow said that he had heard that Swift got an Indian to go with him and show him the mine and that he then killed the Indian so he couldn't tell anybody else; also that he later took in a partner, a fellow named Monday; and, after they had mined a lot of the silver and carried it away and hid it, that Swift killed Monday. "Grandfather also told me that there was a girl captured by the Indians and carried off to Kentucky, somewhere. Her first name was Jennie (perhaps Jenny Wiley, whose story is widely known throughout this section and for whom Jenny's Creek, in Johnson County, Kentucky is named) but he
didn't remember her last name. Grandfather said he heard she was left to cook at the camp and the Indians went off down between two steep hills and cut out metal, that looked like silver, and moulded it into bullets.
'"I've heard grandfather say that many times when he was a boy that an Indian came through here and told him that Swift's mine was not across the Cumberland Mountains; and that he offered to show him the mine for a rifle he owned at the time. But, you know, rifles were almost priceless back
then when there was plenty of game. I asked grandfather why in the world he didn't trade with the Indian; and he said besides needing his rifle to hunt bear and deer with to supply meat for his family that he was afraid the Indian would kill him after he had shown him the mine and got the gun."
According to the foregoing story, Swift's Mine, if there is a mine, might be located somewhere along the border of Virginia and Kentucky, perhaps in the territory around Flat Gap, Wise County, Virginia.
In substantiation of Mr. Layne's story, I quote an interview with Curtis H. Kilgore, of Wise, as of December 11, 1941.
"Jeems Roberts told me," said Mr. Kilgore, "that about 20 years ago his grandfather, or maybe it was his great-grandfather, told him that one time they were coming across Black Mountain by the way of Buck Knob (this is four miles north of Big Laurel) and got lost and wandered around; and that finally they came upon a rock house that looked to have been built a long, long time. He said that it was right down on the end of a point that butts off towards the Rocky Fork of Guesses River, about three points west of Buck Knob. (That's just the way Jeems told it) three points west of Buck Knob, out towards Fox Gap.
"He said the house was walled up with rocks that had been partly dressed and looked as if it had been used as some sort of furnace. There were ashes scattered all around it. Jeems said his grandfather, great-grandfather, or whoever it was, told him that they finally found their direction and marked the place so that they could locate it again. Later, Jeems said, they went back to investigate the stone house. But, try as they might, they could never find it again.
"Jeems Roberts said that many times he had put in hours looking for the lost stone house in the woods while he was in the Buck Knob section on duty as a fire warden, or when he was in there looking for his strayed hogs, but he never found a trace of it.
"Jeems was confident that the stone house was not a house but a furnace used by old Swift to melt the silver from his mine and that the silver mine was lost somewhere between the head of Pound River and the headwaters of Guesses River. I don't know."
(By James Taylor Adams)
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