As Swift Looks For Silver
By Dan Graybeal
Near the time John Swift was carrying out his silver mining forays into the wilderness region now known as Southwest Virginia, other explorers were displaying an interest in the wilderness area.
These historical journeys may not have been directly linked to Swift and his legendary silver mines but the knowledge they gained is vital in understanding the concept of the area held in the mid 1700s.
In 1748 Dr. Thomas Walker led an exploring party into what is now known as Southwest Virginia, traveling as far as Cumberland Gap following Hunters Path through Big Moccasin Gap to Powell River.
At this time very few settlers had traveled westward beyond the New River Valley. Walker later made a second trip, around 1750, traveling as far as the Cumberland River into what is now Kentucky. During these explorations the three Holston Rivers, the Powell River, and the Cumberland River were named. It is not known why he did not mention the Clinch River at this time. Could the Clinch River have been the river that
was unknown to Swift s party?
One must realize that at this time there were only 13 colonies. North Carolina extended westward into parts of Georgia, Tennessee, and Alabama. Virginia extended westward into Kentucky, West Virginia, and
parts of Tennessee. With this in mind, today's state boundaries must be forgotten or else parts of the legend may become difficult to rationalize.
In early 1750 Christopher Gist guided young George Washington down the Ohio River and up the Tug Fork of the Big Sandy on surveying expedition that had been commissioned by Governor Dinwiddie of
In 1752 Gist made a second journey down the Ohio River, turning inland to the Cumberland River and subsequently through what is now Southwest Virginia, returning to the east. Gist recorded in his journal much valuable information regarding the area. He made a reference to finding coal and other valuable minerals although he was not specific regarding what types of minerals. Copies of Gist s journal and records of Dr. Walker s explorations can be found in the local libraries. Walker s and Gist s explorations preceded Daniel Boone s visit to the area by approximately two decades.
Gist discovered an Indian village on what is believed to be a tributary of the Pound River in Wise Co., VA. These Indians lived in log cabins, a fact that puzzled explorers because it was a most unusual form of lodging for the Nomadic customs of the area. The Indians tribal symbol was the crane and pictures of the bird were carved on the door post and painted at various locations throughout the camp. The chief was called Chief Crane.
Since the Pound River is a tributary of the Big Sandy River, a cross reference shall be made to another legend. In the 1760 s an expedition in search of silver was led by a half- breed named Joseph Brant. According to the encyclopedia, Chief Brant had been educated in Germany since his father was German. He kept a journal of the successful trip. Beginning at the forks of the Kanawha River (near Charleston, WV), they traveled due west 14.5 days to the Little Sandy River. They traveled up the Little Sandy to a point "where a crane was carved on a rock."
He gave explicit details regarding the location of the mines and made reference to the white men that were with him. There is reason to believe that this Little Sandy River was a tributary of the Big Sandy River and not the Little Sandy River located in Greenup Co. near Ashland, KY. Could this legend be linked to the Swift legend?
According to local history, Gist established a trading post at Coeburn, VA and traded with the Indians. Coeburn was originally called Gist Station, and Guest River in Wise Co., VA is a derivative of Gist s
name. He explored the Sandy River Basin in 1750, the Kentucky River, Cumberland River, and Southwest Virginia in 1752, and was with General Braddock at Fort Duquesne in 1756.
According to one historian, Gist died of smallpox in 1759, so it is unlikely that he established any type of trading post. A trading post may or may not have been established, however it would have been a great cover for successful mining operations. Swift could have used this as a front since several times he
departed civilization with at least 50 pack animals laden with supplies.
Gist was a scout with Braddock s army and if Swift knew him, he could have used Gist s name at various time for a cover- up., Had he not had a very legitimate excuse for his ventures, claim jumpers by the dozens would have followed since the area was very lawless. Swift probably traded with the local
Indians in an attempt to keep them happy.
At the time of Swift s mining expeditions in the wilderness, the colonies had just fought the French and Indian War. The Cherokees were enemies to the Shawnees, and virtually all Indians were hostile to the English. The territory discussed in this article was claimed by both the Cherokees and the Shawnees. They hunted the area and battled often. All white men were subject to a hostile confrontation and Swift s party was under great pressure and duress during the nine years of mining.
From The Dickenson Star,
Thursday, March 2, 1989.
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