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History of the
Settlement and Indian Wars
of Tazewell County, Virginia.

By Geo. W. L. Bickley, M. D. (1852)


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The minerals of this county are both numerous and important.  Silver, iron, lead, arsenic, sulphur, salt, niter, gypsum, and large quantities of coal being found.  I have several times been asked to examine what was thought to be gold; but have generally found it to be pyrites of iron, and sometimes sulphur.

Some attempt has been made to work a silver mine in Poor valley, about seven miles from Jeffersonville, but it was undertaken by persons unacquainted with mining, and, of course, under such circumstances, we could look for no important results.

There is also silver, but to what extent I cannot say, on a string of ridges north of Clinch river.

Iron is so abundant that it is hard to find a section destitute of it.  The best specimen I ever saw, was lately placed in the cabinet of the Jeffersonville Historical Society, by Mr. Rufus Brittain.  Ore, of this county, was worked at an early day, by a man named Johnson, which was pronounced to be of a good quality.  The ore is, generally, specular and magnetic oxides, and would admit of being worked to advantage.

The mineral wealth of the county, will likely not be known, till there is a greater demand for it.  As soon as our lands are impoverished, gypsum will be taken from the earth and scattered over them.  And when the demand is sufficient, we shall manufacture large quantities of sulphur.  Many saline springs exist, from which salt will be manufactured at no distant day.  There is, within four miles of Jeffersonville, on the lands of Mr. Thomas Witten, every indication of a good salt stream.  The county has already produced much niter.

Coal exists everywhere, though wood is so plenty that it has not been used as fuel to any extent; hence, no search has been made for it.  Bituminous, and, probably, cannel coal, exist in great quantity.  The nearest to Jeffersonville, that has yet been discovered, is on the lands of G. W. G. Browne, in Poor valley, about four and a half miles from Jeffersonville.  It is generally thought that coal does not exist on the head branches of Clinch river, but I imagine the supposition has no foundation.  It has been found below, and in every direction around, and no doubt, exists generally through the county.  When shall we have an outlet for this coal?


There are, in the county, many natural curiosities, such as caves, precipices, bone caverns, etc.  A cave, running under Rich mountain, has excited some curiosity.  I am informed, by Mr. Thompson, who has explored it, that it is one of the most magnificent caves in the country, as yet known.  The ceiling, in some places, being so high, that the best torch light will not discover it; nor will a stone, thrown from the hand, reach it.  A fine stream flows through it, in which fish are said to exist.  It is nearly destitute of those rugged cliffs, usually to be found in such places.

During winter, vast numbers of bats (Oreillard insectivora) are to be seen; some, fastening themselves to the ceiling, are seized on by others, and these again by others, till they sometimes form lengthy bunches, resembling a swarm of bees after they have pitched.  On placing the flame of a candle near them, they set up a piteous cry, which is generally plaintive enough to divert the destroyer's hand.  It would be an endless task, to give a description of half the caves to be found in the county.  There is much sameness about them.  They are, frequently, the receptacle of vast numbers of human bones, of an extraordinary size, and thought to be those of an extinct race, formerly inhabiting this region.

Stalactites (NOTE: From stalazo, to drop.  Water, holding lime in solution, drops regularly at one place, and deposits the lime in long rods, often hollow; these are called stalactites.) are beautiful.  It is said that a cave near Liberty Hill, exhibits the prints of human feet, in the solid rocks: this may, or may not be true, for I never had bravery enough to take pleasure in examining caverns.  If they are really to be seen, I think they may be accounted for, by supposing that some miner, in search of niter, had entered and left his tracks upon the mould usually to be found in such places.  The abundance of iron existing in some kinds of clay, seems to keep the lapidifying, or rock-making process, constantly progressing, so that what were mere tracks in the clay, sixty years ago, may now be impressions in solid rock.  In confirmation, I beg to mention the following incident, related to me by Mr. William Thompson, a worthy citizen of the county.  In 1805, Mr. Thompson killed a snake, which was thrown in a hollow, or bottom, on a large, exposed stratum of rock.  Heavy rains caused the submersion of the rock, and when the water dried up, it was found that the rock was covered several inches in clay. In 1813, or eight years after, the clay was washed off by heavy rains, and behold, there was the serpent, which had become a part of the rock, as may be seen to this day.  I ask, if some of our scientific gentlemen had seen this snake, without knowing the circumstances, would they not most likely have pronounced it as antediluvian work? That this conclusion of the present progress of lapidification is true, I offer another example.  There are, in the northern part of the county, rocks bearing the impressions of buffalo tracks, too plain to be mistaken.

Petrifactions constitute no small share of our natural curiosities.  I have elsewhere referred to a spring, in the northern part of the county, having the property of petrifying.  In the western part of the county, about eighteen miles from Jeffersonville, is a location where great quantities of petrified turtles, snakes, lizards, etc., etc., are found.  On the road leading to Abingdon, at what is known as Thompson's Gap, petrified or fossil ducks, frogs, and a variety of other reptiles were found, when grading the road across the mountain.  Fossil remains are so abundant that it is useless to attempt to describe them.  At Maiden Spring, on the lands of the Messrs. Bowens, are limestone rocks containing great quantities of fishes.  I have in my possession the major part of a fish much resembling a dolphin, which is pure flint of hardest texture.

While searching for Indian paintings on Paint Lick mountain, in company with Col. Rees T. Bowen, we discovered a thin stratum of Medina sandstone, composed almost entirely of fossil fucoids.  The larger and less solid parts of the stems are not so well preserved.  We traced the stratum about one and a half miles, along the mountain, and know not how much farther it may extend.  I suppose the stratum to be about two hundred feet below the surface, with an inclination of 60.  It can be reached only by entering the clefts of the mountain.  Myself and the Col. were fatigued, and accidentally sat down to rest near a cleft from which a few fragments of the rock had broken, and rolled down the mountain side.  The discovery of a small piece, led us into the search; specimens of this rock may be seen in the cabinet of the Historical Society.  As I have been often asked to account for this collection of fucoids, perhaps the most remarkable in the world, I beg to offer the following remarks, premising, that as I am not writing for the information of geologists in particular, I shall avoid technicalities:

Fucoides Harlani is only one species of the family Algea.  It occurs almost invariably in, and is, therefore, a type of, Medina sandstone.  The stratum here referred to, is found upon the ridge of the Alleghany or Appalachian chain of mountains during their whole course, and even farther than these extend.  It is to be found in New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, N. Carolina, Georgia, and many other sections remote from this chain of mountains.

Let us suppose that at a remote period, the surface of the earth was nearly level, and, as is most likely true, the sea covered the continent, and that the Fucoides Harlani, which is a native of the sea (hence its common name, sea-weed), was beaten down by force of the waves, or dying, became specifically too heavy to keep upon the surface.  It was then deposited on the bottom of the sea, and other matter depositing itself over this, it became lapidified; and upon the lapidification of other strata, in the course of a long series of years, the Fucoides Harlani became an under stratum; and hence we find it now deep in the bowels of the earth.  Then, the same convulsion of nature which caused the upheaving of the mountains, raised this stratum to its present elevated position, which is about 1400 feet above the bed of the Clinch river.


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