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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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Dial Rock is one of the three heads of East river mountain, and is about three miles east of Jeffersonville.  How it came by its name cannot be accurately determined; though tradition tells that there is, on the rock, a natural sun-dial.  I shall not deny its existence, but must own that I was unable to find it when I visited the rock.  These rocks are elevated in the air to about the height of fifteen hundred feet above the valley of Clinch river, which flows gently along near the base of the mountain.  The ascent to the foot of the cliffs is gentle, and may be easily rode over by such as care more for themselves than their horses.  Nothing remarkable exists, to attract particular attention, till the base of the naked cliffs is reached.  These cliffs are from one hundred and fifty to two hundred and fifty feet above the common level of the summit of the mountain; and seem as if some internal commotion had started them from the bowels of the earth, to awe and affright the eye that should dare look from their tops.

The first rock to the west being reached, the ascent is begun by climbing its steep and rugged sides, which, owing to the clefts is easily done.  When this is done, the eye is involuntarily turned to the east, when a still more naked rock appears, towering still higher in the air, and looking still more sublime and awful.  Passing on over the top of the first rock, the visitor soon finds himself upon the very brink of a cleft about ten feet wide, the sides of which are perpendicular, and not far from one hundred feet deep.  This must be passed, or the second rock cannot be gained.  Turning now to the left or north, he finds that he may descend to the bottom of this gulf, by means of other irregular clefts breaking into it.  This descent begun, and the visitor begins to feel the wild grandeur of the scene around him.  Huge rocks, lying on thin scales so loosely that seemingly the slightest blow would sever the props that uphold them, and let them down with a crash, from which nothing could escape, and caverns of all shapes and sizes, filled with darkness impenetrable, seem to stand gaping for the victims of the rocks above, should they give way.

Scenery from Dial Rock

Descending into one of these dark pits, over loose rocks of immense size, from the hollows of which you expect, every moment, to see the head of a rattlesnake hissing and bidding defiance to your further progress, you find yourself soon at the bottom of the first cleft in the mountain; and then the painful and tedious ascent of the second rock begins, after which the visitor imagines all farther troubles are comparatively light.  A few yards to the eastward, after the top or summit is gained, will dispel this fond hope, and instead of affording an easy passage, opens to view another cleft still more grand and awful.  Here is seen the same wild confusion of rocks (themselves mountains), thrown together, as if nature had, at this place, collected the rubbish of her materials, in mountain-making.  This defile must be passed before the third rock can be scaled; the task of which having been accomplished, the visitor finds that on and on, to the east, the cliffs rise higher and higher, and he eagerly hunts a passage of the defile that he may gain the most elevated of this beautiful yet terrific array of rocky monuments.  Soon it is found, the third and fourth rocks are passed, and he finds himself, tired and thirsty, upon the summit of the fifth.  A basin of clear, ice-cold water invites him to quench his thirst, and proceed to the sixth rock, from the top of which he casts his eye down the beautiful Clinch valley, when lo! beauty indescribably presents itself.  Mountains rise above mountains, in endless succession, till far in the smoky distance his vision ceases to distinguish the faint outline of the Cumberland and the Tennessee mountains.  Looking to the north, he sees the great Flat-Top, from which others gradually fade into indistinctness, and imagination seems to say, There, there is the valley of the beautiful Ohio---the garden of commerce and industry.  To the west rises Morris's Knob, the highest point of Rich mountain, its summit kissing the very clouds, and seeming to bid defiance to the storms of heaven.  To the right, rise Paint Lick and Deskins' mountains, and nearly behind them, the rocky peaks of House and Barn mountains, in Russell county.  Far in the distance are seen ranges of Clinch mountain and its various spurs.  To the left is seen Wolf Creek knob, a continuation of Rich mountain.  Close at hand, the rocky sides and top of Elk-horn, and far in the distance, ridges of the Alleghany range.  From this beautiful scene the eye is directed down to the valley beneath, when a disposition to shrink back is felt.  The visitor now sees himself standing on the pinnacle of Dial Rock, overhanging the valley, fifteen hundred feet below him.  The scene, in the distance, is beautiful beyond description.  The scene around him is sublime beyond conception.  It is beyond the power of the wildest imagination to picture half of its grandeur.

It is here I felt the disposition to bring the infidel, and ask him, "Is there a God?"  The works of nature speak more than ten thousand printed volumes, and though innate, their eloquence is adapted to the comprehension of every tongue.

I have taken the scenery from Dial Rock, as being suited to my purpose, not because there is no view so fine, but because it is well known by persons who have visited the county.  Very many such views are to be had.  To appreciate the above, and the following, they must be seen.


The dawn of day found me on my feet, in the piazza of a friend (with whom I had stopped the previous night, in a beautiful valley, surrounded by lofty mountains), gazing eastward, to watch a rising sun in this region of beauty.  The brilliant stars shone brightly in the western sky, while those in the east were growing dim and faint amid the gray beams of light which were shooting up from the hidden sun, and resembling the fitting lights of the icy north made permanent.  As the sky became more lighted, the rough outline of the huge mountains became visible, and cast their long shadows far down the valley in which I stood.  The bright rays shooting from the morning sun, now fell upon the boughs of the forest-trees which towered above the mountains, giving to the pearly dew-drops suspended from the smaller twigs, the appearance of so many diamonds hung as ornaments on the leafless branches.

"I know of a drop where the diamond now shines,
Now the blue of the sapphire it gives;
It trembles - it changes - the azure resigns,
And the tint of the ruby now lives.
Anon the deep emerald dwells in its gleam
"Till the breath of the south-wind goes by;
When it quivers again, and the flash of its beam
Pours the topaz-flame swift on the eye.
Look, look on yon grass-blade all freshly impearl'd,
There are all of your jewels in one;
You'll find every wealth-purchased gem in the world
In the dew-drop that's kissed by the sun." --- E. Cook.

A part of the disc of the sun was now seen slowly rising above the summit.  At this instant, the scene was beautiful beyond description; the whole top of the mountain seemed in a blaze---a moment and its beauty was lost.  Aurora rose brightly above  the mountains, casting her gentle beams upon the valley below.  In this were many cottages, from the chimneys of which, soft columns of smoke were seen ascending in the clear, still atmosphere, presenting a scene worthy of the most refined pencil-work.  Horses, cattle, and sheep, might be seen scattered over the rich meadows, while the merry notes of the cartman, and the deep-toned bay of the fox-hound, and the shrill ring of the huntsman's horn, were heard echoing in a thousand variations, among the glens and gorges of the surrounding mountains.  The tender emotions excited by the loveliness of this scene, and their deep impressions were such, as to defy the atheistical reasonings of either Thomas Paine, or of my own insensible heart.  Deity was stamped upon everything.

Breakfast being over, I soon found myself upon the road, intending to visit a distant part of the county.  But now, the wind had risen, and a mistiness was spreading itself over the mountain-tops.  As I rode on, the heavy murmur of the winds in the timber on the mountains, convinced me that there would soon be a change of weather.  None but those who have either been at sea and heard an approaching storm, or have listened to the roar of the mountain-blast, can have anything like a correct idea of this awful sound.  Soon a vapory cloud was seen enveloping the mountain-summits, and in four hours it was raining in torrents.  The little rippling rivulet, was now converted into the roaring mountain-torrent: how different the scene from what it was a few hours before!

Soon the wind changed to the N. E., and it became colder; presently it was in the north, and the white flakes of snow were falling thick and fast.  This continued for several hours, when the wind changed to the west and it was clear.  The sun was now nearing the western horizon, and casting back his bright beams upon the snow-capped mountains, which looked indescribably grand and imposing.  Not a single dark spot was to be seen, but everywhere the same unsullied white mantle was thrown over them, till they looked like vast monuments reared in the air emblematic of purity.  Any attempt to describe a mountain in this State, known here as the "Budding Frost," must fall far short of correctly portraying the scene.  Nothing but painting, executed in the highest style of art, can give the remotest idea of the original.  I have seen something as grand, but nothing as beautiful as a mountain in this state.

In a short time the sun was seen sinking behind the western mountains, and here again was such a view, as would fix the attention of the most unobserving, and on which the artist would dwell with pleasure.  The rays of light falling through the sunny crystals on the hill-tops, looked like so many brilliant pearls.  A single streak of cloud shot out from behind the mountains, crimsoned with the setting sun, while its edge, or border, seemed belted with electricity itself.  Though this scene was viewed from the town of Jeffersonville, where from the bustle of business, few stop to contemplate scenery, I observed crowds gazing with intense interest, and admiring the gorgeousness of a setting sun in a mountain-country.



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