Sunday, September 23, 2012

Buffalo Bill in Scotland?

Editors Note: The following guest post to Legends Blog is submitted by Fiona J. Johnston

Buffalo Bill In Scotland?

On the evening of 16th November 1891 in the city of Glasgow, Scotland, around 6,000 people gathered to watch the most exciting show of the age. Rumours had been circulating for weeks before the show's arrival and now the audience’s anticipation and excitement had reached a frenzied peak.

But finally the wait was over, and the first notes from the cowboy band carried across the cold sharp air as they started their rendition of the Stars and Stripes, and Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show began.

A hundred years ago Buffalo Bill was a world class celebrity in the order of someone like Madonna or The Beatles today. Everyone would have known about Buffalo Bill and his Wild West Show, and everyone would be talking about his visit.

Ask today’s Glaswegians about Buffalo Bill and a few may know that in the Glaswegian suburb of Dennistoun there stands a commemorative bronze statue of Bill on horseback, fewer still are aware of the Scottish tour.

But one person will not let Buffalo Bill’s visit to Scotland fall into the shadows of history, Scottish writer and director Alan Knight. Alan is currently developing a documentary ‘Buffalo Bill In Scotland - An Evocation’ adapted from Scottish author Tom F. Cunningham’s book ‘Your Fathers The Ghosts – Buffalo Bill’s Wild West In Scotland.’

Knight was completely inspired by the book and has spent a lifetime in love with the Wild West and the great age of the American frontier. He set about further researching the Wild West tour thinking of ways he could adapt the book to the screen.

He soon discovered that there is little in the way of archive material surrounding the show’s visit to Scotland, although Buffalo Bill visited the country twice, once in 1891 and again in 1904 with his ‘Rough Riders Of The World.’ So Knight thought the best way around the problem would be to incorporate animations where archive material is missing.

Material on such characters as one George C. Davis otherwise known as Carter The Cowboy Cyclist who performed death defying acts of the most daring and sensational kind. Carter was the Evel Knievel of his day but instead of a motorcycle he used a push bike.

If that sounds a little tame to you, consider that this was at a time in history when bicycles were a luxury item only the very rich could afford. Most of the audience had probably never even ridden a bike, let alone thought about flying through the air on one.

Knight had a test animation of Carter created, quirky and fun but also totally reflective of the mood and time of the Wild West Shows, this was definitely the way forward. So he set his mind to developing a documentary adding multi-media into the usual documentary mix, creating an exciting modern take on this fascinating moment in history.

The Wild West Show played at only one Scottish city during the 1891 tour, Glasgow. During this great Victorian age the city was second only to London in the British Empire and was a huge powerhouse of industry and commerce.

When Bill visited Scotland the second time in 1904 with his Rough Riders Of The World Show he toured all over Scotland visiting towns such as Perth and Dundee and even went as far North as Inverness, the capital of the Highlands.

While in Inverness, two of the Indian company Iron Tail and Blue Shield took a trip even further North to John O’ Groats the most northerly settlement on the British mainland. They were accompanied by Mr. Small who had taken to dressing in a kilt while touring Scotland and was the show’s photographer.

Iron Tail in Glasgow, 1904
(photo courtesy of
Invisible Emperors Ltd)
An article in the Northern Ensign, a local newspaper, comments that both Indians were dressed in their ‘Native garb,’ and were ‘decorated with feathers.’ Local onlookers had a totally different view of the Indians. They were convinced the warriors were women!

After all, the Indians had long, dark hair and smooth skin on their faces, it was an easy mistake to make… However, the photograph sold well as a postcard, and the incident is a great example of Buffalo Bill’s showmanship and marketing skills.

No one knows if Iron Tail and Blue Shield found out what those John O’ Groats onlookers thought. And it is ironic that many of the Native Americans who travelled with the Wild West Show were warriors who had fought during the Wounded Knee massacre. Their lands lost to immigrants, and their culture suppressed by white Europeans, much like the ones they were now entertaining.

In fact, the Wild West Show was one of the few ways that the Native Americans were able to preserve their culture, through the display of traditional skills in horsemanship and archery.

The documentary will explore the response of the Scottish people to the show and will look at fantastic characters in the Buffalo Bill company, such as Charging Thunder, one of the Lakota contingent, who attacked George C. Crager, an interpreter with the show. Charging Thunder ended up in Barlinnie, a Glasgow prison, for 30 days after Colonel Cody called the police.

And Annie Oakley, who could famously split a playing card on its edge several times before it hit the ground, she was apparently so enamoured with tartan that she had some wonderful photographic portraits taken dressed in a tartan outfit.

If you'd like to see the photographs of Annie and find out about the progress of the documentary, then please click on the Facebook link below.

Please 'Like' the page to be kept up-to-date with other little known archive images as they're unearthed, as well as Buffalo Bill in Scotland historical information and video updates from the team of filmmakers.

Also keep October 2nd 2012 in your diary as that's the official launch of the Buffalo Bill in Scotland IndieGoGo campaign. The team are raising development funds for the documentary and will be asking for contributions so they can tell this wonderful story!

Fiona J. Johnston.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Tennessee to Missouri (Day 10 - 12)

Day 10 - Perfect Timing for Chickamauga
Re-enacters firing the cannons during the 149th Anniversary of the Battle of Chickamauga 

Our final days in our Civil War tour east of the Mississippi found us at the "Gateway to the Deep South".  Chattanooga, TN and nearby Chickamauga, GA were the scene of several battles, including the second bloodiest battle of the war. In 1863, Union and Confederate forces fought to control Chattanooga, and on September 19 and 20, the Union suffered its most significant defeat in the Western Theater, with the second highest number of casualties in the war during the Battle of Chickamauga.

We just happen to be there the weekend before the 149th anniversary, and were fortunate enough to catch a little action while there.  Re-enacters shot off cannons as part of the commemoration of the battle that saw over 35,000 men either wounded, killed or missing in action.  We talked with a park ranger who indicated that they were not allowed to actually re-enact the battle in the park itself.  She did not give a specific reason, and we have yet to find one.  Plans are underway for a large remembrance event next year for the 150th anniversary, and we were told a re-enactment would be held nearby the park.

This was a must see on our tour.  The Chickamauga National Battlefield Park in Fort Oglethorpe Georgia has some 1,400 monuments and historical markers and a well put together driving tour.  We recommend this stop for all history buffs, and it's a great learning experience about some of America's darkest hours.

Boyhood Home of John Ross, Rossville, GA
Just down the road, back toward Tennessee in Rossville, GA, we found the two story log house that was once the boyhood home to Cherokee Chief John Ross.  Although only part Native American, Ross was elected "Principal Chief" of the Cherokee Nation for 40 years, and an advocate for justice for 57 years.  He voluntarily chose exile with the Cherokee people as they were forced onto the Trail of Tears, losing his wife along the way.

Chattanooga Choo Choo Historic Hotel
Back in Chattanooga TN, we made our way downtown for a quick peek at the Chattanooga Choo Choo. The first train pulled into this Gateway Terminal Station in 1909, with the depot growing to serve nearly 50 passenger trains a day.  With the decline of travel by rail, traffic at the depot slowed nearly to a halt by the 1960's, and after almost 61 years in operation, the grand old building was closed in August of 1970.  Local businessmen reopened it in April of 1973 as a unique vacation complex, and in 1974 it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places..  The Chattanooga Choo Choo Historic Hotel is considered one of the city's first historic preservation projects.

Craven House on Lookout Mountain
A few miles away, we found ourselves on Lookout Mountain.  During that bloody fall of 1863 as battles raged for Chattanooga, Lookout Mountain played key roles for both Union and Confederate forces. Both sides used the Craven House as an observation post and headquarters at some point, we a complete view of Chattanooga below.  The mountain had seen action before during the Summer and Fall of 1794.  It was then that American Settlers fought the Cherokee in a decisive success, now known as the "Last Battle of the Cherokee" during the Nickajack Expedition.
View from Lookout Mountain

On November 24, 1863, the Battle of Lookout Mountain during the Civil War saw a majority of hand to hand combat near Craven's house halfway to the summit.  On the day of the battle, fog descended about halfway down the mountain, leading to the event being called the "Battle Above the Clouds".  It would play a key role in the Union's ultimate victory for Chattanooga.

New York Peace Memorial,
Lookout Mountain
There's plenty to see and do here, with the Lookout Mountain Incline Railway, Ruby Falls Cavern, City of Rocks and Point Park.  We stopped at Point Park, which was completed by the Corps of Engineers in 1905 and dedicated to the Union and Confederate soldiers that fought there.  Inside the park you will find the New York Peace Memorial, standing 95 feet high and 50 feet wide at its base. On top of the shaft a Union and Confederate Soldier shake hands under one flag, signifying peace and the unification of America after the war.

It was a good day of touring without the camper in tow, so after a nice meal we headed back to our KOA campground to plan the next day.  Unfortunately, the forecast looked like it would plan it for us.

Day 11 - The Rain Out

Rainy day in Nashville :(
We got up Monday knowing that there were several inches of rain predicted for most of Tennessee.  After seeing that no matter which way we went we would be in rain, Kathy and I made the hard choice of moving north toward Nashville in hopes of getting out of the weather system.  It wouldn't be until we were past Nashville that it would finally slow down enough for us to do anything.

Abandoned business in downtown Adams, TN
We did find some bonuses (at least what we would call bonuses) along the way.  Adams Tennessee isn't a Ghost Town, but this small town of 600 appears to have lost their downtown businesses and the buildings provided some good picture opportunities. Just outside of Adams we wanted to see Bell Witch Cave, but unfortunately it was closed. The Legend of the Bell Witch dates back to the early 1800's. The story of farmer John Bell, settling in the area with is wife and children in 1804, starts around 1817 when members of the family began experiencing strange looking animals around the property, and late night sounds that were unexplained.  As time pased, Bell's account of what was happening at his home attracted many to come investigate.  Soon after, the noises became a voice which is said to have been a witch named Kate, bent on killing John Bell.  Bell died in 1820, some say by the hand of the witch.  Strange things have been reported here and in nearby Adams since. The cave has its own stories, and is said to be where the Bell Witch lives. Privately owned today, tours are given during the summer and October.

Guthrie, Ky
Down the road we stopped for more picture opportunities in historic Guthrie Kentucky.  Home to Pulitzer Prize winner Robert Penn Warren, author of "All the Kings Men", and the only person to have won Pulitzer Prizes for both fiction and poetry, Guthrie currently has around 1,500 residents. Established in 1867, the town saw major decline in the 1970's and reportedly had high poverty levels segregating it from its parent county. In recent years new plans for the future have been put in place  to revitalize the city, including a Guthrie Transportation Museum.

Cleaning up abandoned buildings
in downtown Cairo, IL
We kept pushing down the road, deciding we would go ahead and cut our RV adventure short and move closer to home.  Along the way we stopped in Cairo Illinois to revisit it's downtown.  Right at the convergence of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers, this town once had a lot of promise, but racism and corruption would be its death.  Kathy was here a few years ago and since then we found that they are starting to demolish many of the abandoned buildings downtown as part of a revitalization effort.  We will be updating Kathy's very extensive story on Cairo soon.

That would be our final history related stop of the trip as we landed for one more night in the RV near Sikeston Missouri, still over 300 miles from home, and drove straight through Southern MO on Day 12 headed back to Warsaw. Despite the rain ending our adventure in Tennessee early, we did learn that the RV/Camper life is one we would enjoy immensely, and had a pretty good, easy stay at Town and Country RV Park near the intersections of I-55 and I-57.  Thankful that Kathy's sister Kristy and her husband Geno allowed us to use their camper, we are already planning to get our own, especially for our much needed Winter trips to the South.

Be sure to see the pics of our final days in our Facebook photo album Tennessee Back to Missouri HERE

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Tennessee Day 8 and 9

Day 8 - On the Tail of the Dragon
Horse graze in Cades Cove

We had set aside Friday as the day to do the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  Kathy had a plan that would take us on Highway 321 out of Pigeon Forge, Tennessee and over to the entry past Townsend.  The idea was to do part of Cades Cove loop.  The cove area was home to Cherokee and later pioneer families for generations until the area became part of the national park. Today it has been preserved to look much the way it did in the 1800's, with original pioneer homesteads, barns, businesses, pasture and farmland, set in the midst of the beauty of the Smoky Mountains.

Parson Branch Road
However, our agenda for the day had plenty of miles, so Kathy's route was to break away from Cades Cove about a third of the way in on Parson Branch Road.  I wasn't worried about the fact it's not paved since we didn't have the camper in tow, but when we reached the warning sign I knew this would be one of Kathy's back road adventures. "Warning, no trailers or RV's allowed, Enter at your own risk, one way, you may not re-enter, no emergency services, etc".  8 miles of unimproved road that leads from the Cades Cove Loop toward North Carolina.  The road was originally a main artery among a complex of roads feeding the smaller coves and hollows with Cades Cove, with these highland coves home to several mountaineer farmers who stood against Confederate raiders during the Civil War.

It really wasn't as bad as some we've been on, but definitely one for high clearance vehicles only.  We wound up and down the road over creeks and pot holes until, after what seemed like an eternity (gratis exaggeration) we finally came to the highway on the other side.  "What the heck is that?" I questioned, as a large piece of black material, wound in branches along the side of the road, caught my eye when we pulled up to the intersection.  I looked closer and realized it wasn't just a pile of branches, but an entire tree that seemed to be mangled and busted to splinters where the material was positioned.  "That's part of a car!"

Windy roads abound
This wasn't just any highway we had come to, as we would learn later this is the Tail of the Dragon.  An 11 mile stretch of highway 129 that crosses Deals Gap at the Tennessee/North Carolina state line, this road is considered by many as one of the world's foremost motorcycling and sports car roads.  With nothing to slow you down, other than the rapid fire of curve after curve, we could see why this would be a favorite for Cyclists, and it was only a few seconds before we started seeing them, so many of which it took me a moment to get onto the highway.

Once I was on though, the testosterone levels increased almost immediately.  I just couldn't help myself, as I steadily picked up speed trying to keep up with the motorcycles in front of me. Completely ignorant of the fact that now both dogs had jumped from the back into Kathy's lap and all three of them were hanging on for  dear life. I don't know if Kathy finally said something or if it was just the looks on their faces, but something told me to go ahead and pull over at the state line to let everyone regroup.   This highway isn't for site seeing.  Yes it is beautiful, but you are there for the road, and you have to pay close attention as you drive it. Locals call this "that damn road to Tennessee",  with very little elevation change along the stretch we were on, and many of the curves banked like a racetrack, I could see how it got it's more popular name "Tail of the Dragon."

Great Smoky Mountain Railroad
After entering North Carolina, we had exited the most exciting (or terrifying depending on who you were in the car) part of the road, but of course it was still plenty curvy.  Beautiful area, as we made our way onto highway 28, running along side Lake Cheoah, across Fontana lake and into Bryson City.  We stopped at this quaint little touristy town to take pictures of the Great Smoky Mountain Railroad, a train that takes passengers on a scenic rail excursion from their historic depot.  With 53 miles of track that includes two tunnels and 25 bridges, the train takes you on a journey through the Carolina Mountains, which comprise over half of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  Although there are several different train rides you can take, varying in length and time, we opted to move on down the road on highway 19 toward the Cherokee Indian Reservation.

Cherokee, NC
The city of Cherokee appeared to us to be a great stop for families and tourists into all the trappings that entails.  Complete museum, visitors center, outdoor theater, artsy and tourist shops lining the highway and more, Cherokee is the headquarters for the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians. It's economy got a big boost back in the mid 1990's after Harrah's opened a casino there, as before that the tourist season only provided work for half the year.  We took time to stretch our legs and walk part of the way along the shops, contributing a little to the economy, before getting back on the road into the National Park. We could have done a portion of the famous Blue Ridge Parkway, as it ends here, but we were pressed for time.

Mingus Mill, NC
We needed at least one more historical building along with a great scenic view to make our day a success for our purposes, so our next stop was the Mingus Mill back in the Park.  Built in 1886, this historic grist mill is a little different from others we've seen, as instead of using a water wheel to power the machinery inside, it uses a water powered turbine instead.  Here you will find a miller on site to demonstrate the process of grinding corn into cornmeal, and they even have mill related items available for sale.

Newfound Gap, Smoky Mountains
Continuing on we made it to Newfound Gap.  At just over 5000 feet, this stop along the North Carolina/Tennessee line provides spectacular views of the Smoky Mountains, and is on the Appalachian Trail.  We enjoyed the stop for sure, and took in the beauty only a pass like this could provide.  But time was running short on daylight by now, so we didn't stay long and soon headed back toward Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge.

Gatlinburg is a popular mountain vacation resort city, surrounded on all sides by high ridges. Officially established around 1856, the town is named after Radford Gatlin who had started a general store there in 1854, however there were trappers who had called the site home since the early 1800's.  Radford Gatlin was a controversial figure in town who was at odds with many of his neighbors. When the civil war broke out his confederate leanings got him kicked out of town.  Gatlinburg tried to remain neutral during the war, but Confederate Colonel William Holland Thomas would occupy the town for a time, protecting the salt peter mines nearby.  Union forces forced Thomas and his troops to retreat back in North Carolina, and they never returned.

Gatlinburg, TN from the bypass
We knew we still had to get past the traffic at Pigeon Forge, so after a quick picture from the bypass overseeing Gatlinburg, we made our final trek back to my Aunt and Uncles in Sevierville.  Kathy would call this day somewhat of a bust as far as our travel mission, but considering the views and history we did encounter, I was very satisfied with the days journey.  Most normal travelers would be well served to spend several days around the Great Smoky Mountains National Park as there is plenty to see and do.

As we discussed our day with Aunt Peg and Uncle Dan, my testosterone levels rose again as they told us about the Tail of the Dragon we had been on.  Secretly I wanted to leave the dogs and Kathy at the camper and ride the road the again, but thought better after remembering the mangled tree and piece of car along the side of the road.  If you would like to experience the Tail of the Dragon yourself through video, our good friend Cole Deister strapped a camera to his helmet and did the trip the opposite direction. You will see him pull off the road just a little at the state line.  This was the same spot we stopped to "regroup" and let Kathy and the kids get their stomachs back.  Just click HERE to watch.

Day 9 - Hooking back up and moving out for Chattanooga
 Thanks Aunt Peg and Uncle Dan!

Saturday morning it was time to say our goodbyes to the kind folks at Fort Kautzky. Family time was great, and our hosts were tremendous, but this is a working adventure and onward we must go.  Kathy had us coming out of the Sevierville area down highway 411 to Maryville, then on toward Vonore and Fort Loundon State Historic Park.  This 1200 acre site was one of the earliest British fortifications on the western frontier. built in 1756.  Much of the park lies on an Island of Tellico Lake, making this a fun stop for boaters and history lovers alike.

Fort Loundon, TN
The fort was built during the French and Indian War, as British were nervous about French activities in the Mississippi valley. The garrison built here helped to ally the Overhill Cherokee Nation in the fight against the French and guaranteed trade would continue between the Brits of the South Carolina Colony and Cherokee. However, relations soured and in August of 1760, Cherokee attacked and captured the fort, after which it would never be used for military purposes again. In 1917 a commemorative marker was placed at the site of the fort ruins, and in 1933 the state purchased the site.  Since that time they have reconstructed the fort and provide a visitors center complete with history and a movie about the area.  Very nice state park and great history we recommend to anyone in the area.

Right near the fort you will find the Sequoyah Birthplace Museum.  Sequoyah, born in 1776, wasn't literate in any language, yet he perfected a system for reading and writing in Cherokee.  His desire to do so was born out of his time under General Andrew Jackson during the war of 1812, as there was no way for the Cherokee to write letters home, read military orders, or write about their experiences.  After returning home from the war, he began to make the symbols for words, finally reducing thousands of Cherokee thoughts to 85 symbols representing sounds.  After being introduced to the tribe, the Cherokee people became literate and awarded Sequoyah a silver medal created in his honor and a lifetime literary pension.

Memorial to Tanasi
Not to far down the road from the museum, we found ourway back to a memorial for the site of the town Tanasi, once the capitol of the Cherokee Nation.  It's also the origin for the name of the state, however nothing remains as it is now under the waters of the lake.

We pushed on toward Chattanooga with plans of staying in the area a couple of days to visit the numerous historic Civil War sites.  Landing on the other side in Georgia, we found a nice KOA campground in the woods complete with everything we need and then some.

Next up, our tour of Chattanooga. In the meantime, enjoy the tour in photos in our Smoky Mountain National Park and More Tennessee Facebook album HERE

 KOA Campround, Trenton GA

Friday, September 14, 2012

Kentucky to Tennessee Via the Gap (Day 5-7)

Day 5 - From Original Road to Original Recipe

Old Wilderness Road
We decided to stay an extra day at our campground near Lake Cumberland in Kentucky and do another area tour as a day trip.  We're learning fast that it's a lot easier to drop the camper longer and spread out than it is to pack it up every morning.  First on our agenda was the Battle of Camp Wildcat in northern Laurel County near London.  The battle site just happens to be along the Wilderness Road, a principal route used by settlers for over 50 years to reach Kentucky from the East.  The road was blazed by none other than Daniel Boone, who headed up a small crew for the Transylvania Company from Fort Chiswell in Virginia in 1775.

Battle of Camp Wildcat
The Battle of Camp Wildcat on October 21, 1861,  part of the Kentucky Confederate Offensive,  is considered one of the very first Union Victories, and marked the second engagement of troops in the commonwealth. Alarmed at the Confederate offensive, Union forces were instructed to establish camp and block Wilderness Road. They were successful  in their task as Confederates withdrew that night and began a retreat to Cumberland Ford.  Although there would be exaggerated accounts of the number dead, official counts would show only 4 Union and 11 Confederate casualties, with a few dozen more wounded. This site is now part of the Daniel Boone National Forest.

Kitchen in Sanders Cafe Museum
As we continued our Civil War tour, we ran into some more recent history in Corbin Kentucky.  This is where Colonel Harland Sanders Pioneered his famous recipe that would become the world wide giant Kentucky Fried Chicken.  In 1930, when Sanders was operating a service station here, he began cooking for travelers who stopped for gas.  His idea of home cooking on the road was so well received that Kentucky Governor Ruby Laffoon made him an honorary Colonel in 1935. As the years passed he perfected his secret blend of herbs and spices and the basic technique that is still used today. While the KFC empire has grown by leaps and bounds since its humble beginnings, the original Sanders Cafe still stands in Corbin as a museum and KFC restaurant.

After a quick tasty treat in Corbin, we headed out to the Battle of Barbourville.  This was an earlier conflict before the Battle of Camp Wildcat, and considered the first Confederate Victory in Kentucky.  The battle on September 19, 1861 threw a scare into Union commanders, who then rushed troops to Kentucky to try to repel the Confederate Offensive, which stopped at the Battle of Camp Wildcat in October. This is a notable battle due to the fact it was the first to claim lives from both sides of the Civil War, 1 pro Union and about 7 Confederates.

Site of the First Log Cabin in KY.
Down the road from Barbourville a few miles off US 25E on highway 459 is the site of the first house in Kentucky.  Built by Dr. Thomas Walker, who led the first expedition through Cumberland Gap in 1750, the site is near the river in which he named Cumberland. A replica of the home stands today for visitors to enjoy and is supposedly on the same spot the original was built. Although the exact size of the original is disputed, Walkers journal indicates it was about 12 by 8 feet, however historians think it was 12 by 18 feet due to the way Pioneers measured buildings at the time. The state has done a good job of helping preserve the site and attract families with more than just the replica.  This park includes a basketball court, gift shop, horseshoes, miniature golf and picnic areas.

Cumberland Falls
To round out our day trip we circled back toward Lake Cumberland to see the famous Cumberland Falls. Sometimes called the Little Niagara, the Niagara of the South, or the Great Falls, this large waterfall on the Cumberland River was a beautiful way for us to wrap us this day. The falls are 68 feet high and 125 feet wide, with an average water flow of 3,600 cubic feet per second.  On nights with a full moon, Cumberland Falls is also famous for its elusive lunar rainbow, or moonbow, formed by the mist. This natural phenomenon is not visible anywhere else in the Western Hemisphere on a predictable schedule around a full moon.  The falls attract over 750,000 visitors a year with its beauty, moon or not.

Day 6 - Kentucky to Tennessee through the Gap

Cumberland Gap
Although the state parks we have parked our RV at have been nice, we really enjoyed our stay at Lake Cumberland RV Park.  The people there were great, and we got a lot of wonderful tips on RV life while there from the camp host.   But, as in all our travels, there comes a time to move on down the road, so hitched up our mobile motel and headed out for Cumberland Gap National Historic Park.  Covering almost 32 square miles in three states (Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia), the park commemorates a vital early phase in the westward movement.  It also played a key role in the American Civil War, as the Old Wilderness Road cutting through the Gap was a natural invasion route.  For the Confederates it led to Kentucky and for the Union it led to Northern sympathizers of East Tennessee along with an opportunity to cut rebel supply lines.

Pinnacle Peak
After a quick stop at the Visitors center, we headed toward Pinnacle Peak Overlook and ran into our next  major dilemma with the camper...can't get there.  Warning signs forbidding vehicles and trailers over 20 feet stopped us in our tracks, but obviously we weren't  the only ones that have had this issue.  At the same spot of the warnings the park service has built a parking lot with plenty of room to drop your camper and move on. It was well worth it too.  Moving up the road we ran into a little more Civil War history with a couple of small Forts, and some spectacular views. The Overlook at the end of the road gives you a great view of Pinnacle Peak, where you can see for miles into Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia that converge at the top of the peak.

Old Mill Inn in Cumberland Gap,TN
Coming back down the mountain I quipped that we shouldn't forget the camper.  Kathy and I both laughed, but as dorky as we are I could see us getting down the road a ways before realizing we had a lighter load than normal.  After our quick hook up, we headed back out to the highway, through the tunnel and sprang out into Tennessee on the other side for another quick stop in the town of Cumberland Gap.  Here we found the Old Mill Inn.  Built in the 1800's, this Inn was run by the Daniel Boone family for over 100 years and is the oldest Historical Building in the town.  A log cabin built in the 1700's was moved beside the Inn in the 1940's. It served as headquarters for the Tennessee Volunteers at one time. The Mill itself has served as a boarding house, art school, ice cream parlor, brothel, museum and even a church over the years.  Today it's a Bed and Breakfast.

Being so close to the state line, Kathy had me jog over into Virginia just to say we were there and then turn around back to Tennessee toward our final destination of the day, Sevierville.  Along the way we stopped at a road side overlook with more spectacular views, this time of Cherokee Lake.  We had a great trip to Sevierville, and looked forward to our stay at Fort Kautzky.  Well, not really a fort, but home to my Aunt Peggy and Uncle Dan, family I don't get to see nearly enough.  I'm glad to say that no one took pictures of Dan and I getting the RV backed into their back yard as I'm sure it was a bit comical.

Day 7 - Covered Bridge and Pigeon Forge

1875 Covered Bridge at Harrisburg, TN
This area of Tennessee is tourists dream.  Sitting right next to the Smokey Mountain National Park, the beauty is complimented by plenty of history and things to do.  However, catching up with family took priority for us this day, so we only ventured out for a few hours. Kathy found an historic covered bridge in the small community of Harrisburg, now part of Sevierville.  Built in 1875, it was fully restored in 1972 and was a great picture opportunity.  This hidden treasure is off highway 411 north of town about 5 miles, then east on TN-339.

The Old Mill, Pigeon Forge, TN
After the bridge we headed for Pigeon Forge, home of Dollywood and, at least during our visit, one heck of a car show.  The Pigeon Forge Rod Runs bring thousands of classic car, truck and motorcycle enthusiasts each year.  Needless to say I was extremely thankful we didn't have the camper in tow as we inched our way down the main road through town.  We did make a stop at the Old Mill, but decided to forgo the crowds and head back to the camper for more family time.  While not exactly our cup of tea, with the exception of the history of course,Pigeon Forge is sure to have something for every family member.  Lots of entertainment, fun parks and attractions add to the hundreds of thousands that visit this area each year.

After we returned Kathy caught up on her photos while I caught up with family.  It was another great day with anticipation of our next adventure into Smokey Mountain National Park.

In the meantime you can see all the latest pics on our Facebook photo album Kentucky to Tennessee HERE.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

French Lick, IN to Lake Cumberland, KY (Day 3 and 4)

Day 3

Kathy and I are easing into this RV Camping by not going "all out" in the beginning and adding stuff along the way. The first night we camped in Illinois we didn't have water hook ups at the site and we didn't put water in the holding tank. The second night, in Indiana, we decided since there were no water hookups we would go ahead and take advantage of the water filling station and use the holding tank.  At least we wouldn't have to walk to a public restroom. That meant as we were leaving Patoka Lake State Park we would get the experience of a dump station.  I'm very happy to report that we have no dorky story to tell on this one.

So after getting business done, it was back up the road a few miles to French Lick and more specifically, the adjoining town of West Baden Springs.  This small community is home to the West Baden Springs Hotel, which at one time, in the early 1900's, had the largest free-spanning dome in the world.  Undergoing renovation and reopening within the last decade, the hotels history goes back to 1852, when Dr. John Lane built a hotel to compete with the French Lick Springs Hotel , both of which are near a mineral springs which at the time would attract visitors for their "healing" powers. At the time of it's opening French Lick was actually Mile Lick (named after the salt licks discovered in the area in the late 1700's), so he called it the Mile Lick Inn.  It changed names to the current West Baden in 1855 in line with the community changing theirs.

The hotels in French Lick and West Baden competed heavily, and marketed their mineral water under different names.  French Lick sold "Pluto Water" and West Baden "Sprudel Water". By the late 1800's guests were coming from all over the country, and in 1888 a group of investors from Indiana purchased the hotel and it's over 660 acres.  Lee Wiley Sinclair bought out his investor partners and turned the hotel into a resort, calling it "The Carlsbad of America".  The resort included an opera house, bicycle and pony track, and baseball diamond that would be used by several major league teams for springs training.

After a fire in 1901 destroyed everything, Sinclair offered to sell the land to the owner of the French Lick hotel.  However after the French Lick owner turned him down and said he would simply expand his own hotel, Sinclair declared he would build a fireproof hotel with the worlds largest dome. Several builders rejected the challenge, but a bridge engineer from West Virginia named Oliver Wescott accepted, and with several hundred workers, built the structure before the first anniversary of the fire.  It re-opened on September 15, 1902 and was advertised as the Eighth Wonder of the World.   The next few decades would see the decline of the hotel, and finally after the Wall Street Crash of 1929 the hotel struggled and closed its doors in 1932.  It was donated to the Jesuits, a religious organization, in 1934, who converted it the West Baden College, which was a seminary. In the mid 1960's it was sold again and operated as a private college satellite campus until 1983.  Since then, investors have renovated the property and restored it to it's early glory, and in 2007, 75 years after it had closed, the West Baden Springs Hotel reopened.

Belle of Louisville
After West Baden it was time to head toward Kentucky for our next stop Louisville.  This river city has some great history, and although we tend to stick to the smaller, out of the way and lessor knowns, we wanted at least to see the Belle of Louisville, which, built in 1914, is the oldest operating Mississippi style steamboat in the world. This would be a simple pass by for us though, as I was back to "white knuckle driving" getting the camper through downtown.

Churchill Downs
We made a stop at Churchill Downs, home of the famous Kentucky Derby for a quick unwind and picture opportunity, then decided to move on down the road toward Fort Knox.  We had planned a side trip to the allegedly haunted and infamous Waverly Hills Sanitorium, figuring that although the scheduled tours were closed this month, we could at least get a few pictures from their parking lot.  After a bit of trouble trying to find the road to get there, which is actually an entry way to a Golf Course, we made our way up a narrow road to find the gate to Waverly closed.  We respect all No Trespassing signs, but figured maybe we could see something on this side of the gate, so Kathy got out to try to get a picture.  It was about this time we noticed the car that had followed us up the road and as soon as Kathy exited our car he raced up beside us.

"You can't cross that line," the security detail said while pointing to the gate.  "We know, we just thought we would get a quick picture from here and see if there's a way to turn around with our camper," I said with a tinge of hope he would see that there was NO way to get the camper turned around.  "Well, you can't cross that line."  And with that he was back in his car, opening the gate, quickly crossing and just as quick to make sure to stop and hurry back to close it, as if we were going to crash through at any moment.

Yeah, thanks for the assist
This is where the real fun began.  After attempting to turn around a few times with no luck, Kathy and I resolved ourselves to the fact I was going to have to back up with our camper in tow a quarter mile to the Golf Course parking lot.  We were about two or three hundred feet into this when we see a golf cart with two more security detail driving down from the Sanitorium to the gate. "Hey, maybe they saw how we were struggling and have decided to let us pull in to turn around in their  parking lot?"  We got our answer pretty quick as the two goons just sat and stared us down from the gate.  So with a quick "wave", we continued, and I was thankful I had the practice back in Illinois.

Don't get me wrong, Kathy and I completely understand the need in security.  This place has a history of vandalism, etc.  We also highly respect No Trespassing signs, and history hunters that don't give everyone else a bad name.  What struck us was the rather rudeness of the operation.  Typically we wouldn't even write about it, and move on.."our bad".  But after seeing a few other reviews with the same "rude" theme on Trip Advisor, we thought it would be worth mentioning.  My only suggestion would be for the owner to seriously consider training staff on customer skills, and that includes non paying customers who could have promoted your business to others, even though we didn't go in.  Waverly is more than an alleged haunted place, it's a part of history and a grand building that many would write about beyond the spirit aspect.  Again, our only problem with this experience was the rudeness factor, and lack of common courtesy. We would have had to back up anyway if someone wasn't there, but staring us down as we did was a little over the top. While there are several good reviews, we would advise reading through some of the "not so good" before going.

Vault at Fort Knox
On down the road we had to make a quick stop to see Fort Knox.  Established in 1918, this is home to the United States Bullion Depository, holding over 4500 metric tons of gold bullion, roughly 2.5% of all gold ever refined.  As an active military base, there is a long proud history here that includes General George S. Patton.  The Patton Museum contains the largest collection of Patton artifacts in the world, and is a complex worth visiting.  I'm sure we will eventually write more in detail on Fort Knox and it's important role in American Military history.

Lake Cumberland RV Park
After a couple of pics of the Vault from the road, we decided it best to move on to our next camping destination, Lake Cumberland Kentucky.  Since Kathy had good cell coverage, she was able to use her phone as a wifi hotspot while driving and actually booked us a place to set up in advance.  Lake Cumberland RV Park and Golf Driving Range was a very welcome change from our previous nights. This place comes with everything we need, full hookups, very friendly staff (not that the others weren't) and Wifi if your close enough to the office.  They put us in  lot 1, and although we lost their wireless signal a couple of times, we have good cell coverage so Kathy's phone could act as a backup. I realize we are still novices and early into the RV thing, but I couldn't recommend this stop enough for RVer's.  It even has a seasonal indoor pool. Being close to the beautiful waters of Lake Cumberland, we can see why this is a popular spot.

Day 4

This is our first planned two night stop, so the next morning we unhooked the Highlander from the camper and day tripped around the area of Lake Cumberland.  Our goal was Civil War history, and there is plenty of it here. Near Nancy, KY, the Battle of Mill Springs, fought in January of 1862, was the first significant Union Victory as forces under the command of George Thomas defeated Confederates under the command of George Crittenden and Felix Zollicoffer.  Work is underway to make this a National Historic Site, but preservationists have done an excellent job at the state level, with a Museum in Nancy and a 10 stop driving tour that winds up on the opposite side of Fishing Creek.

Down in that grove of trees lies a mass
grave for Confederate Soldiers.
Despite having a fairly equal number of forces, the Confederates were at an immediate disadvantage due to the weather. The cold wet weather of January caused problems with firearms for many of Zollicoffer's troops and visibility of the battlefield made enemy recognition a problem as well. Kentucky, like Missouri, was a border state in the war, not fully declared for either side.  Confederates hoped a victory here would encourage the state to join them, however the Union Victory removed all chances of that. Even with the victory however, Brig. General George H. Thomas wouldn't get the credit he deserved after the fact as he was under a cloud of suspicion due to his southern roots.  President Lincoln even went as far as preventing Harper's Weekly from putting Thomas on the cover.

Grist Mill
Soldiers from at least eight states took part in this battle, and the site of Zollicoffer's death and a mass grave for Confederate troops may have been lost if not for the remembrances of 10 year old Dorotha Burton in 1901.  Growing up on a farm adjacent to the battlefield, Burton would decorate a nearby Oak tree with a wreath of evergreen and the mass grave with wildflowers.  It was that act that inspired Confederate and Union Veterans, along with Zollicoffer's daughters, to erect a permanent remembrance in 1911. Make your first stop the Museum in Nancy and get the driving tour instructions. We found the tour very well marked, even though vandals had removed a couple of the signs last weekend.  This is a scenic area for sure, and you will enjoy the history and the drive very much.  There was some back tracking for us as we had to get across  Fishing Creek and Lake Cumberland to get to the final spots on the tour, but it was worth it.

Grist Mill at Mill Springs has roots back to 1700 when hunters and explorers, called "Long Hunters", found a place "with excellent springs near a waterfall." The settlers were no doubt amazed at the sight of 13 springs flowing from the hillside! Here, Price's Station, one of the first settlements in Kentucky was established and eventually became a fur trading center. In 1774 Daniel Boone and Michael Stoner passed through this area.

Touring this area the day before the 11th Anniversary of 9-11 was a good reminder of just how far our country has come, and the adversity we as Americans can pull through and come back together for the common good.  After this nice leisurely day  we decided we would stay an extra night at our RV campground.  Next on the agenda is the Daniel Boone National Forest.

In the meantime, you can see all the pics from Day 3 and 4, which have been added to our East of the Mississippi Facebook Album HERE.