Articles & Stories

A Trip To Hazard In The

Mountains Of Eastern Kentucky

In 1910 The Town Consisted Of Only 17 Families

By Edward O. Guerrant - 1910

On the August 23, 1910, I left my home for a visit to Hazard, which is notorious in the bloody annals of the mountains, as the capital of Perry County, and the seat of the desperate French-Eversole War.
The Kentucky Union Railroad brought me to Jackson, the county seat of Breathitt County, 100 miles southeast of Lexington. But, a few years ago it took three days of hard riding to make this trip over the mountains.
Jackson is a demonstration of the Gospel. No infidel can answer her argument. When I first visited the place, some few years ago, there was not a church in the town or county. It was the scene of violence, profanity, drunkenness, and murder. An army of soldiers could not keep the peace. Today, there is not a more orderly, peaceable, prosperous town in Kentucky. The Gospel did it. Now they have good churches, good preachers, teachers, homes, business houses, and a prosperous college, with seven teachers.
I must hasten on to Hazard. After one brief night at the new, handsome "Riverside Hotel" at Jackson (that hotel followed the Gospel), a clever brother furnished me a saddle horse for the long overland journey. I preferred a better way but was glad not to have to walk. The distance to Hazard is 38 mountain miles. There is a big difference between mountain miles and ordinary miles, and all the difference is in the favor of the mountain kind.
I started at 6:00 a.m., for I had some experience in the length of these mountain miles. A ten-mile ride up the beautiful Kentucky River, between her palisades of pawpaws, and her colonnades of wild cucumber or wahoos, under the cool shadow of the mountains, was a delight.

Hazard, Perry County, Kentucky, was opened to the world with the arrival of the railroad in 1912. This photo depicts the first train that rolled into the town on July 17, 1912. A barrel of cider was opened, and everybody drank to the railroad, to the future of the town, and its people. This photo, from the archives of The Kentucky Explorer, was taken by Fred Bryant.

I hardly saw a soul, save a few barefoot, bareheaded children going to school with dinner baskets (but no books) filled with hard apples and "cow-cumber," as they called them. They were bright and happy, and not bothered with "much learning."
Ten miles above Jackson, I came to the mouth of Troublesome, a large tributary of the river. Up Troublesome one mile, my road turned up the Lost Creek, which is followed with much tribulation for 19 miles.
I could not but think that all the creeks and roads emptied into Troublesome. This is not the only time I got to Troublesome by the Lost Creek route.
I stopped at the post office at the mouth of Lost Creek to write a post card home, to cheer them with the news of my safe arrival on Troublesome. There I met a brave Virginia Methodist preacher, Mr. McClure, who, on the Saturday before, preached in Squire Friley's blacksmith shop and four souls received Christ. I thought that shop was doing better service than some big, fine churches I know.
Just as I entered the mouth of Lost Creek, I met an old friend, Judge Strong, who knew me when a youth in the Army, and greeted me with the remark that he "had not seen me since we slept on a rail." Such a bed is apt to make an impression on a man. The Judge said, "Troublesome was 52 miles long, and Lost Creek was 19 miles, and they are full of sinners to the head, and no church on either." Let the Bluegrass people "look on this picture, then on that."
Several miles up the Lost Creek, I stopped at a man's house to get my horse fed and a "bite" for myself. These mountain people are hospitable to a fault, and Gran Noble was no exception. Fifteen cents was all he would take for man and beast and a big muskmelon thrown in. He and Mrs. Noble had 11 children, most of them grown, all well and hearty, and never had a doctor. This is a good place for health.
Here I met Mr. Nipper, generally called Mr. Napper, but he said his name was Napier. See how we get our names. Adam would not know his children, by name.
I travelled with Mr. Nipper-Napper, up to the mouth of Ten-Mile Creek, and all the rest of my long journey alone with God and the mountains. Glorious company! We would all be better if we had such company more often. What more elevating, ennobling, and purifying, than the great mountains and God! His company makes Heaven. That was a glorious ride in such company.
The shadows of the great mountains were falling over the valleys, when I crossed the mountain from Lost Creek to Lott's Creek, and still Hazard was miles away.
Inquiries from the natives seemed to indicate that Hazard was traveling about as fast as I was. One bright youth, of some 16 summers, gave me comfort by assuring me that Hazard was a "right smart piece off." I found his answer correct, as I rode into the little mountain town at 7:00 p.m., about as weary as my horse.
Hazard's size is entirely out of proportion to its reputation. No town of its size in the state has such a name. It is the synonym of violence and bloodshed. It is the seat of the French-Eversole War, in which some 17 men were killed, and for four years all law was abolished. Although the only town in Perry County, and the county seat, Hazard consists of only a courthouse, jail, four stores, and 17 families. It lies in a narrow valley, surrounded by mountains, on the North Fork of the Kentucky River.
There is no church or schoolhouse here, and never was. War was inevitable. Here, I am trying to preach the Gospel in the courthouse, and teach them a better way. Pray for us.
From the Troublesome
I am so far out of the world, I have never heard whether my former letter reached you (or the public) or not, but I will presume on your goodness and give you another turn.
I am glad to have more and better news than I had before. On my arrival at Hazard, I soon found the only Presbyterian in the county, and felt a little more at home. I also soon found two of our foreign missionaries, Brothers Mickel and Mott Sawyers. (The natives call us all "foreigners.") Brother Mickel was teaching the County Teacher's Institute and preaching between times. Brother Sawyers had spent most of the summer here in the service of our Evangelistic Committee. He is the right man in the right place: earnest, energetic, sensible, devoted, and not afraid of things, and knows everybody by name and where they live.
Though very weary after my long ride from Jackson, I preached that night in the courthouse. There was nowhere else to preach, for though the town and county are some 70 years old, there is neither church nor schoolhouse here and never was. No wonder it has such a bloody record of seven murders in one year and 17 in four years, and 46 orphan children as the result of "the war" between the factions.
The congregation was not very large, for the town has only some 17 families, and some of them do not go to church, and some are afraid to go at night. The prospect was about as cheerless, I thought, as Noah's experience before the flood. When Brother Mickel left us on Friday, only hope remained, and that a faint one. People unacquainted with such work have no conception of its difficulties. The people generally have no use for any religion, and less for our kind.
God's word "stands sure," and we preached and pleaded His promises. He pitied and forgave our unbelief, and blessed His word. In one week we succeeded in organizing a Presbyterian Church of 38 members, with three elders and one deacon, and raised a subscription of over $600 to build a church. To God be all the glory. It was manifestly His work.
Judge Combs, the leading citizen and principal owner of the town and country, became a member on profession, and was made an elder. Dr. William T. Wilson, the only original Presbyterian, was made another and Jere McIntosh the third. John B. Eversole, whose father, a leading lawyer, was murdered during "the war," was made a deacon.
On Thursday morning I crossed the mountain beyond the river to Big Creek, where I preached until Saturday night, in an open log schoolhouse to good congregations. Brother Sawyers was always present, faithfully working in the vineyard.
Many difficulties had to be overcome or submitted to. There is no one to help us. There are few seats, except for rough rails; lamps without chimneys, and few of them; primeval singing; and a small choir with two books. But God prefers to conquer by few, and gave them the victory. Some 23 confessed Christ, and most of them joined the Presbyterian Church and received baptism, giving our church at Hazard some 60 members. We could have organized a church on Big Creek, but thought best to defer it. We met some fine people there, and their hospitality received another illustration.
My good host had only one bedroom, besides the kitchen, for his family and company, and he turned none away, until there were seven of us in one little room with no ventilation.
On Monday I left Big Creek for the Troublesome, a large tributary of the Kentucky River. Brother Sawyers preceded me and preached there Sunday night.
I passed through Hazard and was glad to find our people in earnest about beginning their church. Judge Combs gave the nicest site in town, overlooking the valley and the village. They expect to begin to build this week. The ladies were at work to raise money for the organ. There is only one in this county. Twelve more mountain miles, through a pouring rain, brought me to the waters of the Troublesome.
The so-called road from the head of Lott's Creek to the mouth of Pigeon Roost, on Troublesome, is as bad as I ever remember, and I have been traveling the road to Jordan a good while. The ascent to the summit of Pike's Peak is better, to my personal knowledge. To make matters worse, my faithful horse lost a shoe, and the only man near the road could not shoe a horse. He only shod oxen. Take the other road when you come this way. This route is too rough and too lonesome. For miles I saw no house, nor human being; even the birds had fled the desolation and left the wilderness voiceless. To a man who loves company, it was awful.
The only thing I heard in miles was the rattle of a cow bell; the only thing I saw was a lonesome log cabin, where the kitchen and dining room, family room, bed chamber, library, and parlor were all in one room, and that a little one.
A score of barefoot, bareheaded children coming from school announced the approach of civilization and exhibited the jewels of the Octavias of the hills. Their hills may be barren, but their homes are not. The birds may have flown, but the children are left.
This poor and sparsely-settled county, where the people can only live along narrow valleys, has 47 school districts in it, and often 100 children in a district. Here is the necessity and opportunity of the church and the Gospel.
The evening brought me to the waters of the Troublesome. This is a large stream, over 50 miles in length, and one of the largest tributaries of the upper Kentucky River. It passes through the counties of Knott, Perry, and Breathitt. In all its long course there is only one unfinished church, and that is at Hindman, the county seat of Knott County.
I had not passed this way since youth, when I followed the bold rider John Morgan. What memories crowded upon my heart as I thought upon those vanished years. How changed werethe times, men, and me. Following Morgan then; following Christ now! A soldier of the Confederacy then; a soldier of the Cross now! Why should I complain of the march, bivouac, the privations, and the battle now and endure it all so cheerfully then.