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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.