ExploreSouthernHistory.com - Cumberland Gap National Historical Park
ExploreSouthernHistory.com - Cumberland Gap National Historical Park
Cumberland Gap National Historical Park
The park preserves the historic Cumberland Gap, a
pass through the Blue Ridge Mountains that was
America's first great gateway to the West.
Cumberland Gap in Winter
The famed frontiersman
Daniel Boone was hired to
open a road through the gap
in 1775.
Fort McCook
Both Union and Confederate
forces held Cumberland Gap
at different times during the
Civil War.
Cumberland Gap National Historical Park - Kentucky
First Great Gateway to the West
Copyright 2012 by Dale Cox
All rights reserved.
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Daniel Boone
The pioneer lived a much
more complex and tragic than
the man portrayed in 20th
century tv shows and movies.
Cumberland Gap
The gap provided a way for
the early settlers of Kentucky
to make their way through the
mountains to the "Dark and
Bloody Ground" beyond.
Mountains of the South
Cumberland Gap National Historical Park
preserves 24,000 acres of mountain scenery
where the southeastern corner of Kentucky
meets the western tip of Virginia.

Twenty-six miles long and from one to four
miles wide, the historic Cumberland Gap is a
natural gateway through the Appalachian
Mountains. It was carved by wind and water
over thousands of years.

Geologists indicate that the gap was caused
by an uplift of Cumberland Mountain coupled
with erosion by Yellow Creek. The creek cut a
notch in the mountain, but the uplift outpaced
the erosion and forced the creek into a new
channel. The result was the natural gap right
through Cumberland Mountain. It became an
early "superhighway" of sorts for animals and

By the 1700s, the Cumberland Gap had
become important to both the Shawnee and
Cherokee Indians. Neither of these tribes
lived in Kentucky but they hunted there and
were bitter enemies. When they passed
through the gap, it was along a trail known as
the Warrior's Path.

Because the Shawnee and Cherokee were
traditional enemies, there can be little doubt
that numerous skirmishes and fights took
place between hunters of the two nations
when they encountered each other in the
Cumberland Gap.

The Shawnee and Cherokee agreed on one
thing, Kentucky belonged to them and not to
the white settlers in Pennsylvania, Virginia
and the Carolinas. They defended their
hunting ground with determination and many
of the first frontiersmen to enter the gap never

The best known of these early white hunters
Daniel Boone. Born to Quaker parents in
Pennsylvania in 1734, Boone was a child of
the frontier. He grew up learning woodcraft
from both Indian and white hunters and was
given his first long rifle when he was 12
years old. In 1767, when he was 33 years
old, Daniel Boone crossed the mountains
into Kentucky.

Boone was not the first white hunter to see
Kentucky, but he quickly fell in love with the
beautiful land beyond the mountains. By
1773, when he led a group of pioneers
including his son James through the
Cumberland gap, Daniel Boone had spent
years exploring and hunting in Kentucky. That
expedition ended in disaster when the party
was attacked by Shawnee Indians. Boone's
son was captured and tortured to death.

Despite his great personal loss, Daniel
Boone continued to hunt in Kentucky and in
1775 was hired by Richard Henderson to
open a road through Cumberland Gap to the
the "Dark and Bloody Ground." Henderson
dreamed of developing a new colony he
called Transylvania in Kentucky and Boone's
road was to be the route by which settlers
could go there.

Boone's Trace, as it was originally known,
followed the route of the Warrior's Path
through the gap. The trail is remembered
today as the famed
Wilderness Road. By the
1820s as many as 300,000 settlers used the
historic road. The National Park Service
estimates that 47 million Americans are
descended from these pioneers.
Photos by Brian Mabelitini
Each army occupied the Cumberland Gap
twice during the Civil War. Confederate
General Felix Zollicoffer seized the gap in
May of 1861 and began building fortifications
there to prevent Union forces from using it as
a route for invading Kentucky.

President Abraham Lincoln was quick to
realize the potential significance of this move
and on October 1, 1861, ordered a move to
seize the "mountain pass known as the
Cumberland Gap." It was not until June 18,
1862, however, that Union forces finally took
possession of the gap and then it was only
after the Confederates withdrew.

The Federals, in turn, marched away in
September of 1862 when the Confederate
army of General Braxton Bragg marched into
Kentucky from the south. Southern forces
under General Kirby Smith occupied the gap
and the Confederacy held it for the next year.

The final Union occupation came in
September of 1863 when Federal forces
advanced on Cumberland Gap from both
ends, trapping a small Confederate force.
The Southern troops surrendered and the
Union held the gap for the rest of the war.

Visitors today can see well-preserved forts
and breastworks dating from the Civil War.
Fort Lyon and Fort McCook are popular spots
and provide beautiful views of the gap below.

The park also offers great opportunities for
exploring life in Appalachia from the time of
Daniel Boone into the 20th century. There are
historic cabins, settlements and more to see.

Cumberland Gap National Historical Park
features stunning scenery, more than 20
natural caves, picnic areas, hiking trails and
more. The park is free to visit, but per person
fees are charged for tours of Gap Cave and
the Hensley Settlement historic site.

The park is located on KY 25E near
Middlesboro, Kentucky. It is open daily, year-
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