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Wayne County News
December 9, 1926


The death of Aunt Vicie Ann Vinson, age 76, at Glenhayes, this county, recently recalls one of the most famous of Indian experiences that ever happened in this section of the county. It is the story of Jenny Wiley, who was held captive by the Indians for eleven months before she found an opportunity to make good her escape. Aunt Vicie Ann Vinson was a direct descendant of Jenny Wiley. The story of Jenny Wiley's capture has been handed down from generation to generation in this section of the county largely by word of mouth from parents to their children. We publish below the story of the capture, which has been preserved from the pioneer days and is believed to be exactly accurate:

For generations the story of the captivity of Mrs. Jenny Wiley has been transmitted by father and mother to son and daughter, until today a traveler would scarcely call at the home of a descendant of one of the early settlers of the Big Sandy Valley in which he would not hear it related. The facts are furnished by Judge Archibald Borders, judge of the court of Lawrence County, Kentucky, who formerly resided near Peach Orchard, Kentucky, and who was a nephew of Jenny Wiley; Dr. G. W. Murray of Louisa, Kentucky, whose step-mother was a sister; also by Mrs. William C. Crum and Rev. John Jarrell, both of Wayne County, West Virginia, all of them of unimpeachable authority in the matter.

Husband Away From Home

The maiden name of the captive was Jenny Sellards. She married Thomas Wiley, a native of Ireland, who had immigrated and settled on Walker's Creek in Wythe (now Tazewell [Bland] County, Virginia), where they were living at the time of the capture. She had a sister living near by who was married to a man named John Borders, father of Judge Borders, before mentioned. There were also several families named Harmon residing in the vicinity, several of whom were good Indian scouts. Thomas Wiley, her husband, was absent in the forest gathering ginseng at the time of the capture. The year was 1790. The destruction of the Wiley family was a mistake on the part of the savages. Some time previously in an engagement with a party of Cherokee Indians one of the Harmons had shot and killed two or three of their numbers and now a party returned to wreak vengeance in the murder of Harmon and his family, but ignorant as to the exact location of his cabin, they fell upon that of the Wileys instead.

The day before, Mr. Borders, thinking from various indications that Indians were prowling about the neighborhood, called on Mrs. Wiley and requested her to take her children and go to his house and there remain until her husband returned. She was engaged in weaving and told him that as soon as she got the web out of the loom, which would be that evening or early the next morning, she would do as he requested. In approaching the house, Mr. Borders found it very difficult to get his horse to pass a patch of hemp, and it was afterwards presented that at the time the Indians were concealed within it.

The Delay Was Fatal

The delay upon the part of Mrs. Wiley was a fatal one. Dark came on, and with it came the attack upon the defenseless family. The Indians rushed into the house, and after tomahawking and scalping a younger brother and three of the children and taking Jenny Wiley, her infant (a year and a half old) and Mr. Wiley's hunting dog, started toward the Ohio River. At the time the Indian trail led down to what is now known as Jenny's Creek. Taking it, they proceeded until they reached the mouth of that stream and went down the Tug and Big Sandy Rivers to the Ohio.

No sooner had the news of the horrible butchery spread among the inhabitants of the Walker's Creek settlement than a party, among whom was Lazarus Damron and Mathais Harmon, started in pursuit. They followed on for several days, but failing to come up with the perpetrators of the outrage, the pursuit was abandoned, and they all returned to their homes. The Indians expected that they would be followed, and the infant of Mrs. Wiley proving an incumbrance to their flight, they dashed out its brains against a beech tree when a short distance below where William C. Crum presently resides. This tree was still standing and was well known to the inhabitants of this section during the first quarter of last century.

Camped on Big Blaine

When the savages with their captive reached the Ohio, it was badly swollen; with a shout of O- high-o, they turned down that stream and continued their journey to the mouth of Little Sandy. Up that stream they went to the mouth of Dry Fork and the same to its head, then crossed the dividing ridge and proceeded down what is now call Cherry Fork of Big Blaine Creek in Kentucky, to a point within two miles of its mouth, where they halted and took shelter beneath a ledge of rocks. There they remained for several months, and during that time Mrs. Wiley gave birth to a child. At this time the Indians were very kind to her, but when the child was three weeks old, they decided to test it to see whether it would make a brave warrior. Having tied it to a flat piece of wood, they slipped it into the water to see if he would cry. He screamed mightily, and they took him by the legs and dashed his brains out against an oak tree.

When they left this encampment, they proceeded up Big Blaine to the mouth of Hood's Fork, thence up that stream to its source; from here they crossed over the dividing ridge to the waters of Mud Lick, and down the same to its mouth, where they once more formed encampment.

Awaiting Her Chance

About this time several settlements were made on the headwaters of the Big Sandy, and the Indians decided to kill their captive, and accordingly prepared for the execution, but just when the awful hour had come, an old Cherokee chief, who in the meantime had joined the party, proposed to buy her from the others on the condition that she would teach his squaws to make cloth like the dress she wore. Thus was her life saved, but she was reduced to the most abject slavery and was made to carry water, wood, and build fires. For some time they bound her when they were out hunting, but as time wore on they relaxed their vigilance, and at last permitted her to remain unbound.

The Escape

On one occasion when all were out from camp, they were belated, and at nightfall did not return, and Mrs. Wiley now resolved to carry into effect a long cherished object--that of making her escape and returning to her friends. The rain was falling fast, and the night was intensely dark, but she glided way from the camp fire and set out her lonely and perilous journey. Her dog, the same one that had followed the party through all their wanderings, started to follow her, but she drove him back lest by his barkings he might betray her into the hands of her pursuers. She followed the course of Mud Lick Creek to its mouth, and then crossing Main Point Creek, journeyed up a stream (ever since known as Jenny's Creek), a distance of six or eight miles, to its source, thence over a ridge and down a stream now called Little Point Creek, which empties into the Louisa Fork of Big Sandy River. When she reached its mouth, it was day-break and on the opposite side of the river, a short distance below the mouth of John's Creek, she could hear and see men at work erecting a block house. To them she called and informed them that she was a captive escaping from the Indians and urged them to hasten to her rescue, as she believed her pursuers to be close upon her. The men had no boat, but hastily rolling some logs into the river and lashing them together with grape vines, pushed the raft over the stream and carried her back with them. As they were ascending the bank, the old chief who had claimed Jenny as his property, preceded by the dog, appeared upon the opposite bank, and striking his hands upon his breast, exclaimed in broken English, "Honor, Jenny, honor!" and then disappeared in the forest.

Returned To Her Home

That was the last she ever saw of the old chief or her dog. She remained here a day or two to rest from her fatigue, and then with a guide made her way back to her home, having been in captivity more than eleven months. Here she rejoined her husband, who had long supposed her dead, and together, nine years after--in the year 1809--they abandoned their home in the Old Dominion and found another near the mouth of Tom's Creek on the banks of the Louisa Fork of Big Sandy. Here her husband died in the year 1810. She survived him 21 years and died of paralysis in 1831.

The Indians had killed her brother and five of her children, but after her return from captivity, five others were born, namely: Hezekiah, Jane, Sally, Adam and William. Hezekiah married Miss Christine Nelson of George's Creek, Kentucky, and settled on Twelve Pole in Wayne County, where he lived for many years; he died in 1832 (Some say 1845.) while on a visit to friends in Kentucky. Jane married Richard Williamson, who also settled on Twelve Pole. Sally first married Christian Yost of Kenrucky and after his death was united in marriage with Samuel Murray; she died March 10 1871. William reared a family in the valley of Tom's Creek, and Adam also in that state.

Transcription by June White

Wayne County News