About twice a year for many years, my husband and I drove with our children from Anderson, Indiana to Saltville, Virginia to visit my parents. We took I-74 to Cincinnati, then I-75 to Lexington, Kentucky, and I-64 to the beautiful, green and rolling Mountain Parkway. From the end of the parkway at Salyersville, we took 114 to Prestonsburg, then 23 through Pikeville, and we crossed into Virginia at Jenkins. Every time we traveled this route, I noticed a sign at Prestonsburg for Jenny Wiley State Park. I was always curious about the name. Who was Jenny Wiley and why was a state park named for her? We never stopped to find out, and if we had, I would not have known my link to her, anyway. Finally, in about 2002, when I discovered my ancestral connection to the Harman family, I learned about Jenny Wiley.
In the fall of 1789, a small group of Shawnee attacked Thomas and Jenny Wiley’s cabin on Walker’s Creek in Virginia by mistake. Big mistake. They were seeking revenge for the deaths of some of their people who had been killed by Mathias Harman, son of Heinrich Adam Harman. They murdered three of Jenny’s children and her fifteen-year-old brother, and they took Jenny and her youngest child captive. Thomas was not home at the time, and although he and several other men lead by Mathias Harman and including Henry Harman, Sr. tracked the Shawnee band, they couldn’t overtake them.
The Shawnee took their captives and moved northward into Kentucky toward the Big Sandy, but recent heavy rains had swollen the rivers so wildly that they were unable to cross. They moved southward and found temporary shelter in various places, ending up under a rock bluff where they stayed for several months. Having killed Jenny’s baby, the Shawnee forced her to cook, carry wood, and do other work for them. Finally, after nearly a year as their slave, she escaped, having dreamed that she was not far from home. Following the directions received in her dream, she arrived within about 24 hours at a river bank where she spotted a fort on the other side, just as she had envisioned.
After Jenny managed to get the attention of people at the fort and convince them she was not a decoy to trap them, a man named Skaggs tied together logs to float across the swollen creek to get her. They made it to safety just in time as a party of Shawnee searching for Jenny spotted them. Jenny learned that the fort, called Harman Station, had been built by men led by Mathias and Henry Harman, Sr.
Fearing attack from the Shawnee, the settlers at Harman Station packed up and returned to Walker’s Creek where Jenny was reunited with her husband.
|Photo by Z. T. Noble, 2002.|
Located near the present town of Paintsville, Kentucky, Harman Station is commemorated by a historical marker. Not far from there near present day Prestonsburg, adventurous hikers can follow the trail that Jenny took seeking freedom from her captors at Jenny Wiley State Park.
This story was told in Harman Genealogy, by John Newton Harman, Sr.; in White Squaw: The True Story of Jennie Wiley, a young adult novel by Arville Wheeler; and in Dark Hills to Westward: The Saga of Jenny Wiley, a novel by Kentucky lawyer, author and environmentalist, Harry M. Caudill.
(c) 2014, Z. T. Noble