Friday, March 9, 2012

Yahoo Falls -- An Historic Overview of a Tall Tale

Yahoo Falls -- An Historic Overview
by Samuel Perry

Located in McCreary County, Kentucky, Yahoo Falls is considered to be
Kentucky's highest waterfall, although it is believed that a similar
waterfall in the Red River Gorge exceeds Yahoo Falls in height by a
few inches. It is a very scenic waterfall and is surrounded by
magnificent vistas and natural arches. In the gorge into which Yahoo
Falls plunges there exists a rarity in Kentucky, a sizeable tract of
virgin timber, protected from harvest over the years by the
inaccessibility of the gorge.

When the Cumberland National Forest was created in 1937,
ownership of the Falls and surrounding second-growth timberland
passed to the Federal government and management of it was entrusted
to the U.S. Forest Service, an agency of the Department of
Agriculture. Always off the beaten track, so to speak, the Yahoo
Falls area languished for more than twenty years as the Forest
Service gave the land an opportunity to heal itself after decades of
high-grade logging abuse, uncontrolled burning, and erosion.
In 1953, supervision of the Cumberland National Forest was
assigned to Robert F. Collins, a professional forester, sportsman,
and far-sighted manager of natural resources. Collins was also a
history buff and admirer of the Kentucky explorer and pioneer, Daniel
Boone. So much so, that in 1966, he was almost solely responsible for
having the name of the Cumberland National Forest changed to that of
Daniel Boone National Forest. In his seventeen-year tenure as Forest
Supervisor, Collins made a name for himself as a progressive land
manger and undertook many innovative projects that transformed the
Forest from a virtual wasteland into a haven for lovers of outdoor
recreation and a sustainable source of wood products.

Collins had a sincere interest in the history of the region
that became the Daniel Boone National Forest and sought to establish
sites on the Forest where that history could be used to attract
visitors and educate the general public. As a Boone enthusiast, he
was, naturally, attracted to the northern reaches of the Forest where
Boone had spent most of his time while in Kentucky. However, the
southern districts could not be ignored and Collins began to look
around for something he could use as a basis for interpreting the
history of that region. He found it in an obscure booklet entitled
LEGION OF THE LOST MINE, published in 1958 by a Scott County,
Tennessee resident, Thomas Harlan Troxel.

LEGION OF THE LOST MINE is a short collection of stories
based upon the traditions of the Troxel family and centers around an
intriguing person in the history of the Cherokee, Chief Doublehead.
In the book, Troxel creates additional characters to supplement the
Doublehead story. Big Jake, Princess Cornblossom, Hans Blackberne,
and the romantic Brave Tuckahoe all romp through the pages of LEGION
OF THE LOST MINE like characters in a Walt Disney drama. Although
Thomas H. Troxel was careful to note in the foreword to his book that
the names of some of the characters are fictitious, many well-meaning
persons have used his work as a framework upon which to build a
fraudulent history of the region drained by the Big South Fork of the
Cumberland River. Robert Collins used it to create the Yahoo Falls
Recreation Area on the Stearns Ranger District.

Knowing that it would be cost-prohibitive to attempt to
extract the mature timber from within the Yahoo Creek gorge, the
decision was made to turn Yahoo Falls into a scenic attraction and
lure visitors to the Stearns Ranger District. An all-weather road was
built from the Alum Ford road to the top of the gorge and a picnic
area was established with sources of potable water, fire pits, and
toilets. Trails were constructed and a long flight of steel stairs
led visitors down into the gorge past towering cliffs and nearly
vertical slopes lush with mountain laurel, rhododendron, and not a
few threatened and endangered species of plants. For the history
buffs, Collins ordered the construction of a cemetery at the entrance
to the Yahoo Falls Recreation Area.

 This cemetery would contain only
one grave, that of a Jacob Troxel, one of the major players in LEGION
OF THE LOST MINE. With the help of a local congressman, a government-
issued marker was acquired and installed at the head of the "grave".
The marker would identify Jacob Troxel as a veteran of the
Philadelphia County Militia in the Revolutionary War.
Today, management of the Yahoo Falls area is the
responsibility of the National Park Service and hundreds of visitors
come to stand under the immense overhang beneath the Falls and to
navigate the trails that penetrate the pristine creek gorge.
Presumably, some of these visitors also pause at the entrance and
look at the lone gravestone enclosed by a rustic fence, not knowing
that the stone stands over an empty grave, and that it honors a man
who, in all probability, never existed.

Shortly after his retirement, in 1970, Robert Collins was
commissioned by the Forest Service to write a history of the Daniel
Boone National Forest. Since its publication in 1975, A HISTORY OF
THE DANIEL BOONE NATIONAL FOREST has become the definitive work (and
the only work) on the subject, even though it has been the object of
negative criticism within the agency, itself. 

In his book, Collins
perpetuates the Big Jake-Princess Cornblossom-Chief Doublehead legend
and enhances it, going so far as to lend credence to what is,
perhaps, the most notorious of the myths, the alleged massacre of
innocent Cherokee at Yahoo Falls by Indian-hating whites. 

This grievous indictment of the non-Indian citizens of Wayne County,
Kentucky, particularly the Gregory family, is an unforgivable breach
of professional ethics by Collins or any reputable historian. By
making such charges without proof, Collins ensures that he can never
be taken seriously as a historian and leaves all of his work open to
question and debate. In his wisdom, even Thomas H. Troxel makes no
mention of a massacre at Yahoo Falls in his published writings.
For many years, I was a believer in the Big Jake-Princess
Cornblossom-Yahoo Falls Massacre legend. When I undertook the
research which culminated in the publication of my own book, SOUTH
FORK COUNTRY, I quickly learned that much of what I had believed in
my younger days about the legend was based upon pure speculation,
wishful thinking, and, as time went on, deliberate attempts to

After much study, I concluded that, although there was,
indeed, a Chief Doublehead (though bearing no resemblance to the
Doublehead of the legend), both Big Jake (Troxel) and Princess
Cornblossom were, both, simply, figments of Thomas H. Troxel's
imagination and that the Yahoo Falls Massacre was simply an add-on to
the legend designed to serve personal agendas.

The oft-repeated (even on the Internet) story of a mass
murder at Yahoo Falls is based, not upon empirical data, but upon
hearsay and revisionist history. It is an unconscionable smear of the
descendants of Hiram Gregory, who is charged with leading the assault
upon the Cherokees, and serves, not to unite the people of the Big
South Fork region, but to divide them.

In the past, good, but misinformed persons have sought to
create a heritage for the people living within the drainage basin of
the Big South Fork whom they regarded as having none. They used
their influence to put up historical markers and headstones, wrote
about the region in national forest histories, and, patronizingly,
tried to give what they thought was the region's due. They cannot be
faulted for this because they did what they believed was right. But,
we are at the dawn of a new era in historical research and the
citizens of Wayne, Pulaski, and McCreary counties now know that their
true heritage can be based upon real people and real events. We must
not be afraid to subject our sacred cows of tradition to the
historical method and evaluate the data objectively and responsibly.
I have done that to the Chief Doublehead-Big Jake-Cornblossom-Yahoo
Falls Massacre, and have found it to be what it always will be-a
series of fanciful stories not based upon factual evidence.

Samuel D. Perry

The Cherokee did NOT have a community there -- that is fiction.

I wrote an archaeologist employed at Daniel Boone National Forest and told him a little of my
> misgivings with Dr. Tankersley (not all of it) and here is what he
> replied.
> Hi Vance,
> Yes, I too have a problem with Dr. Tankersley claiming the massacre
> as fact without any proof or documentation. As far as I know he's
> using heresay information. He claims he has proof, but I haven't
> it yet. As you said, if it was true there must be some evidence of
> the massacre somewhere and this doesn't seem to be the case. Sam
> Perry feels pretty much the same way. Sam
> Perry feels pretty much the same way. [note: he told me Sam Perry
> a local historian who had looked into the matter of the massacre]
> Regarding your question on the use of metal detecting to search for
> spent ammunition in the vicintiy of the site. No, I haven't heard
> anyone doing that. Nor have I heard of any stories about a huge
> of bones revealed from logging. Tom Des Jean, the BSF National Park
> Service archaeologist, is also unaware of any stories of bones
> I forwarded your e-mail to Sam Perry. [note: I asked him if he'd be
> kind enough to do that]

Sam Perry later wrote me, sent me some of the things he'd researched, and gave me permission to reprint it in an email.
Joanne, Dr. Tankersley has a lot of explaining to do.


Please note in the text..ALL of the evidence comes fronm ONE source only//.......LEGION OF THE LOST MINE is a short collection of stories based upon the traditions of the Troxel family ///   careful to note in the foreword to his book that the names of some of the characters are fictitious, many well-meaning
persons have used his work as a framework upon which to build a fraudulent history ..

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