Jenny Wiley Caves at Johnson Co., KY

by Russell L. Whitlock, Secretary
Excerpt from the Jenny Wiley Association Newsletter, Winter 1998

    I wish every member of the Jenny Wiley Association could visit the caves where our grandmother was held captive.  They were created over a period of millions of years by the action of rapidly flowing water against sandstone cliffs.  Sandstone is usually found in both hard and soft layers, and the water gradually wore away the soft stone, and left the hard portions creating deep, smooth surfaced caves, which made excellent shelter.  The creek, which once flowed past these rocks and created the caves, is now some 60 or 70 feet below them, having gradually worn its way deeply into the earth.

There is still only a narrow path leading to the cave where Jenny was held captive;  one way in, and one way out, for the other end is at a sheer drop-off some 30 or 40 feet.  Her captors lived in a series of caves below the one where she was housed, so there was no way she could descend by vines or other means.  They only needed to place a guard at the entrance path, and there was no escape.

I stood in front of Jennies cave and looked around the valley, and down into Little Mud Lick Creek.  You are surrounded by wooded hills and in an area where sunlight rarely penetrates.  The thought occurred to me, "After she escaped from the cave, how did she know which way to go?"  I wouldn't have had a clue, even though I had just driven to a nearby spot on a newly paved road!  There are several family traditions which have been handed down concerning her escape, and I expect she kept following the creeks down stream in hopes that they would lead to a large river.

Once she reached a fork in the path and needed to decide which to take.  Legend says she followed the path where she found some fresh wood chips.  Where did they come from?  Another legend is that a blue bird kept flying a short distance in front of her, and waiting for her to catch up.

The main point is that after she escaped from the caves, she traveled almost straight to the banks of the Levisa Fork of the Big Sandy River, to a spot exactly across the stream from the only fort or settlement within a radius of nearly 50 miles.  Across that stream was the only fort or settlement within a radius of nearly 50 miles.  A short distance either up or down stream from this point, and she would not have even known the fort was there.

There was one man left at the fort, an elderly gentleman named Henry Skaggs, with a group of women and children, for the others had gone hunting.  When Jenny called to Mr. Skaggs for help, he couldn't believe his ears.  He had known her in Walkers Creek and thought her to have been long dead.  The Levisa Fork was at flood stage, as it so often is at that time of year, and the other men had taken all the boats with them.  How could Mr. Skaggs get Jenny across the swollen River?  It just so happened there was a dead Mulberry tree near the river bank, and Mr. Skaggs chopped it down, tied it together with vines, and brought Jenny across the river to safety.

A lot of coincidences here, folks!  The Indians just happened to have tied Jenny with rawhide thongs which stretched and loosened when they were wet;  it just happened to rain enough to wet them, and they stretched and loosened when they were wet;  she just happened to start walking in the correct direction;  she just happened to take the correct fork in the path;  she just happened to find the Harman fort;  there just happened to be one man left behind when the others went hunting;  there just happened to be a dead tree handy, for a raft;  there just happened to be vines to tie the logs together;  and there just happened to be barely enough time, for the Indians walked up on the far bank just as Henry Skaggs and Jenny reached the other shore and safety.

Do you believe in miracles?  If not, maybe you should reconsider.  Without several miracles, many of us would not be here today!

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