Jenny's Escape Route

by Russell L. Whitlock
Excerpt from The Jenny Wiley Association Newsletter

View Map of the Big Sandy River of Eastern Kentucky
(oversized for ease in reading)

Map Notes

     Readers should be aware that the map of the Big Sandy River is not drawn to a strict scale, although I have made an effort to show cities and forks of the river in their relative positions to each other.  An exception to this rule is the rendering of Big Paint Creek, Big Mudlick Creek, Little Mud Lick Creek, Jennys Creek, the Middle Fork of Jennys Creek, and the Lick Ford of Jennys Creek.  I have shown all these larger than scale in order to show the detail, and they are shown in roughly the same relationship as they exist.  This area would be so small, if drawn to the same scale as the rest of the map, that it would not be possible to adequately show it.  In short, this is not a precision map.   Its main purpose is to give readers from distant areas some idea of the lay of the land and the system of streams in the area where Jenny Wiley was held captive and where she, her husband and their family eventually relocated in about 1801.

        The star shown about half way between Prestonsburg and Paintsville indicates the location of the Harman fort to which Jenny fled following her escape.  The squares with crisscross lines denote cities and towns and their size roughly indicates the size of these present communities, none of which existed in Kentucky at the time of Jennys captivity.

        After her capture at Walkers Creek, the Indians forced Jenny to swim the rain swollen Tug Fork.  They then made their way down stream to the confluence of the Tug and Levisa Forks with the Big Sandy, and swam that stream near the present day city of Louisa.  From Louisa they made their way down stream to the general area of Catlettsburg/Ashland, and continued down the Kentucky side of the Ohio river in the general direction of present day South Portsmouth.  Their intention was to swim the Ohio but it, too, was in flood, and they were unable to do so.  They instead turned south up the Little Sandy river where they camped for a time and Jenny gave birth to a son.  Following the murder of Jennys child, they eventually made their way to the falls of Little Mud Lick creek, and it was from this location that Jenny made her escape to Harmans Station, about half way between present day Paintsville and Prestonsburg.  I hope this map will make it easier for readers to visualize the movements of Jenny and her captors.

      Mileage Between Points

The mileage's listed below are present day highway miles, and they serve simply as rough estimates of the exact river miles.  Who knows - they might even come in handy should you decide to vacation in eastern Kentucky!

Catlettsburg to Louisa 35
Paintsville to Prestonsburg 15
Piketon to Russell Fork 10
Grundy to Dismal Fork 24
Louisa to Paintsville 35
Prestonsburg to Piketon 35
Russell Fork to Grundy 47
Dismal Fork to Patterson 28

The Escape Route

       The following is taken from The Founding of Harmans Station and the Wiley Captivity by William Elsey Connelley.  The information was furnished to the author by Adam Brevard Wiley, Jennys son, and is considered by most historians to be the most nearly correct version of the incident.  This information can be found on pages 142 and 143 of Mr. Connelleys book

        "When free she bound her dog to a large stone to prevent his following her, seized a tomahawk and a scalping knife, and descended quickly to the bed of Little Mud Lick Creek.  She waded that stream to its junction with the larger stream (Big Mud Lick Creek), which she waded to Big Paint Creek.  There she remembered that she had no well defined plan of action, but after a little time spent in reflection she remembered that she had seen a river in her dream, and concluded that she might reach this river by wading continuously down stream.  She acted upon that conclusion.  She found it difficult to wade in Big Paint Creek.  It is a deep, swift stream, and the heavy rain quickly raised the small streams flowing into it, and they carried in muddy water, which soon made it impossible for her to determine the depth.  She was often carried off her footing, and more than once was in danger of drowning.  Big Paint Creek makes a big bend which she was compelled to follow around, and it was growing dusk when she was at the mouth of the Rockhouse Branch.  At the mouth of Jennys Creek she crossed Paint Creek.  She waded up Jennys Creek, which the heavy rain had put out of its banks.  Wind and rain continued all night.  When she reached the forks of Jennys Creek she was almost exhausted, and for a time there she was much puzzled as to which branch of the stream she should follow.  Her choice of branches was right;  she turned to the left and followed the Lick Fork.  In half a mile she was again compelled to choose between two branches of the stream, for there the Middle Fork falls into Lick Fork.  She again turned to the left, and again her choice was right.  She followed the Lick Fork to the mouth of a small branch coming in from the east.  Here she left the larger stream and followed the little one to its head, where she crossed through a gap in the stream now known as the Bear Branch, which she descended to its junction with Little Paint Creek.  Continuing down the latter stream she stood upon the bank of the Louisa River (Levisa Fork) as the dull dawn of a cloudy morning appeared in the east.  ----she dragged herself up the bank of the river and soon came opposite the Blockhouse (Harmans Station)."

       The following is taken from footnotes on page 143 and 144 of the above mentioned work.

        "Mrs. Wiley always insisted that she had no knowledge of the existence of the blockhouse when she left the rockhouse at the falls of Little Mudlick Creek.  She had seen a fort beyond a river in her dream the night before her escape, and she supposed that by descending the creeks she would reach the river.  Her contention is upheld by the facts developed in the flight.  It was almost dark when she was at the forks of the Rock House Branch, and at the mouth of Jennys Creek it was dark and was raining very hard.  She said something told her she must cross to Jennys Creek and follow it.  To do this was to abandon her original plan of following down stream until she found the river.  At the mouth of Jennys Creek she was not two miles from the Indian camp.  If she had known anything of the route of Jennys Creek she could have reached the mouth of the creek in less than an hour by following the route of the present highway between the two points, and the amount of rain falling would have enabled her to wade small streams all the way and conceal her trail.  Her ignorance of the physical features of the surrounding country saved her;  for it was afterward discovered that when the Indians found that she had escaped they supposed that she had gone directly to the mouth of Jennys Creek, and they followed that route in their first search for her.  While it was yet light they were scouring the banks of Paint Creek and those of the lower courses of Jennys Creek seeking some sign of her, and finding none they abandoned the idea that she had set out for the blockhouse over that route.  From the footprints of the Indians discovered by the settlers and other signs left by the Indians, they supposed that the savages had not been gone an hour when Mrs. Wiley reached the mouth of Jennys Creek.

        "Jenny's Creek was given its name in her honor and because she made her escape in wading several miles against it's rapid current.  Mrs. Wiley said that it was perfectly plain to her that she must take the left hand branch, as she was traveling, at the forks of Jennys Creek.  And the same thing occurred at the mouth of the Middle Fork.  And it would seem a miracle that any one could find the mouth of the small branch where she turned out of the Lick Fork.  It must be remembered that it was pitch dark, and that the whole country was covered with a heavy forest, beneath the boughs of which it would be dark on even a starlight night.  The darkness, dense as it was, had torrents of rain to augment it.  The streams were running bank full, and for many miles she pushed against the current.  Considered from any point, the achievements of Mrs. Wiley that night were most remarkable.  I doubt if it is equaled in all the annals of the Border."

       Coupled with the included map, I believe the above will enable readers to understand the exact route by which Jenny reached the safety of the Harman fort in Block House Bottom, and to understand exactly how miraculous her escape was.

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