Editor’s note: The following is reprinted, with permission, from Mary Keller Bowman’s “Reference Book of Wyoming County History,” published in 1965. This is part three of the series.
In the late winter of 1799, John Cooke Sr. with his two older sons, John Jr. and Thomas, with two packhorses loaded with gear, seed, and supplies, walked to the mouth of Laurel Fork and selected a home site on a level bottom, now Hatcher.
They hastily built a cabin, deadened trees, and prepared land for crop by cutting and stacking brush to burn, and laid out a trap line. They expected to have a load of pelts to take to the settlement for trade when they returned for new supplies. Beaver were plentiful along the many small streams and their fur was valuable. Wild turkey and all kinds of small game were all around them, and meat for dinner could be shot from the premises. Building and fencing material was plentifully at hand. They were soon snugly at home in the cabin, and their days were filled with useful labor, preparing for their permanent home and reunion of the family.
The trap line led up Laurel, across Elkins Mountain, down Rockcastle Creek and Guyandotte River to (present) Baileysville; then leaving the river it crossed Bailey Branch and led up Clearfork along the Big Bottoms to the cabin at Mouth of Laurel. They walked the line once a week, each round requiring two days. On their first round, they saw no one. On the second round, they saw a man some distance away, whom they took to be white and called to him. He did not answer, but disappeared in the woods. Thereafter they kept a sharp lookout for the stranger and apparently the stranger did the same.
On the third round, the Cookes saw the man and spoke a few words with him, but he kept away from them and would not permit them to approach him. On the next round, they managed to make friends with the stranger. At first, he refused to tell them his name or his story, although he seemed to desire to be friendly with them. They persuaded him to go home with them.
Convinced they meant him no harm, he told them his name was Milam and agreed to stay and share the cabin with them. Through the winter, they learned to know and trust each other. The Cookes left him in charge of the place when they took their furs to a trading post later to sell them and buy supplies.
Upon their return home in April 1800, they found Milam had taken good care of everything and resumed their old life. Milam finally told them he had killed a man in Kentucky some two years earlier and fled to the mountains to evade the law, leaving his wife and children, who did not know where he was, and he was most anxious about them. After talking it over many times, they agreed that John Sr. and John Jr. should take the horse and go to Kentucky and try to locate the wife and persuade her to return with them.
The two Johns went to Kentucky, ostensibly to trade. From discreet inquiries they located the wife and undertook to talk with her, but she did not trust them and refused to admit anything or tell them anything. They stayed in the settlement two days and nights and finally convinced her they were acting in good faith and that her husband was safe and wished to have his family join them. Hastily she made preparations.
At midnight, the party slipped away as silently as possible to avoid attracting unwelcome attention, and had said nothing to anyone of their intention to leave. The trip was made without trouble or hindrance and the family rejoiced to be together again and in a safe place with friends. The cabin sheltered them all for a brief time.
John Sr. and Milam went up Laurel to locate a suitable place for Milam’s homestead. They selected land near a stream now called “Milam’s Fork,” near which Milam had a pole hunting camp on his trap line. The Cookes helped him build a log cabin and get the family established in the new home. Fourteen miles separated the homesteads.
Milam’s trap line extended into Slab Fork and Barkers Ridge Districts, one of his camps being near a small stream now known as Milam Creek, then led downstream and down the river to (present) Baileysville, following almost the same route as the Cooke trap line.
Milam told the Cookes that he got into trouble in Kentucky over a horse trade in which he was grossly deceived and cheated. He undertook to return the defective horse but was refused. Enraged, Milam killed him, then fled to hide out in the woods until it should be safe for him to return home. His understanding of the law was that after seven years he could not be prosecuted for the killing. We find no further mention of Milam in later years and no one knows what became of him. Probably his child or children remained in this area, as we have families of this name. Russell Milam took up 162 acres on Black Fork, and George Milam took up 258 acres on Cabin Creek in 1854. Addison Milam was a well known miller and wheelwright of this area many years later.