Editor’s note: The following is reprinted, with permission, from Mary Keller Bowman’s “Reference Book of Wyoming County History,” published in 1965.
Indians, white scouts, hunters, surveyors and early settlers followed along streams and over ridges on paths or trails made by animals and Indians.
The most used trail of access to the Wyoming County region was the one leading from present Mercer County via present Welch and Browns Creek, Indian Ridge, Indian Creek, Guyandotte River, and beyond. The McDonalds, Baileys, and Shannons, with the greatest difficulty, brought wheeled vehicles over this trail which they worked on and widened as they went along and, when necessary, dismantled the wagons and carried them piece by piece, as well as gear and baggage, over otherwise impassible places. They traveled in parties of several men and a number of slaves and carried necessary tools with them.
This trail was the beginning of the present route from Bluefield to Welch, thence to Pineville, Baileysville, Oceana, and Logan. Most of our present improved roads overlay the early trails and paths.
Between 1824 and 1850, the road from Logan Courthouse to Cookes and the plantations was dug six feet wide and chopped a few feet wider.
Over uninhabited mountainous territory such as western Virginia, courses of streams and mountain ridges were the natural routes of travel; the former because water cuts a direct, or near direct, path through the hills; the latter because timber and underbrush are less dense on mountain tops. Wyoming County, then a portion of unsettled Virginia and designated on maps of that day only by name of its river system, Guyandotte, had numerous excellent natural paths.
From east to west, the main course of the Guyandotte River furnished a direct route for animals and Indians of the Shawnee Mingo, and other tribes which used this territory for a hunting ground. South of the river, Indian Creek and Indian Ridge formed an excellent unobstructed pathway from the Tug and Elkhorn valleys to the Guyandotte. Barkers Ridge, also south of the main river course, gave further means of access from the south and east. In the extreme western section of present Wyoming County, Huff Creek was the clearest pathway.
North of the Guyandotte, Wyoming County narrows from east to west and expands from north and south. This region is cut by the Clearfork of Guyandotte, by Laurel Fork which empties into Clearfork at Hatcher, and by Slab Fork and Rockcastle creeks which empty into Guyandotte at Mullens and Pineville, respectively. The meanders of each of these streams formed a natural highway for foot traffic, a natural path for animals and Indians, either wholly or in large part, giving ingress to Wyoming County territory from northeast, north and southeast, with trails from other sections crossing Skin Poplar Gap and Clearfork in the northeast, Walnut Gap in the north, and Upper and Lower Gaps through Huff Mountain area in the northwest.
In addition to the main routes, trails crisscrossed the entire region, for nowhere in Wyoming County is the terrain impossible of traverse. At least one buffalo route is believed to have existed. Evidence supporting this belief comes from the persisting name of Buffalo Creek and from reminiscences and anecdotes of the early days. Old timers were quite certain that buffalo roamed the western section of the county using a route leading from Big Sandy River near the site of Hensley, McDowell County, down Buffalo Creek to Little Huff Creek, passing the home of Absolam Godfrey near present Hanover. Thence the trail benched into the smaller tributaries. Tales of the Civil War often mentioned the buffalo trail.
More assured, because they persisted to a much later date, are the traces made by bear, deer, and wolves. As late as 1870, paths used by game animals were clearly marked. By 1880 and the beginning of timber removal, large game animals had disappeared. Their trails gradually became obscured by brush and forest undergrowth and disappeared. Some of these trails, used by hunters and scouts, both red and white, are today the general routes of rural roads and modern highways.