The Jenny Wiley story: Part IV

Published 6:10 pm Friday, September 30, 2022

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Contributing columnist

The Tug River was flooded out of its banks when Mathias Harmon and his rescue party arrived. The Indians swam across with Jenny not long before but now it was very dark. The men camped until the following morning. The wetness made it difficult to find signs. On the banks of the rain-swollen river Mathias reluctantly decided to discontinue their search.

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The Harmans and others had hunted in this area each fall for several years. He has a good start at building a station outpost at the mouth of John’s Creek. The site was away from the Indian trail and Mathias hoped it would go undetected until the fort and several cabins were built. It was called Harman’s Station.

The men then returned home. It had been three weeks since they attempted to follow the trail of the Indians and their captive Jenny Wiley.

Tom Wiley and a smaller band of men made several excursions in hopes of finding Jenny. After finding no trace of her they returned home with hopes that the Mathias Harmon party of men had rescued Jenny and brought her back. They were all disappointed.

Jenny had been Tom’s one and only love. His greatest pleasure in life was to be with her and his children. Now he was without them.

“Oh, why did I go and leave Jenny and the kids alone,” Tom fretted. “If only I could return to that day I would do things differently and then my Jenny and the little ones would be back with me.”

Jenny Wiley remained a captive of the Indians for several months following the killing of her four children. Although she worked in the camp she did not participate in most activities.

Eventually the Indians took her to Little Mud Lick Creek in present-day Johnson County, Kentucky. After the Indians set up a permanent camp there bands of Indians visited the camp before continuing on hunting excursions and raids on pioneer settlers.

On one occasion Jenny’s attention was drawn toward a commotion when a band of Indians arrived with a young captive male who was about 20 years of age. Although Jenny saw the man from a distance she didn’t recognize him.

That night as she lay in a cave where she slept Jenny heard the cries of the young man turn to screams as he was burned at the stake. She couldn’t keep from crying. After awhile it was quiet and she knew he must be dead.

Soon thereafter she was surprised by the abrupt arrival of Black Wolf and the older Cherokee chief.

“We hold council,” Black Wolf uttered. “Jenny must face trial by fire.

Black Wolf say no. Council says yes. Council say must face.”

Jenny’s emotions had been on such a roller coaster since the preceding October she wasn’t phased by the pronouncement. Earlier they said she had to face other harsh punishment but hadn’t followed up on it. She followed quietly along behind two Indians not understanding how she could be so composed. With all of her help in the Indian camp she couldn’t imagine something so abrupt being on her horizon.

“I am not afraid of death,” she thought. “I’ve endured much worse in the last several months. They took and killed my children and my brother. At least my dying would bring an end to this existence that is so hard for me to go through.”

When they reached their destination on the plateau Jenny noticed that the Indians turned their attention to her. They tied her to a tree with leather strips. She remained serene. She had learned that by remaining calm she always received less attention. The Indians had killed her baby that was born after she was a captive after he reacted to being put in the cold water.

“I’m not going to give them any pleasure by yelling and carrying on if I can help it,” she thought to herself.

The old Cherokee watched her closely before addressing the group of warriors in their Indian tongue. Jenny had learned to decipher most conversations between her abductors and if what she heard was true she thought she would rather die.

“White hussy has learned ways of red man,” the old Cherokee chief, who towered over the others, told the group. “Me take white hussy to Little Tenn-ess-see and keep her as squaw. Need squaw.”

The Indians agreed to allow the old Cherokee to take her. Her thongs were untied and she was escorted back to the cave where she slept each night. As they walked Jenny decided she would seize any opportunity to escape.

Editor’s note: Jenny flees from her captors next week. Jadon is a freelance writer from Harrogate, TN. Thanks to Lincoln Memorial University, Alice Lloyd College and the Museum of Appalachia for their assistance.