In the lore of Big South Fork’s settlement era, there are a number of names that stand out from amid the homesteaders of the Station Camp, Parch Corn and No Business communities west of the Big South Fork of the Cumberland River near Oneida. But there are few that were any more influential than Ike King.
Isaac Marion “Ike” King was born in January 1887. By the time he died in Oneida in 1957, his name was forever etched in the history of what had by then became a mostly abandoned settlement west of the BSF River.
Today, of course, that part of the Big South Fork National River & Recreation Area is referred to as part of the “backcountry,” a section of the 125,000-acre national park that is located away from developed facilities like visitor centers or campgrounds. The nearest developed facility is a comfort station (read: out-of-the-way restroom) at the Station Camp River Access just across the river on the Oneida side.
But there was once a time when Station Camp was a happening place. There was a church, a school, a post office, a general store … and, involved in pretty much all of them was Ike King.
Today, Ike King’s homeplace can be visited by hikers and horseback riders alike. It is located along the Fork Ridge equestrian trail, just up the hill from the Laurel Fork Creek hiking trail near where Laurel Fork and Station Camp creeks intersect, about a mile west of the BSF River.
All that remains of the homestead today is part of the chimney that once served a double fireplace, along with an assortment of old pieces of metal — including what remains of an old stove — left over from years past.
Donnie Kidd, an Oneida resident who lives in the Coopertown neighborhood and knows Big South Fork like the back of his hand, pointed the way to the old homestead and confirmed it as belonging to King. He said he spent many nights in the King cabin in his younger years.
“It was solid as a jug until someone burnt it around 1973,” he said.
That, unfortunately, was the fate of many of the homesteads that remained in the Big South Fork after they were abandoned by their owners. They either fell victim to age, or were burned — whether on purpose or accidentally by careless hikers, hunters and others seeking refuge in the backcountry. The last to burn was the Armstead Blevins cabin that was last owned by Noble Smith, located just down river at Parch Corn Creek. It burned in 1998.
Today, only the homesteads that have been carefully preserved by the National Park Service — the Lorna Blevins cabin and farm, the Oscar Blevins home and farm, and the John Litton/General Slaven home and farm, along with the Jonathan Blevins Farm at Charit Creek, which is used as a backcountry hostel — still stand.
But what remains of many of the old homesteads — such as the Armstead Blevins cabin — can still be visited by wanderers and adventurers who seek them out. And the Ike King place is among them. Today, the area around the former cabin site has been reforested. And the fields that were once planted in the Laurel Creek valley are well on their way. It’s not too difficult to tell where the fields once were; mature timber has yet to grow in their place. But, slowly, nature is playing its role, and evidence of human life is fading from this landscape.
Ike King was the son of Kirby Sherman King (1846-1935) and Nancy Ellen Hatfield King (1849-1917). His paternal grandparents were William “Billy” King and Millie Angel King. His maternal grandparents were William Riley Hatfield and Elizabeth Burke Hatfield.
Kirby King served in the Union Army during the Civil War. He was among the many Scott Countians who made their way north into Kentucky to enlist after secession. He fell sick with fever during the war, while stationed at Camp Nelson, Ky. He never fully recovered.
The King family’s migration to Big South Fork Country took place in the two generations before Ike King. His great-grandfather, William King Sr., was born in North Carolina around 1785. His great-great-grandfather, Kirby King, was also born in North Carolina. His third-great-grandfather, Richard King, was born in Virginia.
Following the Civil War, Kirby King married Nancy Ellen Hatfield, the daughter of William R. Hatfield (1824-1892) and Eliza Burke. Hatfield moved to the Big South Fork region from West Virginia, and was killed after an argument along the river. History tells that he swung his horse in an attempt to trample a man, and was shot through the stomach with a .45-70 rifle. He lived at the Jonathan Blevins farm that is today Charit Creek Lodge, along Station Camp Creek about three miles west of the river.
Elizabeth Burke, the wife of William Riley Hatfield, was the daughter of Jonathan Burke (1797-1875) and Nancy Cooper Burke (1803-1880). Jonathan Burke moved to the Big South Fork region from Virginia, first settling near the Little South Fork before migrating — along with the Hatfields — to the Station Camp area. Elizabeth’s brother — Peter — owned the cabin their father built just down the river from Parch Corn Creek when it was the sight of a skirmish between Confederate guerrillas and home guard militia in 1863. The guerrillas had raided several farms in the area and were spending the night in the Burke cabin when the home guard surrounded it and opened fire. The Confederates were killed and burried in a mass grave nearby, though no one is sure exactly where.
That is the story of Ike King’s ancestrial heritage. In April 1908, he married Hattie Bell Hatfield (1889-1969). She was the orphaned daughter of Richard Hatfield and Artema West Hatfield, and was raised by the King family. Ike and Hattie Bell had 12 children — four of which died in infancy. The last of their surviving children, Martha Marie King Kanizer, died in 2015 in Indiana.
Ike held many roles in the Station Camp community through the years, but he was perhaps best-known as the community’s school teacher. He had limited educational opportunities in his own youth, and sought to change that for the generation that followed. He taught school in the one-room school house — which doubled as the New Zion Church, as well as the community’s voting precinct — for 40 years.
Herb King, of Oneida, who was raised at Parch Corn Creek, told the Independent Herald several years ago that he walked 1.5 miles from Parch Corn to the school at Station Camp each day to build a fire in the stove, providing heat for the building. He remembers Ike King well, and told stories of the boys sometimes slipping off from school during the summer to swim in the river. One day, while quizzing the boys about their wet heads when they returned to school, Ike King figured out what was going on. His method of discipline for his students was a leather strap that he kept on hand.
“When you got three stars on the board next to your name, you had to stay after school, roll up your pants legs, and get that leather strap wrapped around your legs,” Herb King said.
Ike and Hettie bought a grocery store from Cal and Dora Smith. The store doubled as a post office — with Ike as postmaster, of course. The U.S. Postal Service’s name for Station Camp was Elva.
Later, Ike collected 200 signatures (there were 300 adults served by the post office at Elva) on a petition that he filed in Huntsville to establish a position of justice of the peace for the Station Camp community. So, he served as justice of the peace, as well. He was also a land agent for the Stearns Coal & Lumber Co., and a notary public.
Like his parents and his wife, Ike King is buried in the Coffey Cemetery on Stanley Street in Oneida.
The easiest way for hikers to access the Ike King homestead is via the John Muir Trail from the Duncan Hollow area of Big South Fork near Bandy Creek. From the mountain bike connector trail near the end of Duncan Hollow Road, it is an approximate 1.5-mile hike to the homeplace. The mountain bike connector joins Duncan Hollow Road to the John Muir Trail. Continuing north from the trail junction, the John Muir Trail follows the ridge to a point before dropping into the gorge where Station Camp and Laurel Fork creeks meet. Immediately after crossing a wooden footbridge, turn west to take the Laurel Fork Creek Trail up the creek. A few hundred feet further, the Fork Ridge Equestrian Trail turns right, and the homestead is located along the trail just up the hill.