There is no clearer way to understand the stories of long-ago society than the largely forgotten cemeteries in which those who defined their eras are buried. These backwoods cemeteries — where there’s no caretaker to manicure the grounds and where mourners long ago stopped returning to place memorial flowers — speak Cleary. Not in our language, of course; understanding their words requires a little interpretation. But in a sort of universal language, the most basic thing they’re saying is, “Life happened here.”
Deep in the Big South Fork backcountry, along the banks of Station Camp Creek, is one of the many cemeteries found within the boundaries of the Big South Fork National River & Recreation Area. Each burial ground has its own stories to tell, and many of them within this — the fifth-largest national park in the eastern United States — are intertwined. We’ve written of some of the graveyards before, saying the headstones found there are worth a million words. That’s somewhat hyperbolic, of course; it’s a play on the old saying about a picture’s worth. But how many words can a single set of graves speak about the people who once carved out a life in the lands surrounding them? Thousands, perhaps?
As backwoods cemeteries go, the one along Station Camp Creek might be the most remote found anywhere in Scott County. It’s ore than two miles in any direction to a road, unless a visitor were to bushwhack his way in from the top of Hatfield Ridge that towers over the cemetery, and the bluffs that jut out near the top of the ridge are a testament to what a chore that would be.
The shortest way in, by foot, is from the Fork Ridge Trailhead to the southwest — setting out along the same footpath that leads visitors to Charit Creek Lodge. For those getting there on horseback, it’s an even longer ride, often made by riders who are completing a loop from the Middle Creek Equestrian Trailhead or a similar starting point on the west side of the BSF River. But what a beautiful trek it is this time of year — whether on foot or in the saddle — with the last of the autumn leaves still hanging on, and winter’s dull grays (and bitterly cold temperatures) not quite settled in yet. The Station Camp Creek valley is one of the most scenic landscapes within the national park, with something new to see around each bend of the trail that snakes along the valley floor.
This valley is the final resting place of Jonathan Blevins, the long-hunter and pioneer who put down roots where Station Camp Creek and Charit Creek meet, almost four miles from the river. It was there that Blevins started the farm that is now Charit Creek Lodge, in the process becoming the valley’s first permanent resident.
It’s been more than 200 years now since Blevins ventured into Station Camp Creek valley as one of the first white men to set eyes on the place. Long-hunters were drifters by nature, moving about from place to place and camp to camp in search of game. But Blevins saw something about the valley that captured his heart, and he stayed on. About 202 years ago, he built the first cabin in what is now the Big South Fork, in the wide valley where the two streams converge. There he established his family of subsistence farmers, who made their livelihood off the land.
Before he ever ventured as far west as Station Camp Creek, Blevins married Katy Troxell, a half-Cherokee who was the daughter of Princess Cornblossom of the Thunderhead Cherokees who inhabited the region. Troxell’s father, “Big Jake” Troxell, had been sent into the region during the Revolutionary War as an intermediary of sorts. His job was to make sure the Cherokees didn’t side with the British. He fell in love with the chief’s daughter, and they were married.
Within 10 years of her 1804 marriage to Jonathan Blevins, Katy had died. The couple had seven children during that span, and Jonathan soon re-married to Sarah Minton. They had three children together.
It isn’t exactly clear what brought Jonathan Blevins to Station Camp Creek, though he had been in the region for quite some time prior to that. The entire area was at that time part of Wayne County, Ky. In 1810, a little more than three years prior to his first wife’s death, Blevins was dismissed from the Bethel Baptist Church on the Little South Fork River to the north for using profanity.
In 1838, a little more than 20 years after the Blevins family moved to Station Camp Creek, Sarah died. She was about 43. Blevins was a widower for 25 years before his own death in March 1863, when he died at the age of 83 after being stung by bees. When he died, he was buried nearly two miles east of his farm along Station Camp Creek, next to both of his wives. And the Blevins Cemetery was begun.
In addition to the graves of Jonathan Blevins and his two wives, Katy and Sarah, there are three other graves in the small cemetery along Station Camp Creek, positioned in what was once a large field but is now being reforested by nature. The remaining graves are three of the 12 children of Kirby Sherman and Nancy Ellen King.
The King family came to Station Camp Creek long after the Blevins had arrived and begun to tame the wild country. Nancy Ellen was the daughter of William Riley Hatfield and Elizabeth Burk — another prominent family in the valley — but she wasn’t born until 11 years after Sarah Minton Blevins, the second wife of Jonathan Blevins, had died.
William Riley Hatfield came to the Big South Fork region from West Virginia. The long ridge that encloses Station Camp Creek valley to the north, dividing it from Parch Corn Creek on the other side, is named Hatfield Ridge, after him. He married the daughter of Jonathan Burke, who had come to Station Camp Creek with his parents and siblings from Russell County, Va. soon after Jonathan Blevins arrived with his family. The Blevins, Burkes and Hatfields were three of the most prominent early families on Station Camp Creek, and when Jonathan’s granddaughter — William Riley Hatfield’s daughter — married a King, the King family would join them in terms of the families that defined the backwoods society along Station Camp Creek.
Both Burke and Hatfield lived at Blevins’ farm on the banks of Station Camp and Chris creeks for a period of time, and both are buried there. Burke, who is the ancestor of most of the Burkes in Scott County today, died in 1875 at the age of 88. Hatfield was killed by another man during an argument along the river in 1892, at the age of 68. Oral history, handed down by his descendants through the years, is that he was on horseback as the argument intensified, and he wheeled his horse to trample the other man. As he did, the man shot him with a .45-70 rifle. (Ironically, Hatfield’s son, William C. Hatfield, was also shot and killed in 1924, at the age of 51. He was killed by Newton Blevins, who served a year in prison for the killing and was later shot and killed himself as he rounded up cattle with his wife, Mandy.)
Kirby Sherman King — who fought for the Union Army during the Civil War — and Nancy Ellen Hatfield were married in 1866, when he was 20 and she was 17. They had 12 children together, three of whom died at an early age and are buried alongside Jonathan, Katy and Sarah Blevins on the banks of Station Camp Creek.
In 1875, 25-year-old Julie Ann King — the fifth of the 12 King children — was crossing Station Camp Creek on a footbridge when she suffered an epileptic seizure and tumbled into the water, drowning. She was the first of Kirby and Nancy Ellen’s children to reburied in the small cemetery. She had never married and had no children of her own.
In 1879, Nancy Ellen gave birth to a baby boy who died the same day and was buried alongside his sister. And in 1891, the youngest of the couple’s children, May G. King, died and was buried in the cemetery. She was just 3.5 months old and likely died as illness swept through the valley. Just about a mile further down the valley, William Owens — who owned a large farm and grist mill operation along Station Camp Creek — buried several of his children during the same time span. Their graves, all in a row on a small ridge overlooking the creek, are an eery testament to the difficulty of life in this remote area.
The three headstones for the King children are inscribed “son (or daughter) of K. & N.E. King.” They are the most the most legible of the original stones in the Blevins cemetery. Jonathan Blevins’ descendants later placed a modern, commercial stone at his grave. The stones on his wives’ graves are illegible.
In 1917, Nancy Ellen Hatfield King died and was buried in the Coffey Cemetery on Stanley Street in Oneida. Kirby remarried, to Savannah Tennessee Smith Hamby, the widow of Ben Hamby. “Tennie,” as she was known, was nearly 50 years younger than Kirby. The couple had two children together. Kirby died in 1935 in Clinton, Tenn. (where he had perhaps moved with one of his sons, John Calvin, who also died in 1935). Tennie died three years later, in 1838. Both are buried in the Coffey Cemetery.
Most of the King children moved out of Scott County, though some remained. Their oldest son, William Ozias King, or “Zi,” lived in Scott County all his life. He died in 1930, at the age of 63, and was buried in the Sunny View Cemetery at Pine Creek. He has descendants in Scott County still today.
The most notable of the king children was the youngest surviving child, Isaac Marion King. “Ike,” as he was known, spent most of his life on Station Camp Creek and carved out a legacy there. He married Hattie Hatfield — an orphan who was raised by the King family — and they purchased a grocery store from Cal and Dora Smith near the mouth of Station Camp Creek. He was also a well-known schoolteacher. The school was located on the hillside on the west side of the river at the Station Camp crossing, and also housed the New Zion Church. When the U.S. Postal Service established a post office in the King store, King became the postmaster of the community, which was officially called “Elva.” Realizing the need for law and order in the community, he petitioned county government in Huntsville to establish the position of justice of the peace in Elva, and then he was elected to that position. Later, he served as a land agent for the Stearns Coal & Lumber Co. as the mining and logging industries moved into the region.
Pine Hill resident Herb King — no relation — recalls attending Ike King’s school as a young child growing up in the cabin that Jonathan Blevins’ son, Armpstead Blevins, built on Parch Corn Creek. He moved to the home of his aunt and uncle when he was seven years old and was raised on the river. Now 86, Herb King was a master of the plow and would stay with Ike King for a week each spring, plowing the fields at Ike’s Station Camp Creek farm. During the winter months, he was paid a nickel a day to make the walk from Parch Corn to Station Camp and build a fire in the stove to heat the school. “You never missed, it didn’t matter if there was a foot of snow on the ground; you just wrapped grass sacks around your feet and tied them and walked to school,” he told the Independent Herald last year. He recalled that Ike King’s form of discipline in his class was a leather strap. When a student got three stars on the board next to their name, they stayed after school, rolled up their pant legs, “and got that leather strap wrapped around your legs,” he said.
Ike King — the younger brother of Julie Ann, who drowned in Station Camp Creek when she was just 25, and of baby Gordon and baby May — died in 1957, at the age of 70. He was buried in the Coffey Cemetery, the same cemetery as his mother and father. The last of his surviving children, Martha Marie Kanizer, died in 2015 in Terre Haute, Ind.
It’s hard to fathom that someone who died as recently as 2015 was raised by a school teacher who helped define life in the Station Camp settlement; by someone who was the great-grandchild of some of Station Camp Creek valley’s earliest settlers. A hike or horseback ride into the valley today makes it seem as if an eternity has passed since this area was civilized. And why not? All signs of life have been erased. Where Ike King’s school and grocery store once stood, the fields that Herb King plowed in the spring, Kirby King’s cabin, the footbridge Julie Ann was walking when she fell into the creek and drowned — all of it is gone now … replaced by forest. Where farmers once toiled and children laughed and played deep in the valley is now just wilderness, as it was before Jonathan Blevins first arrived at Station Camp Creek.
Life did happen at Station Camp Creek. But as it was written in James 4:14, “For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away.”