The Warrior's Path was as crucial to Manchester's history as the Wilderness Road a few miles to the west was to Kentucky's. The path, the main route of a series of trails Indians used to travel between the area north of the Ohio River and the Smokey Mountains ran right through the heart of what would become Clay County and right through what would become Manchester as well. It was the viaduct that brought the first explorers and hunters to the Goose Creek area, such as Dr. Thomas Walkers, at right, and Daniel Boone, below.
It was the buffalo, seeking out the salt licks for which Manchester and Clay County would become famous, who made the path originally. Indians naturally used the well-worn path for hundreds of years before the white man came. The first of those was said to be an Indian captive named Gabriel Arthur who, in 1674 used the path to escape from his captivity in the north to make his way back to his exploration party back in Tennessee.
In May of 1750, Dr. Thomas Walker, who had built the first structure in Kentucky during his explorations around the Cumberland River in present-day Knox County, used the path to head back home to Virginia after he concluded that the territory was unsuitable for settlement. Walker kept a detailed diary which allows historians to follow his route home, and which took him through what is present-day Manchester.
The next documented case of a non-Indian to travel the path was long hunter Daniel Boone who, along with his party, used it to range all the way to the Kentucky River in 1769. It would be several years before Boone blazed what became known as the Wilderness Road to the west.
The path, which enters Clay County from Knox County at "War Gap" at the head of Otter Creek, and exits at "Clay Gap" at the head of Grassy Branch of Little Sextons into Owsley, continued to be of importance to settlers entering the county beginning about 1783 (the end of the Revolution), and during the Civil War when Union troops used it as an escape route from their siege at Cumberland Gap. Other than that, the ancient path was of less importance to the development of Manchester since roads for transportation of salt were developed by the state which provided for easier travel from about 1802 onward.
Daniel Garrard was the well-bred son of Kentucky’s second (and third) governor, James Garrard. Like his colleague Hugh White, Daniel Garrard came to Goose Creek to seek his fortune in salt. With his brothers Garrard established the Garrard Salt Works on land his father had obtained earlier and went on, also like the Whites, to produce a remarkable Clay County family.
Daniel, a patriot as all the men in his father’s family were said to be, raised a company of men in Manchester and marched off to the northwest territories to fight the British and Indians in the War of 1812. Daniel was no stranger to long, hard journeys. In 1808 he had ridden a horse (along with a slave) to the Gulf Coast to find a bride in Mobile and bring back to the rough and tumble Clay County wilderness.
Son, T. T. (for Theopolis Toulmin) was born in 1812 and was reared at the family salt works at what is now Garrard. When it came his time to fight, he raised a company of men in Manchester and took them to Mexico during the Mexican American War in 1848. When the Civil War started, Garrard raised one of the first (possibly the first) regiment in Kentucky, the Third Kentucky Infantry (later called the Seventh Kentucky), and distinguished himself time and again in battles in Kentucky and at Vicksburg, Mississippi, for which he was awarded a brigadier generalship.
After the war T. T. returned to salt making, starting up his works that had been destroyed by the Union in 1862 to keep salt out of the hands of the Confederates. For the rest of the decade Garrard became more and more involved in politics, and eventually in the feuding for which the county became nationally famous. He died in 1902, a bitter old man, by accounts, the last of a breed of Clay Countians who were a breed apart from the common settlers who came to the area for land, not to make money. By the time of his death, most of the Garrards had moved from Clay County because of animosity growing out of the feuds, while the Whites stayed and kept the dynasty going.
Hugh White came to what would become Clay County in 1804 when his wealthy brother, James, bought the Outlaw/Collins Salt Works on Collins Fork of Goose Creek at the mouth of what came to be known as White’s Branch (of course). Some historians have credited the Collins works as being the first to make salt in the county. That distinction belongs to the Langford works at what became Manchester, but by the time Alexander Outlaw bought into the Collins works it was, indeed, a commercial salt manufacturing facility.
Until the Whites showed up, though, the Goose Creek salt industry was small potatoes. The Whites, with their slaves, money, and entrepreneurial know-how, ramped up the industry in a hurry. They, with the Garrards, who showed up in 1806, quickly made Goose Creek salt famous far and wide. The commodity was so valuable that the state legislature practically became a subsidiary of the salt trade in doing everything it could to help the Clay County salt makers get their product to market.
Hugh White was, along with John Gilbert, present on the first day of court April 13th 1807, which was held in a cabin close to his mercantile store and his own cabin; White had moved from White’s Branch around 1806 to be nearer what served as civilization at the time: the little community surrounding the Langford Salt Works at present-day East Manchester.
Hugh White and his wife Catherine, in addition to producing a remarkable quantity of salt they also a remarkable family of over-achievers. Hugh stayed home and tended to business but, his sons, grandsons and granddaughters distinguished themselves in a variety of political and education endeavors. One son, John White, was Speaker of the House of Representatives in Washington. a grandson, John, served two terms in the U. S. House representing Kentucky. Sons Alex, James and Daugherty were major players in the salt industry and were, along with Daniel and his son T. T. Garrard, the most powerful men in the county for decades. Daugherty and his wife, Sarah’s daughter, Laura, was a player on the national stage in women’s education; she studied at MIT in Boston and at the Sorbonne in Paris, then came back to Clay County to become a major player in the business circles in Manchester.
Like the Garrards, the second and third-generation Whites were often involved in the feuding that made the county famous nationwide in the late 1800s; but also like the Garrards, their public service and accomplishments eclipsed their sometimes involvement in the more sordid doings.
Like the tail wagging the dog Oneida (pronounced Oneida, Indian fashion) is not the site of the famous Oneida Institute-the Oneida Institute is the site of the town of Oneida. For when Professor James Anderson Burns first proposed the institution he hoped would educate the children of the Clay County quarreling families in an attempt to end the feuding, there was no town. The school was built on vision, determination, prayer, and generous gifts from wealthy northern citizens Burns charmed, and the town grew up around it.
In 1899, Burns, a former feuder himself, gathered some of the feuding residents of the area where the Red Bird River and Goose Creek meet to form the South Fork of the Kentucky River, and through force of will and a gift for oratory, convinced them to support a school he was going to build by sending him their children. The plan worked and the school got underway in 1900.
Among the many poor mountain children who were rescued from a future of poverty and violence was Charles Goins, an illiterate son of a single mother who went on to become an intellectual and to the presidency of the school. Goins’ nephew, Bert Combs, went to the school and went on from there to become a federal judge and the most progressive and well-respected governor in Kentucky history.
The little boarding school on the knoll overlooking its namesake town has played a large part in the history of Clay County, and has attracted students from around the world, surely a good thing for an area as isolated from the mainstream as the town of Oneida is.
The area between Laurel and Crane Creeks (no. 6 on the Virtual Tour Map) was the scene of one of the most notorious of Clay County’s feuds: the Baker-Howard feud, which was often mis-referred to as the White-Garrard feud. No other county in Kentucky - a state known for its feuds - was as infamous for its blood feuds as Clay County. In fact, it was an extended feud called the “Cattle War” that is thought to have been the reason for the county in the first place. In 1806 the legislature created the county in order to have more jurisdiction over the area of the “war,” the headwaters of the three forks of the Kentucky River.
Clay County’s original border shrunk as time went by; its reputation for feuding didn’t. In 1844 people of the county found themselves divided, often bitterly, over whether Dr. Abner Baker should hang for the killing of his brother-in-law, salt man Daniel Bates. Baker had been declared a “monomaniac” - not for killing Bates, but for his charges against Baker’s wife’s family, the powerful Whites of salt making fame. Since the Bakers were allied with the Garrards, as powerful as the Whites in the salt trade, it set the stage for generations of quarreling between the Whites and Garrards to come.
There were scores of incidents, and dozens of killings over the next several decades, for which the county received its share of negative publicity in the national press. Not all the feuding was between Garrard and White factions, but since they were the two most powerful families in the county, their names were often associated with the quarreling by the press.
Things got so bad that the governor sent the state militia to Manchester for the 1898 trial of Tom Baker, who was accused of all manner of misdeeds down there on Crane Creek. The troops set up their tents on the courthouse lawn in Manchester (see photo). While Baker was posing for a photo for a Courier-Journal photographer (see at right) he was shot and killed by a sniper from Sheriff Bev White’s home, across the street from the courthouse.
Baker’s nemesis, Big Jim Howard, had his own troubles growing out of the feud, as he was charged with the assassination of newly-elected Governor William Goebel as a way to curry favor with Republicans Howard hoped would help him get a pardon for killing Tom Baker’s father, George. Tom Baker died at the scene, Jim Howard went to prison (for killing Goebel, though he was later pardoned by a Republican governor) and the feud gradually died down, though not before the New York Times, among other national papers, wrote dozens of stories about it, thereby insuring Manchester’s and Clay County’s reputation for violence would continue as the Twentieth Century got underway.
The Union takes advantage of Clay County's remoteness to escape the siege at Cumberland Gap
When, owing to the Battle of Richmond, Colonel Garrard was not able to secure reinforcements for the besieged Union troops at Cumberland Gap, Union General George W. Morgan decided to evacuate the surrounded Gap and follow Garrard's path through Clay County and Manchester to freedom north of the Ohio River. Nearly 10,000 Union soldiers and their supply wagons made their way to Manchester, where on Sept. 19th 1862, they set up camp. They rested for two days before resuming their arduous journey that has come to be known to historians as the "Masterful Retreat."
On their way to Manchester the Union troops were constantly harassed by Confederate troops of the celebrated Rebel raider, John Hunt Morgan. Though it has been widely reported that the two General Morgans were in the county at the same time, the Confederate Morgan was still in Lexington at the precise time the Union Morgan was in Manchester, though John Hunt Morgan's troops were very much present, creating havoc for the Union columns by sniper fire and felled trees.
While in Manchester, Private Lewis Stivers, son of Clay County Clerk, George Stivers, got into a fight and killed a fellow soldier. General Morgan decided to make an example of the unruly Stivers and ordered him executed by firing squad. The chilling event took place at the junction of present-day Greenbriar Road and Liberty Hills Road in Manchester.
When they left Manchester, the Union command was again at the mercy of the Rebel command's snipers and tree-fellers. Soldiers suffered terribly in extreme drought conditions, and found no food along the route in Clay County, which by then had already been ravaged by foragers. Eventually George Morgan's men made their way to Charleston West Virginia, where they were later reunited with Colonel T. T. Garrard and his mountaineer soldiers, who had been in fighting up to their necks at Richmond and Perryville, and would continue to be at the famous siege of Vicksburg where their commander Garrard was promoted to brigadier general.
The Union steals a page from the Confederate playbook and conducts a daring guerrilla-type raid behind enemy lines from their base in Manchester.
In December, 1862, Clay County's Colonel T. T. Garrard was in Memphis, on his way to Vicksburg and a brigadier generalship, when he received a telegraph from headquarters ordering him to Manchester, where he was to join with Brigadier General S. P. Carter to conduct a super-secret raid behind Confederate lines in Tennessee. Manchester was chosen as a staging ground for the nearly 1000 cavalry troops apparently because its remoteness offered the best chance for the guerrilla-type raid to be carried out in secrecy. It didn't hurt that Garrard knew the territory like the back of his hand.
The special Union regiment left their supply wagons in Manchester and, lightly equipped, made their way up Goose Creek, across Asher's Fork to the Red Bird, then up Phillips Fork and on across Pine Mountain. From there, on an exceptionally cold day, they crossed the only unguarded pass on Cumberland Mountain -- unguarded because the Rebels had not expected a cavalry unit to be able to traverse the extremely rugged trail -- and made their way into Virginia and on down into the Powell Valley in Tennessee.
Though Garrard was now 50 years old he had no trouble keeping up with the brutal schedule kept by Carter. The troops rode round the clock for three days through enemy territory, skirmishing with Rebels all the way, and on the 30th December they accomplished their mission by blowing up two railroad bridges crucial to the Confederates.
Getting back to Manchester turned out to be a replay of the trip from Manchester, riding nonstop in freezing conditions, being harassed by Rebels and bushwhackers all the way. But Carter's and Garrard's troops made it back and basked in accolades from the top Union brass, including the top one of all, General-in-Chief Halleck in Washington, who said, "The daring operations and brilliant achievements of General Carter and his command are without parallel in the history of the war, and deserve the thanks of the country."
Garrard then resumed his original journey and was promoted to brigadier general during the battles around Vicksburg leading up to the famous siege.
Kentucky Governor Bert T. Combs (1959 -1963) is most likely Clay County's most beloved native son. Born August 19th, 1911 at the head of Beech Creek, near Manchester, he was schooled at the Oneida Baptist Institute boarding school downstream at Oneida, graduated from law school at the University of Kentucky, was a decorated veteran of World War II, went on to become the most progressive governor of Kentucky before or since, and, finally, was appointed by President Johnson to serve as a federal judge on the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals.
Governor Combs achieved national recognition for his efforts on behalf of education reform and was recognized as one of the top lawyers in the United States by his peers. Few Kentuckians have reached the heights of public service and achievement that Combs did, yet he remained a Clay Countian to his death. He was a yearly participant at the Memorial Day ceremonies at Beech Creek Cemetery, and after his death in 1991, that's where he returned, to be buried among his beloved Beech Creek family and friends following the largest state funeral in Kentucky history.
After law school Combs practiced law in Manchester but found it impossible to make a living because all those friends and neighbors wanted his services for free. He moved to Prestonsburg and set up a practice there.
Governor Combs' widow, Sarah, herself a former Chief Justice on the Kentucky Supreme Court, makes frequent visits to Manchester and Clay County as tribute to her late husband who never left the place in his heart.