Home Tales of the Cumberlands event looks to inform, entertain about history, legends from Appalachia

Tales of the Cumberlands event looks to inform, entertain about history, legends from Appalachia


Organizers are looking for bigger crowds and more continued interest in Appalachia as well as people searching for answers to their Appalachian heritage as the third installment of the Tales of the Cumberlands series will once again visit the Breaks Interstate Park Sept. 21-24.

newspaperThe three-day event will feature “spellbinding stories from Appalachian history,” according to event producer Stephen Conley.

“If you are interested in the Central Appalachian region dating from the Indians and Daniel Boone, through the Civil War, the Swift Silver Mine legends, the numerous feuds that made the region famous, to the rise of the coal industry, you should join us.”

This third gathering, “Devils, Giants, Feudists and Physicians,” will focus on tales from the Virginia-Kentucky border region from frontier days to the early 20th century. The Appalachian history/heritage event is open to the public, and admission is free.

A donation of $25 per couple or $15 per individual is suggested for the Wise County, Va., Food Bank.

This year’s storytelling convention will mix the information and knowledge of genealogists, historians, actors, novelists and other narrators, who bring “multiple perspectives of mountain history and traditions” alive, according to Conley. The event is a mix of family lore, scholarly research and artistic performances.

One speaker will address the colorful life of Dr. Marshall B. Taylor, “the Red Fox,” who was a trained physician, follower of the mystic Swedenborg, and U.S. Marshal in the 19th century.

Taylor was hanged at the gallows on the courthouse grounds in Wise in 1893 after being convicted for his alleged role in the murder of the Ira Mullins family on Pine Mountain near Pound, Va.

There are many legends the swirl about this famous Appalachian story and feud but one legend suggests he may have been framed and later escaped execution with the aid of local Masons, a group he freely participated in.

Judy Bock, a direct descendant of Taylor, along with historians Nancy Wright Bays and Anthony Hawkins will be among those speaking about the murder at the Killing Rock, which is located on the Virginia side of what is now known as Pound Gap or Pound/Jenkins Mountain.

“We’re expecting some new information about Red Fox to be brought to light,” added Conley.

Gratified by the growing interest in the event, which he started in 2013 in Wise County, Conley says that “the older folks who can tell the stories are dying off.” He adds that “their children and grandchildren realize this and are interested in family lore. With this precious resource disappearing, it’s so important to get the oral history down.”

After the first convention and a brief hiatus, the second convention was moved to Breaks Interstate Park in 2016.

This year, there is an expanded agenda in store for conference attendees and renewed interest in Appalachia that includes subject matter and talks about Native Americans and other ethnic groups in the mountains.

Three speakers will discuss first contact between Europeans and the Yuchis, who used the Cumberlands as a hunting ground along with the Shawnees and Cherokees.

As an added bonus, Dwight Collins will speak on “The Mystery of the Melungeons,” addressing ways that recent DNA research may help solve the riddle of their origins.

Other speakers this year include author and popular Internet blogger Luke Bauserman, and Rod Mullins, Appalachian blogger, journalist and co-host of the weekly podcast, “Stories: A History of Appalachia”.

Others scheduled to appear at the event include James Baldwin and Oakley Dean Baldwin, Sharon Hatfield, and many more.

A lantern-lit “Ghost Walk” planned for Friday evening will feature storytellers dressed in period costumes who will narrate the conflicts among Red Fox, “Devil” John Wright, Talton Hall and others in the late 1800s.

Divided loyalties arising from the Civil War, coupled with rapid changes brought about by industrialization, frayed the social fabric and led to violence during this tumultuous period on the Cumberland Plateau.

A post-convention tour of the Jenkins, Ky., area has been added to this year’s program and will include stops at the Jenkins Coal Museum, Murdered Man’s Cemetery, Pound Gap, and Raven Rock.

Last year’s storytelling convention, which focused on the exploits of local lawman “Devil” John Wright, raised $3,000 for the Letcher County Food Pantry of Whitesburg, Ky. Proceeds from this year’s event will go to benefit the Wise County, VA, Food Bank.

The Breaks Interstate Park is located between Haysi, Va. and Elkhorn City, Ky. The event runs from 4 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 21, through 6 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 23.

Pre-registration for the storytelling convention is not required. Attendees seeking reservations at Breaks Interstate Park may call The Breaks reservation desk directly at (276) 865-4413 for a 10% discount on lodge rooms, cabins or camping.

For more information, contact Dr. Stephen Conley at [email protected] or (804) 687-4447. Contributions to support the “Tales of the Cumberlands” event may be sent to Conley at 2207 Buckingham Ave., Henrico, VA 23228.



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