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The Wilderness Road and Westward Migration by the early settlers from Virginia and Rhode Island, the Carolinas and New England, eastern Pennsylvania and southern New York followed a path set by the natives. This was the “Indian Path,” also called "Athawominee" before 1750. A new, undeveloped American frontier awaited them if they followed the Wilderness Trail through the Cumberland Gap.

Like a giant's finger tracing a fold in the Earth, erosion by a Cumberland River tributary had formed a deep mountain notch that, ages later, became a pathway followed by deer, buffalo and Indian tribes—the Cumberland Gap. The Gap forms a major break in the formidable Appalachian mountain chain.

First used by large game animals in their migratory journeys, it became a major passage used by Native Americans. They knew the Gap as the Warrior's Path that led from the Potomac River down the south side of the Appalachians through the Gap and north to "the Dark and Bloody Ground" known as Kentucky, and on to Ohio.

The Cumberland Gap was the first and best avenue for the settlement of the interior of this nation. This American frontier of 200 years ago was brutally physical, ruggedly resistant to conquest. Its toll on human beings was murderous. Its rewards, bountiful for those who endured.

In 1750, Dr. Thomas Walker found the Gap and mapped its location, but the French and Indian Wars closed the new frontiers. Then Daniel Boone and other long-hunters used the Gap to get to the Kentucky hunting grounds. In 1775, after the Treaty of Sycamore Shoals ended most Indian troubles, Boone and thirty men marked out the Wilderness Trail from what is now Kingsport, Tennessee, through the Cumberland Gap to Kentucky.

What settlers from the Atlantic seaboard who followed this Wilderness Trail did after they spilled over into "the dark and bloody ground" that became Kentucky and then westward, ever westward, is now history.

Before the Revolutionary War, more than 12,000 people crossed into the new frontier territory. By the time of Kentucky's admission to the Union in 1792, more than 100,000 people had passed through the Gap. By 1800, the Gap was being used for transportation and commerce, both east and west, and some 300,000 determined early Americans had labored their agonizing way through the ancient pass in the forbidding Appalachian mountain chain and westward into the vast unknown.

Today, from the pinnacle atop Cumberland Mountain, hundreds of feet above the narrow gap across the Tennessee-Kentucky border, it is possible to see where those pioneers came from, where they snaked their way through the gap that nature provided in the mountain, and where they were headed. Traveling that Wilderness Road afoot and by horse, they streamed through the Gap, the only passable portal breaching the mountain wall for 400 miles. They followed a rising popular quest for something better. That quest moved those settlers to pull up stakes, risk all and expend their lives in what came to be known as the Westward Movement.

(excerpts from an article text of John Perry and other contributors.)