Daniel Boone Wagon Train remembered
Special to the Watauga Democrat
Editor's note: The following is Part 2 of a three-part series about the Daniel Boone Wagon Train. The event was part of North Carolina's 300th birthday celebration in March 1963.
As part of North Carolina's celebration of its 300th birthday in 1963, residents of Wilkes and Watauga counties organized "Daniel Boone Crosses the Blue Ridge" as their local celebration of the Carolina Charter Tercentenary. The Daniel Boone Wagon Train was the biggest attraction during that celebration in Northwest North Carolina.
The Daniel Boone Wagon Train convened in late June, 1963, along the Upper Yadkin River. Folks from several counties joined in, bringing their old covered wagons and the livestock to pull them. Some brought horses, others mules, and few brought oxen.
One of those was Spencer Miller, from Wildcat, who loaded up his wagon with most of his 18 children. Another fellow brought a stage coach he had built himself. It was 100 years out from the historic period of the event, but it was quite an attraction, nonetheless.
Wagon Master Dewitt Barnett, from Boone, got the wagon train of 30 vehicles under way with a call of "Move out!"
Chief Scout Ivey Moore from North Wilkesboro helped out.
"He would ride around the camp and up and down the train of wagons, making sure that everyone knew that he was 'Daniel Boone,'" recalled Edith Ferguson Carter.
The wagon train camped on Cater's family's farm the first two years on land that has been in her family since 1752, when Daniel Boone was there. (That farm, near Ferguson, is now the site of Whippoorwill Village, a private collection of historic and replica cabins and frontier buildings.)
"Ivey was one of the real characters of the whole experience, wearing buckskins, a coonskin cap, and carrying a flintlock rifle which had been in his family since before the American Revolution," she said.
The wagon trainers slowly proceeded up Elk Creek Road, taking a measure of their old wagons' aches and pains, and having a few breakdowns.
But repairs were made and they continued on, for the hearty wagon trainers would not be stopped. They were a determined lot even in the face of afternoon showers which soaked them.
And they were determined to have a good time as well.
Their evening camp at Darby was an inviting place, so inviting that thousands of people converged on the camp to see the spectacle.
But the community was ready and had barbecued chicken awaiting the crowd. And they prepared music, too.
Old time music played on acoustic instruments filled the evening air and thousands square-danced to a caller late into the night. Those who had another day of wagon training went to bed a little earlier than the rest of the crowd.
On the second day, the wagon train creaked and rumbled up the unpaved road over Jake's Mountain headed for Cook's Gap. It was slow and tiring and most of the people walked to make it easier on the livestock pulling the loads up hill.
By this time word of the wagon train had gotten out and more people came out to see the sight. They were headed for the campsite where a big "pow-wow" was planned for Friday night, including the re-dedication of a Daniel Boone's Trail marker erected by the Daughters of the American Revolution in 1913 to a spot along the Blue Ridge Parkway.
But before the wagon train could get there, they were "attacked by Indians." Actually, cast members from Horn in the West came out to greet the wagon trainers with their own historical re-enactment.
At Cook's Gap, the wagon trainers were treated to buffalo stew prepared by Spencer Miller in a vintage iron kettle.
More barbecued chicken and more music and dancing abounded, challenging the endurance of those who had thought, perhaps, they had signed on for a leisurely excursion through the quiet countryside.
On Saturday morning, the wagon trainers fixed breakfast, hitched up their teams, broke camp, and headed for Boone, making along the way a crossing of the historic ford of New River. Then they reached their destination.
"Everyone and his cousin was in town to see the Wagon Train," reported the Watauga Democrat.
"Dan'l Boone himself couldn't have brought more people to the town which bears his surname. They formed a blanket of many-colored clothes on the Daniel Boone Hotel lawn. They stood thick as molasses along the narrow sidewalks. They sat in second story windows and waved to persons below."
"The wagon train had rain, hot weather, steep mountain roads, and altogether too much inexperience with the rigors of outdoor life," the Wilkes Journal-Patriot reported.
"They've been hot and dusty this week," wrote Roy Thompson for the Winston-Salem Journal, "and they've been thirsty while soaked to the skin. ... They've been plagued by bugs and frightened by rumors of rattlesnakes and copperheads. But they kept coming and they finally made it. ... It was good to know that there are still people who can do this sort of thing."
One good turn deserved another, so the Daniel Boone Wagon Train convened again the next year, and every year afterward through 1973.
The history of the Daniel Boone Wagon Train in Northwest North Carolina takes place during some of the most turbulent, troublesome and transformative times in American history: the 1960s.
That story continues Wednesday in Part 3 of this series.
Randell Jones is the author of "The Daniel Boone Wagon Train -- a journey through the Sixties," to be released in the spring.