Two hundred years ago, pioneers poured through Cumberland Gap on their way west to a better life. But not all the traffic on the Wilderness Road was westbound. By the 1820s, drovers pushed huge herds of hogs and smaller herds of cattle and sheep eastward through the Gap to markets in Baltimore, Richmond, and Charleston, hundreds of miles from the growing Kentucky settlements.
Before Daniel Boone there was
Dr. Thomas Walker
Cumberland Gap still bears the name Dr. Thomas Walker gave it when he came over the mountain in 1750 with a party of Virginia real estate speculators. Walker was a wealthy neighbor of Peter Jefferson, father of future president Thomas Jefferson. The journals and maps of Dr. Walker's trans-Appalachian travels promoted emigration west into Kentucky.
Hogs and Whiskey
Kentucky's soil was rich, but cash was scarce on the frontier. Hogs brought from the East escaped into the fertile woods and canebrakes, their numbers exploded. Unlike other bulky farm products, hogs could carry themselves to distant markets.
Whiskey also made big money for western settlers. Distillation concentrated the value of acres of corn into a high-dollar liquor that was cheaper to transport and easier to sell than the bulky grain.
We encountered immense droves of hogs going into... Virginia...two droves of 700 or 800 each; and yesterday we met two others as numerous...
Wilderness Road traveler's letter, 1823