LIBERTY, W.Va.—Eighteenmile Creek wanders quietly through the hill country of northern Putnam County, revealing not in the least any potential for tragedy along its banks. Yet, tragedy visited a group of hunters camping one night in a cave in the early 1800s.
Where precisely this horrific incident occurred is not widely known, though some speculate the cave was located near a bend in the creek in the valley near the village of Liberty.
Historians of the lower Kanawha Valley have cited the story in several publications. However, Jim Comstock published the following and most extensive narrative regarding the incident at least twice in the W.Va. Heritage Encyclopedia.
A TERRIBLE TRAGEDY
A history of Jackson County would be incomplete without the following narration. Not because it occurred within the present limits of the county, but for the reason that many of the relatives and one of the principal actors now reside within the county.
The site of its occurrence is now in Putnam County near the Jackson line. It was one of the most heart-rending events, an account of which is recorded in the annals of the West. The facts as gleaned by the author from persons yet living are as follows:
Sometime around the beginning of the present century, a man named Charles Green settled with his family upon what is known as Trace Fork of Pocatalico River in Putnam County.
About the same time, a man named Reuben Harrison settled upon the waters of Mud Lick Fork, a tributary of Thirteen-mile Creek in Mason County. He had several sons, including Alexander, Josiah, and a lad of twelve years named Zebulon.
These men were all hunters and frequently engaged in the chase together; the Harrisons went to Green's to hunt upon the waters of Pocatalico, and he, in turn, visited them for hunting upon the waters of Eighteen-mile and Thirteen-mile [creeks]. In the spring of 1813, Mr. Green came upon one of these visits, bringing with him his little son Edward, aged ten years.
One day during his stay, he and Alexander Harrison were hunting alone on "Eighteen," and after having killed and dressed a deer, found a tree which, from the scratches upon it, they supposed to contain a bear. Leaving the deer, they hastened to the residence of Mr. Harrison, seven miles away, to secure axes for felling the tree.
When they started to return, the two boys begged that they might be taken along to see the tree cut. Their request was granted, and the four arrived at the tree in late evening. It was felled, but no bear was found.
It was common in that day for hunters to remain out overnight, and they, weary, determined not to return home until morning. Accordingly, they set about to find a suitable place to lodge. A cave under a shelving rock was soon found, and here they kindled a fire and lay down to rest—the men upon one side and the boys on the other, little dreaming of the awful fate in store for them.
During the night, the rock overhead, from the combined effects of the frost going out and the fire beneath, burst, and a huge mass fell upon them. Both men were crushed from the hips down to the feet. The boys, though badly bruised, could crawl out because the rock upon that side of the fire was partially supported by the wood they had carried in for fuel.
Morning dawned upon the awful scene—the men crushed beneath the weight from which the boys were unable to extricate them. They cried for water, and the boys poured the powder from their horns and brought it.
The boys were bewildered and knew not the way home, the only source from which help could come. The day passed away; night came, and no relief. Another day and night of the most intense suffering to which any human beings were ever subjected passed away.
Their friends at home, alarmed at their long absence, were searching for them, and late in the evening of the fourth day, Josiah Harrison, a brother of one of the unfortunate men, found them.
What a sight met his gaze! Death had already relieved his brother from his suffering, and Green was speechless, while the boys were famishing and ready to die of wounds. He put them upon the horse he had been riding and hastened home for assistance. As he departed, Green turned and cast one longing look of despair after him.
He conducted the boys home, and, having secured assistance, hastened back to the terrible spot, but when they arrived, Green's spirit had taken its flight, and he, too, was no more. Only two masses, crushed almost beyond recognition, remained.
The rock was removed, and the bodies were taken out. No useless coffins enclosed them. Logs were cut, from which slabs were split, then narrow graves were dug, a slab placed in the bottom, then two others were placed upon the edge, the bodies were placed within, and another slab covered them.
All that was mortal of Charles Green and Alexander Harrison was buried at the cave entrance where they now repose.
Both boys recovered and grew to manhood. Zebulon Harrison died a few years ago, and Edward Green, familiarly known as "Uncle Neddy," survives and resides upon the waters of Grass Lick Creek in this county.