March, 1970

By L. F. Addington

     Although there is a highway marker in Pound Gap stating that Christopher Gist, returning from exploring the Ohio Valley for the Ohio Land Company of Virginia, in 1751 crossed the gap, another marker in Norton states the explorer was there also. Careful research, however, proves he was at neither place. Instead, he traversed the present bounds of Buchanan County.
     In the Annals of Southwest Virginia, by Lewis Preston Summers, a footnote states that on April 18, 1751, Gist went down Gist's River (Guest River) to Clinch River, and from there traveled to the Pinnacle of Mercer County, West Virginia, just north of the present city of Bluefield.
     Early historians mapped the explorer's mile journey in the same direction and such maps became fixed in historians' literature and it is likely that Mr. Summers, as well as other later writers, accepted without question the errors made by the first map markers of the journey.
     Instead of Gist's being at the fork of Guest and Clinch Rivers, April 18, 1751, he was more likely to have been at the confluence of Russell Fork and the Louisa Fork of the Big Sandy. Why reason thus?
     Gist was a surveyor. He set his course daily, often several times daily. Of course, he must have guessed the number of miles traveled in each direction. Yet, if one will use a protractor to determine the directions on a map, the miles arrive, in each direction, at a fairly accurate course of his journey.
     The best way to begin is to start with his journal of May 1, 1751, "Set out N 75 E 10 M, to a mountain on top of which was a rock of 60 or 70 feet high." Historians agree that this was what is known as the Pinnacle in Mercer County, West Virginia. Gist said of the area April 30, "to a little river on a creek called the Blue Stone."
     Now, if one will follow the explorer's daily directions backward, he will come to or near the confluence of Russell Fork and the Louisa Fork of the Big Sandy. Plat back eastward and you will arrive at or near the Pinnacle showing he crossed the area of Buchanan, a short distance north of the present town of Grundy.
     Evidence is to the effect that he did not follow the Tug Fork of the Big Sandy, which flows within its bounds, but, just as he had gone around the heads of the Cuttaway (Kentucky River) because of swollen streams, he followed ridge crests.
     April 23, he entered in his journal, "Set out E 8 M along a ridge and encamped among very steep mountains."
     The following day he wrote, "Through steep mountains and thickets." (Buchanan County)
     Now let us assume the explorer was at Norton, on the fork of Guest and Clinch Rivers, and plat his journey again. We would find he would have to travel southeastward through present Washington County, near Abingdon, thence to his home on the Yadkin River in North Carolina.
     Instead, he went eastward from the Pinnacle and explored the environs of Mountain Lake in Giles County" ....to a very high mountain up on top of which was a lake about 3/4 of a mile long and 1/4 mile wide fed with six fine springs."
     The tradition, existing in Wise County, that Gist named Guest River and built on the grounds where Coeburn now stands a cabin called Guest Station, must also go. The tradition that he named Toms Creek, flowing through Coeburn, for his son, Thomas is likewise unfounded. First of all, his journal shows he traveled much and tarried nowhere long enough to build a cabin. It is hoped the true facts concerning the building of Guest Station can yet be unearthed. There surely was such a station. For a long time the postoffice here bore this name. History records that some Gists lived along Clinch River. In all probability, one of them built Guest Station.
     Pages 26 to 28

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