|Powell Valley in western Virginia from the top of the gap.|
The Native Americans, of course, had known about this pass for thousands of years and it is likely that one of them spilled the beans to their white trading partners back in the early 18th century although it is possible that one of the European settlers found it on his own. No one really knows who the first European was through the gap, probably one of the long hunters who would go out hunting for 6-8 months at a time. Thomas Walker left a record of his exploration through the gap in 1750 but he did not penetrate far enough to reach the bluegrass country and wasn't sure Kentucky was suitable for settlement.
|Looking into Kentucky from the Cumberland Gap|
|On the back roads of Virginia|
By 1790 the wilderness trail had been widened to allow wagon traffic and by 1810, nearly 300,000 immigrants had traversed the gap and entered Kentucky and Tennessee. Eventually the road was paved but the twisty little mountain road through the gap was so treacherous that it acquired the nick name "Massacre Mountain". Finally, in the 1990s, a tunnel was cut through the mountain just west of the gap and the road was torn out and turned back into essentially a wagon path. Now hikers can walk the road under conditions similar to what would have been present in the early 19th century.
|Rural Appalachian home with goats in the yard.|
Raylan Givens, the main character of the TV show, is assigned to the US marshals office in Lexington. I had heretofore been really completely ignorant of Kentucky geography but I now know that Lexington and Harlan are about 170 miles apart which makes it hard to understand how the character can spend most of his time in Harlan (regardless of the fact that he grew up there) and still apparently show up in the Lexington Marshall's office every morning. It seems like a long commute.
|Harlan County Courthouse|