Returning Home: A Story in Pictures

This is part of the So Far Appalachia book project. If you enjoy what you read, please vist my Kickstarter page (and pass this along to any friends who you think might find this interesting).

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“There are volumes of unwritten history here that should never be written, of the sins of this country. Passion and appetites have largely controlled, even among the rich, the strong and influential, ‘whatevsoevrer a man soweth that shall he also reap.’ It is verified here.”
— Reverend John Jay Dickey, The John Jay Dickey Diary, page 2564

There’s much written about the early days of Clay County in particular the exhaustive reports written by the Reverend John Jay Dickey, a missionary Christian who settled briefly in the county, hoping to bring God to the hill people.

His diaries, now the stuff of history, recount in great detail much of what happened in the county as well as the chronicle of Dickey’s loss of hope in the area. While much history is wiped clean, one of the surviving elements is the Baker cemetery on Boston Gap.

My journey into the past started here in 2009.

"You can't really find Boston Gap on a map," I was told.

When I arrived at the historical society in Manchester, I was given directions to Boston Gap, the location of my family’s cemetery.

Like much of Appalachia, though, it wasn’t exactly on a map. Instead,  I was given verbal instructions and shown where the roads would be.

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03.ostrichOne of the oddest directions I received: Drive until you see the ostrich, and then turn left.

I assumed the ostrich was plastic, or maybe a sign. As it turns out, the ostrich was actually an ostrich. Nobody I spoke with could tell me how it got there.

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04.cranecreekOnce you made the left turn, you were near Crane Creek Road, home of the Bakers.

From there it’s a bit of trial and error, following roads until they turn into dirt, and then turn into nothing. The unofficial motto of this project has become: Go until you can’t.

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05.mudYou park the car when you can’t drive anymore because of the underbrush.

Then you begin a quick hike through the weeded trail. Each time I’ve made the trip, I’ve had the same thought: “This would be an amazing place for an ambush.”


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06.buildingI’m not the only one who felt that way. Two different shelters sit in disrepair along the hiking trail. In the summer months when the weeds are high, you can barely see them.

I’m told this is where my family would stay when they were warned people were coming for them.

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08.bostongap“You’ll see a sign on the tree,” I was told. “That’s how you’ll know you’ve reached Boston Gap.”

Modern sensibilities intruded, and I assumed I would find something prominent. The first time I hiked the this trail, I was fortunate to see the sign tacked to a tree.

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09.climbingbostongapFrom here, you climb about 1/4 mile up a steep incline. I can’t imagine trying to travel through here with horses or mules.

Anyone hoping to reach the Bakers at the top of this would have met a most certain and untimely demise. This picture was taken after I’d climbed up the steepest part.

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The Baker family cemetery.

At the top of the incline, just off to the right, is the final resting place for the Clay County Bakers.

More than a 100 years of history lay in the cemetery. As I walked through the area, I found the names of those who lived in the history books.

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012.cemetaryLooking across the cemetery, it was easy to see why this spot was chosen, or at least why I would have chosen that spot.

As the fall leaves carpeted the land and the sun went down on this day, it was hard to feel anything other than serene and connected.

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The reason that drew me to this place, though, was to stand next to my kin, and to be in the same space with them after years of hearing stories.

The shadow George “Baldie” Baker, the patriarch of the Clay County clan, still stretches across generations of Bakers.


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