Saturday, May 25, 2024

Cumberland Gap

So it came about that I was watching a Guy Ritchie film, The Gentlemen to be precise, when one piece of music in the film made me pause the movie and chase down the song. Which I did, delightful tune. We'll get to that in a minute.

Now I recall WSF once mentioning that in the song Wagon Wheel, of which I like two versions of, Darius Rucker's and the Old Crow Medicine Show's, the former being a particular favorite, they have the Cumberland Gap in a place where it shouldn't be, to wit -

Walking to the south out of Roanoke
I caught a trucker out of Philly had a nice long toke
But he's a heading west from the Cumberland gap
To Johnson City, Tennessee
And I got to get a move on before the sun
I hear my baby calling my name and I know that she's the only one
And if I die in Raleigh at least I will die free (Source)

The Cumberland Gap being well to the west of a route one would take from Roanoke down to North Carolina. Didn't bother me much, until I looked at a map ...

As North Carolina is south of Roanoke, and the Cumberland Gap is well to the west, I can see WSF's point. (Damn, I can't find that post ...) 
Okay, his ride with the trucker may have been a short one,  the singer getting dropped off when the trucker headed west for the Gap.

Anyhoo, the Cumberland Gap is in the midst of some rather dramatic terrain, as seen on the next map.

(Uh, Sarge? The music?)

Ah yes, I'll get to that, but I rather enjoyed that film mentioned above. I give it four stars out of five. But the song, yes, rather the whole point of this rather rambling and unfocused post, here it is ...

Cumberland gap, it's a devil of a gap
Cumberland gap, it's a devil of a gap

Kiss me momma, kiss your boy
Bless me well and lucky
For I won't be back 'til I return
I'm gone to old Kentucky
Cumberland gap, it's a devil of a gap
That's what the scouts all tell ya
Sure enough it may get tough
If it doesn't kill ya, kill ya

Kentucky, she's a-waiting on the other side
Give you the fever, put the daylight in your eyes

Brother John's already gone
With a full-blood Cherokee maiden
He made the trip in the blizzard's grip
I'd rather wrestle Satan
Cumberland gap, devil of a gap
Oh, the snow kept coming
Picked her up upon his back
By God, he loved that woman!


Daniel stood on the pinnacle rock
Lookin' up and down the mountain
Took his trusty old flint-lock
Daniel started shoutin', shoutin':

Kentucky, she's a-waiting on the other side
Give you the fever, put the daylight in your eyes

Cumberland gap, it's a devil of a gap
Cumberland gap, it's a devil of a gap
Cumberland gap, it's a devil of a gap
Cumberland gap, it's a devil of a gap

Love that tune. Lotta history out that way as well, this is but one version of the song, you can read more about that here. This one though is by far my favorite.


  1. Nice ramble. I usually get those waking me up at Oh:dark. "Hey! That was in Red Rock Canyon (or maybe the filling station near Amboy)! Nowhere near what the movie said it was!"

    Re: a couple of episodes ago. That raid scene almost seems to have been inspired by

    1. Don't recall that miscarriage of justice. Makes for interesting reading.

  2. The Cumberland gap, Daniel Boone, free land.... it all kind of runs together in my mind. Free land for the claiming! As long as you can deal with the people already there.... as I recall Boone later lost all the land to the lawyers...

    1. I think we eventually lose everything to the lawyers. Maybe Shakespeare was on to something in Henry VI, Part 2, Act IV, Scene 2.

    2. Context, good sir, context! That isn't a condemnation of the legal profession, but a line by a want to be regicide and Leveler to make sure their plots, schemes, and power grabs are not thwarted"

      "JACK CADE. Valiant I am.

      SMITH [aside]. A must needs; for beggary is valiant.

      JACK CADE. I am able to endure much.

      DICK [aside]. No question of that; for I have seen him whipp'd three market-days together.

      JACK CADE. I fear neither sword nor fire.

      SMITH [aside]. He need not fear the sword; for his coat is of proof.

      DICK [aside]. But methinks he should stand in fear of fire, being burnt i' th' hand for stealing of sheep.

      JACK CADE. Be brave, then; for your captain is brave, and vows reformation. There shall be in England seven half-penny loaves sold for a penny: the three-hoop'd pot shall have ten hoops; and I will make it felony to drink small beer: all the realm shall be in common; and in Cheapside shall my palfrey go to grass: and when I am king,– as king I will be,–

      ALL. God save your majesty!

      JACK CADE. I thank you, good people:– there shall be no money; all shall eat and drink on my score; and I will apparel them all in one livery, that they may agree like brothers, and worship me their lord.

      DICK. The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers.

      JACK CADE. Nay, that I mean to do. Is not this a lamentable thing, that of the skin of an innocent lamb should be made parchment, that parchment, being scribbl'd o'er, should undo a man? Some say the bee stings; but I say 'tis the bee's wax, for I did but seal once to a thing, and I was never mine own man since."

      One of my favorite movie scenes, "I'd give the Devil benefit of the law for my own safety's sake."

      I'll not deny that the law is often twisted, distorted, or ignored to the benefit of those wielding the terrible and awesome (look them up) power of the State, but, by the Rood, I want those laws in place "for my own safety's sake."

    3. Joe, saving folks everywhere from having to look it up.

    4. (doffing chapeau and bowing like a courtier)

      My "widow's mite" to the conversation and for the public good. ;-)

  3. Sarge, in the modern age of roads and air travel we forget the actual value of passes and gaps, that in some cases they were literally the only reasonable way through, how history in the past was held by who held the gaps, and what happened when people did not find the passes and gaps before Winter hit.

    1. A fellow could walk over a mountain, but with wagons and such, those passes were necessary.

  4. People don't realize just how rugged and unforgiving the wilderness can be. Fascinating bit of history/geography!! Thanks!!

    1. Especially folks who've never been out there.

  5. Looking at that topographic map I'm reminded of just how much terrain, as opposed to terrane, there can be between two contour lines. Hmmm...I suppose, depending on scale, several terranes could be held between two contour lines.

  6. Thanks for the mention. I don't remember the post. I've flown over the Cumberland Gap in a ASEL but never driven it on the ground.

  7. The Smokies/Appalachian Mountains may be old and worn, but there is still enough verticals to mess up the horizontals.

    One of my favorite national parks is the Smokies, and going into Cade's Cove (one of the big 'attractions' in the Smokies) is a real test of someone's ability to stick it out and make a wagon trail (and then a road) into a place that no trail should be. And once you get into the Cove you have a huge hidden valley, absolutely beautiful. Well worth the trip (I'd go in spring, pretty much as soon as the pass opens, and rent a cabin outside the park, I'd prefer around Townsend.)

  8. Interesting, and enlightening. I confess that in all my travels I have never crossed the Cumberland Gap of which you write. I needed some disambiguation.

    My travels, and my ancestors, were not far from the Cumberland Road, up in Maryland, and with the local vernacular of "gap" applied to just about any easier route across the numerous mountains, I mistakenly have believed that was indeed "the" Cumberland gap.

    With yesterday's post about the Whiskey Rebellion, I was again fixated on Maryland (not to mention the ongoing saga of struggle between powerful and conflicting ideologies and groups superimposed on this same area in a fictional tale).

    Indeed, topography, terrain and transportation have powerful influences on civilization as it spreads. Cumberland, MD is the head of navigation on the Potomac river, and the plight of western farmers struggling to transport high value whiskey versus high volume corn was not really solved until the Cumberland Road was authorized in 1808. THIS Cumberland Road went nowhere near Kentucky, but followed the old Braddock Road (over which then Colonel Washington traveled in the 1750s) up to Uniontown, PA, thence westward to Wheeling, WV (nee Virginia until 1863). From there, it continued across central Ohio, Indiana and Illinois to Vandalia, IL where funding collapsed and local roads sufficed. This "National Road" was controversial in the day, benefiting some states more than others and of debatable constitutionality. It was slowly improved, became known as Route 40, was traversed by Eisenhower's Transcontinental Motor Convoy in 1919 and today's Interstate 70 (and some of I-68) cover nearly the same track.
    (I travel this a lot- see

    So, that other (real, I admit) Cumberland Gap is down in the extreme southwest tip of Virginia, well west of I-81 as you run up the Shenandoah Valley (yes, it is driving south, but is still "up"). I really ought to include that on my route some time to better appreciate its part in our history. Those pioneers who moved up the Valley and into the dangerous wilds of Tennessee and Kentucky were hardy souls. At least the survivors were.

    Two of my favorite figures in American history came from that region, Sam Houston and Benjamin McCulloch. Why do I find them fascinating? Maybe I will share that some time. Lots of serendipity history out there, if you stumble across it.
    John Blackshoe

  9. Various asides...
    "Wagon Wheel", a great if geographically challenged song, is banned in many music stores and bluegrass bars, just from having it played so. many. times.
    Can't drive over the Cumberland Gap any more. Back in 1996 FedGov punched couple tunnels through. The original road over the gap, known for many car crashes/deaths is removed, just hiking trails now, no motor access. So you can walk it they way Boone and co. did.
    Also, the tunnel has distinction of being only one of two interstate tunnels connecting two states. I'll leave the other one unsaid for the curious.
    There is a wealth of stories, rumors, gossip, and speculations about the tunnels, mystery caves found during construction, myths with FedGov involvement and other lore. Best take a good climbing harness and extra safety line if you go down that rabbit hole.
    Native Kentuckian, but from farthest east end of state. Driven by that general area a lot, never to it. My loss, must remedy.
    Alan E.

    1. Thanks for those "on the ground" updates, Alan. Looking at the map it did surprise me that no road went through the Gap. Now I know why!

  10. The Cumberland Gap is courtesy of a meteor strike.

    1. Fascinating.

      If you chase the link to the map above and zoom out (with the terrain feature enabled), it seems pretty obvious. A roughly 3 mile diameter "circle" in the heart of the mountains.


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