Mingo Holler, Claiborne County, TN and Bell County, KY

Mingo Hollow, known in Claiborne Tennessee and Bell County, Kentucky, as Mingo Holler, straddles the line between the two states, right at the Cumberland Gap.

The topographical map here shows it just south of Middlesboro, Ky.

Mingo topo

The Google map below shows the entire area.  The Holler itself is actually just over the line into Claiborne County, Tn.

mingo google

Wayne Bussell was kind enough to send me the following map from his book, “A Civil War Record: Private McDaniel Bussell, 8th Tennessee Volunteer Cavalry Regiment (USA) Company F.”

Mingo Bussell map

This shows the location southwest of Middlesboro along Mingo Mountain, actually in Claiborne County, TN.

D. Ray Smith, a historian and researcher, wrote about the history of Mingo Holler on his web page in an article titled Three Tragic Events in Mingo Hollow.  The second two events have to do with coal mining, as Mingo Holler because a huge coal mining area, now abandoned.

The first event, however, involves the Mingo Indians and the Cherokees.

In 1921, hunters happened up on a hidden cave that revealed skeletons of long-haired men who had carried battle axes and had arrowheads.  The newspapers covered this, and the Cherokee in Oklahoma made a connection with this find and their oral history that recounts two battles in this region, both of which occurred about 1700.

The first episode does not include a cave legend, but tells of the Mingo attacking and slaughtering a small Cherokee village on the south side of Quasioto Pass, now Cumberland Gap.  The warriors path at that time crossed at the Gap, and the Mingo crossed back over with more than 100 scalps.  The Mingo, however, had taken time to plunder the homesites so were moving slowly, when the larger band of Cherokee, who had gotten word, overtook and killed the Mingo, probably on or near Yellow Creek in present day Middlesboro, KY.

The Cherokee and the northern tribes had been at war for a very long time, and considered themselves mortal enemies, which is ironic because the Cherokee are of the Iroquian language stock themselves, so related to the Iroquois and northern tribes with whom they fought so violently.

The second legend tells of a force of 1500 Indians from the north who were headed south to attack the Cherokees.  The Cherokees had advance warning, and started north to head off the warrior party, hoping to take them by surprise.

The northern tribes camped in what is present day Middlesboro, on Yellow Creek, planning to cross at the Gap the next day.  Unbeknownst to the northern tribes, the Cherokee lay in wait on the other side of the Gap.

A huge storm occurred that night, and Yellow Creek had a flash flood, drowning several warriors and causing those who did not drown to literally run for their lives to high ground.  They were not able to take their weapons with them.

The next day, the Cherokee found the northern tribes in a state of confusion, and took advantage of that opportunity to slay the survivors, taking over 1000 scalps that day.  The oral history says few if any escaped, but of course, some may have found their way to the cave and died there from their battle wounds.

Sixkiller, the Cherokee from Oklahoma said that many families there still have tufts of hair said to have been taken at the Battle of Yellow Creek.

You can read the entire story of Mingo Holler as told by D. Ray Smith, here.

Local Legend

Wayne Bussell contacted me about a common surname we share in Claiborne County.  He grew up in this area, his family having been born in Mingo Holler for generations.  He told me that the local legend is that a group of Mingo Indians lived there and refused to leave, hence, the name, Mingo Holler.  I do know one thing.  This area is extremely dense and forbidding and they likely would have been left alone in their remote conclave, at least for awhile.

We also know from historical documents that there were Mingo in that region, generally, although we don’t think of the Six Nations, then the Five Nations, as being this far south and west, but they were.

Who Were the Mingo Indians?

The Mingos were an independent group in the Six Nations of the Iroquois Confederacy: Cayuga nation, Mohawk, Oneida, Seneca nation in Western New York State, Tuscarora, and Onondaga and were mostly Senecas and Cayugas.

The etymology of the name Mingo derives from the Delaware Indian’s Algonquian word mingwe or Minque, meaning treacherous. The Mingos were noted for having a bad reputation and were sometimes referred to as Blue Mingos or Black Mingos for their misdeeds. The people who became known as Mingos migrated to the Ohio Country in the mid-eighteenth century, part of a movement of various Native American tribes to a region that had been sparsely populated for decades but controlled as a hunting ground by the Iroquois. The “Mingo dialect” that dominated the Ohio valley from the late 17th to early 18th centuries is considered a variant most similar to the Seneca language.

After the French and Indian War (1754-1763), the Cayuga moved to Ohio, where the British granted them a reservation along the Sandusky River. They were joined there by the Shawnee of Ohio and the rest of the Mingo confederacy. Their villages were increasingly an amalgamation of Iroquoian Seneca, Wyandot and Susquehannock; and Algonquian-language Shawnee and Delaware migrants.

Although the Iroquois Confederacy had claimed hunting rights and sovereignty over much of the Ohio River Valley since the late 17th century, these people increasingly acted independently. When Pontiac’s Rebellion broke out in 1763, many Mingo joined with other tribes in the attempt to drive the British out of the Ohio Country. At that time, most of the Iroquois nations were closely allied to the British. The Mingo-Seneca Chief Guyasuta (c. 1725–c. 1794) was one of the leaders in Pontiac’s War.

Another famous Mingo leader was Chief Logan (c. 1723–1780), who had good relations with neighouring white settlers. Logan was not a war chief, but a village leader. In 1774, as tensions between whites and Indians were on the rise due to a series of violent conflicts, a band of white outlaws murdered Logan’s family. Local chiefs counseled restraint, but acknowledged Logan’s right to revenge. Logan exacted his vengeance in a series of raids with a dozen followers, not all of whom were Mingos. His vengeance satisfied, he did not participate in the resulting Lord Dunmore’s War, and was probably not at the climactic Battle of Point Pleasant. Rather than participate in the peace conference, he expressed his thoughts in “Logan’s Lament.” His speech was printed and widely distributed. It is one of the most well-known examples of Native American oratory.

By 1830, the Mingo were flourishing in western Ohio, where they had improved their farms and established schools and other civic institutions. After the US passed the Indian Removal Act in that same year, the government pressured the Mingo to sell their lands and migrate to Kansas in 1832. In Kansas, the Mingo joined other Seneca and Cayuga bands, and the tribes shared the Neosho Reservation.

In 1869, after the American Civil War, the US government pressed for Indian removal to Indian Territory (present-day Oklahoma). The three tribes moved to present-day Ottawa County, Oklahoma. In 1881, a band of Cayuga from Canada joined the Seneca Tribe in Indian Territory. In 1902, shortly before Oklahoma became a state, 372 members of the joint tribe received individual land allotments under a federal program to decrease common tribal land holdings and encourage assimilation to the European-American model.

In 1937 after the Oklahoma Indian Welfare Act, the tribes reorganized. They identified as the Seneca-Cayuga Tribe of Oklahoma and became federally recognized. Today, the tribe numbers over 5,000 members. They continued to maintain cultural and religious ties to the Six Nations of the Iroquois.

Hat tip to Wayne Bussell for the local legend information.


About Roberta Estes

Scientist, author, genetic genealogist. Documenting Native Heritage through contemporaneous records and DNA.
This entry was posted in Cherokee, Five Nations, Iroquois, Kentucky, Mingoes, Six Nations, Tennessee. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Mingo Holler, Claiborne County, TN and Bell County, KY

  1. Robert G. Anisko says:

    Greetings, the last map refers to a location named “Hartranft” but it is not shown on the map. Hartranft was also referred to as a historical post office location and as a location for the U.S. Census (Civil District 8) in Claiborne County, TN.. Any idea where this place may have been located on the map or otherwise? A Google search was not useful.

    Any information would be helpful. Thank you in advance.

  2. Fern Lea says:

    Of you are still interested in in knowing about Hartranft, TN. , email me at ferngully9@yahoo.com

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