Kona, one of the many typical Coal Towns in the Elkhorn coal fields, is located at the junction of the North Fork and Boone Fork of Kentucky River. The original camp with post office and railroad station, coal office and commissary is located about ¼ mile up Boone Fork, on the main Lexington & Eastern Div. of L. & N. R.R. consisting of about 100 houses and other buildings, built about 1913.
The building of a mine camp at Kona.
Photo courtesy James and Karen McAuley.
The New camp is located about ¼ mile up North Fork, on the railroad spur leading up to the new mines of about 50 houses built in 1923. The commodious two‑story home built by the late W. H. Potter, directly opposite the junction of North and Boone Fork, and still occupied by some of his family, is about halfway between the old and new coal camp. U. S. Highway #119 from Pineville to Pikeville via Harlan, Cumberland, Whitesburg, Kona and Jenkins crosses the mouth of Boone Fork. From the bridge Highway No. 119 meanders along the side of the mountain on the east side of Boone Fork, on opposite side of Old Kona about 2 miles to Neon Junction at Mouth of Potter Fork. Thence up Potter Fork, crossing the divide between Kentucky River and Big Sandy River, and down Elkhorn Creek, in all about 10 miles into Jenkins, large Coaltown of the Pittsburg Consolidation Coal Co. Highway #119 continues down Elkhorn Creek into Pikeville.
Ky. Highway #23 from its junction in center of Jenkins turns in a southward direction up little Elkhorn Creek about 1 mile to Payne Gap in head of North Fork. Thence in a southeast direction up Pine Mountain about another mile to Pound Gap, and the Virginia border on top of Pine Mountain. Highway #23 continues into Virginia via Pound-Wise, Norton and Big Stone Gap.
About 500 ft. southeastward from Concrete bridge at junction of North and Boone Forks a Rural Highway No. 1022 crosses U. S. 119 at Stewarts Store. The west end leads across Boone Fork to Old Kona. The east end runs up north side of North Fork, passing the New mines at one mile, in all about 7 miles into Payne Gap, where it connects with Ky. #23 mentioned above. Here follow some sea level elevations of most of the places mentioned above:
|Now called Millstone|
|at mouth of Rameys Fork|
2900' to 3400' A.T.
As Doctor Walker and his party were the first white men to enter Kentucky through Cumberland Gap and Pineville Gap, so was Christopher Gist or Gish and his party the first white man to enter through Pound Gap. Walker entered in the first days of May 1790, and Gist in September of the same year.
Those early pioneers made use of Buffalo Trails and Indian Trails wherever possible. It is not known whether Gist's party came down Boone Fork by way of Potter Gap, or down North Fork by way of Payne Gap. Either way they passed through what now is Kona.
Early settlers following Gist through Pound Gap soon broke out a good pack trail down North Fork, and established camp sites one day's journeys apart. The late W. H. Potter assured this writer, that according to his father there was such a camp site established as early as 1835 just above the east end of the steel bridge leading from Stewarts Store across Boone Fork to Old Kona, making a favourite camping place for settlers coming west, or going east after supplies.
And at this very point stood a beech tree on the east bank of Boone Fork with the letters (D.B. 1791) carved in the bark. Mr. W. H. Potter's grandfather who passed through even before 1835 land hunting also testified as to the camp site as well as the Boone Tree. It is evident that the inscription on that tree is what gave Boone Fork its name.
His father and grandfather were from Carolina. But they settled on Potter Fork, where W. H. Potter was born. We will have more to say later about the Boone tree.
The first local family settling at what now is Kona was the Bates family. They are said to have returned to Kentucky after having gone west into Missouri in the early eighteen hundreds, and settled on the west side of Boone Creek, opposite to the above mentioned camp site and Boone tree.
Gradually they increased their land holdings to several hundred acres, all around the junction of North and Boone Forks. Letcher County was formed in 1842 during Governor Robert P. Letcher's administration and named after him, from parts of Pike and Harlan Counties. And here, when Letcher County was three years old, on November 9, 1845 was born Letcher County's most famous and outstanding citizen, Captain Martin Van Buren Bates, who was received and honored by Queen Victoria of Great Britain and other royalty, while travelling with that peer of showmen P. T. Barnum. This writer was so fortunate several years ago, at considerable expense of time and money to acquire the only existing copy of Captain Bates' Biography written and published by him in 1880.
On page 10, Captain Bates concludes his wife's biography with the following sentence: "Mrs. (Anna Swan) Bates weighed four hundred and thirteen pounds and stands seven feet eleven and a half inches in height."
Then he begins his own biography as follows:
"John W. and Sarah Bates were the proprietors of an extensive farm in Whitesburg (being the only post office at that time), Letcher County, Kentucky.
Here in a section of country noted for good horses, beautiful women and noble men they raised seven boys and five girls. While the father stood six feet two inches in his stocking feet and weighed two hundred and twenty pounds, the mother reached only five feet one inch in height, and weighed but one hundred and fifty six pounds. Martin Van Buren was the youngest of the family.
I was born on November 9, 1845. My growth was gradual and it is probable, that owing to that fact each portion of my body developed equal and symmetrically.
I was educated in Emma Henry College, Washington County, Virginia. When I was fifteen I stood six feet in height and was to all appearances a man. At that time the war between the States was commenced.
The son of a slave owner with the principle of States rights predominating within me I felt it my duty to tender my services in defence of what I believed the right.
I enlisted as a private in the Fifth Kentucky Infantry, C. S. A., on the 15th of September 1861.
The regiment was commanded by Col. John S. Williams now a United States Senator from Kentucky.
I served with the regiment until November 14, 1863, being promoted several times.
I then became first lieutenant of Company A, Virginia State Line Troops under command of Col. John B. Floyd.
This organization was afterwards disbanded and merged into the Seventh Confederate Cavalry. Colonel Clarence J. Prentisº commanded this body of men.
I was assigned to the command of Troop A, and afterwards promoted to the rank of Captain, continuing thus until the close of the war. My army experience served to bring into active use every muscle of the body and to enable me to endure hardship.
I continued to grow until I was twenty-eight years of age. I now measure seven feet eleven and a half inches in height, and weigh four hundred and seventy-eight pounds.
I took in my company at Knoxville, Tennessee, and after turning over State property to the authorities I made my way to Cincinnati, and finding my immense proportions was the object of wonder I decided, for want of something better to do, to exhibit myself as a curiosity.
I made my first bow in this line of business on the eighteenth day of July 1865.
It was then I met my wife and as our history from that time blends into one I shall for the future treat the subject jointly."
Here follow the highlights of:
Taken from the Captain's own book in much abbreviated language: Viz.:
|April 22, 1871,||The couple left New York on the City of Brussels of the Inman Line accompanied by Judge H. P. Ingalls.|
|May 2, 1871,||arrived at Liverpool, and spent a week at the Washington Hotel.|
|May 19, 1871,||arrived in London and gave a reception at the Willis Rooms on Kings Street to editors and medical men exclusively.|
|May 29, 1871,||gave first public reception at same place.|
|June 2, 1871,||Ordered by royal command to appear before Her Most Gracious Majesty, Queen Victoria, at Buckingham Palace. The Queen expressed her pleasure in the warmest terms and presented us with several valuable presents.|
|June 17, 1871,||we were united at the Church of St. Martins in‑the‑Fields facing on Trafalgar Square. The ceremony was performed by the Rev. Rupert Cochran, a native of Halifax, Nova Scotia, who was assisted by the Rev. Dr. Roberts and the Vicar of St. Martins. Bridesmaids were Mlle. Augustine and Mrs. Dr. Buckland. My Best Man was the Honorable Henry Lee, scientific editor of "Land and Water." Judge Ingalls gave the bride away. We were married just as the morning service was over on Saturday. I had previously rented and furnished a house at 45 Craven Street, where the wedding breakfast was served by the celebrated caterers, Spears and Bonds. After breakfast, we started for Richmond, where I engaged rooms at the "Star and Garter."|
|June 21, 1871,||We returned to London and gave a private reception for the Prince of Wales at Masonic Hall. The Prince was accompanied by his staff, the Grand Duke Vladimir of Russia and Prince John of Luxembourg. We appeared twice more before the Queen, once at Buckingham Palace and once at Windsor Castle. Also had the honor to be the guests of the Princess of Wales at Marlborough House, and her sister, the Princess Christina, second daughter of the King of Denmark. We then exhibited at Crystal Palace and several theaters. The week before Christmas found us in Edinburgh, Scotland and Glasgow.|
|May 19, 1872,||Our first child, a daughter was born, and died at birth. She weighed 18 pounds and was twenty-seven inches tall. On advice of Doctors we left England and travelled on the continent for pleasure, only giving receptions when requested by Royal Command. After touring Ireland, we decided to return to America.|
|July 2, 1874,||We left England on the "City of Antwerp". We toured the p5west. Then, having decided to be a farmer, I bought a 130‑acre farm near Seville, Medina County, Ohio, building a house, later known as: "The House the giants built." I stocked my farm with blooded cattle, mostly shorthorns. My drafthorses were the Norman breed, with a pair of Clydesdale carriage mares eighteen hands high. The seasons of 1878‑79 found us the leading attractions of W. W. Coles Bros. Circus, Menagery and Museum.|
|January 19, 1879,||Our second child, a son was born, only to again die at birth. He was 28 inches tall, weighing 22 pounds, and perfect in every respect. He looked at birth like an ordinary child 6 months old.|
This ended their Circus days, and they settled down on their Seville Farm. And here Captain Bates' booklet ends.
Several years ago this writer spent three days at Seville and Medina, Ohio, gathering up the rest of Captain Bates' story, from where his booklet ended in 1880. Here follow the chief facts gathered from the Captain's neighbors, newspaper clippings etc. Viz.:
|1889, Aug. 5th,||
Mrs. Anna (Swan) Bates, wife of Captain M. V. Bates of Seville, Ohio died. She was a faithful and beloved member of the Seville Baptist Church, and a teacher in the Sabbath school. Her funeral was postponed for a week, pending the arrival of her parents from New Annan, County of Colchester, Nova Scotia.
|Oct. 23, 1889,||
Bates-Weatherby, The Captain takes a second wife. At the home of the bride at Troy, Ohio, married by the Father of the bride, the Rev. J. W. Weatherby; Mr. M. V. Bates of Seville, Ohio and Miss A. LaVonne Weatherby of Troy, Ohio. They continued living on their farm one mile east of Seville, until 1901, when Captain Bates had a great sale at the farm, selling all his stock, tools, crops, etc., and retired with the second Mrs. Bates to their town house in east end of Seville. But previously in 1898, he made a trip back to Kentucky to settle his father's estate. And on this same trip he sold all the Bates lands in and around Kona to W. H. Potter, who moved his family from Potters Fork in the old Bates home, until they built their two‑story dwelling at the mouth of Boone Creek. All the Bates buildings were torn down, when Railroad was built through Kona, in 1911‑13. Not a sign of the place is left, where the "Tallest Man, who Married the Tallest Woman that ever lived" was born. A parking place in front of a large garage on road leading to old Kona, marks the spot where the old Bates house stood.
|Nov. 9, 1911,||
From a newspaper clipping:
"Mr. Robert Bates came to Seville last Thursday morning and gave his Brother Captain M. V. Bates a happy surprise. Mr. Bates is a man of medium height, 86 years old, and had made a remarkable trip for a man of his age. Six weeks ago he started from his home among the mountains in Whitesburg, Letcher County, Kentucky, and took his invalid son to Hot Springs, Ark. This is the first time in sixteen years the brothers have seen one another, so there were many things to tell, etc."
From a clipping,
A shirt company at Catskill has just finished a shirt for Captain Martin Van Buren Bates, the Ohio Giant, which is said to be the biggest garment of the kind ever made in America.
Its length is 74 inches, waist 96½ inches, sleeve from the middle of the back measures 63 inches, neck 25 inches, wristband 18 inches. It took nearly six yards of muslin 1 and ¾ yards wide, and the material alone cost $2.50 wholesale.
Captain Martin Van Buren Bates and his second wife continued to live in their townhouse in Seville from 1901 to 1919, to his death.
He died of hardening of the arteries and lost most of his great weight. Remembering the long delay in the burial of his first wife, through the building of a special coffin, Captain Bates had his own coffin built many years before his death. It was made of the finest heavy oak, lined with copper.
Before his death he had a female figure carved from the finest white marble mounted on a triple granite base, set up in his lot in Mound Hill Cemetery, between his farm and the town of Seville.
The entire monument stands •some 18 feet high. The head stones are:
Martin Van B. — Anna H. — Babe — Sister.
Captain Bates' widow continued to live in the town house until her death in 1940. Her body was claimed by a sister in Florida, and is buried there.
The late W. H. Potter assisted John C. Mayo's crowd in acquiring coal acreage in Letcher County, acting as deputy clerk in taking acknowledgements of deeds and mineral rights. And whenever it was convenient, Mayo made the Potter home his headquarters. The railroad did not come until all the coal acreage that could be bought was bought, and held in secure hands. Most of it was held by the Northern Coal & Coke Co.
But before operations started, the land titles were taken over by the Consolidation Coal Company (recently merged with the Pittsburg Consolidation Coal Co.). W. H. Potter, while assisting Mayo, wisely refused to sell his coal rights. So when S. L. Bastin, a seasoned coal man since 1885, at East Bernstadt, Laurel County, looking over the new coalfield to be on North Fork, the trains operated only as far as Hazard.
By using construction trains and doing a lot of walking, Mr. Bastin looked over the coal prospects all the way up to the mouth of Boone Creek, where he met and got acquainted with W. H. Potter. The Consolidation Coal Co. had in the meantime done quite a lot of prospecting, opening up the coal veins, so you could look at them. It was the first coal that looked good to Mr. Bastingº all the way up from Hazard. After a time they signed a lease. Openings were made on both sides of Boone p7Creek in the upper end of Old Kona, on the No. 3 Elkhorn seam of about 54 inches of practically clean coal.
During 1911 the Winston Construction Co. of Virginia, and Mason & Hanger Construction Co. of Richmond, Ky. graded the long deep cut below Kona, and a smaller cut above Kona. Not long after the railroad started operating in 1912 or 13, the Elkhorn Coal Company of Kona, Ky. with Sam Cassidy of Lexington as President, S. L. Bastin as General Manager, rolled their first minecar of coal down the incline, across Boone Fork, from the east side of the Fork. Later, coal came down over another incline from the west side of Boone Fork.
Some time before the advent of the railroad, W. H. Potter had applied for a Post Office for the Mouth of Boone Fork. In due time he was appointed postmaster, with the privilege to name same.
Potter, a firm believer in education, had some children in college, taking Latin. So, they suggested "Mater," (meaning "Mother") and it was accepted by the Postal Department, and it was used until about 1921‑22.
W. H. Potter had deeded to the L & M. R.R. Co. about one mile of right of way through his lands, on condition there would be a Station established near his home. So, when the railroad started operating, the railroad company refused to use the post office name of "Mater" and asked W. H. Potter to suggest a name. Mr. Potter suggested "Lula," name of one of his daughters (now Mrs. Jesse Holbrooks of Millstone). The railroad company accepted, and the Station was run under the name of Lula some 6‑8 months. But it was discovered that there already was a station or post office in Ky. by that name. The name "Kona" was then suggested by either the railroad company or Potter. The Potters now living have no idea where the name was taken from or by whom suggested. There seems to be a Kona in Japan or China, and another in southwestern Africa. But that would be going long ways for a name.
A wire from Mr. James B. Hill, President of the L & M. R.R. Co., states, that Kona Post Office preceded the advent of the railroad. The answer to that is, that when this writer arrived at Kona in April 1918, the Station name was Kona, and the Post Office name was Mater. And it continued to be Mater until about 1921‑22, when Kona was accepted for both the Post Office and the Station.
Singularly enough Mr. George Nelson, our bookkeeper here, a native of Oslo, Norway states, that "Kona mi" is a slang expression, meaning "That old lady of mine." It seems that riddle "Kona" is as far from solution as ever.a
Kona, whatever may be its meaning, has been a busy place for the last 45 years. In 1922 through an exchange of property Consolidation Coal Co. acquired •about 900 acres of coal, and reincorporated with a capital stock of $600,000.00.
In 1937 by purchase from Consolidation Coal Co. another large tract of coal was added, extending the Company's holdings up to the top of Pine Mountain and the Virginia border for about 3 miles.
After 45 years Kona is still going strong. At various times for periods, Kona loaded around 40 cars per day from all sources, mines, ramps and strip pits. Estimating the average output for the 45 years at 20 cars (1000 tons) per day, the total output for the 45 years would p8be above twelve million tons. During the war coal trains were made up on the Kona 100‑car passing track, saving the 4‑mile dead haul to the Neon Yards and back. Even now this is done occasionally.
In normal years much of Kona Coal goes to the Great Lakes and on into the Northwest and Canada. In 1948 the usual amount went that way.
This year, on account of unusual amounts of accumulated coal due to last mild winter etc. very little Kona Coal has gone to the Lakes.
Railroad fuel accounts for only about ten cars per week. The bulk this year goes to all kinds of manufacturing plants and domestic coal years. And Mr. S. L. Bastin, the founder of Kona, retired in 1944, living at his splendid East Main home in Lexington.
Here are the essential facts about the Boone Tree on east bank of Boone Fork mentioned above on page 2. Viz.:
When this writer arrived at Kona, Letcher County, Ky. on April 18th, 1918, that beech tree was still standing, with a great gap, where in 1916 a block containing the initials "(D.B. 1781)" had been chopped and split out by R. L. Pilling, a lumber dealer, with permission of W. H. Potter, the owner of the land, after first taking a photo of the tree, with W. H. Potter standing by, pointing to the letters.
Photo courtesy James and Karen McAuley.
Mrs. Pilling, wife of R. L. Pilling, was a member of the Bryant Station Chapter of the D. A. R. at Lexington, and through her efforts it was turned over to the Chapter at Lexington, in care of Mrs. W. H. Thompson, former State Regent of the Chapter. Mrs. Thompson kept it at her residence from June 1916 to 1929, when it was placed in the Bryant Station Cabin at the Fort Harrod Museum in Harrodsburg, where it has been on display since.
About 4 miles slightly west of north as the crow flies was another Boone Tree, in a secluded forested area, on the right fork of the left Fork of Millstone Creek. It stood not far from an ancient trail leading from the North Fork up Millstone Creek and across the divide to Rock-House Creek. The Bates family owned a large tract of land on Millstone Creek. When the Bates Estate was settled in 1898, Robert Bates, elder brother of M. V. Bates, took the Millstone lands for his share.
As at Kona, the Bates believed in the genuineness of both these trees. The Millstone tree was much larger than the Kona tree, all of 32 inches diameter. One William Collier cut out the lettering in a thin slab with a crosscut saw in 1930. Mr. S. L. Bastin came into possession of it two years later, and gave this writer a half interest for writing it up, and takeº pictures of it. In order to prove the relation we took the block back to the tree, and placed it in the notch, and took some closeup as well as distant pictures. The block remained, in our Coal Office at Kona until 1944, when by agreement it was placed in the Mountain Life Museum at the Wilderness Road State Park near London, Laurel County, Kentucky.
As to the genuineness of these inscriptions by Daniel Boone, it's a matter of opinion, or rather of faith. The Bates, the Potters and the p9Holbrooks and others believed in them. Others were sceptical.
Last, but not least, let us not forget that this is the heart of John Fox Junior's "Tale of the Lonesome Pine" Country. While he lived at Big Stone Gap, Virginia, he gathered most of his material for his unequaled romances on the Kentucky side of Pine Mountain. There are a number of old trails crossing Pine Mountain, such as the Ran Polly Gap above Whitesburg, the Walden Gap, the Indian Grave Gap, such as Fox describes.
On page 9 follows my answer to those who are doubting those Boone Trees.
When Dan'l Boone espied a beech,
His Barlow trigger handb would itch,
His John Henry to carve thereon,
For future men to ponder on.
And when Ol' Dan'l "cilled a bar",c
That fact recorded then and thar,
On some convenient nearby tree,
For future men to come and see.
Now that some doubting Thomases,
Doubt Dan'ls records on those trees,
Let him who never scratched a tree,
Cast the first stone. So mote it be.
So let the critics rave and holler,
But you can bet your bottom dollar,
If Ol' Dan'l didn't do 'er,
He'd wish he had, and never rue 'er.
Much history has done down the river,
Filling books civer to civer.
But best of all, the Tales of Boone,
Won't be forgotten very soon.
S. A. M.
May 30th, 1949.
a While kona (spelled exactly) does mean "woman" or "wife" in Faroese, a near relative of Norwegian, as does kone in the latter language, the loose idea of a man who knew that, without any reason why it should be so in this remote area of Kentucky, doesn't provide any explanation. The word purportedly means "corner", "abdomen" and "refuse" in various languages: I wouldn't like to apply those meanings here, either.
Given a total absence of evidence as to the origin of the name, the first place I'd look would be the local native American languages of the area in the 19c; and if I were feeling crusty on any given day, I might say that an attempt to find a European derivation for the placename smacks of an agenda, similar to the one much more obviously in play a few miles west of here at Manchester, where some wish to decipher local pictographs by reference to Ogham, Punic, and ancient Greek.
b An anachronism. The reference is to the Barlow rifle, made in Moscow, Indiana in the 1850s and widely used in the War Between the States. It's very tempting to conclude that our writer owned one — but he shouldn't have let his affection for it make him write what he did: Daniel Boone moved away from Kentucky six years before Jesse Barlow was born and died when the latter was only fifteen.
c This is part of an inscription on a Boone tree not mentioned in the text; the most famous of them was not in Letcher County, but in today's Washington County, said to have been found as early as the 1770's. It has not survived, and is variously considered authentic, or the tribute of a contemporaneous imitator, or a later forgery; or by some altogether mythical, despite a mid‑19c photograph (see Tennessee Myths and Legends, at the Tennessee State Archives).
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Martin Van Buren Bates
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