Mary Kegley: Historian questions Wilderness Road brochure

Historians in the News

For nearly two years, tourism officials from Winchester to the tip of Southwest Virginia have been working on a Wilderness Road driving tour for visitors interested in the early migratory history of American pioneers.

They have developed an illustrated brochure and an interactive Web site focusing on the trail's 500 miles through Virginia and its museums, festivals and historic buildings from Frederick County west through Shenandoah, Rockbridge, Botetourt, Roanoke, Montgomery, Pulaski, Wythe, Smyth, Washington, Scott and Lee counties.

"That's a big group and a lot of territory to cover," said Kitty Barker, tourism development specialist with the Virginia Tourism Corp. Baker has coordinated the work of the tourism representatives.

"This is a human story about those early years, when it was a wilderness," she said.

The story the project tries to tell is about the courage and spirit of those early pioneers and what they went through just to survive.

But Mary Kegley, a longtime historical researcher from Wytheville, said other historians she knows refer to the brochure as"tourism trickery."

The so-called Wilderness Road never went through any of those localities except Scott and Lee, she said. Other parts of the migratory path outlined in the brochure were known by such names as the Great Road. Kegley said the brochure contains historical errors, inconsistent facts and is a blemish on the tourism industry."We historians are very upset over this mockery of our history," she said.

For example, the brochure says Daniel Boone wintered in Montgomery County before his crossing of the Continental Divide into what was called the Great Wilderness. Not so, said Kegley."He was never waiting in Montgomery County to go anywhere."

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