I watched a Cherokee reenactor run across the grassy field carrying a burning torch. He tossed it onto a log building and a few moments later the orb of fire cast an eerie orange glow across the field. This was my first time witnessing the Raid at Martin’s Station at Wilderness Road State Park and I’m certain I’ll never forget it.
Historic Martin’s Station
In 1769 Joseph Martin settled in Powell’s Valley, build a small stockade fort, and planted some crops. He had been promised over twenty thousand acres of land if he could settle the valley before anyone else. But his achievement would be short-lived.
Just a few months later, before the crops had even ripened, a band of Native Americans attacked the small fort. The losses were heavy and Martin had no choice but to abandon the fort. In 1775 he would return with about 18 men, build a bigger and better fort, and would stay in the area until his death.
The three-day event spans an entire weekend for plenty of chances to see the reenactment. Admission on Friday and Saturday is $10 per car while on Sunday it is just $4 (but there is only one reenactment on Sundays).
It tends to get a little crowded during the reenactment. The three-day event draws in thousands of visitors as well as reenactors and their families. But they have a pretty good plan for parking.
I arrived early the day I witnessed the reenactment. There were only a few cars at the ticket booth so it didn’t take me long to get inside the park. There is a large parking lot past Martin’s Station where I found a parking space.
Attendants were also guiding people to handicap accessible spots in a paved parking lot and even more parking in a large field. There was certainly enough room for everyone, and someone to guide you there.
The large field in front of Martin’s Station was littered with dozens of white canvas tents. Inside the tents I found arts and crafts for sale from “sutlers”, tradesmen who would follow armies and sell provisions.
These sutlers were artisans who made clothing, jewelry, walking sticks, knives, and just about anything else that was period-specific for the late 1700s.
I didn’t have the chance to hop on one of the tours but I saw them happening all day. Tours were given at the Cherokee camp, Colonials camp, and inside Martin’s Station.
During the guided tours the reenactors, who actually sleep in their respective encampments all weekend, explain what frontier life was like in the late 1700s. The reenactors inside Martin’s Station demonstrate cooking, woodworking, blacksmithing, and more.
Raid at Martin’s Station Reenactment
This is the big event for the weekend: the reenactment of the Raid at Martin’s Station from 1769. The first time I had heard about the event was from a ranger at Wilderness Road State Park when I visited last year.
I met a group of reenactors at Sycamore Shoals State Park in Elizabethton, Tennessee a few months later. They were participating in a reenactment at that state park, the Siege of Fort Watauga. The men told me about the Raid at Martin’s Station and invited me to attend.
Despite everything I had already heard, nothing prepared me for the awe and excitement of watching the reenactment. The reenactors on both sides of the battle were superb in every way possible and I would compare it to the quality of a battle in Game of Thrones.
Screams pierced the still air as women and children ran toward the protection of the fort as a band of Cherokee sprinted to attack. “Killed” reenactors fell to the ground as musket fire erupted in the distance. Smoke from a burning “building” and musket fire soon covered the landscape as a large crowd watched from behind a rustic fence.
About twenty minutes after the battle began everything became still. The crowd erupted into applause. I scanned the photos on my camera’s LCD screen. It had been a great evening for everyone involved.
Night Reenactment of the Raid at Martin’s Station
The reenactment is performed twice each day; once at about noon and the other just a few minutes after sunset. After attending both I have to strongly suggest you attend the evening reenactment because it was something absolutely amazing.
As I stood waiting for the reenactment to begin something caught my attention out of the corner of my eye. A Cherokee reenactor was running across the field carrying a torch. With darkness descending on the valley it seemed so much brighter than earlier in the day.
He tossed the burning torch onto the “building”. An eerie orange glow was cast across the grass and Martin’s Station. Spits of fire erupted from the tips of muskets. By the time the reenactment was over thirty minutes later the flames were burning like a beacon on the darkened landscape.
Where to Stay
The biggest mistake I made during the weekend of this event was not booking my lodging in advance. This is a big event for both reenactors and visitors, and Wilderness Road State Park is kinda still out in the wilderness.
I recommend spending the night if you’re not a local. The night reenactment is something everyone should see once, but it was well past 10pm when I finally got back on the road out of the park.
Wilderness Road Campground
Wilderness Road Campground is a part of Cumberland Gap National Historical Park. It’s located on the Virginia side of the park just a few miles down Highway 58 from Wilderness Road State Park. This massive campground has 160 sites; 41 of the sites include electrical hookups.
The Olde Mill Inn Bed & Breakfast
Many of the reenactors I met that day stayed at the Olde Mill Inn. They had nothing but great things to say about the local lodging in Cumberland Gap, Tennessee, about 10 miles from the state park.
The bed and breakfast is one of the best amalgamations of historic building and modern lodging I’ve ever come across. Some of the rooms were located inside an old log home while others were in a more modern part of a connecting building. Wooden shingles covered the front porch. Inside air conditioning, lighting, and comfortable furniture provided everything visitors needed to enjoy their stay.
Hotels in Middlesboro, KY
Just 15 miles from Wilderness Road State Park, through the tunnel built beneath Cumberland Gap, is the town of Middlesboro, Kentucky. There are several nice chain hotels with rooms ranging from around $60/night to $150/night.Booking.com