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JOHN HUNT'S EXPLORATION & SETTLEMENT OF BIG SPRING 1804-1805

Site of Current Big Spring Park, Huntsville, AL

From Internet Sources

Early in September 1804, John Hunt and Andrew Bean left their cabin in East Tennessee and struck out into the wilds on foot (not on horseback, as many historians have claimed). They traveled in a southwestward direction, guided only by the sun and the stars. Almost a month later they arrived at the stream of water now known as Beads (Bean's ?) Creek, at a spot near where Salem, Tennessee, now stands. At that place they made camp for several days in order to make observations and in­vestigate the surrounding country. According to legend, it also became necessary to replenish the larder. Their unerring rifles soon procured several bear and fat deer, the choice parts of which were jerked and packed for future use. Traveling further south the explorers came upon the newly completed cabin of Joseph Criner near the Mountain Fork of Flint River. Criner and his brother, Isaac, were the first white settlers in this area. According to later accounts given by Criner, Hunt and Bean spent the night and inquired about land further south. It was at this time that Hunt first heard of the big spring. The next morning, Mrs. Criner made bread for their journey and the men left to seek out the big spring. John Hunt and Andrew Bean were not the first white persons to reach the spring. Earlier, in 1802, John Ditto had built a crude shack there and camped for a short while before moving southward to the Tennessee River, where he opened a trading post. When Hunt arrived, he found the beginnings of a cabin that Samuel Davis had started. Unfortunately, Davis, in his haste to return to Georgia for his family, left the cabin unfinished and when he returned found Hunt had completed the cabin and was living in it. The cabin was a rough one-room affair. People searching for it today will find only a parking lot across from the present-day Huntsville Utilities. The area where John Hunt settled would be beyond com­prehension to a resident of Huntsville today. The area above the bluffs, where the courthouse now stands, though reason­ably flat, was a maze of thick vines and bushes. Below the spring, toward Meadow Gold Dairy, was an endless swamp inhabited by bears, geese, and rabbits. Where Huntsville Hos­pital is now located was a thick hardwood wilderness teeming with deer. After hastily completing the cabin (frontier law did not recognize a squatter's claims unless a home was built on it), Hunt and Bean turned their sights north. Bean had decided to settle near Salem, Tennessee, and Hunt returned to Tazewell for his family. The early spring of 1805 found Hunt occupied in selling off the remainder of his land around Tazewell and making preparations to move his family to the "Big Spring." Other families, upon hearing of John's upcoming departure, also made plans to move. Accompanying Hunt when he returned to the spring was his wife and three of his sons--William, George, and Samuel--as well as members of the Larkin and Black families. It was early summer, 1805 when Hunt returned with his family. He spent most of that summer clearing and fencing a small field, which lay in what is now the best part of the city of Huntsville, running from Gates Street as far south as Franklin. The land was exceedingly fertile and produced bountifully in return for little labor. William would recall years later how he had killed a bear between the present location of the First Alabama Bank and the courthouse while clearing the field. The brave old pioneer, scout, and hunter was now happily fixed. His farm gave him employment during the spring and summer. Hunting, fishing, dressing meats and skins, and prospecting occupied his time in the fall and winter. Other pioneers were coming in and settling in other parts of the county. Neighbors were few and highly valued in those primitive days. When the proper time arrived in the fall, all the hunters for miles around went out together to lay in their stores of meat for the year. Whenever a settler died, his family continued to share in the proceeds of the hunt. When a division was made, a proportionate share of bear and deer meat was always taken to the families of widows. These rough men knew charity as well as courage. Legend has it that John Hunt was always foremost in providing for the poor and helpless. One Christopher Black, an Irishman, who assisted Hunt in removing his family from East Tennessee, was famous for delivering game to the fatherless and the widows. Hunt's Station, as the spring was now called, was fast becoming the center of the community. More and more settlers were pouring into the valley. Much evidence suggests that Hunt, who had already enlarged his cabin, ran a public house at this time. A public house was where a traveler might get a meal or purchase a few basic supplies. This probably explains the persistent rumor today that Hunt operated a shop that sold castor oil.



FURTHER NOTES:

John Hunt was 54 years old at the time of the trip from Tazewell to Big Spring, not a young man. He wanted to aquire free land before it officially opened up for settlement. (squatters rights)

Tazewell is northeast of Knoxville, near the Cumberland Pass. Hunt had founded Tazewell several years earlier and had considerable holdings there.

The Salem, TN (Old Salem) location is near Huntland, TN. in Franklin County. (near the popular tourist attraction, Falls Mill). This is where Hunt and Bean explored for a few days before going on further southwest. Bean later elected to settle permanently at Salem.

Joseph Criner's cabin at Mountain Fork would be near New Market, AL. It was here that John Hunt heard about the "big spring" a few more miles to the southwest.

The distance from Tazewell to Hunstville by modern roads is about 300 miles.No reason was found for walking instead of riding horseback. There were probably trails and wagon roads to walk on by 1804, so they could have made the trip in 3-4 weeks. They were able to come back the next year with their families so the route must have been sufficient for wagons.

See next page for map.

See Maple Hill Cemetery Stroll for information on John Hunt before and after settlement of Big Spring.