by John F. Blair, Publisher
Perhaps the most unsettling tale about the Nolichucky [River] concerns a spooky stretch of river near Bumpass Cove and the former town of Poleville, a mining area since the late eighteenth century. Occasionally, witnesses hear the pounding of hooves along the bank, but no horse or rider appears. Furthermore, there is no clear path along the river on which a person might ride. The whole bank is covered with dense, tangled undergrowth and is quite impassable. Yet the sound is often heard on moonlit nights. At first, it is far off in the distance, then it steadily rises as it approaches, then it passes by the listener and recedes in the distance. Only a glimpse of a black, shadowy form can be seen.
Over the years, there has been much speculation over the source of the sound. Some think it is the ghost of an Indian riding to warn his brethren of approaching white soldiers. Others have blacker thoughts about the origin of the sound. For them, the most blood-thirsty warrior would be no match for the evil spirit that regularly runs the banks of the Nolichucky.
The story of the haunting of Bumpass Cove began to surface in the 1920s. Residents along the river would hear the sound of hoof beats coming toward them in the middle of the night, peer out of their windows, and see a black shadow moving along the bank at terrific speed. Then, as quickly as the apparition appeared, it would be gone. For a long time, residents tried to discover the source of the disturbance. Finally they gave up and assumed that what they were seeing and hearing was a ghost. Since the haunt confined itself to the riverbank, most residents felt they had nothing to fear. But as in every community infested with a ghost, there were those who were bound and determined to solve the mystery.
One Saturday night, a group of men, well into their cups, decided to go down to the river and wait for the phantom horseman to appear. Certain they were dealing with no ghosts, the men arrived armed with ropes they intended to use to trip the horse and spill its rider. One man even had a gun and was talking of shooting the rider out of the saddle. As the evening wore on, the men got drunker. It was a beautiful night, Moonbeams reflected like gems on the water. Finally, at about ten o'clock, hoof beats were heard in the distance.
Quickly the men began stretching the rope along the ground, tying one end to a scrub tree at the water's edge and extending the rope back about thirty feet from the river. They pulled it taut, hoping that the horse's hocks would become entangled and that both horse and rider would fall in a tangled heap.
They waited. The sound of hoof beats came nearer, but the horse was not yet in sight. Noting the thick growth of bushes along the water's edge, the men wondered how a horse could run with such obstacles blocking its path.
In an instant, the hoof beats were upon them--then passed by. The rope suddenly stretched like something had hit it at great speed. All the men holding it were upended and sprawled on the ground, enmeshed in prickly briars. The hoof beats receded in the distance as the men picked themselves up, cursing and pulling thistles from their overalls.
One of the men, perhaps the most sober of the group, ran down to the water's edge. Briars and undergrowth were spread on the ground like a tangled carpet. Nothing could have possibly passed unimpeded. But the bushes were not even broken.
Suddenly, someone gave a yell and pointed to the ground. There in the moonlight, beneath one particularly scrubby specimen of undergrowth, was a hoof print--then another and another. The men gathered around, gawking at the discovery. Something really had gone by, avoided their trap, and left a visible record of its passing. Their first impulse was to congratulate themselves on solving the mystery--ghosts don't leave hoof prints, so their "ghost" was obviously no ghost at all.
Then someone noticed something odd about the prints. They were much smaller than that of a horse, and not rounded like a horse's. The prints were about the size of a goat's, and they were cloven!
When the men realized what they were looking at, they fled back to their homes as fast as their legs could carry them. This was no ghost who ran the banks of the Nolichucky River--it was the devil himself!
Phantom hoof beats are still heard along the Nolichucky, but after that night, no one ever dared to find out who or what was making the racket. From that night onward, the little stretch of the Nolichucky River at Bumpass Cove has been known as "Devil's Run."