“I suppose there is no part of the mountains of Kentucky that has not had some experience in search for this silver mine. Last summer (1921) I was on the train going from Pineville to Harlan, when someone on the train pointed out to me a large cliff on the opposite side of the river that had recently been partly blown away in the search for the silver of this mine.
“It came out in the conversation that some man had come here, probably from the west, and with maps in his possession had located the mine here. He spent much money, time and labor in the futile attempt to disclose it in the cliff.
“James Renfro lived at Cumberland Ford in the early days, 1821 to 1832, and it has been said that the Journal of Swift was left with Mrs. Renfro after the death of her husband.
“The Renfros came from Virginia, but it may be that another Renfro family figured in the possession of the Journal. I think it probable that Swift never left any money here as he claimed, but evidently he came here searching for silver.
“Mr. William Low, of Pineville, in his letter of October 29, 1921, has this to say of Swift’s journal: ‘I asked Mr. Gibson (Frank Gibson, son of J. J. Gibson) about Swift’s journal. Someone told him that there was such a document, but I doubt the fact myself. I never heard of such a document (in fairness to Mr. Low, I might say here that he was not reared in this section but came here as a young man) and I have heard a great deal about Swift’s Silver Mine.
‘This mine has been searched for in every county in eastern Kentucky and personally I very much doubt whether there ever was such a mine, or that any silver was ever obtained from a mine in Kentucky. Years ago it was supposed that this mine, or at any rate a silver mine, had been found on Clear Creek, and a company of native citizens, John I. Partin and others, and some others whose names I have forgotten, secured patents and organized what they called a mining company, but nothing was ever discovered, in the way of silver ore, on this land.
‘I have understood that about Ferndale years ago some persons thought that silver existed and some work was done towards opening a mine at that place, but no silver existed. Since I have been in Bell County, there have been a number of persons here from other places searching for Swift’s Silver Mine because every place where it was thought silver existed was at once claimed to be the place where Swift claimed he found the mine.
‘I doubt if ever Swift was in Bell County. There is an old survey located in Letcher County which calls for a survey made by Swift, but so far as I know no silver was ever discovered on Swift’s survey.’
“The mountain people in the past have been good subjects for the creation of this folk-tale, since no mines have been found that we can trace to Swift. They lived for a century far from railroads in a wilderness of mountain country. They made a living, a bare living in many instances, by the hardest of work. People in this condition dream of wealth and luxury.
“The story of Swift fell into fertile soil of their dreaming minds and became fixed there as a fact. After it became fixed, and no mines could be found, then reasons were invented to account for not finding the silver. Hence, dark caves with heaped-up silver guarded by demons, great kettles of silver deep down in the ground protected by a league of devils, and many other stories grew up around this tradition. What better modern folk-tale could we have?”
sources: HISTORY OF BELL COUNTY KENTUCKY VOL 1, by Henry Harvey Fuson, Hobson Book Press, 1947
Draper Manuscript Collection/Wisconsin Historical Society