The Ballad of Milly Wheatley
William Wheatley and his wife rode to a religious service at neighbor’s house in 1819. The Rye Cove area of Scott County still wasn’t populated enough for safe travel. The family only had one gun, so Wheatley took it in case they encountered wild animals or highwaymen. While the service was just at the neighbor’s house, they were still several miles away.
The Wheatley children remained at home. Milly was 17 at the time. Her brothers were “Anter” and Jackie. The family owned a single hog that they were fattening to slaughter. The hog pen was around 50 yards from the main house.
Around bedtime, the pig began to squeal. The children knew it was bad. Milly knew it was being attacked by a predator, she just wasn’t certain what kind it was. Their parents had taken the only gun, so there was no other weapon left to fight off a dangerous wild animal.
She begged brothers to intervene. They refused. The animal kept shrieking and Milly couldn’t stand it. She ran out on the porch to see what was out there, but it was impossible. She only heard deep, vicious growls from a large predator. She suspected it was a bear, but wasn’t certain.
She again begged her brothers to go save the pig. It was all they had for the approaching winter. They would be hungry if they didn’t. Her brothers still refused. She had enough of the pitiable sounds and grabbed a long-handled iron skillet. She knew there was no other choice if they were to have food when it grew cold.
She ran out into the night. Her brothers called for her, but she ignored them. Her younger siblings were terrified. They only heard the animal growl more loudly as moments passed. They knew Milly was nearing the pig pen.
After a few moments of silence, they heard the iron skillet ring out once. Then twice. The clang of the pan hitting a hard object continued for over ten minutes. Then, complete silence overtook the night. They heard the pig, but no further growling, and even more troubling, no response from Milly.
Milly then yelled that the “fraidy cats,” could come outside. Her brothers fled to her. Milly had not only killed a predator, she’d taken out the largest bear ever seen in the area at that time. The brothers helped her get it out of the pig pen and to the yard.
Her parents returned and everyone celebrated. Her self-reliance and bravery fed the entire community for the whole winter. Every house in the region was given a massive portion of bear meat.
Milly eventually married Rafe Kilgore in 1820.They made their home on the Rocky Fork of the Guests River, near the Big Laurel area in Wise County.