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Following Garfield’s invasion of the Big Sandy Valley, Ferguson, a Floyd County doctor, traveled to Garfield’s camp at Paintsville and volunteered to serve as one of his scouts.

Son of a well-to-do Irish immigrant, Stephen Meek Ferguson was born in Russell County, Virginia in 1822. After studying medicine at Emory and Henry College, he moved to Pikeville, where he met and married Lucinda Weddington, daughter of Judge William Weddington. Following their marriage in 1847, the couple established a farm at the mouth of Hurricane Creek near modern-day Boldman, Kentucky.

Ferguson was a zealous advocate of Eastern Kentucky coal development, and in 1854 he traveled to Cincinnati and persuaded banker James H. Laws to invest $150,000 and establish the Big Sandy Coal and Mining Company.  By 1855 Ferguson’s farm on Hurricane Creek was a busy place. A giant tipple was erected, along with a grist mill, a blacksmith’s shop, several coal barges, and a company store. 

Meanwhile, war clouds were gathering. With his northern business ties, Ferguson became a staunch advocate of the Union. His neighbor Anthony Hatcher, who owned a store at the mouth of Mud Creek, strongly supported the South. The two men debated the issue until bitterness arose.

In the Fall of 1861 the Confederates established a camp at Prestonsburg and warned Union men to leave the region. To avoid arrest, Ferguson went underground and began living in a cave on Mare Creek. He remained in hiding until Nelson’s victory at Ivy Mountain forced the Confederates to retreat to Pound Gap.

When Garfield reached Paintsville in early January, 1862, Ferguson and eleven of his friends fled to Garfield’s camp. Garfield was trying to locate Marshall’s army, and when an officer on his staff interviewed the fugitives, they told him that they knew the valleys well. Enlisting their services, Garfield gave them horses and equipment and told them to scout the upper creeks and find Marshall’s position.

In later years Ferguson often repeated the story that he and his friends were the men who discovered Marshall’s position at the Forks of Middle Creek. The Union victory followed, but Ferguson, lacking a rifle and uniform, did not take part.

In the Fall of 1862, at Peach Orchard in Lawrence County, site of the region’s biggest coal mine, John Dils, Jr., David A. Mims, Lindsey Layne, Stephen M. Ferguson and other local Unionists organized the 39th Kentucky  Infantry, U.S.A. Dils became its colonel, Mims its lieutenant colonel, Layne its quartermaster, and Ferguson its surgeon. The unit subsequently saw action at Wireman Shoals, Bull Mountain, Puncheon Creek, Cynthiana, Saltville, and other important battles. Ferguson later became Lieutenant-Colonel of the regiment.

Ferguson survived the war, returned to doctoring, and lived to see the coming of the railroad. When he died at his farm on Hurricane Creek in 1904, his funeral was attended by hundreds of his patients and comrades-in-arms.
Dr. Stephen Meek Ferguson,
Garfield's Volunteer Scout
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