Contributed by klstacy_home
Description: Saw Death Close - Circuit Rider Neal's EscapeDate: February 6 1920
Newspaper published in: Tupelo, MS
Source: Tupelo-Lee Co. Library
Page/Column: Page 7, Column 3
SAW DEATH CLOSE
Circuit Rider Looked into Eyes of Grim Reaper
Marvelous Escape From Destruction at Natural Tunnel in
Virginia Could Almost Be Classed as a Miracle
In both the Natural tunnel in Scott county, Virginia, and the Natural bridge in Rockbridge county, a deep and narrow defile between two hills is spanned by a huge mass of rock, over which a public highway passes. The Natural bridge is more widely known. Travelers have written about it for perhaps two centuries, and Elihu Burritt describes it in the “Scene at the Natural Bridge in Virginia,” a selection that has won many prizes in youthful contests in declamation. But the natural tunnel was once the scene of a real incident, that, while it lasted was just as thrilling as the imaginary one Mr. Burritt describes in his declamation.
It was witnessed by no spectators, and it had only two participants, a horse and a Methodist circuit rider. Yet into a brief space of time it crowded suspense and agony as terrible as a human being can endure.
Soon after the close of the Civil war Rev. H. C. Neal was sent to travel a circuit in Scott county, which included the Natural tunnel within its bounds. Returning one Monday morning from a charge where he had preached the day before, his route led him over the tunnel, and he stopped to enjoy the view from its summit.
Now, the surface of the tunnel on each side of the highway is covered with a low growth of bushes, and on its southern side, from which the view is more remarkable, it is comparatively level to with a short distance of the edge, where it begins a gradual but constantly increasing slope downward.
Turning from the highway, the preacher rode through the bushes, intending to hitch his horse and then proceed on foot. But in winding about he had gone farther than he had suspected. Feeling the animal slide forward, he checked him and saw suddenly the yawning chasm was only a short distance away. He was now on the edge of the downward slope with only some small bushes growing between him and the abyss. Apprehending as yet no real danger, he quietly gazed into the immense void, when his horse again suddenly slipped forward. Rain had fallen the night before, and the thin coating of dirt was soft and yielding. The rider now attempted to turn his horse’s head. Once more the animal slipped forward. All at once he saw that he actually was in an extremely perilous situation. The slope was becoming steeper and as the horse kept slipping forward the edge of the chasm was getting nearer. The rider, thoroughly alarmed, drew hard on the reins and soothed the horse with soft, encouraging words. Intending to throw himself from the saddle, he relaxed slightly on his hold on the reins; but at once the animal again began slipping. He drew hard again, and for an instant stopped the slipping. Then, almost imperceptibly, it continued. Preacher and horse trembled in fear. It seemed as if the chasm were reaching up invisible hands to pull them down.
At that terrible moment the sliding suddenly ceased, and the horse sank to his haunches. Cautiously, the rider slipped from the saddle and seized a low, stout shrub with one hand while he held the reins in the other, Crawling upward another shrub, and turned the horse’s head. The animal struggled to his feet and followed the rider to the summit. Here the trembling horse stood panting, and the rider lay on the ground so overcome with weakness that it was some time before he was able to walk.
Returning on foot to the scene of the narrowly averted tragedy when he had recovered his strength, he saw that a ridge of flint protruding above the limestone had caught the animal’s feet and had held the weight of horse and rider in that perilous moment.—Youth’s Companion.