Pine Mountain Settlement School
Series 01: HISTORIES
Series 09: BIOGRAPHY – Community 
“Uncle” William Creech Sr. (1845-1918)

Uncle William and Philip Roettinger. roe_056_mod.jpg

Uncle William Creech and Philip Roettinger. [roe_056_mod.jpg]

TAGS: William Creech, founder of Pine Mountain Settlement School, Uncle William’s Reasons, Phillip Roettinger, Board of Trustees, Sally Dixon Creech, Aunt Sal Creech, deeds, land holders, genealogy, Civil War, Union soldiers, Scotland, Albemarle Sound, immigrants, Rev. Lewis Lytle, education, Margaret Walker, Katherine Pettit, Ethel de Long Zande, Columbus Creech, Henry Creech


“Uncle” William Creech Sr. (1845-1918):
Founder & original donor of land (with wife, Sally Dixon Creech)

The story of Pine Mountain Settlement School begins with a mountaineer named William Creech Sr., who had a passionate wish for “his people” to have a solid education, and who provided the land for the school which was “… to be used for school purposes as long as the Constitution of the United States stands ….”


William Creech Sr. was born on October 30, 1845, on Poor Fork of the Cumberland River, Harlan County, Kentucky (now known as Cumberland, Kentucky). He was the tenth of ten sons of Mary Polly (Campbell) Creech and Joseph Creech. At 19 years of age, while working on his father’s farm, he volunteered to serve on the Union side in the Civil War. He was honorably discharged on April 12, 1865.

The Creech family came to North America from Scotland. The first generation of immigrants were Richard Creech and Frances Beale, his wife. Richard, born in 1608, emigrated from Scotland with his family in 1635. [Passengers and Immigrants, by William Frilby]

As recorded in Magazine of History, Vol. XI pp. 151-152 on file at the University of Kentucky #975.5005:

Richard married Frances Beale, daughter of Robert Beale and Mary Belt, g. dau. of Daniel Belt and Elizabeth Bell, and gr. g.dau. of Robert Bell. Henry Creech, son of Richard, is named as a kinsman in the will of Robert Bell, probated 1656, London.

The Creech line first settled in the Albemarle Sound area, where the will of one Henry Creech and Joyce Paine are recorded in the Albemarle County Book 1712-1722, p. 28. By the time of the Revolutionary War, the Creeches appear in the records of Nansemond, VA, and in Johnson Co., NC, land grant No. 90, Grant 685, p.553 where Benjamin Creech Sr., is given land by his father-in- law, Thomas Lewis. [Benjamin Creech Sr. and Mary Lewis. See State Archives of NC, Vol. III, p.47, folio 4.]

The William Creech family was among the early Creech settlers in Harlan County, as the 1845 birth of William Creech on the Poor Fork River confirms. William would have been among the 7th generation of Creech family in North America.

In 1880 the 7th generation of the Creech family appears in records in the Harlan County census and is recorded in the lives of John Creech and Peggy Wells. John was born in Ashe County, NC, and was married to Peggy in 1850, just a short time before the marriage of William and Sally Dixon. The death of Thomas Creech is recorded in the “Defeated Creek Diaries” that were published in Harlan Footprints Vol. III, Issue 3, p.125, Sept. 1987 and records the place of marriage and death as Harlan County.

WILLIAM CREECH: Marriage and Children

On March 15, 1866, William married Miss Sally Dixon, daughter of William and Mary (Gilliam) Dixon in Harlan County. The young couple moved into an old log house on his father’s land. After three years of farming with his father, Creech decided he needed to find more productive land. He purchased 700 acres of “wild land” at the head of Greasy Creek, which he would pay for with his own labor. By the time he built a house in these “backwoods” and moved his family into it in 1870, they had four children. Eventually, the family grew to a total of nine children: Absalom D. (Absalum?), Polly, William R., Nancy Ann, Henry Clay, James Columbus, Rhoda, Martha (who died in infancy), and Joseph G.

A lively narrative by William Creech of his early years, his marriage, and his move to the Pine Mountain Valley are recorded in his autobiography, a Short Sketch of My Life. He wrote the brief autobiography for Ethel de Long just shortly after the School was founded. It contains details about his early life and the eventual creation of Pine Mountain Settlement School. Several accounts in this biography are taken from that original material.

As other families moved into the area, “Uncle William,” as he was known, became a highly respected leader of the small isolated community, providing advice on crops and serving as an herbal doctor. While “Aunt Sal” tended the children and spun flax for cloth, Uncle William farmed the land, raising corn, rye, flax, and buckwheat. Over time, he also ran a general store, served as postmaster in Wharton (Perry County), and was responsible for getting a post office for an area that had none. All the while, he was a strong advocate for better schools throughout the countryside.

As each of Uncle William’s sons and daughters married, he set them up on their own farms, but he still owned much of his first 700 acres.


Angela Melville Album, II. Part I. [left] "Uncle Wm." [rt] "E. de Long" [melv_II_album_074.jpg]

Angela Melville Album, II. Part I. [left] “Uncle Wm.” [rt] “E. de Long” [melv_II_album_074.jpg]

One day in early May 1911, Rev. Lewis Lyttle, an itinerant Baptist preacher from Leatherwood Creek, paid a visit to the Creeches and, in the course of the conversation, told of two women currently working at a school in Hindman, Kentucky, who were interested in starting a new school near Pine Mountain. When William offered whatever help he could give, he was soon visited by Miss Katherine Pettit and Miss Harriet Butler, also from the Hindman school, and later by Miss Pettit and Miss Ethel de Long.

At first they talked about locating the School on William’s land at Bull Horn Fork, but as plans progressed “it seemed more and more feasible to have the School at the foot of Pine Mountain, because it was a good place where Greasy, Middle Fork, Line Fork, Leatherwood, and Cutshin all head up against Pine Mountain; pure air, pure water and plenty of children to enjoy it,” according to a history written by Evelyn Wells in 1928.

The group then developed a plan to trade Uncle William’s land (including mineral rights) with cleared land that was owned by the Kentweva Land Company, a lumber and mineral company in West Virginia. After several meetings with the directors of Kentweva Land Company, Creech and Pettit were successful in getting the company land for the School. Uncle William held out for six months while the dust settled on the negotiations with Kentweva before signing the deed on December 31, 1913. The delay was related to a right of way that Kentweva requested so they could haul logs by rail across the campus land. It was finally specified in the document that the company’s right of way for their logging railroad through the School’s land was temporary. 

Uncle William explained his feelings about the deed and the formation of the School in these now famous words:


I don’t look after wealth for them. I look after the prosperity of our nation. I want all young-uns taught to serve the livin’ God. Of course, they won’t do that, but they can have good and evil laid before them and they can choose which they will. I have heart and cravin’ that our people may grow better. I have deeded my land to be used for school purposes as long as the Constitution of the United States stands. Hopin’ it may make a bright and intelligent people after I’m dead and gone.


Meanwhile, the development of the land was under way for the buildings and farmland, and donations were arriving. As they worked on establishing the School, Miss Pettit and Miss de Long became good friends with the Creech family and their neighbors, often visiting back and forth, joining in picnics, and exchanging gifts.

Margaret Motter Album - Children of William and Sally Creech

Children of William and Sally Creech (Source: Margaret Motter Album). [mott_3496_011x.jpg]

Even though some criticized Uncle William for giving away his hard-earned land, his children and their spouses were very supportive, helping with fundraising and working on the campus. According to Evelyn Wells’ history, Henry Creech and Bennett F. Lewis, a son-in-law, raised pledges for money, labor, and timber from the community; Bill Creech joined in the building of the Chapel; Columbus and Henry Creech provided lumber and gave land that ran from the School to the top of Pine Mountain; and the Creech brothers donated and sawed all the lumber for Big Log. Oma, daughter of Henry C. Creech, learned to weave at the School, using her grandmother Aunt Sal’s old loom to copy a family heirloom blanket. Uncle William planted the first flax crop at the school for the neighbors to spin into yarn and sell through the Fireside Industries. Creech descendants have continued their associations with Pine Mountain Settlement School through the years to the present time.


Standing in front of their original cabin

Aunt Sal and Uncle William Creech, in front of their original cabin, celebrating their golden wedding anniversary, 1916. (Source: Margaret Motter Album) [pmss00019.jpg]

In the summer of 1916, The Pine Mountain staff and students demonstrated their love and respect for Uncle William and Aunt Sal by observing a Founder’s Celebration. The couple’s fiftieth wedding anniversary was featured, complete with fireworks and a cake with fifty candles. Aunt Sal wore her wedding dress and carried a bouquet of flowers from the School’s garden. Children at the School wrote a pageant that was performed on the special day.

Two years later, Uncle William fell ill and was taken to the Norton Infirmary in Louisville, escorted by Miss Margaret Walker, a Canadian nurse at the School. A kidney operation was performed but was unsuccessful and he died on Saturday, May 18, 1918, of what was later diagnosed as cancer.

Miss de Long (now Mrs. Zande) was with him on his last day and wrote the following in a heartfelt letter on May 30, 1918, to friends of the School:

Just five years ago Uncle William gave all his land to establish the school, and it has been his delight, the dream of his early years more than fulfilled in his old age. He had a constructive passion for the welfare of children. His love for America was born perhaps out of his services to the Civil War, and his belief was that sound democracy could be achieved only by raising children under the right rulings. ‘I don’t want hit to be a benefit just for this neighborhood,’ he said of this school, ‘but for the whole state and the nation, and for folks acrost the sea, if they can get any benefit out of hit.’

…Nowhere but out of his own soul did he draw his ideals. He lived so far away, at the head waters of the Kentucky River, under the shadow of Pine Mountain! He belongs to the pioneer days of the Cumberlands; he helped to subdue the wilderness…. Remote in the mountains, he thought greatly, and his thought has yielded a rich fruitage. There are no detracting littlenesses, no small prejudices to mar our remembrance of him. For five years we have been neighbor to a great and gentle soul, and have known intimately his wisdom, his tenderness for the wayward, his proud hopes for the children of the mountains.

Miss de Long ended the letter with a plea for gifts to the William Creech Memorial Fund. Others honored Uncle William in various ways. “The Memorial Tablet to Uncle William” was placed at the playground fountain by Philip Roettinger of Cincinnati [above]. Mrs. George H. Bruen gave $100 to the School each year for four years to provide a book for each child at the School in Uncle William’s memory.

Gravestone at Creech Cemetery, Pine Mt., KY. Source: www.findagrave.com

Details of his funeral and memorial service are recorded in a May 1918 letter transcribed by Evelyn K. Wells, which can be read here.

In the dedication of their book, Twenty Kentucky Mountain Songs (1920), Howard Brockway and Loraine Wyman who visited the School in their national search for ballads, wrote:

This volume of Kentucky songs is gratefully dedicated to the memory of Mr. William Creech, godfather of the Pine Mountain children and the founder of the Pine Mountain School.

Seven years later, Aunt Sal died on April 1, 1925, at the age of 78.

Pine Mountain Settlement School printed the booklet, One Man’s Cravin,‘ in 1945, to commemorate the one-hundredth anniversary of the births of Uncle William and Aunt Sal.

The log cabin that was Uncle William and Aunt Sal’s pioneer home was given to the School by the Creech family along with the original household furnishings, including his handmade furniture and her hand-woven blankets, coverlets, and clothing. The Creech Cabin, also called Aunt Sal’s Cabinwas relocated to the campus and remains there to this day as a memorial and museum.

The obituary of “Uncle” William Creech on 19 May 1918 was written by his relative Ira Isom. The following brief excerpt is taken from that obituary.

Uncle Billy Creech, as he was affectionately known to thousands of men, women, and children throughout the country and the mountain sections of the state, came to Norton Memorial Infirmary [Louisville] from his home at Pine Mountain, Kentucky, several weeks ago for treatment. He was suffering from a complication of diseases, and when his condition became desperate, a surgical operation was decided on as a last resort and the only hope of saving his life; he came out of the ordeal very weak, and his death was not unexpected.

Uncle William was born in Harlan County in 1845, and after serving through the states in the Civil War, he was one of the first pioneers to journey back over the Kentucky Mountains to the headwaters of the Kentucky River. There he labored hard for many years to improve conditions. He inspired all his neighbors with his spirit of industry. Many years ago he began promoting his Settlement School. It was not, however, until five years ago that he was able to deed all [part] his property over to Pine Mountain Settlement School “To have and hold for school purposes as long as the Constitution of the United States exists.” According to the text of his written instrument the school today is prospering beyond the fondest hopes of Uncle Billy and those who were associated with him. He had been conspicuous all through his life in his zeal for better things. Writing recently of his hopes for the children in the Pine Mountain School, he said, “I don’t look after wealth for them; I look to the future of our country. I want them taught the knowledge of good and evil and to serve the Living God.”


Creech Cabin before restoration. [pmss3197mod.jpg]


1915? UNCLE WILLIAM’S Reasons Brochure
WILLIAM CREECH A Short Sketch of My Life
WILLIAM CREECH Family Business Records 1903-1931
WILLIAM CREECH Memorial Fountain

See Also: 


JAMES COLUMBUS CREECH Family Collections Guide
VI 37 FRIENDS & NEIGHBORS – Creech Family Photographs



OMA CREECH Student  


William Creech 

Alt. Title

Uncle William Creech ; William Creech Sr. ; Uncle Billy Creech ;




Pine Mountain Settlement School, Pine Mountain, KY

Alt. Creator

Ann Angel Eberhardt ; Helen Hayes Wykle ;

Subject Keyword

William Creech ; William Creech Sr. ; Sally Creech ; Sally Dixon Creech ; Uncle William ; Aunt Sal Creech ; Pine Mountain Settlement School ; Mary Polly (Campbell) Creech ; Joseph Creech ; Greasy Creek ; Leatherwood Creek ; Wharton, KY ; Hindman, KY ; Rev. Lewis Lyttle ; Katherine Pettit ; Ethel de Long ; Harriet Butler ; Bull Horn Fork ; Pine Mountain ; Kentweva Land Company ; Henry C. Creech ; Bennett F. Lewis ; Bill Creech ; Columbus Creech ; Oma Creech ; spinning ; weaving ; Margaret Walker ; Phillip Roettinger ; Mrs. George H. Bruen ; Howard Brockway ; Loraine Wyman ; Creech Cabin ; Big Log ; Fireside Industries ; Berea (KY) College ; Evelyn K. Wells ; Philip Roettinger ; Ruth Smith Creech ;

Subject LCSH

Creech Sr., William, — 1845 – 1918.
Creech, Sally (Dixon), — 1846 – 1925.
Pine Mountain Settlement School (Pine Mountain, Ky.) — History.
Rural schools — Kentucky — History.
Schools — Appalachian Region.
Rural schools — Appalachian Region, Southern.


2009-10-16 ; 2015-11-11


Pine Mountain Settlement School, Pine Mountain, KY




Text ; image ;


Original and copies of documents and correspondence in file folders in filing cabinet


Series 4a: Pine Mountain Settlement School History – Creech Family ; Series 22: Community, Guests and Visitors.




Is related to: Pine Mountain Settlement School Collections, Series 4a: Pine Mountain Settlement School History – Creech Family and Series 22: Community, Guests and Visitors.

Coverage Temporal

1845 – 1925

Coverage Spatial

Pine Mountain, KY ;


Any display, publication, or public use must credit the Pine Mountain Settlement School, Pine Mountain, KY. Copyright retained by the creators of certain items in the collection, or their descendants, as stipulated by United States copyright law.




Core documents, correspondence, writings, and administrative papers created by or addressed to William Creech Sr. or Sally (Dixon) Creech; clippings, photographs, publications by or about William Creech Sr. or Sally (Dixon) Creech.




“[Identification of Item],” [Collection Name] [Series Number, if applicable]. Pine Mountain Settlement School Institutional Papers. Pine Mountain Settlement School, Pine Mountain, KY.

Processed by

Helen Hayes Wykle ; Ann Angel Eberhardt ;

Last updated

2009-10-16 hhw ; 2012-05-25 aae ; 2013-10-29 aae ; 2015-11-11 hhw ; 2017-02-19 aae ; 2017-03-26 hhw ; 2019-08-06 hhw; 2023-05-15 aae ; 



Berea College Hutchins Library Special Collections, Southern Appalachian Archives, Berea, KY.
(Accessed 2009-10-15). Internet Resource.

Brockway, Howard, and Loraine Wyman. Twenty Kentucky Mountain Songs. Boston, MA: Oliver Ditson Company, 1920. Print.

“The History of the Pine Mountain Settlement School.” 1918 – PMSS Catalog. (1918): 1. Series 17: PMSS Publications. Pine Mountain (KY) Pine Mountain Settlement School Institutional Papers. Pine Mountain Settlement School, Pine Mountain, KY. Internet resource.

“United States Census, 1900,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:M948-TRJ : accessed 19 February 2017), William Creech, Magisterial Districts 3-4, Upper Poor Fork, Lower Poor Fork, Harlan, Kentucky, United States; citing enumeration district (ED) 51, sheet 12B, family , NARA microfilm publication T623 (Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 1972.); FHL microfilm 1,240,525. Internet resource.

“Find A Grave Index,” database, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:QVLM-2Z5Q : 13 December 2015), William Creech, 1918; Burial, Pine Mountain, Harlan, Kentucky, United States of America, Creech Cemetery; citing record ID 82208786, Find a Grave, http://www.findagrave.com. Internet resource.


One Man’s Cravin’. Series 17: PMSS Publications. Pine Mountain (KY) Pine Mountain Settlement School Institutional Papers. Pine Mountain Settlement School, Pine Mountain, KY, 1945. Archival material.

Royce, Craig Evan. Country Miles are Longer than City Miles: An Important Document in the Art and Social History of Americana. Bloomington, IN: Authorhouse, 2006. Print.

Strecker, Zoe Ayn, and Jackie Sheckler Finch. Kentucky Off the Beaten Path, 9th Edition. Guilford, CT: Globe Pequot Press, 2009. Print.

Wells, Evelyn K. A Record of Pine Mountain Settlement School, Pine Mountain, Harlan County, Kentucky. Series 17: PMSS Publications. Pine Mountain (KY) Pine Mountain Settlement School Institutional Papers. Pine Mountain Settlement School, Pine Mountain, KY, 1928. Archival material.

Return to BIOGRAPHY – A-Z