To tell the story of this mission school in the mountains on Puncheon Camp Creek first we must tell the improbable love story of the two wonderful people who founded it: Byron Smith and Jewel Moore. Byron Elmer Smith was born in upstate New York in 1901 in Sterling Township.
When Byron was two years of age his father, Willis, was killed when he fell from a train after which his mother, Cora, married a farmer named Thomas O’Brian. Young Byron’s first job was as a farmhand, his first real job was at a chocolate factory and then as a master chief for a well connected millionaire where he was to cook dinner for President Roosevelt on two occasions. Eventually, Byron was able to attend private Casanova High School where he met his life-long friend Karl McDougal, the two of which for whatever reason decided to trek from upstate New York to Wilmore, Kentucky to attend Asbury Collage. Byron and Karl set out for Kentucky in the autumn of 1929 on a motorcycle with a sidecar with what few possessions they owned.
Asbury Collage was to forever change the course of Byron’s life for it was there he would meet Jewel Moore. Jewel was born in 1906 in Black Betsy, West Virginia to Magoffin Countians George A. Moore and Myrtie Ward. The Moore family after a stint in Charleston returned to Magoffin where they settled on Burning Fork. Jewel graduated from the Magoffin Institute and attended college at Morehead and Pikeville obtaining her teaching certificate. She taught a one room school on Mash Fork before entering Asbury Collage. One of her first grade students was our very own Roy “Todd” Preston and about 30 years later at the KMGC School.
To know Byron and to know Jewel their love story would seem remarkable owing to their very different personalities. Somehow their very distinct personalities meshed to perfection with Jewel being the gentlest soul I have ever known.
On March 17th, 1935 Byron and Jewel were united in Marriage and set out to find a place to begin their mission. In the summer of 1935 the Smith’s walked through the hills to Puncheon for the first time. Soon the decision was made that Puncheon needed a mission school and Charlie Howard was approached about buying his land at the forks of Puncheon. To the Smith’s delight Charlie gave them the land. Upon this land the Smith’s would clothe and feed and educate Puncheon for the next 35 years. They would raise their family, bury a young son and serve the greater good all of their days.
Now we can talk about the Kentucky Mountain Gospel Crusade incorporated in 1935 with Byron Smith as President, Methodist Minister Loren Page as Vice President and Karl McDougal as Secretary/Treasurer. The Mission affiliated with the Christian Missionary Alliance which is still doing good work.
The KMGC was an integral part of life on Puncheon for most of four decades. Through it the Smiths provided a church, primary and secondary school, health clinic, undertaking and so many other services to the public. School children were provided free nutritious meals and most everyone was clothed out the used clothing store operated by the Mission. During the 1940’s the Smiths also operated two outreach Missions; one on up Puncheon at Gypsy, the other at Oil Springs in Johnson County. During later years there was an outreach station at Zag in Morgan County. Over the years scores of Missionary’s would come and go to help the KMGC fulfill her mission but none to match the dedication of Byron and Jewel Smith. Sadly with the Smith’s passing so to pass their labor of love on Puncheon Creek as the KMGC ceased to operate after Jewel’s death in 1970.
Recently the above memorial was obtained by David Patrick and set by volunteers near the Smith’s burial site on Puncheon Creek. Though 44 years have passed since the Mission doors were closed this is testament to how deeply rooted are the seeds of goodness sown by the Smith’s over a lifetime of service to their fellow man.