First Settlers of Christian County, Kentucky

Civilization, it has been said, is a forced condition of existence to which man is stimulated by a desire to gratify artificial wants. Again, it has been written, by a gifted but gloomy misanthrope, that, “As soon as you thrust the plowshare under the earth, it teems with worms and useless weeds. It increases population to an unnatural extent; it creates the necessity of penal enactments, builds the jails, erects the gallows, spreads over the human face a mask of deception and selfishness, and substitutes villainy, love of wealth and power, in the face of single-minded honesty, the hospitality and the honor of the natural state.” These arguments are alike erroneous, and substantiated neither by history or observation. Civilization tends to the advancement and elevation of man; lifts him from savagery and barbarism to refinement and intelligence. It inspires him with higher and holier thoughts-loftier ambitions, and its ultimate objects are his moral and physical happiness. The pioneer, the rude, rough, dauntless pioneer, is civilization’s forlorn hope. He it is who forsakes all the comforts and surroundings of civilized life-all that makes existence enjoyable; he abandons his early home, bids adieu to loved ones, and, like Daniel Boone, turns his face toward the vast, illimitable wilderness. With iron nerves, these unsung heroes plunge into the gloomy forests, often with no companion but their gun, and ex-posed to danger in a thousand different forms; after years of incredible toil and privations they subdue the wilderness and prepare the way for the countless hosts who are to follow them.

Who were the first settlers of Christian County?

This is now a question not easily answered. According to the historian, Collins, James Davis and John Montgomery were the first white men to settle in the county. They came here, he says, in 1785, and built a blockhouse, but beyond this simple statement little is known of them except through fast-fading traditions. It is said, however, they were from Augusta County, Va., and there are many persons still living who remember to have often heard their voyage to this county described; how they traversed the wilderness to Pittsburgh, and there embarked on board of boats or canoes, and, surrounded by innumerable perils, passed down the Ohio, up the Cumberland to the mouth of Red River, and up that stream to what afterward became Christian County. They settled in the northeast corner of the present Precinct of Longview, near the Todd County line, and there, as stated by Collins, built a blockhouse. Montgomery, who was a brother-in-law to Davis (having married Davis’ sister) was a surveyor, and after remaining a short time at the original blockhouse, moved further north, and settled on the creek which still bears his name. Even less is known of him than of Davis. He was a surveyor-that much is known-and surveyed a great deal of lands in this part of the country. Little else is known beyond the fact of his tragic death. He was engaged in surveying when he was killed by Indians at the mouth of Eddy Creek, or in the immediate vicinity (now the town of Eddyville), in Lyon County.

Davis settled permanently on the place where they had built the blockhouse, and which is the place now owned by Mr. John H. Bell, whose father, Dr. J. F. Bell, himself quite an early settler of the county, purchased direct from Davis. The place is noted on the map of Christian County as having been settled in 1762, but this is either a typographical error, or a mistake on the part of the compiler of the map. Daniel Boone, to whom history accords the honor of being the first permanent settler in Kentucky, did not make his first visit to the State until 1769; hence, Montgomery and Davis could not have been here as early as the county map indicates, and then, too, Collins says they came in 1785. But Capt. Darwin Bell, a son of Dr. Bell, states that his father learned from Davis direct, that he came here in 1782, which is probably correct. Davis and Montgomery, as we have said, built a blockhouse as a protection for their families against the Indians, who were then plenty, and on more than one occasion it afterward became a ” House of Refuge ” to the few scattered settlers, as the following incident will show: A man named Carpenter had settled near where Trenton, in Todd County, now stands. He had a small sugar camp, and was one day engaged in making sugar, when he was surprised by a band of Indians. They had stealthily approached and got between him and his cabin, where his family was at the time. Carpenter. was sitting by the fire smoking his pipe and attending the boiling of sugar water, when he discovered the Indians, and, springing to his feet, he started for Davis’ blockhouse, with the savages in hot pursuit. They followed him to Montgomery Creek and then gave up the chase. During the entire race, Carpenter is said to have kept his pipe in his mouth. He made his way to the blockhouse and told his story. Davis, who, like most of the early frontiersmen, was skilled in Indian fighting, gathered the few men from the little station and returned with Carpenter, fully expecting to find his cabin burned and his family murdered. But, contrary to their dismal forebodings, the Indians had not molested them, having, as it seems, become alarmed and retreated. The men now proposed to follow and chastise the savages, but Davis advised otherwise, stating that he knew the Indian character better than they; that he felt sure they expected, and even desired to be followed, and would set a trap for their pursuers; and, as a last argument against what he deemed a risky adventure, refused to accompany them. They branded him with cowardice, and disregarding his wholesome counsel, started off in pursuit of the ” red skins.” Davis’ son, to atone for his father’s apparent lack of courage, joined, and accompanied the party. True to the predictions of Davis, they fell into an ambuscade at Jesup’s Grove, then called Croghan’s Grove, and young Davis was killed and others wounded.

Davis was a fatalist, and believed that ” what is to be will be whether or no, and that it was one of the irrevocable decrees that his son should perish as he did. While he mourned for him, and deplored his untimely fate, it seemed a consoling reflection to him that it was to be, and there was no help for it. Although he built a blockhouse and a cabin, and, it is said, entered land, yet he paid little attention, if any, to the opening or cultivating of a farm, but spent most of his time in hunting and trapping. It is told of him, that when on his way to Kentucky, he bought a dozen apples in Pittsburgh, the seeds of which he preserved, and planted on the place where he located. Mr. Bell informs us that one of these trees is still standing, and bearing fruit. A strange tradition prevails among the early settlers, that when Davis came here, he found a stone chimney standing alone on the place where he located, and evidence of a house having once stood by it; also a pear tree, in bearing, stood nearby. The pear tree is still standing and bearing fruit, although, according to that tradition, it must be over 100 years old. The question is, who was here prior to 1782, to build houses with stone chimneys and plant pear trees? This would indicate that Davis and Montgomery were not the first white men in Christian County.

In some respects Davis is said to have been a remarkable man. Illiterate he was, but less ignorant than many of the early frontiersmen. He was a pioneer in the full sense of the word, and sought the solitudes of the pathless woods, the dreariness of the desert wastes, in exchange for the trammels of civilized society. Of the latter, he could not endure its restraints, and he despised its comforts and pleasures. He yearned for freedom-the wild freedom of the great wilderness-and exiled him-self from his native place that he might fully enjoy it. He came West, crossed the mountains, and he did not burn the bridges behind him, because there were none to burn. He hunted and fished, and fought the Indians in their own way and fashion, and altogether he had a lively time of it. Like Daniel Boone, he came to the wilderness, not to settle and subdue it, but to hunt the deer and bear, to roam at large and to enjoy the lonely pastimes of a hunter’s life, remote from society and civilization. He was fond of recounting the perils and excitements of the chase to his friends and boon companions. His stories were wonderful and bordered on the marvelous, and many of them would, it is said, have done justice to Joe Mulhatton. A sample is the following: He once shot a bear, and it fell backward into a cavern twenty feet deep. I n order to get it he backed up his old horse to the mouth of the cavern, fastened a grapevine around the bear’s neck and the horse’s tail, and though the bear weighed 400 pounds, his old horse drew it out.

Such was one of the first settlers-one of the first white men who ever came to Christian County. Such as he was he had to be to blaze out the way for those who were to come after him, and to pave the way for that higher and nobler civilization that has followed the era in which he lived. As game grew scarcer and scarcer, and population increased, he became disgusted at the encroachments of civilization, and emigrated to Missouri, then an unbroken wilderness, save by a few pioneer hunters like himself. There he lived out the remainder of his life and died at a good old age. A grandson of his-Jo Davis-is said to have attained to considerable prominence in that State, and in Northwestern Illinois; so much so that a county of the latter State bears his name, though the spelling of it has been changed to Daviess.

The above sketch would perhaps be an extravagant drawing of the early pioneer generally; yet there is much in it that recalls a type and character of that day. Most of the first white men came here as hunters and trappers, and as such filled their mission in life and passed away. And should they now revisit the land where they flourished, and behold their ” degenerate successors,” with no hunting-grounds, no moccasins, no leather breeches and hunting-shirts, nor flint-lock guns, their great hearts would wither and decay like plucked flowers.

There is much of romance in the story of the first settlers of Kentucky. The spirit of adventure allured these pioneer hunters to come into this vast wilderness. The beauty of the country gratified the eye, its abundance of wild animals the passion for hunting. They were surrounded by an enemy, subtle and wary, and ever ready to spring upon them. But these wild borderers flinched not from the contest; even their women and children often performed deeds of heroism in the land where ” the sound of the war-whoop oft woke the sleep of the cradle,” from which stern manhood might have shrunk in fear.


Perrin, William Henry, ed., Counties of Christian and Trigg, Kentucky, Historical and Biographical, Chicago : F. A. Battey Publishing Co., 1884.

1 thought on “First Settlers of Christian County, Kentucky”

  1. Could this James Davis be connected to the 5 Davis brothers from Daviess Co. KY (Utica) who settled in Caldwell Co. KY in the Bucksnort, Lewistown section of the county?

    William Squire Carter and Mary Davis (daughter of James or John Davis) are my 2gg parents.

    Mary Davis’ family was reportedly flatboat river traders who took goods out of Olney and down to New Orleans. One Davis was mortally wounded on the return trip and died as a result of his injuries.

    Virginia Oldham

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