The Start in a New Country

The first settlements were made in the timber, and the first step toward the establishment of a home was to clear a patch for corn and potatoes and plant a crop. The timber thus removed furnished material for the cabin and fences, which were then constructed. The earliest settlers generally brought their families to some strong station, and then, equipped with an ax, rifle, frying-pan and a small stock of salt and meal, the father would set out on a prospecting tour to be gone, frequently, for several months. Before his return he often made the first necessary clearing and erected a temporary hut to receive his family. Later, as cabins were found more frequently in the country, the immigrant had no hesitation in breaking up his home in a distant State, and with his family and household goods on wagons or pack animals start out for a new home, influenced and guided solely by rumors and picked-up information on the road. Deciding upon a locality for his future home, he found no difficulty in securing temporary shelter for his family in some cabin already well filled by its owners, but which the simplicity of early manners and an unstinted hospitality rendered elastic enough to comfortably entertain the welcomed addition to the community. A new arrival of this nature was heralded with welcome for miles about and a neighborhood which scarcely knew limits hastened to lend its friendly offices in rearing a house. A day was appointed, and no invitation was needed to draw together a company of willing, capable hands. To assist in raising a cabin for a new family was a duty which the unwritten law of the community imperatively laid upon every able-bodied man, and to know of the occasion was a sufficient invitation. On gathering, one party was told off as choppers, whose business it was to fell the trees and cut logs of proper dimensions; a man and team brought these logs to the site of the proposed building; others assorted, ” saddled ” and otherwise prepared the logs to form the structure, which was finished on one day and occupied on the next. The desires of the pioneer family were few and its necessities still less, so that the first efforts of the farmer were generally directed to the securing of food and shelter for his family. To this end nature gave her kindly aid. The pioneer brought with him his team and cows, the latter very frequently bearing in a pack a share of the family effects. Hogs were brought in, or were easily purchased from other settlers, and these animals found food and shelter in the barrens and timber with scarcely any care from the farmer. With one crop se-cured, there was no real danger of hunger. A mill was early built on Elk Fork, where the corn was converted into meal, or the wheat, when raised, converted into a coarse kind of flour. ” Hog and hominy ” was the general fare, though game and wild fruits and honey added a delicacy to the frontier feast which is scarcely surpassed to-day. The early farmer looked to the appreciation in the value of his land for his first profit, and in the absence of a market had little incentive to raising larger crops than the comfort of his family demanded. Clearing was the main end of his activities, but this gave him plenty of leisure for hunting which was generally fully improved. The early Kentuckian was bred to the use of the rifle and the pleasures of the chase, and considerable time was devoted to this pursuit by all, though all kinds of game were at first so abundant and unscared that it robbed the pleasure of much of its zest. Mr. Kennedy relates that in May, 1810, he and an old black woman, Margot, were working in a corn-field when they were attracted by a plaintive bleating in the adjoining bushes. ” I said ‘ I must see what it was,’ ” he writes, ” but she remonstrated, saying it might be very dangerous, but if I must go she would accompany me. Armed with our weeding hoes, we cautiously advanced through the barren grass and weeds, and discovered a beautiful fawn. It saw me almost at the same moment, and in its half-starved condition it staggered with all its capable speed up to me. Mar-got alarmed, cried out in fear and ran, but I gathered it up in my arms and brought it to the field. We took it to the house, gave it milk and reared it for some time, but eventually killed it by overfeeding. Some two weeks after the death of my fawn, I was sent to mill with a sack of corn. As I was jogging along on an old horse we called Blennerhassett, I discovered the head and neck of a deer above the grass. I stopped old Blenner, and while looking at it, I saw it sink gradually down and hide in the grass and weeds. Keeping my eyes closely on the spot, I rode cautiously along thinking I might find another fawn. When within twenty yards of the spot, the deer dashed off, but I rode on, and under a small crab-apple bush I discovered not ten feet away, quite a young fawn crouched upon the ground and perfectly still. I stopped old Blenner, rose to my feet on the sack of meal and sprang at full length upon the little creature, seizing it firmly with both hands. Alarmed lest its cries would call its mother back to its defense, I seized it by the hind legs, placed it over the horse and scrambling on after it, took it home. We reared it to a fine deer which was the pride and delight of our home.” Another incident of raising a fawn is so remarkable, and at the same time so well vouched for, that it is worth recording: Messrs. Kennedy and Mann went one day to the Clay Lick on the Greenville road, which was a famous resort for game, to shoot a deer. A fine doe was soon secured, but on Mann’s cutting its throat to bleed the animal, he discovered she was with young. With his hunting knife he quickly released a living fawn which struggled and rolled upon the grass. Carefully wrapping it up it was conveyed to Mr. Mann’s cabin, where his wife fed it and put it in a hamper of picked wool. About daylight the next morning it jumped out of the basket and ran over the house bleating until it was fed again. This animal was kept two years and became a fine buck, but was accidentally run down and killed by a neighbor’s hound.

Early Hunting in Todd.*-” After our West Fork country became somewhat densely settled, and the game became rather scarce, we branched out to the north part of Todd on the head waters of Pond River and Clifty, to hunt. On the Greenville road there were no settlements from Sears’ to Shuffield’s near the Muhlenburg line. This part of Todd was then heavily timbered and interspersed with hills, and many deep bottoms between the yawning cliffs. There had been some small settlements and cabins in an earlier time, but were nearly all deserted at the time of which I write. The first camp hunt in 1827 was made by John Petree, James Snaden, John Willis, J. Walker and myself. Snaden had a small mule called ‘Jeff,’ and he was geared to a cart in which we stowed our provisions and started along the Greenville road; you would have been diverted to have seen us climb the hills. Jeff was a good mule, but he was overloaded, and when he couldn’t make the hill, we would alight from our horses and push the cart to the top of the hill; we were all stout and hearty and enjoyed the sport of helping Jeff with his load.

” Well, we got as far as, now Bivinsville, or as it is called, Lickskillet. Near the spring, Howell Edwards had built a cabin which he afterward sold to John Bivin; this cabin was unoccupied, and we lodged in it and hunted three or four days. All of us were strangers to that region, and only knew what I had learned by surveying and locating the vacant lands in that wilderness; My old friend, Capt. William Hopper, came to us and told us about the stands and crossing of the game which we found to be plentiful. We killed seven deer and several wild turkeys, and returned home greatly elated with our success. We had a neighborhood clan of hunters, and we organized and went every fall, and spent some ten days, sometimes twice in the same fall. Hazel Petrie, James Snaden, Nat Burrus, Reuben Ellison, John Petree and myself were the main hands, and after a few years others would join our hunts, to wit: Joe and John Gordon and their sons, John A. Bailey, Allen and Thomas Bailey, James Claggett and Uncle Johnny Christian would cross the cliffs when he heard our horns and hounds, and stay with us while we stayed. We would load our wagons with corn and fodder, boiled ham, and fat middling, for broiling, plenty of bread, sugar and coffee, cheese, etc. We took a boy with us to cook and take care of our camp in our absence. We went further down the ridge than at first, to an old cabin called the Rainwater’s Cabin, where James Greenfield now resides. Our nearest neighbors were James and Williamson Chappell, some two or three miles distant. We had a joyful, pleasant time of it; we would sleep with our feet to the fire, and we enjoyed good health; our rustic manner of living added to our health and spirits, and we never got sick. If any of us left home a little puny or complaining, we always returned hale and hearty; we generally stayed eight or ten days. When Sabbath came we kept it as at home: tied up our hounds and never fired a gun, but read our Bibles and rested from our hunts. All were religious, and all Methodists (of the first named party) except myself and Col. Burrus; he was a Campbellite, and said he gloried in the name, and I was a Cumberland. Sometimes at night, or on Sabbaths, we would join issue on religious subjects, but al-ways in a good-humored, Christian spirit. We generally had a jug of good whisky, and would all partake in the morning, or when we came in weary at night, except old brother H. Petrie, ‘ who was always down on us for drinking drains.’ I recollect one of his cuts he made at us as we were taking our morning dram; turning to me, he said: ‘ Urban, how many drams like that would make you drunk ?’ ‘ Well,’ I answered, Hazel, I suppose about four would make me tight.’ ‘ Well, now,’ said he, ‘ you are now one-fourth drunk.’ The argument was new, and I have often thought of it.

We had a good high time of it; killed about eighteen fine fat deer, and would roast and broil the fat ribs, melts and livers. Oh! it was fine. We killed many fine, fat turkeys, dried their wings for fans, and salted the meat to take home to our wives and children, for wild turkey is greatly preferable to tame. Some of us were in favor of taking a still hunt in the morning, but Brothers Petrie, Snaden and Burrus were opposed to it. Well, one morning about daylight, John Petree, Reuben Ellison and myself took our guns and started for a still hunt. I had a good shot-gun, John Petree, a good rifle, R. Ellison carried two guns, one of which was a most excellent shot-gun, borrowed from Col. R. E. Glenn; its name was Niggerlegs; the other a large smooth bore that carried an ounce ball. All of our guns were single barreled, and had flint locks. We proceeded to slip cautiously along about 150 yards apart, all abreast. After having gone about a mile, John Petree killed a very fat doe, which we bung up near where Sam McGehee now lives, and then started back towards camp, Petree on the edge or bench of the cliffs, Reuben Ellison 150 yards from him, and I about the same distance outside, all moving on cautiously abreast. As I was passing through a small sumac thicket, I saw a remarkably large buck with ten points on each beam, come tilting right, to meet me, and was within thirty yards of me. I threw my gun up and hallooed, ‘ Where are you going ?’ He turned to my left, and at about the fourth jump I fired at his head and neck, thinking to down him right there, but when the gun fired he stopped still and stuck his head forward, but never looked round at me nor moved a foot or tail. I then tried to load my gun, but was so excited I couldn’t find my ammunition, and couldn’t take my eyes off of the big buck. I forgot my comrades, but soon heard the bushes cracking. I looked round, and there came Ellison with his two guns. He said, ‘ Urban, what did you shoot at ?’ I beckoned him to come to me, silently, and when he got close up to me, I pointed to the buck. He whispered, ‘I’ll throw him.’ I squatted down and told him to shoot over me. He raised his ounce-ball ` Fritz,’ and fired at his heart. I had nothing to do but watch the shot, and when Fritz went off I saw the bullet hole in his side, that looked like I could have put my fist through it, but he never shook his tail nor winked his eye, nor moved his ear. Reuben looked astonished, and said, ‘ Urban, what on yearth? ‘ Said I, ‘Reuben, give him Niggerlegs,’ and so he put seventeen buckshot right through the same place, and yet he never moved or winked his eye. Reuben said again, ‘ That beats all on yearth.’ Well, here came John Petree, asking, ‘ What have you been shooting at ?’ We pointed to the buck, still standing. ‘ Well,’ said John, ‘ I can throw him,’ and stepping forward he took aim at his eye, and his priming having got damp, his rifle flashed, and at the same moment down came the buck. On examination I found I had shot a hole through his ear, and that several shots had struck his horns, and one had gone under the burr of his horn. The bullet had gone through his heart, and with all this he stood upright for some time. Science may explain it, but I cannot.” In addition to the food game, black bear, panthers, wild cats and wolves were quite numerous in the county. They were a great annoyance to the early farmers. Calves, pigs and sheep were destroyed, unless protected, and were only preserved by the greatest care. Unsparing war was made upon them from the first, and nothing of the kind, save wild cats and foxes have been seen here since about 1827.


Battle, J. H., W. H. Perrin, Counties of Todd and Christian, Kentucky : historical and biographical, Chicago : F. A. Battey Publishing Co., 1884.

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