The Pioneers of Todd County, Kentucky

The early immigration to the State of Kentucky, as has been noted, came to the blue grass region and upper Kentucky Val-ley. A few of the more adventurous spirits pushed out to the southwest in the upper valley of Green River, and of these were the founders of Davis Station in Christian County, and Justinian Cartwright, in Todd County, in 1792. It is to be regretted that the sketches of the Hon. Urban Kennedy, published in a county paper, have not been preserved in-tact. Through the care of W. P. Stephenson, a few fragments have been secured to which the following summary is principally indebted for its facts. At the time Davis’ Station was established, the Indians were still actively engaged in a determined effort to repel the encroachments of the whites, and this settlement was disturbed, if not broken up, later in the year. Cartwright’s seems to have escaped the general fate of outlying improvements, and the settlement of the county dates in an unbroken line from 1792. A trace ran from the Russellville settlement, established in 1780, to the cabin of Bat Woods, on the present site of Hopkinsville, and across this trace, about four and a half miles west of Elkton, Cartwright built his cabin. It was situated in the edge of some timber near a good spring, and was the only house in the territory since brought within the lines of Todd County. Here he fenced and cleared a small patch of ground and planted it to corn and Irish potatoes, which with the abundant game of the country placed him above danger of want. Cartwright was a native of Maryland, of Scotch-Irish descent, and was the first Surveyor of Christian County. He was small in stature, but well made, and no mean antagonist in any contest. He had three sons, one of whom was a lawyer in Princeton (Caldwell County) afterward. In 1801, Robert Adams bought Cartwright’s place, and in 1809 sold out to the father of Urban Kennedy. During this interval of some eighteen years, considerable additions were made to the settlement of this region, but of which there is no record in the fragments at hand. Mr. Kennedy’s father was an old Revolutionary soldier, who, when the war was over, went to Greenbrier County, Va., married and settled down to farming and hunting in the Virginia mountains. Soon afterward in company with some forty or fifty families he emigrated to Kentucky, under the direction of Gen. William Logan. ” They had to come in large companies, with pack-horses for their plunder, women and children, for in that day there were no wagon-roads through the wilderness. The men of the company, say 100 or more, took it afoot, armed with rifles, tomahawks and butcher-knives, keeping up a continual and vigilant military discipline both night and clay. A brother-in-law of Kennedy’s, Simon McCaffrey, was killed while acting as forerunner for the company. The whole party stopped first at Crab Orchard, Ky.” Logan, Kennedy, the McKinneys, Burtons, Shackelfords and others came on to where Stanford now is, but what was then Logan’s Station. Two years later, Kennedy, the Shackelfords, McKinneys, Burtons and Dooleys came eight miles west of Logan’s, and built a block-house on the Hanging Fork of Dick’s River. Here the little community suffered the vicissitudes of a frontier community, losing several of their number at the hands of the savages. In 1809 Kennedy sold his place here and moved to what is now Todd County.

At this time this region was beginning to be sparsely settled. On the road from Russellville to Hopkinsville were found, three miles west of the first-named place, a Mr. Blakely; five miles further on was Simons’ Springs; next George McLean; then Ephraim McLean, a Cumberland Presbyterian minister, and father of Finis E. McLean; next was Jesse Irvine, at the creek west of the site of Daysville; then James Millen. The next ” was a ditched field of about ten acres, without any cabin, be-longing to Thomas Garvin, extending from near the public square of Elkton easterly nearly to the creek, and there was a small cabin near the spot where Ridley’s ‘ Rathburn House ‘ was burned, occupied by McIntosh, a hunter, who was a tenant of Maj. John Gray, to hold possession, as Gray and Garvin were at law for the land where Elkton now stands.” Passing westward some five miles the improvement of a German, Kershner, was found; then George Tillerman, and next the Davis improvement in what is now Fairview. At this place and in the same cabin the Hon. Jefferson Davis was born. The elder Davis was a noted man in the country, and kept tavern here. A small mischievous lad, who plied the stranger guest with curious questions, has since gained notoriety as the head of the Southern Confederacy during the years of 1861-65. The nearest house to where Elkton now stands was the residence of Hon. Andrew New, then a Member of Congress from this district. He wore knee breeches, and was an old Virginia gentleman of the aristocratic type. The next nearest were William Blackwood, William Millen and Gideon Thompson, a half mile south of Millen’s. The only water-mill was John Carson’s, and was the first one in Todd County. It had one pair of runners, and the flour was bolted ” by hand. It was jocularly said to be doing a brisk business, for when it got one, grain smashed it immediately attacked another. There were settlements at this time along the Elk Fork as follows: The Millens, Cunninghams, Coulters, Grahams, Chest-nuts, and after some years D. N. Russell moved into the neighborhood. The next mill below Carson’s was Smith & Laughlin’s on the Gallatin road; then southwest of this mill lay the ” pondy woods,” with consider-able timber, where were settled Henry Gorin, Gabriel Rooch, Elliot Vaughter; the last two married sisters of Maj. John Gray. In this neighborhood also lived James Allen, the first Coroner of Todd, and general auctioneer for all this country. He was of Irish origin, and in crying the sales of his employers made shrewd use of the wit which is popularly supposed to inhere in the son of Erin. When the enthusiasm lagged, and bids were reluctantly made, he would cry out, ” Fair sale, gentlemen! and a dthram to the next bidder! ” He always prepared himself for this emergency, and began his sale equipped with a bottle in one hand and his cane in the other. On Spring Creek, where it crosses the Nashville road, John Moore settled, and Maj. Samuel Moore settled on the site of Trenton, where the road from Clarksville to Greenville then crossed. He had located a large body of land, which he sold to Louis Leavell. Near him was Robert Coleman, and about two miles down the West Fork from Coleman’s was Davis Station, ‘where all the settlers forted. There lived the Davis family, the Clarks, the Blues, and Brewer Reeves. Then west of Coleman’s lived the Bollingers, Kenners, Finleys, Norths, etc. Then, following up the creek, were the Adamses, McFaddens, and John Campbell, the old surveyor of Christian County. Henry Carpenter was one of the very first pioneers of the county, and lived in this vicinity.

He was a full-blooded Dutchman, and it was said when he cut the first timber at that place he was on a log chopping, his rifle standing near by, and his pipe in his mouth. The Indians slipped up near him and fired at him, putting a bullet hole through his shirt. He dropped his ax, picked up his gun, and started for the Davis Fort, some miles distant, on a sharp run, reaching it in safety, with his pipe still lighted.” He after-ward built a block-house with double doors, and port holes through which to defend himself against the savages should they attack. A half mile up the branch William Wallace had settled, and planted a large orchard, the first one in the county. He was of French extraction, raised a large family of boys, and in 1822 sold to Thomas Bryan. This settlement was made about 200 yards southeast of where Bell’s Chapel now stands. A half mile east of this was Peter Thompson, a Dane. Coming north from this neighborhood were the improvements of Andrew and John Mann, and further up the creek that of Davis. In 1810 Matthew Logan settled on the east edge of Croghan’s Grove, and the next, south of the Russellville and Hopkinsville road, was that of Kennedy already mentioned. The settlements north of the Russellville and Hopkinsville road at this date (1809) were probably very few, but the paper containing the article in which Mr. Kennedy describes them is so mutilated as to render his record of no avail to this work, and what information it is possible to glean at this time will be found under the head of the respective districts of that part of the county. Heretofore the immigration had drawn its strength from the emigrants of Virginia, who had settled at the earlier stations in Kentucky. In 1811 a fresh impetus was given to emigration, and large numbers were attracted to this fertile region from the older States. The tide now set in from North Carolina, coming by way of the Nashville and Gallatin roads, and at Moore’s (Trenton) would take the Muhlenburg road.

You would see all sorts of old wagons, carts, pack-horses, pack-cows and oxen. Weary and worn out, the immigrants would call out, ‘ Well, can you tell me how far it is yet to the Pond River Country? ‘ ” Thus they passed through’the very Eden of Kentucky to reach the rough, heavy timbered ‘region of Pond River.

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.


Todd County KY,

Battle, J. H. Counties Of Todd And Christian, Kentucky. Historical And Biographical. F. A. Battey Publishing Co., Chicago And Louisville. 1884. At current time this manuscript consists of only the Todd County section and a few biographies from Christian County.

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