Frontier Meade County, parts 1,2,3 and 4

Author’s note: 

     Meade County today is a rural community modern in every respect.  Our telecommunications are the latest as is the machinery that tills our soil, milks our cows, cuts our timber, and provides our transportation.  This was not always the case.  There was a time when Meade County inhabitants were immigrants from places east, and settled in this area to farm and build a better life for themselves and their families.  Life was hard and because these men and women persevered we enjoy the fruits of their labor with almost no thought to the hardships they faced, and dangers they endured.  It is these pioneer men and women we owe for the area in which we live.  I’ve heard it said we dream about living the life our ancestors lived, and they dreamed about living the life we live.  I suspect in many ways this statement is true, but both societies had advantages and disadvantages.  There is no doubt however they lived in a dangerous time filled with hazards and inconvenience we can only imagine.  This is a part of their story.     


Mike Borger OCRA highPart 1

The Environment and People


     Meade County lies at a significant geologic juncture of two Kentucky regions, the Pennyroyal and the Bluegrass.  The regions are divided by the Muldraugh escarpment that runs from Salt River southwardly 60 miles or so, to a point south of Elizabethtown, Kentucky.  To the east lies the Bluegrass Region and to the west the Pennyroyal.  Meade County lies to the west and has, at its eastern juncture with the Bluegrass, high knobs 900 feet above sea level.  They have steep forested sides with little flat land on their summits.  The entire region is a karst area with sink holes good fast-flowing creeks and springs underlain with Mississippian Limestone plateaus.  The sedimentary limestone deposits contain between their layers flint-like deposits of chert providing the raw materials from which Native Americans fashioned their spear and arrow points.  The land in which Meade County lies was home to numerous species of animal life.  Ducks, geese, doves, wild turkey, quail, and passenger pigeons along with deer, bear, elk, squirrel, rabbits, opossum, raccoon, and more dangerous species like wolf, bobcat and mountain lion abounded.  The creeks and the Ohio River teemed with aquatic life.  Black bass, bluegill, catfish, buffalo, shad, crappie, white bass, mussels, frogs, turtles, and other species of reptiles and amphibians were found within them.  Excepting the mountain lion, passenger pigeon, elk, wolf, and black bear the wildlife in Meade County remains unchanged.


     The fields and forests provided additional opportunities for forage.  Mixed forests of beech, yellow poplar, sugar maple, oak, walnut and hickories provided food and raw materials for the pioneers.  Understory growth along and beneath the forests provided other opportunities for sustenance such as blackberry, raspberry, hazelnut, wild strawberry, grapes, cherries, and mushrooms.  Early pioneers were drawn to this natural abundance, as well as to the fertile land that had never seen the plow.  The early European settlers were not the only people that were drawn to the area.  For perhaps 13,000 years Native Americans had taken advantage of the abundant plant and animal life of Meade County.  The earliest inhabitants were nomadic paleo-hunters that followed the migrating herds of prehistoric mega-fauna such as bison, mammoth, mastodon, dire wolf, giant sloth, and saber toothed cat.  These animals were drawn to the many Kentucky salt licks and the crossing at the falls of the Ohio River.  Early inhabitants were almost totally nomadic, but by five thousand years ago with the advent of horticulture and the extinction of some of the large prehistoric mega fauna, the Native Americans became semi nomadic, and eventually with the advent of agriculture, they became farmers less dependent on wild food, and settled into villages.  These farming communities evolved into the mound building cultures with huge earthworks, palisaded-villages with central plazas, ceramics elaborate art work, and a priestly class.  Something happened about the time of conquest that changed these people.  It may have been deforestation, warfare, disease, or other natural calamities, but whatever the cause the people dispersed and evolved or devolved into the Shawnee, Delaware, Huron/Wyandotte, Cherokee, Mingo, Choctaw, Creek, and other nations that populated Kentucky at least part of the time.  These were the people that the earliest settlers met and competed with in what can only be described as a clash of cultures.


     Native Americans had no concept of land ownership.  They did have a strong sense of territorial control and apportionment.  Some land was considered Cherokee, some Shawnee, some Delaware, and some Mingo and Wyandotte.  The Huron Indians were situated around the Great Lakes area.  Indeed one of the lakes bears their name.  They were associated with the water, fished, hunted, harvested wild rice, and traveled as most of the tribes and nations did along the waterways that served as fast routes of transportation.  In this area the Huron were known locally as Wyandotte, and their villages dotted the riverside.  The Indians as they were called by the settlers visited together sometimes combining in war parties or hunting expeditions.  The Shawnee occupied territory in Ohio that was allowed to them by the Iroquois.  The Shawnee immigrated, in the late 1600’s, from South Carolina.  They had upper and lower villages on both sides of the Ohio River at its confluence with the Scioto River.  The Cherokee were further south, and the Wyandotte to the west along the Ohio River, and in Indiana Territory.  The Delaware and Mingo were east of the Shawnee in the area of eastern Ohio and extending to the colonial seacoast.  All of these nations used Kentucky as a transportation route via the Warriors Path, and the rivers that provided quick transport.  They also used the land as a communal hunting ground.  Between these groups there was little warfare, and they often banded together to displace the white settlers who divided the sacred land with fences and right angles.  The Native Americans concept of life was a great circle.  Their villages, architecture, designs, ornaments, decorations, and ceramics were usually circular in nature sometimes inscribed with linear geometric patterns. 


     The culture clash was based on cultural differences, greed for land, suspicion of each for the other, and promises to the Indian that later proved untrue.  It is true that the early settlers were content to neighbor with the Indian, in a live and let live manner, but competition coupled with occasional hostilities caused by lies told the Indians by surveyors dividing the land, made the Indians wary of any white people.  The Indians in and around Kentucky were the eastern woodland cultures and looked very much alike in dress and form.  Their customs and habits were similar as were their weapons and accoutrements.  If one Native American group had a clash with whites all Indian groups were blamed although perhaps only one took part.  Likewise, if one white cheated, lied, or harmed an Indian, war was made indiscriminately on all.  Thus the culture clash came to be.      


Part 2

                                                     The Early Settlement of Meade County


     One of the earliest confrontations between the Shawnee and the surveyors occurred in June of 1773.  Thomas Bullitt, James Harrod, and Hancock Taylor with approximately 30 in their survey party, were joined by James, Robert, and George McAfee, Samuel Adams, and James McCoun on May 29th, at the mouth of the Kanawha River.  Traveling west on the Ohio River, Bullitt took six men and traveled on foot to the Shawnee village of Chillicothe in hopes of avoiding an armed confrontation.  The Native American custom at the time was that when visitors were coming from one Indian village to another they would send a runner announcing the visit.  It was the polite and courteous thing to do.  Bullitt ignorant of the custom found himself surrounded by bewildered Shawnee who quickly took him and his men prisoner.  Otis Rice writes….”The next day about a hundred warriors brandishing tomahawks…..escorted the men to a tribal council house.”  Bullitt was ordered to make a speech explaining why he was there.  Rice continues…”In his address, more noted for its effect than for its honesty, Bullitt assured the Shawnee that Governor Dunmore….would pay them for the lands south of the Ohio, and promised them as “brothers” they could continue to hunt there.”  The Shawnee agreed to leave the surveyors unmolested in their work.  The lies that Bullitt told gave time for the surveyors to do their work, but contributed to worsened relations with the Shawnee and led a year and a half later to Dunmore’s war with the Indians.  Warfare with the Native Americans would continue unabated in Kentucky for more than 20 years.  In 1778 Squire Boone and John McKinney discovered a spring near the head of Doe Run, which he visited repeatedly.  Although Squire and Daniel Boone visited Meade County, Squire Daniel’s younger brother was a more frequent visitor to this area.  In 1780 Squire Boone entered a claim for 1000 acres for Joseph Patrick Henry at the Doe Run spring.  In late fall or early winter of 1780-1781, John Essery with Samuel Wells were in Buck Grove.  They were surveying an 810 acre site about three miles below Salt River when they were surprised and attacked by a roving band of Indians, likely Shawnee.  During the attack they abandoned their equipment.  In 1780 Daniel Boone built a hunting camp and planted a patch of corn at Boone Spring, near Big Spring, Kentucky.  In 1783 Squire Boone visited the area of Hill Grove, and named it “Black Jack Grove.”  It was later renamed Hill Grove.


     The year 1782 has been called the year of the “tomahawk, knife, and fire.”  From New York throughout the colonies including Ohio and Kentucky the English, allied with the Indians, combined to burn the pioneer settlements, stations and forts from the Mohawk Valley to Kentucky.  Prisoners were tortured, scalped, and burned at the stake or ransomed in Detroit.  Although the battle at the “Blue Licks” has been called the last official battle of the American Revolution, the warfare between the whites and the Indians continued long after the revolution was over.  Squire Boone had left his brother’s fort at Boonesborough, and after a brief residence at Fort Harrod, in 1775 established “Painted Stone Fort” on Clear Creek near what is now Shelbyville, Kentucky.  It was from here and another fort on Beargrass Creek that he made his incursions into the area of Meade County.  While at Painted Stone Fort in 1781 he suffered a bullet wound to his right arm, and another in his side.  The white renegade Simon Girty led the Shawnee raid on Painted Stone Fort.  He bragged that he made Squire Boone’s shirt tails fly.  At Boonesborough Squire was shot in the shoulder, and had suffered a tomahawk wound to his skull.  His right arm was forever shorter than his left.  In the fight where he was wounded by the tomahawk, he had killed one Indian when another settler with him was shot and killed by a second Indian.  Squire engaged that warrior in hand to hand combat, and pushed him against a snake rail fence stabbing him with his short sword.  The sword pierced the Indian and stuck into a rail of the fence.  The Indian had a tomahawk in his raised hand trying to strike Boone, and was struggling to get free with his other hand.  Squire was using all of his strength to hold the Indian’s upraised hand to keep himself from being axed while he kept a firm hold on the sword.  They held each other positioned there, until weakening from the loss of blood, the Indian died.  Squire described the incident later as the “best little Indian fight I was ever in.”  Squire later returns to Meade County history. 


     The first permanent settlements in Meade County were made on Hill Grove, Stith’s Valley, Doe Run and Otter Creek.  In 1784 Richard Stith settled in Stith Valley.  In 1792 James Ross settled near the head of Doe Run, and James Tibbs built a round cabin at Blue Springs.  Walter Finch built a cabin at Buffalo Spring.  These two settlements were stockades, stations, or small forts.  Usually they were cabins erected with no windows to the outside rear wall, and were arranged more or less in a rectangular form.  Several cabins so built were joined by a palisade of logs some 12 feet high.  The roofs of the cabins sloped down and inward toward the stockade.  This was to remove more safely the fire arrows the Indians would shoot into stockade.  Sometimes the stations would have one or more two story blockhouses positioned at the corners of the fort to serves as look-out towers.  The upper part of the block house extended over the fort walls two to four feet allowing enfilade fire from above and down the walls in case of attack.  The blockhouses were usually the residence of the single or unmarried men.  These men were very important to the early settlements.  They served as hunters to bring in game, scouts to discover what the Indians planned, and couriers between the settlements.  In other words, they did the dangerous duty required by the settlements.  The married men fought in all of the fights, but they had the regular duties of guarding and feeding the livestock, tending the crops, maintaining the fort, weapons, and equipment.  Everyone worked.  The women carried water from the springs and did all other chores such as cooking and washing that could be done while rearing children.  They also acted as nurses and tended the wounded during attacks.  It wasn’t a perfect system, but it provided as near as possible an equitable division of labor.  Sometime prior to 1778 a fort was erected by persons unknown, at Wolf Creek then named “After Ohio,” however it did not become a permanent settlement until later. 


(Be sure to read part 3 and learn about some of the Indian battles and “forting up.”)


Part 3

The Battles and the forts



     A fierce battle between the Indians and the whites occurred on east hill where Brandenburg is now located.  Some Indians, likely Wyandot crossed the Ohio River from Indiana and beached their canoes in Flippen’s Run.  There was a local Indian fighter, a large man, named Big Joe Logsdon.  He and a party of hunters surprised the Wyandot band and began a running fight until after a brief stand in some heavy timber, the Wyandot decided to carry their dead back to Indiana.  One lone warrior was shot by big Joe almost reaching the Indiana shore.  Big Joe knew many Indian dialects, and customs.  Later in 1780 General William Hardin and his men stopped to rest at Big Spring when the Indians compelled them to fight.  A man named Sinclair was killed and scalped.  He was buried at the head of Big Spring.  Other battles were fought in Meade County particularly between the years of 1791 thru 1794.  Most of the battles between the whites and Indians were not conducted in conventional ways.  The rifles were single shot flint-locks that once discharged, except when fired from a safe defensive position, were useless unless used to club the enemy.  Therefore, the warfare was more often hand to hand, with knife and tomahawk.  It was upfront and personal.  A man named Kingsley was hunting along Buck Creek across from present Brandenburg, when he was chased by a party of Wyandot.  He could see that he could not out run them and crawled into a hollow log.  After being unable to find Kingsley, some of the Indians sat down on the log in which he was hiding.  They discussed what to do, and when they left he made his escape.  According to Ridenour the last Indian killed in the Indian wars in Meade County was near Ekron, Kentucky.  Stopping for a drink, a white party killed the man.  This likely occurred in the 1800’s.  Anecdotal information states that sometime in 1830, two Indians were shot while canoeing on the Ohio River at the Brandenburg landing.  Confrontations continued into the 1820’s, but were sporadic, and most were on the Indiana side.  In 1823 the county was formed.


     The log cabins and their furnishings left a lot to be desired.  Beds were simply a frame work of boards with rope stretched from side to side for bed springs.  The mattresses were corn husks sewn between two layers of home spun cloth.  Sometimes there were feather mattresses.  Quilts and blankets were layered on the bed to keep out the cold.  The fire places were simply rocks laid up about five feet high to form a fire box.  The chimney was made from sticks chinked with mud or clay.  They often times caught fire and would, unless pushed over, burn the cabin down.  For this purpose a long usually forked pole would stand outside next to the chimney.  The logs were usually round, and the bark would, if time was had, be removed.  There were seldom glass windows, if there were windows at all.  Openings were often only one door, making the cabins dark, but easier to defend in an attack. 


     There was a door and the hinges were normally made of leather.  Most cabins were pegged with wooden pegs instead of nails.  Floors were puncheon or dirt.  That is, they were boards split from logs, so were seldom level, or they were hard packed dirt that posed a problem when it rained.  The walls of the cabin usually had several shelves, a puncheon table and benches or homemade chairs.  A ladder led to the loft where the children slept.  The fire place served to heat the cabin, but in reality the only warmth was about a five foot radius directly in front of the hearth.  The fireplace sucked in cold air from the nooks and crannies between the chinking and the daubing.  The spaces between the logs were chinked, partially filled with anything available.  Leaves, sticks, limbs, rocks or most anything else would suffice.  Over the chinking there was placed a mixture of mud or clay and water and this was called daubing.  Grass, straw, horsehair, or some other binder would be added to the mixture to make it more durable.


     The only other furnishings besides shelves might be a cupboard or two, some pegs to hang clothes upon, or perhaps a mirror or painting.  There would be cooking utensils, a Dutch oven, perhaps a black iron pot, a fry pan, and some hooks in the fireplace from which to hang the kettle.  There was likely to be a dry sink and a pitcher, some cups or glasses and a gourd dipper.  A spring would be nearby to furnish drinking water.


     The stations and forts were not continuously occupied.  The settlers usually had a cabin and sometimes a barn near their crops and not far from the fort.  When an attack was imminent a bell was rung and the pioneers would come to the fort and do what was called “forting up.”  That is they would move into the fort and live in very confined quarters.  Because they could not leave their livestock to the Indians, they would bring their farm animals into the fort with them.  For this reason the spring would be located outside the walls of the fort.  If it was inside it would soon be spoiled.  Conditions inside the fort were deplorable.  Livestock, men, women, and children were crowded together.  The stench from the animals and the manure impossible to avoid made the conditions unsanitary.  Compound that situation with gunfire, fire arrows, bullet and arrow wounds and infections and disease became epidemic.  A siege could last for as long as two weeks.  Going to the spring to replenish the fort’s water supply meant risking being wounded or killed.  The livestock and people had to have drinking water, and the barrels needed to be kept full to fight the fires.  No one wanted to fort up.        


      Through all of this terrible time for both Native Americans and the white pioneers, the people that settled Meade County persevered.  Since no permanent Native American villages existed in Kentucky except for some Cherokee communities close to the Tennessee border, Lower Shawnee Town on the Kentucky side of the Ohio River across from the Scioto, and a Shawnee pioneer trading post near the old fields at Winchester, Kentuckians did not displace the Indians from their homes.  They did alter and restrict the communal hunting ground and limited Native American movement within its border.  The real displacement of Native Americans occurred in Ohio, North Carolina, Indiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Virginia, Florida, Georgia, Tennessee, Arkansas, and throughout the New England and the Northwest Territory.


(See Part 4 the conclusion of the settlement of Meade County)

 Part 4

The Settlements and their way of life


     After the wars with the Native Americans took place, ending officially in 1815, at least with the nations east of the Mississippi River, life in Meade County became less dangerous.  Attacks on farms and homesteads dwindled.  Farming and animal husbandry became the chief industries.  Logging, salt making, lime processing, milling, and distilling were also industries.  Later the lithograph industry flourished for a short while.


     It is correct to say that the women who settled in Meade County were the most influential in civilizing the county.  Soon after the earliest explorers and surveyors came to Meade and after the major Indian conflicts were over, the women demanded churches and schools in which to worship and educate the young be built.  The earliest Baptist Church in the county was at Wolf Creek.   Services were often brush arbor affairs held outside or in the homes and barns of the congregation.  Services were held once a month, and some traveled by wagon or horseback 20 miles or more.  This meant camping out or staying as the guests of those that lived nearer the churches.  St. Theressa Catholic Church was the first in the county, and was originally located on Flint Island.  Ministers were often circuit riders that preached at several churches.  In the Baptist Church there was no pulpit, instead it was called a stand.  The congregations sat on benches, they were not called pews.  The hymns were “lined out.”  Hymnals were expensive and many people couldn’t read, so the minister or his designate would sing the first line of the hymn and the congregation would sing it after him.  In this way the melody and the words were learned.  Baptisms were held at creeks, rivers, and ponds, in all types of weather.  Sometimes ice had to be broken to submerge the convert.  I think most people prayed their conversions came in warmer weather.  In the outdoor church meetings men armed with Kentucky flintlock rifles stood as lookouts for Indian attacks.  At the Goshen Baptist Church north of Laconia, Indiana in which Squire Boone preached, Indians would look in the windows of the church to watch the white settlers worship.  No food would be allowed into the church.  Thus, we get the saying “poor as a church mouse.”  Our chili suppers and picnics on the grounds would not be found.


     The second oldest Baptist Church was built in Hill Grove.  The women, tired of meeting in barns and the houses of the congregation or making the arduous trip to Wolf Creek had the men build a church.  Later it burned, and then there was a split.  Soon other churches and denominations sprang up and as they did the county became more civilized.  Schools were built and the children learned to read, write and cipher.  Children attended school in the winter months, and were out for the spring, summer, and harvest times when the planting and harvesting required their labor.  Even today the school is still traditionally out in the summer.  Teachers were only required to have an eighth grade education.  If you went further you were in high school, and that was the equivalent of being in college today.


     Christmas was noted by small things like some fruit, nuts, or hard candy.  A tree might be decorated with ribbons, colored paper, or natural materials.  Candles might light the tree, but a bucket of water was always handy in case it caught on fire.  Thanksgiving was normally just another Thursday except for a little more special meal.  Books would be read out loud at night by candle light and later by coal oil lamps.  Pleasures were simple.  In the late fall and winter was hog killin’ time and meat was put up and cured and smoked for the winter. 

     The hogs roamed the woods and were rounded up by their owners in the fall.  When the pigs were little, their ears were notched in a particular manner, and each owner’s mark was registered in the sheriff’s office.  This settled many a fight and feud.  Taking another man’s hog was literally taking food from his family.  It was occasionally a shooting matter.  A reportedly stolen hog was one of the incidents that led to the famous Hatfield/McCoy feud.  Fence laws were different in early Meade County.  Crops had to be fenced.  Cattle and hogs roamed loose.  The hogs would fatten on acorns during the fall, giving rise to the old saying “even a blind hog finds an acorn every once in a while.”  The pork was either salt or sugar cured, and smoked.  Sausage was made and salt pork was stored in barrels appropriately called hogsheads.  First there was a layer of salt, then a layer of pork, and then a layer of salt, alternatingly until the barrels were filled.  The smoke not only cured and dried the meat but also deterred the insects, “skippers,” from infesting the meat.  The salt was obtained by either boiling water from the salt springs like those around Salt River, or allowing the water to evaporate where the fine white salt could be gathered.  Two hundred gallons of good quality salt-spring-water would yield one bushel of salt. 


     People canned food.  It was placed in blue Mason jars.  Blackberries, peaches, pumpkin, squash, beans, corn, and other garden produce were put up for the winter.  Corn was a field variety, and was used to feed the cattle and chickens.  Enough was taken to the mill to be ground into meal and the typical bread on the kitchen table was cornbread.  The stalks were chopped and used as fodder for the cattle.  Wheat was sometimes grown and ground into white flour for biscuits and cakes.  Apples and pears were cored, cut into circular slices, placed on wooden rods or strings and hung up to dry.  These were later reconstituted and made into pies.   The fall was a time for getting ready for the winter.  It was a busy time.  Tobacco was sold as the cash crop.


     The winters were hard.  Cords of wood were stored up and the fires were banked at night, so they could be quickly relit in the morning.  It would get so cold in the cabins and houses that the water in the basins would freeze at night.  People dressed warmly because there were outside chores that must be done winter and summer.  Animals had to be fed and watered.  Farmers, then and now had to go the ponds and break the ice so that the cattle could drink.  In the winter, repairs were made to farm equipment and leather goods.  Children who went barefoot all summer now wore shoes that were mended by their fathers and handed down as long as there was any usefulness left in them.  “Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without,” was the Meade County farm motto.


     There were no radios, televisions, game boys (whatever they are), movies, or theaters.  People, often times played musical instruments by ear for entertainment.  Roads were muddy and often impassable.  Medical attention was usually unavailable, but there was someone, a woman or man nearby who could make herbal remedies or perform simple surgery such as sewing up a laceration.  Wounds were disinfected by the use of whiskey or coal oil poured into the wound.  There were no pain killers to speak of.  Bad lacerations were cauterized to stem the flow of blood by searing the wound with a red hot poker.  Infections and disease sometimes proved fatal.  But through it all, Meade County people, nay, all Kentuckians were hearty souls and persevered through all the adversities, the Indian wars, the Civil War, and all the other wars, depressions, recessions, fires, floods, tornadoes, and ice storms.  Our ancestors were men and women of great moral faith and physical strength, tested and found worthy.  Sometimes when we are faced with obstacles that seem to us insurmountable and which pale beside those of our ancestors, we seem to pull through them some way.  I think it is because of our Meade County and Kentucky pioneer heritage.  These were special people and this is a special state and a special county.  I’m so proud to live here.