Historical and Biographical
FOLLOWING THE FOOTSTEPS OF THE PIONEERS—ADDITIONAL FACTS COCERNING THEM—LATER SETTLERS—JERALD JACKSON—GALBRAITHS AND MCFADDENS—THE BRADSHAWS—CRABTREE, MORRIS, CUSHIMAN AND OTHERS—JOSHUA CATES—JAMES H. MCLAUGHLAN—PIONEER PASTIMES —THE OLD MILITIA MUSTERS—LAND SPECULATIONS AND TROUBLES— CRIME AND LAWLESSNESS—THE PENNINGTON FAMILY—ALONZO PENNINGTON—HIS SHARP PRACTICES—THE CRIME THAT BROUGHT HIM TO THE GALLOWS—HIS TRIAL AND EXECUTION—THE WAY OF THE TRANSGRESSOR—REGULATORS AND THEIR WORK—SUMMAR Y, ETC., ETC.
THE early inhabitants of Kentucky and of the Great West were men and women of that hardy race of pioneers to whom the perils of the wilderness are as nothing, if only that wilderness be free. Some of them had not reached life’s meridian, but they were hopeful, courageous and determined. They were poor in actual worth, but rich in possibilities, and were ready to face danger. and endure cold and hunger if a home stood at the end of their journey. For the grand simplicity of their lives, they achieved recognition and fame, as Enoch Arden did, after death. It was their lot to plant civilization here, and sneer at them as we may, yet, in their little space of time, they made greater progress than ten centuries had witnessed before. The work thirty generations had not done they did, and the abyss between us of to-day and the pioneers of Kentucky is wider and more profound than the chasm between 1815 and the battle of Hastings. Of them, Dr. Redford in his “Methodism in Kentucky” says: “ They were rough, independent and simple in their habits, careless and improvident in their dealings, frank of speech and unguarded in their intercourse with each other, and with strangers friendly, hospitable and generous. Deprived of educational advantages, they were generally their own schoolmasters, and their book the volume of nature.
“The settlement of Kentucky by the Anglo-American pioneer was no easy task. The fierce and merciless savage stubbornly disputed the right business of the district not of sufficient importance to go into the higher courts. With numerous changes in boundaries, and the establishing of a new district or two, the county is at present divided into fifteen election districts—including the new district of Crofton—as follows: No. 1, Hopkinsville District, including the city and precinct; No. 2, Mount Vernon District; No. 8, Pembroke; No. 4, Longview; No. 5, Lafayette; No. 6, Union Schoolhouse; No. 7, Hamby; No. 8, Fruit Hill; No. 9, Scates’ Mill; No. 10, Garrettsburg; No. 11, Bainbridge; No. 12, Casky; No. 13, Stewart; No. 14, Wilson; No. 15, Crofton. The latter has been created since the county map was published, and embraces the country around Crofton Village, being taken from Scates’ Mill, Stewart, Ham-by and Fruit Hill Districts.
The Poor-Farm.—” The poor ye have with ye always,” said the Master, and to care for them is a duty incumbent upon us as civilized beings. Kindness costs but little, and to the child of misfortune it sometimes goes almost as far as dollars and cents. The writer recently visited one of these institutions called poor-houses, and was pointed out a man, who, it was said, could once “ride ten miles on his own land,” but a series of misfortunes brought him to the poor-house. None of us know how soon we may go “over the hills to the poor-house.” Then be kind to the poor, for in so doing you may “entertain angels unawares.” We find allusions quite often in the early records of the county to the poor and appropriations for their benefit, but it was not for many years after the organization of the county, that steps were taken to provide a county farm and poorhouse. Some fifty years ago a poor-farm was purchased, and it is a poor-farm in more senses than one. The land is poor and almost worthless, and for many years after its purchase the buildings were scarcely fit to shelter human beings. Under the administration of Judge Long as County Judge, the old buildings were torn down and new ones erected, which, although they are not what they should be, are substantial and comfortable. Judge Long also laid out a cemetery on the place, and planted an orchard, as well as making many other needed improvements.
The poor-farm is in Hopkinsville Precinct, four miles north of the city, and comprises about two hundred acres of land. The buildings are log and frame, and have been built within the last few years. The cost to the county of each pauper will average nearly $100, and the number of paupers varies from fifteen to thirty. It seems just a little strange that the County Board are not better financiers. Were they to purchase a good farm and erect comfortable buildings, it would be economical in more ways than one. Many paupers go there who are able to do considerable work, and the farm, was it good land, could make the institution almost self-sustaining. Then the idea of having to work when able, would to the soil. The attempt to locate upon these rich and fertile lands was a proclamation of war, of war whose conflict should be more cruel than had been known in all the bloody pages of the past. On his captive the Indian inflicted the most relentless torture. Neither the innocence of infancy, the tears of beauty nor the decrepitude of age could awaken his sympathy or touch his heart. The tomahawk and the stake were the instruments of his cruelty. But notwithstanding the danger which constantly imperiled the settlers, attracted by the glowing accounts of the country and the fertility of its soil, brave hearts were found that were willing to leave their patrimonial homes in Carolina and Virginia, and hazard their lives amid the frowning forests and dismal prairies of the ‘West. Thus valuable accessions were continually received by the first emigrants.”
It is no easy task to picture in the imagination a more lonesome and dreary waste than this immediate section of the country presented at the time of its settlement by the whites. The vast stretches of barrens, covered with rank grass, were almost as cheerless as the prairies of the West. In the autumn, when the grass of the barrens or “prairie seas” became sear, it was burned, and the smoke from these fires filled the atmosphere for hundreds of miles, darkening the face of day, and hanging like mourning drapery upon the horizon. Recalling the days when monotonous solitude was all that was here is to modern people but ringing the changes on the story of the “Lost Mariner,” when the poet tells us he was
“Alone, alone, all, all alone,
Upon the wide, wide sea.”
We have attempted, in a preceding chapter, to give some account of the earliest settlers of Christian County, together with sketches which were intended to illustrate what manner of men they were. These pen-sketches are all that can be given of a people that have passed away, and of whom the artist and painter had left no recorded signs. Of necessity, such sketches are drawn by those who never saw the originals, and who can know of them only by much talking and communications with those who did know them long and well while they were here and playing their part in life. Such sketches, we say, are drawn by those who personally knew nothing of the originals. It is best that this is so, for then there is less apt to be prejudice, either for or against the subjects that constitute the picture. There is less incentive (there should be none) to suppress here and overdraw there; in short, less of prejudice and consequently more of truth. If the statistics of a people, together with these character sketches that are the statistics of that inner life of men, are both truly given, they constitute the true history of that people.
To say that in this chapter it is purposed to write the history of every family in the order in which they came into the county would be promising more than lies in the power of any man to accomplish. But to sketch some of the leading pioneers and representative men of the times is our aim, and to gather of them such facts, incidents and statistics as we may, and present them in a tangible form must suffice. In subsequent chapters, devoted to the various election districts, each family laying claim to the title of early settler will be fully noticed, so far as it is possible to learn their history. We have already given the names of a large number who were here prior to 1800, and will now proceed to chronicle additional facts concerning some of them, as well as mentioning others who have been overlooked. Many of these early settlers, as elsewhere stated, are dead and gone, and no one now living in the county remembers them, the only evidence of their existence even being the county records.
Additional of the Settlers.—Among the early settlers already briefly alluded to is Bartholomew Wood, who originally owned the land upon which the city of Hopkinsville stands. He was prominent in its early history, and in the chapter devoted to that subject a sketch of Mr. ‘Wood will be given. Jacob Barnett, Moses Shelby, Hugh Knox, Jonathan Logan and Brewer Reeves, were the first Justices of the Peace of the new county, but beyond the early service in that capacity, nothing is known of them. Charles Logan was the first Sheriff; and John Clark the first County Clerk. Obadiah Roberts was a son-in-law of Bartholomew Wood, and was the first man licensed to keep a tavern in Elizabeth, as Hopkinsville was then called. Benjamin Lacy settled near Pilot Rock, in 1796, and was from North Carolina. John Campbell was a surveyor, one of the first in the county. Young Ewing was one of the early politicians; was the first Clerk of the Circuit Court, the first regular Surveyor of the county, and is extensively noticed in the political history. James Kuykendall was the first Representative in the Legislature from Christian County—nothing further is known of him. The Hardins, a numerous family, were early settlers in what was then the northwest part of the county, and beyond the limits of the present boundaries. Adam Lynn was an early Justice of the Peace, and James Henderson was the first Assessor of the county. The Meanses were early settlers in what is now Union Schoolhouse Precinct. Michael Dillingham was indicted by the first Grand Jury for profane swearing, and afterward fined five shillings by the court for the offense. The county would soon have an inexhaustible treasury if it was to fine every one of its citizens five shillings now for profane swearing. The Cravenses settled very early in the west part of the county; John McDaniel was an early settler in the same neighborhood, and is said to have been the ugliest man ever born into the world. Levi Cornelius was a son-in-law of Bartholomew Wood, and settled near Hopkinsville. Justinian Cartwright was the next County Clerk after John Clark. William Dupuy, Joseph Cavender and Robert Warner were Revolutionary soldiers. Edward Davis was a son of James Davis, the pioneer. Of the others mentioned we have learned nothing definite.
Later Settlers.—The names of settlers who came in later than those mentioned were as follows: James Crabtree, the Dulins, the Bradshaws, James Clark, Joseph Kelley, the Galbreath, the McFaddens, the Blues, Samuel Davis, the Ezells, James H. McLaughlan, the Meachams, Joshua Cates, Rezin Davidge, James McKenzie, Dr. Edward Rumsey, Jacob Walker, Laban Shipp, William Padfield, Alpheus Palmer, Matthew Patton, Maj. Thomas Long, Josiah Anderson, Thomas Alisbury, Judge Benjamin Shackelford, Larkin Akers, William Daniel, Richard Faulkner, Samuel Finley, Hawkins Goode, John Gray, Morgan Hopkins, George Cushman, Colden Williams, the Metcalfs, James Gilkey, John Johnson, Samuel Underwood, the Sheltons, John Wallace, Joseph Clark, James McKnight, Jacob Morris, Jerald Jackson, and a great many others who came in prior, perhaps, to 1810, and who will receive mention in the precinct chapters, and in the war history, under the head of Revolutionary soldiers. This chapter, we repeat, is not intended to give the complete settlement of the county, but merely a brief notice of some of the pioneers who were among its early citizens.
Jerald Jackson, one of the pioneers mentioned above, was an eccentric character. Whence he came no one knows, but he was here when there were but few settlements within the present bounds of Christian County. He was tall and ungainly, and the skin on his hands and face, through long exposure to the sunshine and storms, was almost as rough as the outer coat of a shell-bark hickory. He lived in camps and spent his time in hunting and trapping. His favorite retreat is said to have been on Brushy Fork of Treadwater, and he used to range over the great wilderness as far distant as Boone’s Fort (Boonesboro), in pursuit of game. He was peculiar and shrewd; he knew nothing of a Government of rigid laws and stern police regulations, and subjected to such could neither have thrived nor lived. He sought no acquaintances, but on the contrary avoided his kind so far as possible. When settlers began to come in, he sought the wilds of Missouri, and wandering through its forests became~ a voluntary subject of the King of Spain. But eventually he dragged his wearied limbs back to his old hunting-ground to die. He died in the north part of the county about 1812—1 3, and in death his peculiarities did not leave him. At his urgent request, it is said, he was buried on a high hill in the southwest part of Scates’ Mill Precinct, in a grave made of rocks on top of the ground, and to be covered with a large slab of rock which he had himself prepared for the purpose. He also requested his gun and tomahawk to be put into the grave with his body. His grave, we learn, is still to be seen, and is on or near the farm now owned by the heirs of Jacob Morris. Jackson was childish in his simplicity, but his requests as to his burial denote a superstition equal to the savages of the wilderness.
Jacob Morris came from South Carolina about the beginning of the present century, and settled in the northwest part of the present county as bounded. He made the journey on foot, carrying his ax on his shoulder, his wife riding a small pony and carrying a few articles of clothing. He died but a few years ago, upon the place of his settlement. Joseph Clark came here about the year 1803, from South Carolina, and settled first in what is now Fruit Hill Precinct. He was an early Justice of the Peace, and afterward became Sheriff of the county. James McKnight was an early settler in the same neighborhood. The Metcalfs, three brothers, also came from South Carolina, and settled in what is now Hamby Precinct. Another South Carolinian was George Cushman. He settled on the headwaters of the Sinking Fork, on the farm belonging to the estate of Allen Williams, as is supposed, previous to 1800. He built the first “horse mill “ in that part of the county. Colden Williams was a Baptist preacher, and came about the time of Cushman. About the year 1815 he removed to Missouri. As early as 1805, there was a Hardshell Baptist Church on his place, where that peculiar sect were wont to worship.
Judge Benjamin Shackelford and Maj. Long are mentioned in other chapters of this work. Alpheus Palmer settled in the south part of the county, and was a relative of Gen. John M. Palmer, of Illinois. William Padfield was a commissioner to build the first brick court house in the county. James McKenzie has recently died in the northeast part of the county, at over a hundred years old. The Ezells settled down in the southwest part of the county. Samuel Davis settled in the eastern part of the county, but now just across the line in Todd County. He was the father of Hon. Jefferson Davis, the President of the ex-Confederacy, and the great soldier and statesman was born in a little unpretentious house, still standing in the eastern part of the village of Fairview.
James H. McLaughlan was the second Clerk of the Circuit Court— really the first regularly qualified clerk. Young Ewing had served a year or so as clerk pro tempore, but had never been commissioned as such. Mr. McLaughlan was regularly appointed by the Court, examined by the Court of Appeals, and duly commissioned by the Governor, in March, 1804. He was a faithful and efficient officer, and his records, still to be seen in the Clerk’s office, are models of neatness and elegance, and may be read with as much ease as print. He was a regularly licensed lawyer, but never practiced in the courts of Christian County. No disparagement of the efficient Clerks, who have held the office from time to time, is meant by the remark, that the county has never had a better one than James H. McLaughlan. He was an uncle of Joseph Duncan, who was, for a time, a Deputy Clerk under him, and who afterward was Governor of Illinois, and a famous soldier and politician.
The Galbraiths, McFaddens and Blues were from North Carolina and settled in the southeast part of the county in the immediate neighborhood where Davis and Montgomery built the block-house. Of the Gaibraiths there were four brothers—John, Angus, Daniel and Duncan. As denoted by their names, they were of Scotch extraction, and it is said were North Carolina Tories, who had to leave that State after the close of the Revolutionary war. As settlements increased they sold out and removed to Missouri. The McFadden family comprised two brothers—.Jacob and John; and the Blue family, three brothers—Neil, Sandy and John. They were all of Scotch descent, came here with the Gaibraiths, and removed to Missouri with them. James Clark came from Pennsylvania in 1802, and first settled, with his parents, in Frankfort. The Bradshaws were from Virginia. There were Edward, Benjamin and William, and they came here early in the present century. They settled in the southeast part of the county. James Crabtree was from North Carolina, and settled in what is now Mount Vernon Precinct. He came soon after 1800, and brought some fifty slaves with him; also considerable fine furniture and silver plate, things hitherto quite scarce in the county. He was a prominent man, active and energetic, and farmed largely. He still has descendants living in the county. The Dulins settled in the north part of the county, and will be further noticed in the precinct history, as will be many others, whose names have already been given. The Cateses were early settlers in the county and were prominent citizens.
Joshua Cates.—A remarkable character and an energetic business man was Joshua Cates. Few now living remember him personally, or that he was once an influential citizen of the’ county. He was no common man in anything, not even in his eccentricities and peculiarities, for these were his most charming characteristics. It is said that he bore a strong resemblance to Napoleon Bonaparte, and that he was as great a man in his way as the little Corsican Lieutenant. He was not learned in the books, but he was rich and original in intellect, and rough sometimes in his speech, but still noble in a rugged way. He was as indifferent to fine dress as he was to the opinions of the world at large. He moved everything by his own promptings, and was as busy and energetic as the day was long. He did not eat or sleep like other people, but only indulged in these necessities (or luxuries) when nature compelled it, and whenever and wherever the feeling overtook him. He rarely sat down to his own table (or for that matter to any one else’s) but took a lunch in his fingers and went about his business, and when sleep overcame him, like Sancho Panza blessing its inventor, he lay down and slept, whether in his own house, on his own grounds, or by the roadside, and when exhausted nature was restored, he arose and resumed his work.
Joshua Cates was a native of South Carolina, and came to Christian County when its capital was the puniest of villages. One of his peculiarities was, and in this he differed from most of his contemporaries, he “touched not, tasted not, handled not,” intoxicating drinks, and thus kept his head clear. Another peculiarity was an almost uncontrollable desire for land. He bought all the land he could get hold of; and it is said, did not always adhere strictly to the golden rule in his real estate transactions. An instance is related to the point: A man named Pursley, also a great land trader, was contemplating the purchase of a certain tract, when Cates went to him and said : “Pursley, the title to the land is not good; not worth a cent, sir !“ Thus warned, Parsley set about investigating the matter, and while so doing Cates bought the land and secured a deed to it. A favorite expression of Cates’ was: “ You observe sir,” and he used it on most all occasions. Meeting Parsley soon after the occurrence just noted, Pursley took him to task for what he considered his injustice toward him. Cates replied : “ Mr. Pursley, you observe sir—” “Yes, Capt. Cafes,” said Pursley, “I observe it all now.” Aside from his land speculations he was a great horse dealer and negro trader. He bought horses and drove them to the southern markets, and would buy up the vicious negroes and take them “ down South “ and thus rid the county of them. He was once shot by one of his own negroes and badly wounded, but eventually recovered, and ever after he carried holsters and pistols at his saddle-bow, like an army officer. He went to Judge Shackelford’s one day, and while there, the Judge took his pistols out of the holsters to look at them, when he found that not only were neither of them loaded, but the bores were nearly closed up with rust. The Judge laughed at him for the neglected state of his arsenal, and told him that in the event of an attack they would not be of much service to him ; but said Cates, “Judge Shackelford, you obsarve sir, everybody don’t know that.”
Mr. Cates has been dead many years, and is forgotten by most of the citizens of the county. His last days were peculiarly sad, and called forth the warmest sympathy of his relatives and friends. Too great an activity and too much mental strain, excited by his various business enterprises, impaired and unsettled his mind to a great degree, and for some time before his death he was incapable of attending to any business. Few more stirring and active men ever figured in the county. His great forte was trading, and he exercised his talents in that direction to the full measure of his ability. He reared a large family of sons and daughters, and the latter are said to have been among the most beautiful women in the county. His wife is remembered by some of the old people as one of the best and noblest of women, and one whom everybody that knew loved and honored. Many representatives and descendants of the busy old man are still living in the county.
‘With the foregoing pages devoted to the early settlers, and a few words of their wilderness life, we will take leave of them until we meet with them again in the chapters on the election districts. These pioneers were a hardy, fearless, and a self-reliant people; they were rude and simple in their habits and accomplishments, and devoid of all reckless extravagance. Fresh from the scenes—many of them—of the Revolutionary struggle, a free people, their manhood elevated, they shrank from no difficulty; but, with a stern, unflinching purpose, they went forth to subdue the wilderness, and subject it to the use of man. The women, too, bore their part in the great work, and did as much, in their way, as the men did themselves. They were the companions of the sterner sex, and their helpmeets, and quailed not before the hardships of the frontier. They believed it their highest duty—as it was their noblest aim—to contribute their part in the great work of life. In cases of illness, some young woman would leave her home for a few days to care for the afflicted household, and her services were rendered without money and without price. The discharge of the sacred duty to care for the sick was the motive, and it was never neglected. The accepted life of a woman was to marry, bear and rear children, prepare the household food, spin, weave and make the garments for the family. Her whole life was the grand, simple poem of rugged, toilsome duty, bravely and uncomplainingly done. She lived history, and her descendants write and read it with a proud thrill, such as visits the pilgrim when at Arlington he stands at the base of the monument which covers the bones of 4,000 nameless men who gave their blood to preserve their country. Her work lives, and her name should only be whispered in humble reverence. Holy in death, it is too sacred for open speech.
Pioneer Pastimes.—If the pioneers lived in a time of rude civilization, they enjoyed their scenes of fun and frolic quite as well as their descendants enjoy their more refined amusements. Their house-raisings, their log-rollings and corn-shuckings, were times enjoyed by every community, particularly by the young people, when, as was often the case, a “quilting” was a part of the programme, and that followed by a dance when the work was done. Sambo, with an old, cracked, wheezy fiddle, but three strings on it as like as not, furnished music far more highly prized by these simple, rude people than would have been the sublime notes of Paganini or Ole Bull. Ah, those were enjoyable times!
But of all the gala days in the whole year, the great, glorious holiday was the day of “big muster,” when the “cornstalk” militia turned out in force for annual training. What a glorious time that was for the boys and darkies! The writer remembers well how he used to think he had lived a whole life-time in a single day, and how he would give—well, a half of his kingdom, only to be man enough to wear one of those long red plumes. They were gorgeous! When the generals and colonels and majors mounted their war horses, who “snuffed the battle afar,” with plumes in their hats as long as stove-pipes—the men, not the horses— and swords equal to the broadswords of Roderick Dhu and his clan, belted around them, ah, bow they excited our boyish envy! James Weir, in his novel of “Lonz Powers,” gives a most excellent description of those old muster days of the long ago—a description we have never seen equaled except in a speech made by Hon. Tom Corwin in the United States Senate years ago. Both of the descriptions referred to are as vivid as life, and no doubt many old gray-headed men, when they read these lines, will recall the picture, and the excitement of the militia muster; the rolling of the drum, the shrill screeching of the fife, the nodding plumes and gleaming swords; the prancing steeds (old plow horses), the words of command and the martial bearing of the Napoleons and Wellingtons, the Washingtons and Marions, the La Fayettes and Greenes and Jacksons as they marshaled their forces for the fray. They were displays that had to be witnessed to be appreciated.
The muster-day served a multitude of purposes. It brought the people together from all parts of the county, and kept them acquainted, if nothing more. The day was an epoch in the county’s chronology, from which all important events dated. National questions were discussed, State issues debated, neighborhood gossip ventilated, petty differences settled, often with “knock-down” arguments, and when the muster was over, it was usually found that all the cases had been cleared from the docket, and a new era had dawned. But the institution of the old militia muster, with its pomp and glory, its fun and frolic and its fights and excitements, has passed away with other relics of our earlier civilization. With the close of the Mexican war it began to wane in popularity, and soon passed out of existence.
Land Speculations and Troubles.—In the early history of Kentucky there was much trouble arising out of defective land titles, and settlers in every portion of the State suffered more or less from this cause. The old records of Christian County show more land litigation than any other kind. Collins says: “The radical and incurable defect of the law was the neglect of Virginia to provide for the general survey of the country, at the expense of the Government, and its subdivision into whole, half and quarter sections, as is now done by the United States. Instead of this, each possessor of a warrant was allowed to locate the same where he pleased, and was required to survey it at his own cost, but his entry was required to be so special and precise, that each subsequent locator might recognize the land already taken up, and make his entry elsewhere. To make a good entry, therefore, required a precision and accuracy of description which such men as Boone and Kenton could not be expected to possess; and all vague entries were declared null and void. Unumbered sorrows, law suits and heart-rending vexations were the consequences of this unhappy law. In the unskillful hands of the pioneers and hunters of Kentucky, entries, surveys and patents were piled upon each other, overlapping and crossing in endless perplexity. In the meantime the immediate consequence of the law was a flood of immigration. The hunters of the elk and buffalo were succeeded by the more ravenous hunters of land; in the pursuit they fearlessly braved the hatchet of the Indian and the privations of the forest. The surveyor’s chain and compass were seen in the woods as frequently as the rifle; and during the years 1779—80—81, the great and all-absorbing object in Kentucky was to enter, survey and obtain a patent for the richest sections of land. Indian hostilities were rife during the whole of this period, but these only formed episodes in the great drama.”
We have a sample of this in Christian County. John Montgomery, one of the first white men in the county, was a surveyor, and was killed by the Indians, as detailed in a preceding chapter, while surveying land. The troubles about land titles and litigation prevailed here as elsewhere, and many men lost their lands which they thought secured to them. Some of the early lawyers paid little attention to any other branch of the practice except land claims, and the litigation over such claims for years encumbered the dockets of the courts of the county. The pioneers were mostly simple and honest, and some have characterized them as stupid. They knew how to endure privations with constant and necessary activity, they lived in the free wilderness, where action was unfettered by law, and where property was not controlled by form and technicality, but rested on the natural and broader foundation of justice and convenience. They knew how to repel the aggression of the private wrong-doer, but they knew not how to swindle a neighbor out of his acres, by declaration, demurrer, plea and replication, and all the scientific pomp of chicanery. Hence, in the broad and glorious light of civilization, they were stupid. Their confidence in men, their simplicity, their stupidity, by whatever name proper to call it, rendered them an easy prey to selfish and unprincipled speculators. There are many still living in Christian County who remember the trouble and ill-feeling caused by these defective land-titles.
Crime and Lawlessness.—As the rough and turbulent spirits of the pioneer period drifted away before the benign influence of civilization, society improved materially in the county. It is quite true that it was never worse here than it is in all new countries. But the history of our republic, from its earliest colonization, has shown bad men mingled among the first corners to a particular section, and that, as law and order are established, these characters are weeded out. So it was here. Shortly after the county was formed, and the different branches of the courts were organized and put in operation, Christian became as law-abiding a community as any in the State. And with the great mass of the population this has ever been the case.
But there was a period, dating back perhaps to 1835—40, when not only this, but some of the surrounding counties were afflicted with a species of lawlessness, that to the better class of citizens was extremely annoying. Horse-stealing became rather common, likewise barn-burning, and occasionally burglarious attacks, of an alarming nature, varied the monotony of the times, and led to the general belief that there was an organized band of men who made robbery their chief occupation. The whole Mississippi Valley seemed to be troubled in pretty much the same way. Depredations were committed in rapid succession at points widely separated, and yet with such characteristic skill as to create the belief that they were done by the same inspiration, if not by the same persons. Such a conclusion involved a belief in a wide-spread conspiracy, which so covered the territory with abettors and sympathizers that the ordinary officials felt powerless to thwart its plans, or arrest the offenders against the law. At first this was worse in other counties than it was here, but it gradually became too common in this county to be longer borne, without efforts being made to check the evil. The achievements of this confederated band of outlaws culminated, in 1845, in the murder of a man named Simon Davis, of which more will be said hereafter.
The Pennington Family.—In the north part of the county lived a family named Pennington, who were quite early settlers. The father, Col. Francis P. Pennington, was a man of considerable wealth, and intelligent beyond the majority of his neighbors. He owned a large farm, and some fifteen or twenty slaves; was long a Justice of the Peace, and as such under the old Constitution of the State, succeeded in regular rotation to the office of High Sheriff of the county, in 1829. In this capacity, so far as is now known, he discharged his duties well and faithfully. In those days he was looked upon as a man of undoubted integrity, and of Unsullied honor. No shadow of suspicion touched him, until in later years, when the denouement which sent his son to the gallows directed attention to facts hitherto deemed of no significance, but now magnified into matters of serious consequence. There was nothing absolutely wrong known of him, or traceable to him, yet when troubles came upon his house, then it was that many little things were remembered against him; how strangers often came through the country, mounted on fine horses, and inquired for Col. Pennington, sought out his home, remained no one knew how long, and left no one knew when, as they traveled over by-paths, little used by anybody else, and held no communications with others in the neighborhood. These semi. occasional visits of unknown men excited distrust of Pennington, and aroused suspicions, and caused threats to be indulged in against him, but no violence was ever offered, and the old man was allowed to die in peace.
Col. Pennington had two sons, Alonzo and Morton, and possessing considerable wealth, as he did, he gave them good educations for that early day. They grew to manhood respected throughout the neighborhood, and were considered fine young men. “Lonz,” as he was familiarly called, was the younger of the two boys, and in many respects a very remarkable man. He was intelligent, shrewd, of fine appearance, well educated, and with his natural faculties trained almost to the perfection of the scent of the Siberian bloodhound. He was a good judge of men, and energetic enough to carry out any undertaking with money at the end of it. Had his talents been directed into the right channel, and his qualifications and accomplishments turned to the accomplishment of good, he might have become an ornament to society and a benefactor to his race, instead of a victim to the insulted laws of his country. Many crimes were attributed to him of which he was, perhaps, innocent, while no doubt he committed many the public generally knew nothing of. But his nefarious acts were found out, and his crimes brought home to him with vengeance.
Alonzo Pennington married when quite a young man, and settled down upon a farm in the northeastern part of the county, in what is now Wilson Precinct. He was a great lover of horses, passionately fond of racing, and soon became a large dealer in fast horses; he constructed a “track” on his farm, which became a general headquarters for that kind of sport, and of a class of men whose morals were not of the highest order. Pennington would make frequent trips, sometimes remaining absent from home for weeks, under the pretext of buying horses, and as he always returned with a number, no one doubted the honesty of his transactions then. He managed to get hold of many fine racers, and, as they accumulated on his hands, he drove them South, where they were sold to planters and traders. He would then make another trip over into Illinois for a fresh supply, and thus he kept the business up for several years. But eventually rumors began to arise of questionable transactions in which “Lonz” Pennington bore a prominent part. He often had a number of strange men about him, shrewd and unscrupulous as he himself proved to be, who looked after his horses and took them South for him. None knew who they were or whence they came, for they held aloof from the people. It was not unfrequently the case that about the time a drove of horses was taken South, a few likely negro boys would be missed from different sections of the country, and who were never heard of afterward. Southern Illinois was known to be infested with the most lawless characters, with a rendezvous about Cave-in-Rock, who operated in defiance of the Government and the courts to dislodge them. They counterfeited, stole horses, robbed and murdered with impunity, and the whole Western frontier was flooded with their spurious gold and silver coins and bank bills, until it became known far and wide as “Cave-in-Rock money.” It was soon noticeable that every time Pennington returned from Illinois with horses, a shower of counterfeit money followed. Though suspicion was rife, it was not easy to find a man sufficiently reckless to publish his convictions, and Pennington was shrewd enough to cover his trail. He was very quiet, a man of much dignity, held no communication publicly with the men in his employ, and acted as though he scarcely knew them. He was a great trader, and borrowed money largely from the farmers, who regarded him as a safe speculator and thriving business man, but who were not smart enough to discover any irregularity in his transactions. He was often involved in litigation, but his keen ability and knowledge of the law, in furnishing the “right kind of evidence,” usually won with an easy victory. It was his questionable dealings, and his numerous entanglements in the courts, that attracted the attention of those already on the alert. Then, too, there was the palpable fact that with every drove of horses from beyond the Ohio, counterfeit money increased, and that as the horses went South, negroes mysteriously disappeared. Of these negro disappearances the following incident is related: There was a man named Brown living in Hopkins County, three or four miles from Madisonville, who lost a negro man, and whom he supposed had “run away.” Some time after the negro had disappeared, Brown was told by a man, suspected of being a tool of Pennington’s, that for $100 he would show him his negro, but that he (Brown) would have to take him, as he could only show him where he was to be seen. Brown consented, and one night was conducted by the fellow to a certain place, a shrill whistle was given, and presently some one was heard approaching. A few moments, and the negro appeared sure enough, but when he saw them he leaped back exclaiming, “Massa Brown!” At the same time Brown discovered three men with guns in their hands, and, divining his danger, sprang away into the darkness and made his escape. He believed, and no doubt he was correct, that he had been lured there for the purpose of being murdered. The man claimed the $100, on the ground that he had performed his part of the contract in showing him the negro, and Brown paid it. Not very long afterward, his tobacco barn was burned, and still a little later he was assassinated on his own premises, by the gang, as was supposed. These negroes that mysteriously disappeared were lured away from their masters under the promise of being sent across the Ohio to freedom, but were kept concealed by the gang until a drove of horses was ready for market, when they, too, were taken South and sold on the cotton and sugar plantations; a fate looked upon by the negroes here with as much horror as the Russian criminal contemplates the mines of Siberia.
Sharp Practices.—To illustrate Lonz Pennington’s crooked transactions, the following incident is related as one out of many of which he was said to have been guilty: An old farmer, Williams by name, one day thoughtlessly, in the presence of Lonz, or one of his satellites, mentioned the fact of having a thousand dollars in money, and Lonz determined he would have it. So he went to his brother-in-law (named Oates), gave him a note which he bad drawn, payable to Williams, bearing ten per cent interest, and signed by Oates, who was worth nothing, and himself as security. This note Oates was instructed to take to Williams and get the money. Williams, on seeing the name of Lonz Pennington on the note, made no hesitation in letting Oates have the money. When the note became due, Oates had nothing to pay with, and Williams went to Pennington, who coolly informed him that he had warned him long before that Oates was wasting his property, becoming bankrupt, and he had notified him to attach and make his debt; if he had not done so it was his own fault. etc. Williams denied ever having been notified to make his debt out of Oates, and brought suit against Pennington. The latter notified Williams’ lawyer that on a certain day he would take the deposition of one T. Black at a town in Illinois. Williams and his attorney were on hand at the time and place, but Black could not be found, and Pennington said he had moved to Tennessee, and as soon as he could find where he was he would give notice again. Soon they were notified that the deposition would be taken at a certain town in Tennessee, but when they arrived he was not there. Williams was worn out in the fruitless hunt, and finally consented to let the deposition be taken before a Commissioner whenever Black was found, whether he was present or not. This was just what Pennington wanted, and shortly after he filed Black’s deposition duly taken and authenticated. To those who mistrusted Pennington already it was evident that Black was a myth, and that it was but another of Pennington’s sharp practices, which were now becoming notorious. The transactions of Lonz and his gang were getting bolder and more frequent, and every day the people getting their eyes opened more and more to the true state of affairs in the community. Mysterious whispers as to the organization of a new court, a court hitherto unknown to the legal luminaries of the county, were heard, and Judge Lynch was momentarily expected to take his seat upon the bench, and mete out to these offenders stern justice.
Pennington’s Last Game.—But we will give the remainder of Pennington’s career in the words of Hon. James F. Buckner, now of Louisville, but long a resident of Hopkinsville, and the attorney who defended Pennington when tried for his life. His description of the crime, the trial and execution, was detailed to a reporter of the Courier-Journal, who wrote and published it in that paper January 13, 1884. No one should be more familiar with the circumstances than Col. Buckner, and his version of the affair, or the greater part of it, is vouched for, in all of its essential features, by old citizens of the county. It is as follows:
There was a man living in the upper part of the county named Simon Davis, a stonemason of good character. He married a young lady who was one of three orphans raised by a Baptist Minister in the neighborhood. She inherited a farm and five negroes. Davis stocked the farm, and was just getting started in life, when she died, leaving no children. Of course her inheritance returned to the other two children, leaving Davis none of his wife’s property. Pennington saw the situation at a glance, and resolved to play a bold hand. He told Davis that his wife’s word would not permit him to keep the farm and negroes, because by law they belonged to the other children, but if he could turn the negroes into money and sell him the farm he would undertake to law the old minister out of it. He said he was not afraid of lawsuits, and could beat them every time, but he did not like to see a man compelled to give up property that had rightfully belonged to him because his wife died. His plausible argument had its effect on Davis, and he agreed to take the friendly advice. He sold four of the negroes, and collected the money for them, $1,500, at the May muster at Fruit Hill in 1845. It was under the old constitution that the regimental musters were held, and I was Muster Colonel. I had been Pennington’s lawyer in a few cases, and he had been to see me several times just before the muster to inquire about the writing and acknowledgment of a deed. I supposed he was making a trade in another county, and told him how the document should be drawn up, signed and acknowledged, or witnessed. After the muster was over, Davis was seen leaving the grounds with Pennington to go to the latter’s father’s to get the money to pay for the farm. A part of the programme was for Davis to leave the county as soon as the trade was made, so as to be out of the way in case suit was brought against Pennington to recover the farm, and that he must tell some of his friends that he was going away. Davis was never seen alive after he left the muster grounds with Pennington. They started to take a near cut through the country, and the first thing the neighbors knew Pennington was working the Davis farm and Davis was gone. Everybody was anxious to know what became of him, and the suspicions of the entire county were aroused, and in a few weeks some one mustered courage enough to ask Pennington where Davis was. He replied that Davis was in Illinois building a saw-mill, and that he saw him the last trip he made after horses. His explanation lulled suspicion for a while, but there was a strong belief prevalent that there had been foul play. Pennington bought all of Davis’ stock except a bald-faced horse with a glass-eye, which he said Davis took with him.
At this point in the affair, the best authenticated accounts in the county disagree with the statement of Col. Buckner, though in no very important particulars. In several conversations held with those who participated in all the proceedings, in fact, who belonged to the regulators, organized for the purpose of ridding the county of the robber gang, and who should be thoroughly conversant with the matter, it appears that the “bald-faced, glass-eyed horse” of Davis’ was never found at all, instead of being discovered in a pen in Fruit Hill, as Col. Buckner gives it, but that he was “heard of,” or a horse suiting his description, at the house of one Sheffield, some twenty miles or more distant from Fruit Hill, and in Muhlenburg County.
The depredations of the lawless gang had become so frequent, that the people were at last aroused to action. Regulators had already been organized in some of the adjoining counties, and expelled from their midst many suspected characters. After the disappearance of Davis, a suspicion took deep root in the minds of many that he had been murdered, and notwithstanding Pennington’s assertion that he was in Illinois “ building a saw-mill,” some of the best men in the county, under the leadership of Col. James Robinson, one of the most respected citizens in the north part of the county, had formed themselves into a band of Regulators for the purpose of searching for the body of Davis, whom they did not doubt had been foully murdered by Pennington or some of his tools, and of punishing the perpetrators of the deed. When they heard of the horse at Sheffield’s, up in Muhlenburg County, two of their number were dispatched to the place to see if it was Davis’ horse. A man named Cessna, a tool of Pennington’s, was already in the hands of the Regulators. Sheffield was captured, but the horse was gone, and from descriptions received of it, they became convinced it was the horse they were in search of. Neither Cessna nor Sheffield was whipped by the Regulators, but every preparation had been made for such a performance; the rope had been produced, the hickories cut and trimmed and brought forward, when Cessna, who had not been tied, but was closely guarded, stepped back a pace, opened his shirt front, and without the tremor of a muscle exclaimed, “Shoot me, but for God’s sake don’t disgrace my back by whipping.” Col. Robinson told him that nothing but a full confession would save him from that disgrace cc, that they were satisfied Davis had been murdered and that he (Cessna) knew it. and knew where the body was concealed, and if he would lead them to it, they would then put him into the hands of the law, otherwise they would whip him until he did tell. He called a parley with three or four of them— there were some two hundred present.—and agreed to take them to the spot. He saw none but determined faces about him, and decided that he had no alternative but to tell the whole story or take the threatened punishment. We now resume the statement of Col. Buckner as published in the Courier-Journal:
He (Cessna) said that Pennington had killed Davis and thrown his body into a sink-hole. He was told to conduct them to the sink-hole, and they started. He led them through the woods to a long hill-side in heavy timber, where was a deep cavern almost, or apparently, bottomless, as a rock dropped into it could not be heard to strike any impediment. The bottom could not be seen, but one of the Regulators went down, and sure enough there lay Davis’ body, where it had lodged on a shelf of rock. Had it missed that, it would have gone no telling where. Cessna said that Pennington and Davis had stopped by the opening and sat down on a log to talk about the deed, and that they had a dispute and Pennington hit Davis on the side of the head with a hickory club, killing him, and had thrown the body where it was found. Cessna was taken to jail and the excitement spread over the whole country. Pennington’s house was visited, but he was not there. His wife said he had gone to Paducah to get some horses and a party started after him, but they missed him. He came back by way of Princeton and Hopkinsville and thus avoided them. As he was riding along the road before reaching Hopkinsville, he met a man he was acquainted with who was more communicative than wise. Pennington asked him the news and he replied: “Haven’t you heard it? They have found Davis’ body and they say you killed him, and they are hunting for you.” This was a tip for Pennington and he rode on avoiding the town and thence home. He told me afterward that he would not have gone home at all, had it not been that the animal he was riding was jaded and he wanted a fresh horse. He said he had a blooded horse at home named “ Walnut Cracker,” and he wanted to get on him to get away. It was in the night when he got home, and he discovered that there were some horses hitched to the fence, and he made up his mind not to go in. He was thirsty, and started to the spring to get a drink of water, and just before he reached it he heard some one talking and hid himself to listen. Three men passed him with guns and he knew there was no time to lose. Old Walnut Cracker was in the pasture and he went back and got on his horse and rode around the barn to the pasture. He soon found his favorite horse, and after transferring the saddle and bridle to him, mounted and left the country. The search for him was kept up several days, but as no trace of him could be found it was finally abandoned.
The deed from Davis to Pennington had been lodged for record in the County Court, duly drawn, signed and witnessed, in one of Penning-ton’s peculiarly disguised styles of handwriting. He had robbed Davis of the $1,500 the latter received for the four negroes, killed him and forged his signature to the deed and made Sheffield and Cessna witness it under assumed names. Old man Williams forced his suit to a trial about that time, and as he had no trouble in throwing out the deposition of T. Black, he collected his money. This was in June, 1845, and during the following winter, Col. James Bowland, who had removed from Christian County to Texas several years before, returned home. He had been a candidate for the Texas Congress and was defeated just before his return, and one day he mentioned to his brother, Dr. Reece Bowland, that during his canvass he spoke at a little town in Texas, and during his speech he noticed in the crowd a familiar face. He studied it closely, and then recognized the man as Lonz Pennington, whom he had known in Kentucky. After he got through speaking, he hunted the man up, and, calling him by name, extended his hand, but the man declined it and told him he was entirely mistaken in the man. The Colonel was greatly surprised, but apologized for his mistake and. he was forgiven. He had riot heard of Pennington’s work in Kentucky, and when his brother narrated the circumstances to him, he was satisfied that he was not mistaken in the man he offered to shake hands with in Texas. A large reward had been offered by Christian County for Pennington, and after the brothers talked the matter over, Col. Bowland said Pennington was still in Texas and could be caught without any trouble, and they determined to undertake his capture. They started the next day on horseback, but when they reached the place Pennington was not there, but had gone up into the Indian Territory. They followed him and found him playing the fiddle at a camp dance. He was captured and brought back to Kentucky, just a year after the murder of Davis, and his return in the hands of the law officers was a great surprise to the people, who never expected to hear of him again. When the news came that the Bowlands had him at a point on the Cumberland River and wanted a guard to escort him to I-Hopkinsville, nearly every man in the county volunteered for the service. It was the intention to re-organize the Regulators, and, after escorting Lonz to Hopkinsville, take him to the place where Davis was killed and hang him. This plan did not meet with general approval, however, and the law was given full scope. I was attending court at Cadiz when they passed through, and everybody made a rush to see the prisoner. The escort stopped, and as I was standing on the court house steps, Penning-ton beckoned me to him. I responded, and he asked me to defend him. and I accepted the offer and told him I would call at the jail to see him when I reached home. When I got home, his wife was waiting for me, and I started with her to the jail. The greatest excitement prevailed, and the town was full of armed men who were really anxious for an opportunity to take Pennington out and hang him, but their wrath was divided against me for offering to defend him. They had boldly announced that no lawyer should take his case, but that the testimony should be given in brief, so the jury could return a verdict in order that the form of law might be carried out. As I walked down the street with Pennington’s wife, who was a lady above reproach and knew nothing of her husband’s free-booting proclivities, I was halted on every side and warned to keep out of the case. I paid no attention to the warning, but proceeded to the jail, where I found an excited crowd, who boldly informed me that if I had anything to do with Pennington’s defense, they would take both of us out and hang us. My family and relatives were frightened, and beseeched me to keep out of it, but I felt that I could not stand to be terrorized in that way, and turned my attention to the mad crowd. I told them that any criminal was entitled to a trial, and if Pennington did not employ counsel, the court would appoint some one to defend him, and that I was not going to ask the public for permission to defend a man in a court of justice. I saw in a few moments that I had adopted the only plan to sustain myself, and in a short time Uncle Jimmy Robinson, who had made the first move in all this work, came to me and said: I reckon we are wrong ; it is best to let the law take its course, but we can’t have any acquittal or hung jury in this case. If the evidence is not strong enough for a jury, the Regulators will administer justice." After a great deal of persuasion he got the men to consent, and I went into the jail and had a conference with Pennington. I told him to tell me the truth, and I believe he did in many points, but when he would get to the killing, he would only say that he did not touch Davis. I reached the conclusion that he made Cessna or Sheffield do the killing and hiding, and that he took the money and gave them some of it. I demanded a continuance of a few days when the case was called, which aroused the people again, and I was accused of trying to give Pennington a chance to escape. I was warned that I need not expect any support in my next race for the Legislature, but I told them that I owed a duty to my client, and was going to perform it. Of course there was no defense to be made, and the jury were not long in deciding to inflict the death penalty, and in May, 1846, Edward Alonzo Pennington, the successor of the robber chief, John A. Murrell, was hanged before the largest gathering of people ever seen in Southwestern Kentucky. Cessna had made his escape before the arrest of Pennington, and a great many men left that section of country quietly but permanently.
The Regulators.—It is still believed by many people of the county, that Cessna was taken from the jail by the Regulators and hanged. But from all information collected concerning the affair, it does not seem at all probable that he was. From the nature of his escape, he was no doubt assisted from without by friends. This, however, has been construed into arguments to show that it was the work of the Regulators that they purposely left such signs to divert suspicion from them, and make it appear that his friends had assisted him to escape. The truth, pure and unadulterated, may never be known, but there seems really no just grounds to charge his execution to the Regulators. The man Sheffield, though held for several days, was not imprisoned, nor was he whipped, but was finally liberated on condition that he ]eave the State and never return. He was glad to escape and the county was troubled with him no more. The Regulators, though not a lawful organization, did the county good, and succeeded in doing what the law had failed to accomplish—the breaking up of a desperate band of outlaws, and banishing them from the country. They submitted to the depredations of the gang until “forbearance had ceased to be a virtue,” and the law had failed to protect them; then they took it into their own hands and protected themselves. Mob violence should be condemned, and it is condemned by all good law-abiding citizens, but there are cases where it may be exercised with beneficial results to a community. The Regulators of Christian County, who comprised many of the very best citizens, did nothing rashly, nor did they punish any man without a trial; though it may have been but a drumhead court-martial. Sometimes they whipped a man, but that was as a last resort. Suspected characters were warned to leave the country, and if they did not go, when sufficient evidence was accumulated against them, they had to submit to their fate.
After the execution of Alonzo Pennington, and the expulsion from the country of some of his known followers, the county was troubled no more with the species of lawlessness that had for years prevailed to a greater or lesser extent. Counterfeit money passed out of circulation, likely young negroes ceased to disappear with systematic regularity, horses were seldom stolen and society generally changed for the better. This was not wholly due to the Regulators, but no one can deny that they contributed their mite toward it, and, together with the law, accomplished the grand result. There are a great many persons who still believe that Pennington and his gang had conceived the bold project of robbing the bank in Hopkinsville, and of murdering Mr. Rowland, the Cashier. Others scout the idea, and believe it to have originated through the fears and timidity of some of the more weak-k need citizens. There is a tradition that some one to whom the Regulators administered a liberal dose of “hickory oil “ had “confessed” that there was a move on foot to rob the bank; how it was to be accomplished, and when, and where some of the tools with which the deed was to be performed might be found. The tradition goes on to say, that search was made, and the implements found according to the man’s story. The skeptical, however, deny the whole matter, and say the man’s confession was made merely to save his back from further torture.
Morton Pennington, who escaped from the county when the “hue and cry “ was raised against Alouzo, returned some years after the latter’s execution. The Regulators told him he might visit his father’s family, and stay for a reasonable length of time, but he would not be permitted to remain permanently. But he loitered around the neighborhood, principally at the house of Alonzo’s widow, until at last she went to the Regulators and requested them to drive him from the country, as she did not want his influence upon her children. They arrested him and tried him according to their rules and regulations, sentenced him to be whipped, executed the sentence, and ordered him to leave the country and never return, an order he promptly obeyed.—Perrin.
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