Readers of The Kentucky Explorer have been introduced to the
Rev. John J. Dickey in past issues. Remember that he was a traveling
preacher throughout the eastern part of the state during the
years between 1880 and 1925. He helped to establish numerous
churches and at least two colleges. He was also a teacher and
a newspaper editor. However, his most enduring gift to us today
may well be his diary that he kept faithfully during some 50
years of his later life beginning in the 1880s. In all, over
6,000 pages written in his own hand make up this interesting
In this journal of his, Dickey often wrote down accounts of events
daily. Much of the material concerns his day to day life. However,
during the late 1890s he began to gather family history on various
families he met in his travels. We are offering these interviews
to our readers in the hope that they will be appreciated in the
sense that Rev. Dickey intended. These interviews were written
word for word as they were given to Rev. Dickey. Nothing has
A Bear Story
I have often heard my father tell of an adventure he had in capturing
a bear. Bruin had run into a cave, her home, perhaps, and they
trapped her to her retreat. He went into the cave with gun cocked,
muzzle foremost. The first intimation he had of the proximity
of the bear was that she threw up the muzzle of the gun. Fortunately,
it fell down again and just then he pulled the trigger, and the
ball took effect in the forehead of the bear. My uncle, James
Bates, was outside holding a favorite dog of my father's who
was so devoted (to my father) that he would go through fire to
his assistance. At the report of the gun the dog broke loose
from my uncle throwing him over a cliff and came into the cave.
My father carried to his grave the marks of that dog's claws
made as he passed over my father's back to reach the bear, and
this powerful dog seized her and dragged her to the light while
father crawled out backwards.
March 24, 1898
I have seen my father make gunpowder. He used six pounds of saltpeter,
one of sulphur, and one of charcoal. He made the saltpeter. He
would pulverize the sulphur and sift it through a "sarch."
He would dissolve the saltpeter in water then stir in the sulphur
and pour this onto the charcoal in a mortar of wood. Then he
would beat this with a pestle, usually fastened to a spring pole.
He would beat all the day, say ten or 12 hours. He kept the composition
wet all the time he was beating. While in a doughy state, he
would grain it. This was done by putting it into a sieve. In
the sieve, he would put a piece of wood the size of a saucer
and about an inch thick. As he shook the sifter this would roll
into grains, and these would pass through the sieve. The size
of the grains depended, of course, on the make of the sifter.
After this, it was dried in the sun. Then it was sifted again
to get the dust out of it. This dust was again put into the mortar
and wet up and ground. It was called "drag powder"
in opposition to glazed powder. It was more easily ignited than
the glazed powder, hence suited the flintlock gun better. My
father made the saltpeter which he used. He would get the saltpeter
rock and pulverize it; also the dirt at the base of the cliff
was imprecated with saltpeter. These would be used with wood
ashes and put into a hopper built like a common ash hopper. Over
this, he would pour hot water, and thus the saltpeter would be
carried out into a vessel. This would be boiled down until crystals
would begin to form at the surface, it was called "shooting,"
because the crystals were formed instantaneously shooting out
like a circle. These crystals were skimmed off and melted over
a fire when it was made to boil. While on the fire, he would
insert a blazing torch into the pot to burn out certain foreign
substances. The kettle would be taken off and water dropped into
foreign substances. When it began to cool, crystals would form
on the bottom of the pot and foreign substances would be found.
The saltpeter would then be made or finished.