Editor's Note: 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 digest.
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 been changed.
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.