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
April 26, 1898
I was born
in 1806. My grandfather lived at the Long Islands of Holston
River, a good while. He and my father went there several times.
My grandfather married Nancy Grigsby. I have been at the Long
Islands of Holston myself. My mother was a sickly woman, and
I went back for medicine. I took my mother to Salt Creek, Indiana,
to see her mother, Mrs. Hicks. I am a brother of John S. Combs,
who lives on this creek. I knew that General Leslie Combs was
kin to us, but I do not know whether he was Uncle William's son
or not. I saw Uncle William often. He used to come from about
Lexington to see us. My grandfather, Nicholas Combs, came first.
He built a cabin and left his wife and went back for provisions,
I think Sam Cornett was the oldest of the Cornetts. My grandfather
was detained on his first trip back to the Long Islands of Holston,
and he feared his wife would starve or die before he could get
back, but when he came up to the point at the mouth of Carr,
he helloed, and she answered him. His heart leaped with joy at
the response. The deer were all about the cabin, but she did
not know how to shoot. My mother could shoot. The women were
not marksmen. I knew my mother to kill bear and deer. The old
Combses were property plenty. They owned slaves. They went back
to Tennessee. I crossed New River, when I went to the seashore.
I think old Thomas Grigsby came out with my grandfather, and
he was his brother-in-law, the brother of my grandmother.
Old Mason Combs married a terrible woman. Martin Combs was his
son, on Carr, also Preston on Middle Fork and Boney at Booneville.
The Indians used to scout through the settlement and do devilment.
My wife was Polly Feltner, daughter of John and Betsey Feltner.
They were Dutch people. My wife is four years my junior. She
has a brother on Lots Creek called Jacob Feltner, pretty well-preserved.
The Feltners came from Tennessee. They were here when I was born.
I was born in this county. My mother was a Sumner. They came
from Long Islands of Holston. There is an island in the river
a mile or two long, just below Blountsville. I am pretty certain
my father married in this state. My brother, Mose, was the eldest
child. He was a man grown, when I was a boy. My wife had brothers
and sisters as follows: William, Henry, Rebecca (Osborne), in
Indiana; and Jacob. My father-in-law died and is buried at the
Squire Nick Combs' place, near L. D. Combs. She had a sister,
Nancy, who married a Ritchie.
Old Richard Smith married Nancy Combs, my aunt. He was a Baptist
preacher. He would drink liquor and fight. He whipped a bully
and got his nose and ear bitten off. He was a blacksmith. He
could not be whipped.
I have traveled a great deal. I got my eyes hurt in a fight when
on the road to Indiana. A fellow imposed on my brother, and I
whipped him. The doctor told me my eye would fail, when I was
old and now the sight is gone. I have had many fights but not
on my own account. I never was whipped. Some of the Old Combses
belonged to the church. My father did. He made a great deal of
liquor. My grandfather and he were great workers, never stopped.
They both got well off. My father made money making flatboats
and selling them at Clay's Ferry to boat tobacco to New Orleans.
He sold one for $200. The Combses were usually tall. My father
was called "Chunky" Jerry. He was like the Grigsbys.
He had $10,000 worth of land in Perry County, when he died. He
had land all over the county. My grandfather was the richest
of all the Combses. All had Negroes and a great deal of property.
My father used to boat coal to Clay's Ferry. I remember when
they began to boat coal from here. It was when I was a boy. I
remember when he took empty boats down. I am not certain, but
I think my father, Jerry Combs, took the first boat load of coal
down the river. I remember when they began to take timber off
in rafts. They took walnut first.
John Amy (Amis), Sam Davidson, old Billy Strong, the preacher,
the Begleys, and others were in the "Cattle War." The
Middle Forkers got the worst of it. Old Gilbert was with Amy
(Amis). He rode up amongst the Grapevine boys. Some of the Sizemores
were in it. Callahans and Davidsons came from Clay to help the
Grapevine boys. Amy (Amis) was an overbearing man. Joel Elkins
set his gun behind the door of the courthouse and at the picked
time shot Amy (Amis).
They called William Combs of Fayette, "Old Buckery."
They said he was doing well. He was a farmer. I have been to
his house in Fayette. My grandfather was a wild man and would
fight in a minute, but he was very kindhearted.
Old General Combs sent a Negro man to bury a Negro man of his
own who had died in a swamp below Squire Nick's burying ground.
He had laid down on a log in a swamp and fell off dead. His little
dog was lying between his shoulders, when he found him. General
(Elijah) told the Negro to put a chain about the dead Negro's
neck and drag him out and dig a hole and put him in it.
My grandfather, Nicholas Combs, found it out and was about to
thrash the Negro for doing such a thing. They both carried him
to the graveyard and buried him in a coffin. General and Grandfather
had some hard words about it. General did not care for such treatment
of others nor did he fear anybody, but my grandfather was too
strong for him.
The Feltners came from Long Islands of Holston but came later
than my grandfather but not much. I have seen old General Elijah
Combs at Muster in his regimentals.
I have been sick nine months but have had no physician. I have
no confidence in the doctors we have. Then I thought I was old
and must soon die, and it was no use to try. I am in a peculiar
condition. I do not believe anybody could do me any good.