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 12, 1898
I was born in Lee County, Virginia, November 15, 1829 (1833?).
My father was James Lyttle. He was a son of David Lyttle of Russell
County, Virginia. My father removed to Harlan County, Kentucky,
in 1846, and settled just above Mt. Pleasant, where we lived
two years, then removed eight miles further up the Clover Fork
near the old homestead of William Turner, one of the first settlers
of Harlan County. At that time he was 100 years old and his wife
was the same age. They were both paralyzed and both died the
same week when they were about 104 years old. They raised a large
family, perhaps 12 in number. One daughter married John B. Clay,
who was murdered for his money in 1856. I saw him borrow the
money, $95. He was killed by unknown parties supposed to be Joe
Noland and Hezekiah Clem. They were prosecuted. D. Y. Lyttle
defended them. John Dishman and others prosecuted. They were
acquitted. Clem was hung in 1858 for killing Ben Irvine in Mt.
Pleasant. Lyttle and Dishman prosecuted. The trial excited great
interest. Clem's mother was Tupsey Hall, a sister of James, Hezekiah,
Francis Hall, and others. The Hall's were an early family and
fighters and thieves. Tupsey Hall was a noted woman. I saw her
shoot a big buck in the ford at Mt. Pleasant. When the hunters
came up she refused to give them part of it.
Old Sammy Howard killed John Hensley. David Y. Lyttle defended
Howard and cleared him. I rode behind Sammy Howard in Lee County,
Virginia. He did not mean to kill Hensley. He struck him with
a little stick to keep him from cutting him. Howard was a good,
very old man.
Witches In Harlan
From 1850 for several years witches infested Harlan County. One
of the witches was a sister of John B. Clay and daughter-in-law
of the original William Turner. Her husband was James Turner,
Sr. Their son, James, was the noted desperado of the mountains
of Kentucky. He continued his work through the war and was sent
to the penitentiary for life about 1869 for killing his uncles,
William and David Middleton. He and Andy Fields killed them in
ambush. Francis Pace, an accomplice, was also sent; he had served
two terms. He (James) had killed from 10 to 15 men. He was in
the 7th Kentucky, was also a guerrilla, killed men on both sides
for money. I shot him when 13 or 15 years old. I have known him
to drive 14 hogs from one man's pen in broad daylight, in Harlan
County, from Jonathan Lewis or Poor Fork, and everybody was afraid
to touch him. He burned the courthouse in broad daylight about
1865 or 1866. He cut a ham out of a live cow of his uncle Eldridge,
turned her loose, and ate the beef. He was lying out to escape
arrest and died. He killed the same man's sheep and hung or tacked
the hide up at his gate. The authorities called for help from
the Governor. He got up a petition and compelled everyone to
sign it, stating that troops were not needed. The guns had been
ordered to London but were sent back to Frankfort, and the arms
did not get any farther.
Old Aunt Dinah, a slave of the same William Turner, 104 years
old, was another witch. Salim Sturgeon, a white woman, lived
as the concubine or wife of Negro George, a slave of the same
William Turner, who was the third witch. It began by cattle dying
and hair balls being found in them, hide whole but the internal
parts being shot to pieces, horses died, hogs died, cows, etc.
Log heaps were made, and all these were burned as a torture to
the witches. The hair balls were carried in people's pockets
to show what happened. The people who feared the witches kept
their pockets turned wrong-side outwards at night for safety.
This prevented the Jack O'Lantern from leading them. At shooting
matches, if the gun did not hit the mark, the contest was abandoned.
The Middletons were especially afflicted by the witches. Women
and Negro boys and sometimes men were bewitched. The excitement
was so intense that with torches they would climb the Black Mountain
to go to _____ (word was not transcribed) on Greasy Creek, who
were afflicted with witches. They were doing this to make merry
with Old Tom Wells. Guards were placed around Old William Turner,
who owned the slaves. He and his wife, who were paralyzed, were
ridden by the witches.
The guard encircled the house about 500 times so that no one
could come in, because it required four days to effect a cure.
If anyone inside this circle would give or sell as much as the
value of a pin, this broke the charm and no cure could be effected,
so no one was allowed to enter the circle so as to make the cure
certain. This circle crossed the state road, and to my personal
knowledge, families were compelled to do without bread because
they could not pass along the road to mill. Negro women would
scream, saying the witches were coming through the roof to them.
The pictures of the witches would be turned into horses and hitched
up to racks of fodder all night. This would seriously effect
their digestion the next day. Some of these Negro women told
me they pretended to be bewitched in order to keep from work.
Jim Turner, the desperado, shot a Negro man's head off because
he would not give up the keys to his master's meathouse. The
Negro man said, "I will die before I give them up."
"Then you must die," said Turner. The Negro turned
around, and Turner put the muzzle of his gun to the back of his
head and blew the top of it off.