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 probably plenty. They owned slaves. They went back
to Tennessee. I crossed New River and I went to the seashore.
I think Old Thomas Grigsby came out with my grandfather; he was
his brother-in-law, brother of my grandmother.
Old Mason Combs married a terrible women. 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 Lott's 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.
He had a sister, Nancy, who married a Richie.
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 Davison, 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) in 1807.
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 County. My grandfather was a wild man, would
fight in a minute, but was very kind hearted.
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 (it) (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.
Elijah Combs Cornett
April 27, 1898
I was born in Perry County, Kentucky, March 22, 1822. My father
was Robert Cornett. My mother, Louisa Combs, was the daughter
of General Elijah Combs. My grandfather Cornett's name was William.
He and his brother, Samuel Cornett, came with him. He lost his
wife before coming here. Woolery Eversole married a daughter
of his first wife and John Caudell of Letcher also. His second
wife was an Everidge. William Cornett came from Buncombe County,
North Carolina. He emigrated to Virginia when his wife died.
He had children as follows: Nathanial, Roger, Joseph, Archibald,
Robert, Mrs. Woolery Everidge, Jeff, who moved to Indiana, Jackson
County, also Samuel, who died where Hindman now stands; Rachel,
who married John Caudell. General Combs first built a cabin on
the hill back of Hazard. In 1800 he built the old log house which
still stands in the upper end of Hazard. Samuel Cornett, brother
of my grandfather, settled on Line Fork, now Letcher County.
His descendants live mostly in Letcher and Harlan. My father
took coal to Clay's Ferry and sold the boat at $2.50 a foot to
carry tobacco to New Orleans. Grapevines and withes served as
cables. The boats would be covered. As early as 1835 there was
a sawmill at the mouth of Walker's Creek, Lee County, Virginia,
and logs were rafted here and taken there. They were poplar.
Walnut was not then worth more than poplar. The Walnut was used
for rails. I helped to burn a curly walnut tree 60 feet to the
first limb, now would be worth $1,000. We split some of it into
rails but could not split the most of it. After this we took
rafts to Clay's Ferry. Alex Combs, son of Squire Nick Combs,
brother of L. D. Combs, took the first raft. They had taken coal
earlier, before I could remember. They got 16 2/3 cents for the
coal and sold the boat for a good price. They sawed lumber to
make the boats with a whip saw. They would make boats 100 feet
long by splicing the gunwales. William Cornett, my grandfather,
was a soldier in the Revolutionary War. I think the Cornetts
came from Holston River to Kentucky.
Mason and George Combs died with fever the same year about the
time I was born. General Leslie Combs was a kinsman of my grandfather,
Elijah Combs; also Dr. Combs of Winchester, also Wirt Combs at
the mouth of Howard's Creek below Boonesboro at Comb's Ferry.
I do not know what kin they are to us. I suppose he was descended
from William Combs of Fayette. General Leslie Combs built the
towers at Kentucky River. He wore a hunting shirt at a great
political meeting at Cumberland Gap in which three states were
represented. My grandfather, Elijah Combs, was there. I rode
on the cars from Frankfort to Lexington when it was drawn by
two horses. The engine was out of fix. They had but one. The
engine, then, did not go down the hill into Frankfort. My grandfather,
William Cornett, got $96 a year pension. It came by mail in silver