Harvey Burns had located at West Liberty. My father had employed him in some cases, and in passing from West Liberty to Breathitt Court, he would stop at my father's house on Frozen. He told me that he would take me to his house and prepare me for the bar, and I might pay him when I became a lawyer. I went to West Liberty in 1851 and began the study of law. I continued with him about two years. John W. Kendall, Wesley May, and Harry G. Burns, his son, were in the class. I got licensed first. Judge William Moore of Mt. Sterling examined me. Afterward, Judge Green Adams at Breathitt Circuit Court signed it. I then located at Jackson, Breathitt County, and at once began the practice of law. I made a living out of my practice until the war of rebellion. The Breathitt Bar, at that time, was composed of John Hargis, Sr., and I.N. Cardwell, a young attorney whose parents lived there. James Hannah had recently left.
In 1847-48, I acted as deputy sheriff under Alex Herald. In 1841-45, I wrote in the clerk's offices in Irvine under Robert Clarke, a relative of Governor Clarke. These experiences were helpful to me in learning forms. Litigation was very small at that time. The bulk of the practice was done by the visiting lawyers. The Breathitt Court was visited at that time by William Harvey Burns and Newton P. Reed of West Liberty; Kenaz Farrow; Richard Apperson of Mt. Sterling; Judge Daniel Freck of Richmond; Samuel Ensworth and D.Y. Lyttle of Manchester; Sydney M. Banies of Irvine whom Harvey Burns said was the heaviest lawyer that he had met in the mountain bars. Just before the war, the legislature formed the county of Wolfe and the commissioners established the county seat where Campton now stands. The people of Hazel Green were striving to get it removed to that place. The people of Campton or that part of the county employed me to go to Frankfort and watch their interests in the legislature. I succeeded in preventing the removal. While there 200 Federal soldiers came into Frankfort. These were the first soldiers I saw during the war. I did not return to Breathitt to live after the beginning of the war. Pete Everett burnt my house where the Haddix Hotel now stands, and I determined not to try Jackson again. I had some rough experiences while I lived there and did not wish to renew them. In the spring, May 5, 1862, while I was recruiting a company of Federal soldiers I fell in with a band of rebels going to join John Morgan, near the head of Red River. We had an engagement, and in it I lost my right eye. Some of my men took me to my uncle Andrew Wilson's and put me to bed. Captain Scott of Carroll County commanding a squad of Confederates going to join Morgan in Virginia took me prisoner. They put me on a horse and took me night and day to Abingdon, Virginia. My suffering was intense. We stopped a day at Old Billy Richmond's at Big Stone Gap. Colonel Lec Day's wife was there, a young lady waiting on the table. Thence by Scott Court House of Bristol, thence to Abingdon where they put me in jail. Caleb May, Thomas Ward, Al. Neff, Colin Griffin, and others were with me. My father was attending me at my uncle Wilson's, and, at the approach of Scott's men and friends about me, my aunt urged me and him to run. He went reluctantly, and as he fled they shot at him. They took him along. He was stunned but not wounded. There were 20 or 30 of us in the jail. We had stayed at Abingdon a month when news came of some Federal forces coming from Bristol to rescue us, and they took us from the jail and put us on board the train and took us to Lynchburg, thence to Richmond where they put us into prison on Carry Street. We stayed there 7 days, fed on bread and water. I got but little bread as the stronger ones presed in ahead of me. They then offered to release us if we would join the rebel army. Two of our members became insane from the severe treatment, but they were restored to sanity and got home safely. They were Thomas Waller and Reynolds.
They took us across to Manchester on the opposite side of the river and put us into a tobacco house. We stayed there several months. When the guard became negligent 7 or 8 of our men escaped but two of them were afterwards recaptured. Wash Johnson of Letcher escaped home traveling by night and eating roasting ears. Others had various hair-breadth escapes and finally reached home. I was taken from Manchester to Libby Prison where I stayed about two months. I had some hard experiences there. The pea soup was covered with bugs with wings. The weavil had deposited the egg in the pea and when they were boiled the bugs would swell up with wings and make the soup black. At first I tried to pick them out, but I was so hungry that this process was too slow. So then I shut my eyes and paid no further attention to the intruders. The vermin ate all the skin off my breast and neck. I kept fighting them but in vain. I had but one suit of clothes. The prison was a brick building. I wrote frequently to Greene Adams who had an appointment in the P.O. Department; also the Secretary of War, of my condition and urged them to get me out. I sent these letters, which were small book leaves, by Federal soldiers who would be in Libby and would be exchanged. Several of these reached their destination. Major George Blight Halstead was one of these prisoners who talked with me through the prison walls. I never saw his face. He also gave my father a blanket, for my father was with me in all this experience. I asked him if he knew Green Clay Smith. He said he did. I told him when he got to Washington to see him and ask him to get me out of this prison. He said he would do so. I was exchanged a short time after that, but I did not know who my deliverer was until I received a letter from Major Halstead dated April 27, 1895, Excelsior P.O., Lake Minatonka, Minnesota. He told me in this letter that he had carried my message to Green Clay Smith. Major Halstead, his brother, and General Smith called on President Lincoln and laid the cases before him. Major Halstead recommended that the rebel sympathizers be arrested and held for exchange of citizen prisoners or Union sympathizers in prison. This was done, and this is the way I escaped with my father from Libby Prison. Major Halstead visited with me in October of 1895, when he attended the grand army meeting in Louisville. He lives in Minnesota. He fought through the war and was honorably discharged at the close of the war. He was present at the surrender of Lee at Appomattox.
I used to work for Hugh White. I was born in 1815. Between 21 to 25 years of age while working for him, James White, Sr., stayed all night with us. He was the brother of Hugh who was returning from Lexington, Kentucky, where he had been to have Dr. Dudley remove a gravel stone from his little boy. He was old and white headed, but had a young wife. He said it had been nine days since the operation had been performed. The child was running about and seemed to be doing well. (William White, son of Hugh, remembers the visit and thinks it must have been much earlier. He thinks James did not have a second wife. J.J.D.)
I live in Leslie County, I am 55 years old. I was born in Clay County. My father's name is Aaron Brock. My mother was Barbara Shepherd. Her father's name was James Shepherd. He was born in Virginia. I don not know what county it was; it was near Fort Yokum and Fort ---, which was taken when he was about ten years old by the Indians who were led by Benge, the white man who was taken by the Indians when a boy seven years old. His capture was as follows. His mother had sent him to gather elderberries for the ducks. A party of Indians came upon him and attempted to kill him. He gathered stones and began to fight them. Pleased with his valor they took him prisoner saying, "He will make a good warrior." I have heard my grandfather tell this and many other things, among them the taking of Fort --- and the killing of Benge.
At the taking of this last mentioned fort, the Indians killed all but two women, the wives of George and Peter Levice. (Livingston in Collins.) Among the slain were the aged mother and father of Benge. After the massacre one of the captured women asked Benge if he did not remember an old man and an old woman who were killed. He said he did. She said, "They were your father and mother." He dropped his head and wept. They crossed the Cumberland Mountains at Benge's Gap. One of the women was tied to an Indian chief but the other, led by Benge (Peter Levice's wife), marked the path of their retreat by pieces of her clothing torn and scattered.
As the whites pursued, they came to the house of my great grandfather, Nimrod Shepherd. My great grandmother was baking bread. It was not more than half cooked but was divided among them hastily. They took down some dried bear meat and venison saying, "We will use the bear's flesh for meat and the venison for bread." The first sight they got of the Indians was an Indians who had been stationed as a picket. He was roasting a turkey and nodding. Peter Levice slipped within 31 feet of him. They feared to shoot, lest the prisoners should be murdered. Springing for behind a tree, Levice, at three bounds, fell upon his victim and dispatched him with his tomahawk. He fell into the fire and the pursuers first ate turkey and then went on in their pursuit. Peter had lost a wife before this by the Indians and had recently remarried. He swore he would have her if he had to pursue them into Ohio.
George Levice's wife was enciente. Peter Levice's wife was sitting awake. Benge was asleep with his hand in her lap. Only one Indian was awake. A bird hovered over Benge's head, fluttered, and darted off in the direction of the pursuers. The waking Indian shook Benge and told him there was danger. He grunted but fell back to sleep. The bird repeated its performance. The Indian then awakened Benge and told him, "Get up. Bad luck. Bad luck." Benge rose and climbed a black gum tree nearby and got some mistletoe, saying, "I have always gotten mistletoe from this tree when coming to Powell's Valley and have always had good luck." He put it in his shot pouch and they started. The white men overtook them near Benge's Gap. Mrs. Peter Levice first saw her rescuers, and her husband was the first one she saw. He was peeping from behind a tree. He caught her eye and shook his fist at her to keep her quiet. She went only a few steps, when she broke away and started toward her husband, screaming. Benge made three leaps after her, but seeing his danger, he turned in retreat. Levice fired at him as he was pursuing his wife but feared lest he would kill his wife. As Benge retreated he bounded from side to side to prevent his pursuers from hitting him. Vinton Hobbs saved his load till Benge would get into the narrow gap and then at a distance of 55 yards he put a ball through his head. Benge had a "blackjack" cup tied to his body which he clapped over his forehead, and it filled with blood and brains. He also had a small keg of brandy swung over his shoulder. The white men were so infuriated that they turned the contents of the cup upon the ground and drank the brandy from it. They took three strips of flesh from his back, 18 inches long, saying, "These are for razor strops." They put his skull in the cleft of a rock, and my mother said she had seen it often. George Levice's wife clenched the Indian to who she was tied and held his arms. He struck at her with his tomahawk over his shoulders but she had his arms pinioned and he could only use them below the elbows. She would dodge his lick as far as her head was concerned but her collar bone received the blows. She held him till her husband came to the rescue and dispatched him. Soon after she died. A party of white men had gone another route in pursuit of the Indians and they killed all that escaped from this party save one and he died after reaching home. This was the last Indian raid into that country. My grandfather died about 20 years ago (1878), he was about 90 (88-94) years old. This would place this event late in the last century. (Collins' account is from Beiy Shaw's in American Pioneers.) Collins says 1793, Bell County.
The Indians had captured a little Negro boy. They had him in one end of a sack and a keg of liquor or brandy in the other end of the sack. When they were attacked they tumbled the sack over the cliff. It struck the top of a spruce pine which softened the fall. After they had settled with the Indians and had started back they heard the little boy crying. Going down under the cliff they found him. When they asked him how he got there he said, "Why they just throwed me over here and didn't care whether they killed me or no."
A man named Wallin, with a squad of seven men came from Virginia to Harlan County to hunt. Near the mouth of what is now called Wallins in Harlan County one of the party saw an Indian sitting on a log patching his moccasin and raising his trusty rifle shot him dead. Within two hours the Whites were surrounded by Indians and were all shot dead but one man. He escaped to Virginia and it was 7 days before he returned with a party to bury the dead. Each hunter had his dog. These dogs had attacked the bodies of the dead, except Wallin's. His dog lay by the side of his master's corpse and would neither touch it himself nor suffer another to do so. They buried them where they were shot, which was on Laurel Branch, a little above the mouth of Wallin's Branch, at the foot of Pine Mountain. Wallin's Creek got its name in this way.
My grandfather, Joseph Roberts, came to Clay County from Powell's Valley, Virginia. My father said that when my grandfather came to Clay County there were only three families on Red Bird, viz. Dillion Asher, John Gilbert, and Edward Callahan. Mr. Roberts settled near the mouth of Big Creek on main Red Bird. He had children as follows: Farris (probably named for John Farris of Laurel who settled first on Red Bird); Jesse; Thomas; George Washington (father of deponent), born about the time of the Battle of New Orleans and was named in honor of that victory; Betsey (Begley); Rachel Wilson (Sturgeon people); Sookey (Bowling), mother of Elisha and Delaney Bowling of Laurel and Jackson Counties; Chana (Hacker), wife of Samuel Hacker, the largest man ever in Clay County, being a great bully; Action (Hacker), wife of Claiborne Hacker, mother of Ulus and Logan Hacker of Terrill's Creek, Jackson County, also "Long" John Hacker.
Mr. Roberts says further: "Eli Vanover and his wife, Nancy Bailey, of Harlan live now on Buffalo Creek, Owsley County, His is 95 and his wife about 85, both active. He visited my house last spring. She told me that James Burkhart, the man who lived in the sycamore tree in Harlan, lived to be 130 years old. When he was 80 or 90 he planted a walnut tree and said he wanted his coffin made from the wood of that tree, and it was done. The body of the tree was split and hewed into boards from which the coffin was made. When he was about 110 years old his gray hair came out like one who was afflicted with fever and there came in its stead a growth of black hair just like that of a child. About the same time he cut a full set of teeth which were very white and strong and continued so to the day of his death. After this he would dance like a youth and claimed he was a boy again. Mrs. Vanover was a girl at that time and saw this with her own eyes. She was raised near Burkhart. Ad. White, son of James White, the nephew of Hugh White, married Davis Irvine's daughter. He lived at Richmond, Kentucky. He represented his district in Congress. His brother was mayor of Huntsville, Alabama, died eight or ten years ago."
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