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James Jackson Sr.

James Jackson, Sr.
of Republican Township

Reminiscences of a Jefferson County Pioneer
Published in the Madison Courier – Nov. 19, 1873; Nov. 26 1873

James Jackson, Senior, of Republican Township was born in Warren County, North Carolina, in 1783. His birth place was upon the banks of Roanoke River, but a short distance from the Virginia line. The father of Mr. Jackson was a soldier in the Revolutionary War, and as such, and as an early settler to Jefferson County, merits attention before we proceed with the sketch of his son.

In the year, 1814 Old Solomon Jackson settled a mile and a half from Lexington, Scott County, on the place now owned by widow Hastie, where he continued to live until his death, in 1846. He was a native of North Carolina and served during the Revolutionary War in regiments raised in that State. Hostilities were commenced between the Mother country and the Colonies before Jackson was of age. On this account he was at first refused as a volunteer in the Colonial army, but was shortly afterwards received as a substitute for someone who probably possessed more influence than courage and more money than patriotism. When his first term of service expired young, Jackson enlisted in another North Carolina regiment. While serving in this command, the battles of Gates’ Defeat and Guilford Court House occurred. At the former battle, it will be remembered, Gates commanded the American, and Lord Rawdon the British forces. Mr. James Jackson, now ninety years of age, narrates his father’s story substantially in this language:

“The British were formed in the shape of a horseshoe, their men were stationed from four to eight feet apart, so as to make the line long enough to coop the Americans in. Our men were so close together that they crowded each other with their elbows. When in this position this way and advancing on the enemy, father says he saw the British pointing a cannon right at him. As the Americans kept marching up, not forty steps from the British, he could see into the muzzle of the gun as they played it first on one part of the line then on another to scare them. When at last the gunner dropped the fire on the touch hole he thought it was coming straight at him and expected every minute to be blown to pieces. But fortunately in the firing, the gun was turned a little and so missed him. Then the Americans gave them a volley.

“Father was on the first line and the man behind him fired his gun with the muzzle so close to his ear that it stunned him, and he was out of his mind for a time. When he came to, he found himself ramming a bullet down his musket with a ramrod. He looked on both sides and behind him, where he had been crowded so close before, and he couldn’t see a single man. Then the smoke cleared away a bit in route and he peered through it, and he saw the British about ten feet away, charging on him with their bayonets. He pulled up his gun and fired bullet, ramrod and all and then turned and run. He ran a few steps and threw down his gun just as an officer came up cursing, and asking where was his gun. He told him the gun was shot out of his hand, and then broke for the bushes near the creek. It was a mighty bad place to be in there, right between the lines, the infantry behind and the light horse coming in on the sides slashing and cutting down our men. So father ran and hid in the bushes of Sanders’ Creek, and then ran through a field into the woods ‘till he heard men talking in the brush. He listened, and finding they were our men went up to them and they all marched out on the Charlotte road, about twelve miles from their camp and ammunition.

There was about a hundred men sitting there and talking about the defeat when they looked along the Charlotte road and saw a man riding towards them. The road was as straight as an arrow, and you could see down it as far as the eye would reach. Then one of the officers got up and said he supposed it was a British Dragoon coming so he mounted his horse and galloped towards him to see if it was, and if there were others coming. Presently the officer returned and said it was a dragoon, and there’d be more after him, and the best thing they could do was to scatter. So the Americans struck out different ways, all but a neighbor of father’s, a kind of fool-hardy fellow. He stayed in a wagon till the dragoon came up. The British rode up along side and asked him if he wasn’t afraid to stay there sitting in the wagon. The American gave his gun a little toss, he had it all cocked and ready, and said he didn’t think anybody would hurt him. The dragoon answered there was a company just behind that he’d go and bring up to take care of him. Then he rode away safe, as the American was afraid to fire for fear the noise would bring them up before he got away. He hid amongst some logs, though, right there, and saw the squad come up and examine the wagon and then ride up to where the wagons of the Maryland troops were placed. These troops had mostly their women with them. The dragoons dashed in amongst the women and children, slashing and killing them, for their orders were that morning not to give quarter. Gates had sold our troops to the British, and the whole things was a plot to kill our men. If our men had seen Gates they’d a shot him. He killed three horses riding away from the battlefield. Father said he would have shot him quicker than he would a Britisher, if he had seen him.

“Father and another man left the wagon together when the dragoon was coming, as I told you From the battlefield to where they stopped that night was sixty miles and they hadn’t eaten anything except peaches and fruit they picked off the trees as they went along the road. The night before the battle they had drawed fat meat and couldn’t eat it. Father tied his piece to his canteen and left it in camp, thinking if they won the battle he could get it, and if they didn’t it could go. So they laid down on a husk frame in a mill the night after the battle without any thing to eat.

“When father woke up in the morning he couldn’t move his legs until he caught hold of them and worked ‘em forwards and back awhile, and rubbed them with his hands. Going out of the mill to the house he saw the yard full of officers and men who had traveled that distance during the night. The officers gathered the men together and they all marched to regain the army. At the Battle of Guilford Courthouse, the Americans were formed in three different lines; first the North Carolina troops, then the Virginians, and last the Maryland regulars, who bore the brunt of the battle. The orders were for the first line to fire three rounds and rally behind the last line and re-form there. Before the firing commenced the British marched down a slope in front of us in their fine red coats. An officer mounted on a big roan horse was riding in front. A man in the American lines stepped out in front about ten steps with a big fowling piece. The muzzle was so big you could run your fingers down it. He ran out with his gun, the officer standing by saying nothing, and took aim at him at the British officer. The minute he fired the officer pitched forward and over his horse’s side stone dead. The British, however, didn’t stir a head, they didn’t look one way or the other, but kept coming straight for us. The man jumped back in his place and commenced reloading, saying, “By——, I killed one of them”.

“The sight of the Red Coats a’coming was too much for a man who stood in front of father in the first line. He wanted to swap places and get behind, but father would not let him. He stood in his place a second more and then fell back on father as if he’d stumbled. But father caught him by the shoulders and threw him forwards. The coward fell on his knees and managed to crawl away some how, at least he wasn’t seen in the line after that. At the word, the Carolina troops fired and retired as arranged. Then the next line. But our troops didn’t form well again, they were like a gang of turkeys all scattered about. Finally they all got formed on the brow of the little hill as the British came down the slope on the other side and charged up. Our men having the advantage the enemy couldn’t stand the fire and fell back on the other side of the branch and formed on the rising ground.

Then they got to killing our men so fast that they gave way. The British didn’t pursue them at first, not until reinforcements came up. Then there was another fray and the British retook the four or five hundred prisoners we had taken. In this fracas, an officer in our regiment named Lindsay was wounded. He made a stroke with his sword at a footman and missed him. Just as he was wheeling to strike again, the Red Coat fired his musket, the ball passing through his knee and hitting his horse in the wethers. Father and three others took him to a hospital thirty miles distant.

“On the return to the army, they went in twos as provisions were scarce and they would not attract so much notice that way. Father and his companion came to a cross road as they were traveling. This fellow seeing a man hanging from the limb of a tree, said: “Hello! You’re thar, are you?” Father looked up then and saw a British officer strung up by the neck with a paper pinned to his coat, having on it- “Death to the man
who cuts him down.” They concluded they’d better travel then and get out of the neighborhood, for if any Tories or British fell in with them they’d hung them in the same way. They reached the army without an adventure and that ended the battles he saw.”

The “old revolutioner” lived to be eight-three years of age and passed thirty-two years of age and passed thirty-two years of his four score near Lexington, then in Jefferson County. Many old residents remember him and speak of his tales about the war and his passion for hunting. It was a habit of his, if he saw and squirrel and was unable to get a shot at it, immediately, to sit down upon a log, remarking “that’s my meat,” and wait there patiently till the nut cracker appeared, when he never failed to bring it down. His remains lie buried in the graveyard upon the old place near Lexington.

To resume the sketch of James Jackson, the father of ex-County Commissioner Jackson, in 1814 when thirty-one years of age, Mr. Jackson and his father emigrated to this county. The party consisted of Solomon Jackson, his wife, one daughter and four sons. Of the latter, James was the eldest and the only one married; he was accompanied by his wife and four children. The party traveled in one of the immense road wagons drawn by four horses, common to that day. The old trace of Daniel Boone was followed from North Carolina through to Kentucky. The Jackson’s passed through Cumberland Gap, crossed the river at Cumberland Ford, passed Flat Lick, and perhaps assisted by killing deer and leaving the inferior parts upon the banks to rot, in fastening the name of Stinking Creek upon the stream this side of the Lick, which will be remembered by many readers who are familiar with the places mentioned. Almost a straight course was pursued from Crab Orchard to Bedford, in Trimble County. The Ohio was crossed at McKinley’s Ferry, at the prominent bluff now known as Plow Handle Point.

The party reached the river late in the afternoon, hailed the ferry, which was nothing but an old flat and a very slow navigator, and were for the first time landed upon the territory of Indiana, as the sun was sinking in the West. There they camped that night upon the bank, cooking their supper by the rude fire of branches, and sleeping in and under the wagon which contained their household goods. In the morning, bright and early they arose to ascent the hill. McKinley had dug a road up the hillside, but it was new and no rain had fallen to settle it. The heavy wagon stalled in the ascent and it became necessary to unload it and make several trips. Thus the entire day was consumed and the pioneers counted the distance from the bottom to the top of the hill a day’s journey. It was somewhat remarkable that the party had traveled such a distance through Carolina, Tennessee and Kentucky, taking mountains in their course and steep hills, and never had a “second pull” till they reached this side of the Ohio.

The next day, Lexington was entered. It was but a very small village of but few houses. Gen. McFarland was the proprietor of the town and the leading man in the country. McFarland and a Louisville man were attempting the manufacture of salt. The water was good, sufficiently strong, but could not be found in quantity. A well had been bored to the depth of 700 feet without finding the supply of water necessary to make the enterprise profitable. Here, at Lexington, the old soldier, Solomon Jackson, bought his land of the government. The younger Jackson was not so easily satisfied. His old home on the Roanoke had been forsaken on account of the poorness of the soil, and, after coming so far he wished to settle where the land was richer. Finally, he selected a tract on White River fork of the Muscatatuck.

In November, 1814, Mr. Jackson bought his farm from the government. This land he decided to be good, and his judgment was accurate for it has held out to this day. Upon the newly purchased land which lies two miles from Kent and is now the property of Mr. John Wilson, Mr. Jackson at once moved and commenced building a cabin. The winter was now upon them and they homeless. The journey from Carolina was begun upon the 17th day of October and ended at Lexington upon the 17th of November – almost to the day fifty-nine years ago.

The snow lay a foot deep upon the ground when the sturdy pioneer struck the first lusty blow to clear a place for his homestead. Soon a log cabin of one room sheltered the little family. Rude and incomplete as it was no palace was ever more eagerly entered or possessed with such a feeling of wealth and joyfulness. What kind of a cabin was it? One story, one room, a single doorway with a flapping bed-quilt for a door, no windows-the cracks let in plenty of light. But the fire-place was strangest of all. It was a large square hole cut to one wall, close to the ground, “only this and nothing more.” The fire was built outside the cabin and the pioneer’s family sitting inside on the floor warmed themselves by its flickering, smoky flames. Sitting on the floor, that was nothing but the bare earth, and in one corner of the little cabin a hole had been dug and mud make with which to fill up the wide cracks, and cover over the stones when a stone chimney could be built. The chimney was not long in coming, or part of it at least, for it was never built higher than the mantel. Then heavy puncheons took the smoke in charge and conducted it by the shortest route out of doors.

Mr. Jackson says he cleared for or five acres of land just about his cabin that winter. When he cut the trees down the deer came right in the clearing to browse and he shot them without trouble. Standing in front of his quilt door he shot wild turkeys day after day whenever he wanted them. The wolves too came about the little dwelling, and on one occasion killed and devoured a young calf, which was a great loss in those days. Corn for the horses was bought of old Jimmy Blankenship, and corn meal for the family was ground at old John Smith’s mill, five miles distant at the head of Schmidlap’s branch. All during the long and dreary winter the strangers in the wild woods were assured by their neighbors that the Indians would be down on them in the spring; that they would come as soon as the leaves were as big as squirrel’s ears. Such trials and privations did the pioneers endure in settling this country and framing our civilization. Contrary to the apprehensions of the settlers no hostile Indians disturbed the settlement. On one occasion Mr. Jackson was a little alarmed at seeing a party of Indians approach his dwelling from the north. But the Indians proved to be friendly, on their way to Madison with venison hams and furs for sale. They were mounted on ponies, old White Eyes, Charles White Eyes, his son, and papoose. A white man accompanied them as a guide. They were afraid to come alone, wanted a white man as a protector to tell who they were and what they wanted. The third day after the Indians passed, says Mr. Jackson, I went to town to buy a kettle to boil sugar water. I found the men had been drunk two days, while the old squaw had kept sober. Then in the morning it was the old woman’s turn, for a party of Indians will never get drunk all at once; one will remain sober as a guard or watch. I saw the old squaw setting on a poplar stump near Ristine’s tavern, with a blanket over her head. Old Wea had the papoose strapped over his back, looking like a rabbit with its eyes popping out and rolling around wild. Old Wea was a black, nasty, mottled color, not a white man nor a nigger. Old White Eyes was a yaller Indian and so was his son.

White Eyes was hardly as tall as a common man. Old Wea was chunky and low, but not corpulent. When I saw them at the tavern, the men were sober and seemed to be fixing their guns. As soon as they entered town the whites took their guns from them and broke the locks. Pretty soon they all got on their ponies. Old White Eyes rode up before the tavern door and yelled, “MY GOD! MORE WHISKEY!” What a sentiment to issue from the heart of the noble red man, the illustrious White Eyes, the last of the Pottawatomies. Like “the last sigh of the Moor,” the touching appeal of this untutored son of the forest will be embalmed in history as a mournful scene in the tragedy of life. The guileless savage casting a melancholy glance over his happy hunting ground, now the abode of the white man – seated in his chiefly dignity upon his Indian pony as the shrunken remnant of his band wound slowly towards the setting sun, and giving utterance to the beautiful sentiment quoted, so expressive of the yearnings of the what man’s heart, in the white man’s parlance “brought down the house,” and “more whiskey” was forthwith dealt out to the thirsty chieftain White Eyes.

Old Wea led the procession of “Oldest Inhabitants” as they filed out of town to their camp in Decatur County. At this time White Eyes’ band hunted upon Bear Creek, Bear Tail and Wild Lucy, three streams which empty into Sand Creek at Scipio. The band left Decatur County in 1816 for some point on the Tippecanoe River where we are informed a number of Indians are still residing, cultivating the soil and sending their children to school.

The reminiscence of White Eyes is about all of Mr. Jackson’s experience with the Indians. There were other denizens of the woods, however, that were sources of alarm and danger to the settlers. Bears roamed about and were frequently stumbled upon by hunters when in pursuit of lighter game. Mr. Jackson was one day lying in wait for deer at Lick Branch, a place which the deer were accustomed to frequent for the sake of the salt in the banks of the creek. (The banks were “licked” for the salty savor – hence the name of the creek.) The hunter was seated near the bank quietly waiting the approach of a herd. A lumbering, shuffling tread in his rear, then a sniff and a snort, warned him that something bigger than a deer was coming. Turning short around, he confronted a monstrous bear, rearing upright on his hind legs and throwing out his arms as if inviting him to a hug. Bruin was evidently startled at the hostile appearance of affairs and emitting a growl of disgust, plunged into the bushes. When he again appeared to sight in crossing the creek, Jackson fired, the bear still kept on his way, though each step was made with difficulty. Then as if realizing it was overcome, it began to cry, as cattle do when one of their number is slaughtered. The knife soon finished the work of the bullet and bear meat was eaten that night instead of venison.

On another occasion, Mr. Jackson and his brother were hunting on Quick’s Creek.
It rained all night upon them, and in the morning the weather was still so unfavorable they determined to separate and return home. In the afternoon the sun broke out with increased splendor, as it frequently does after a storm. Drops of water hung on the tips of the twigs and everything was fresh and lovely. The night revived the hunter’s spirits and he began to look about again for game. Coming to a mass of fallen timber, thick with a late growth of under-brush, he paused awhile thinking here if anywhere be would find game. The place where I was standing, continued Mr. Jackson, was open like a grove. I looked over the timber and was thinking of the hurricane that must have felled it, when something seemed to move on the other side of a big log. I looked again and saw nothing. Then on a level with the top of the log appeared a rough rising like hair or wool moving along, and I thought mebbe it was a hog. It jumped up on the log a moment afterwards and I knew what it was. As I drew back to take aim a twig snapped and the bear turned and saw me. He gave an angry growl and jumped off the log and ran alongside until he came to a pool of water at the butt of the tree. Here I got sight of him again and shot as it had its head down drinking. It never grunted or groaned when I shot, but fell on its knees and sank down to the ground. In an instant it was up on its feet again and dashed through the brush. I reloaded my gun and hastened on its trail. The brush soon got so thick I couldn’t use the gun. I drew out my little butcher knife and thought I’d use it. But then I recollected how a wounded bear, if pressed, would attack a man, and holding up the knife, the bear looked so much bigger than it I got a little scared, and concluded to go home for help. I went on home accordingly and the next morning Gideon Vorden, my brother-in-law, and my brother Sam went out before daylight and found the dead bear in the thicket, not more than a few rods from where I turned back. The bear was a big one and it was all we three could do to get him on our horse’s back. Every time the horse stepped over a log the quarters of the bear would strike against it, they hung so low. There were catamounts here then too, with wolves, the bears, wild cats and some panthers.

Old Bill Thickstein told me a wild cat or catamount attempted to attack him one time. He was at Deer Lick, two miles west of Kent, watching for deer. It was in the evening before dark, and as he lay behind a log with nothing but his head above it he saw the cat in the creek drinking. Wishing to scare it away so the deer would come, he leaned over the log and whispered, “What are you doing here, you rascal??” The cat stopped drinking, raised his head, blinked at him a minute, then put one paw in a long stealthy stride, and began moving for him. Thickstein raised up full length, and thinking still to scare it, exclaimed,“WHAT ARE YOU DOING HERE you little rascal? Get out!’ With that the cat sort of measured the distance between them with its eyes, and made a full spring at Thickstein. He was quick enough to bring his rifle up and hit it square between the eyes. The bullet did the work. It killed the cat dead, but its body fell heavily at his feet and the blood spirted out on him.

Of the early settlers about Kent, William Chambers is the only one now living who was here when I came, all the rest are dead. Living on White River were old Joshua Tull, old Jimmy Smith, old Tommy Ramsay, Ben and John Ramsey, old man Blankinship, old Bob Miller, Bill Thickstein, Bob Marshall, old Johnny Lattimore, Abraham McCurry, Billy Sage, Gabriel Foster, Jimmy McCartney, Thomas Roseberry, George Campbell, Billy Whitesides, Patrick Wilson, old Billy Rock Wilson, Tommy Almonds and Amos Chickwood. Kent was first called Ramsay’s Mills. When I came the mill was being built. After they commenced running the mail, the place was called Daubingsville. This was because the first store was a wood frame daubed with dirt. The store was kept by a Scotchman named Ellison. The Methodists had the first church. It was on Chickwood’s place. The Baptists, not long afterwards, organized the White River Baptist Church.