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Reminiscences of a Jefferson County Pioneer
Published in the Madison Courier – June 26, 1874; July 3, 1874
As so many have been writing reminiscences of early life, I will give you mine, prefacing it with great-grandfathers and great-great-grandfather Jacob Smock. He was born in Amsterdam Holland; came to American before the Revolutionary War, I think about the year 1765. He came to New York and was married to Catherine Demaree. He built a house in the city which was burned with nearly everything they had in it. During the war, General Washington sent him with a company to drive a drove of horses into the wildness to prevent them falling into the hands of the British. That company was called the “Cane Boys.”
I do not know that he rendered any other services to the Colonies in that war. He moved from New York to New Jersey; from New Jersey to Virginia, where great -grandfather was born in Hanover County. They moved from Virginia to Pennsylvania; from Pennsylvania they, with several other families, floated down the Ohio River to the falls. There they disembarked and went to Mercer County, Kentucky; settled near Danville; moved from Mercer County to Shelby County and settled on a creek called Bullskin, six or seven miles west of Shelbyville. Here they were very much annoyed by the Indians. I had one uncle killed (Matthew Smock), and two uncles taken prisoners, Peter and John Smock. Father was wounded in the arm at the same time. I also had a cousin tomahawked and scalped and left for dead, but he survived, got well and lived some years afterwards. His name was Isaac Robbins, brother to William Robbins, an early settler in Shelby Township, in Jefferson County, Indiana.
My mother’s maiden name was Rachel Ryker; she had two husbands killed by the Indians; her first was Henry Hoghland. She had one son by this marriage and named him Henry, after his father. He married Miss Jane Peters of Jefferson County, and died in Harrison County, Ind. They both belonged to the Methodist church, in good standing, until their death. Mother’s second husband was William Robbins (he was killed stated). She had one daughter by this marriage who married Booth Thomas; they both died in Jennings County, Indiana. The same band of Indians who scalped young Robbins took my uncles prisoners, and then left for the Indian country, across the Ohio.
When the alarm guns were fired the neighbors soon collected and followed the Indian trail to the river, but the Indians had just got across, and the men had to return without rescuing the prisoners or getting a shot at the redskins. The Indians crossed the Ohio just below the mouth of Clifty Creek and then came to the river and camped at the root of a big poplar tree that stood where the courthouse now is. They remained three days, singing and dancing and then started for their town on “Flat Rock,” going up Crooked Creek to the highlands. Peter fared pretty well. Old Winnemac adopted him into his family in place of a son he had lost. John fared worse, often roasting wild turkey guts or eating them raw.
Winnemac’s old squaw, with some young ones, took Peter into the river to wash the white blood out of him to make an Indian of him. He got one of them down in the water and was about to drown her, but the others rescued her. It pleased Winnemac very much to see him outdo the squaws. The old woman would take him to hoe corn; he wouldn’t hoe worth a cent. She then made him take the papoose to take care of; he would pinch it and make it cry. That pleased Winnemac; he said he was no squaw—he would make a brave; a good warrior. They were with the Indians some eighteen months of two years.
General Wayne had a treaty with the Indians at Greenville. Grandfather took a keg of rum and went to the treat. He got a French Canadian, an Indian trader, to buy the boys. They both lived to raise families. Peter was a very strong, stout man, weighing over 200 pounds. John was not so large. They both lived in Marion Co. Ind. Peter knew of one or two silver mines, but he could not tell where they were. He also knew them to make salt. From what he told me, I think the salt water was probably in Jackson or Lawrence County; he said it was a salt spring, boiled up and ran about twenty feet, and sank again. They carried the water as much as a mile to boil it, not cutting a stick of timber near by the spring. Before they left the country, they covered the spring up carefully so no whites could find it. Before the battle of Tippecanoe, there was a half-blood Indian by the name of Elliott on his way to join Gen. Harrison that stayed all night with Uncle Peter. He said if he lived to get back he would take him (Uncle Peter) to the salt spring and silver mine. He never returned – whether was killed or not, we don’t know.
I was born in Shelby Co. Ky., on a small stream called Fox Run, a tributary of Bullskin, in the spring of 1805. My father, Col. Samuel Smock, came to the Indian Territory, or New Purchase, as it was called, put up a log cabin at what has generally been known as Smock’s Big Spring, the place where the widow Morton now lives,
almost three miles southwest of Hanover in Jefferson County. He enclosed about three acres of ground with a rude brush fence and some rails, planted it with corn the last of May or first of June. It made a good crop, yielding, as he thought 80 bushels of corn per acre.
There was only one family of whites nearer than fourteen miles on this side of the river. There were plenty of Indians. The white family was Mason Watts. His wife, Debby, was a sister to my mother. They lived where Captain Robert Kyle now lives, half a mile south of Hanover. Mrs. Watts was equal to the vicissitudes and privations of a new wilderness home. She cut down with an axe; and the use of her own stalwart arms, a black walnut tree; cut off a log the length she wanted it split, dressed cut the pieces and made the first loom ever made in Jefferson County.
Late in the fall of 1805 we started to move to the home; we got to the top of the hill on the Kentucky side late in the evening; stayed all night at a Mr. John Cummins’. Next morning one of the teams returned to Shelby and the other teamster, Samuel Ryker (my uncle), cut a good sized beach sapling and chained it to the hind axle-tree, leaving the brush on to help to keep the wagon back from crowding on the horses too much.
We crossed the river at Monroe’s Ferry at or near the mouth of Corn Creek, Ky. I think William Y. Monroe’s father or grandfather kept the ferry. When we started from Mr. Cummins’ in the morning to go down to the river, each one of the children that was big enough to carry anything down the hill had to carry something. It fell to me to carry a pretty large bread tray. There being a heavy, white frost, I put the tray down and got on it. I went Jehu-like until it happened to run against a bank formed by a tree falling out by the roots. For that adventure and piece of fun, I got the last “back” rations I ever got in Old Kentucky.
There was no wagon to be had on this side of the river. Father had constructed a vehicle somewhat in the fashion of what the boys, used to call “jumper.” In this wise, taking two poles, cutting the binder end a little slanting to make it slide easy, having an auger hole in the other end to fasten it to the hames, then putting a box on the poles behind the horse. The goods were placed in the box, and hauled it about six miles. At this time there was plenty of wild game in the woods, deer, bear, turkeys, wolves, raccoons, opossums, and a little highly performed animal they called a pole-cat. Also, foxes, some panthers and wild-cats with quite a supply of copperhead and rattle snakes.
I have stated that Mason Watts was an early settler, among others there were Lafe Hardin, John Chism, Daniel Robbins, Evan Thomas and his several sons, William McCleland, Phillip Coryea, Isaac Hall, George Gess, Matthew Cooley, Amos Chitwood, Joshua Tull, Jas. Smith, Bazel Maxwell, John Maxwell, William and John Anderson, James Blankenship, John Chambers Sr., Alexander Chambers, Michael Monroe, Felix Monroe, John Barnes, James Arbuckle, Willis F. Sullivan, Daniel Sullivan, Christopher Harrison, David H. Maxwell and others. Mason Watts was succeeded by Robert Henderson; Daniel Robbins by James Matthews, where William Matthews now lives, Christopher Harrison was succeeded by George Logan. After the lands were surveyed, there was steady emigration until 1812. Williamson Dunn, Benj. Whitson, Methodist minister, and school teacher, (first teacher was Thomas McIntire, then old Mr. Condrey).
The cave at Big Spring was first explored by Isaac Hall and an Indian. It occurred in this way: Evan Thomas, living where James Cochrane now lives, had a tub of thread in cave soaking the lev out of it; there came a big freshet and washed the tub away. One or two skeins of the thread were found hanging on a crag of the rock at the mouth of the cave by the creek, between half to three quarters from where it started. Isaac Hall and the Indian then went hunting the thread and the tub.
In 1812, the time of the Indian troubles, a good many of the settlers left the country and went across the river to Kentucky. My father and others stayed and built block houses and forts.
Samuel Smock was the first Justice of the Peace and the first Postmaster ever commissioned within the present bounds of in Jefferson County; the Smockville post office being the first established in the county. General Harrison was then Governor of the Territory. I believe Thomas Posey of Virginia was the first Governor, but I am not certain. The lands were not surveyed when we came to the Territory. A Mr. Harris surveyed the lands in the district of the Jeffersonville land office. Thomas Harris carried the United States mail from Lawrenceburg to Jeffersonville, He lived where Mr. Lund now lives, on the Hanover Pike. The roads at that time were bad and he suffered a great deal in the winter, but he was faithful to the Government through wet, and dry, heat and cold. He was of the Methodist denomination.
The place where my father settled, Big Spring, proved to be the 16th section, reserved by an act of Congress for school purposes, consequently, he could not enter it; he entered 160 acres up the creek where Robert Taylor lived and died. He swapped with Wm. James for place where Mr. George Millican now lives. Mr. James and Mr. Early, his brother-in-law joined the Shakers and left the neighborhood and went to Brearam on the Wabash.
When the news came of the Pigeon Roost murder a good many left and went across the river, leaving their stock and most of their goods. Several families went that night to James Anderson’s Fort, three-quarters of a mile south of where Hanover now is. Our family, all went there except father. Court was then sitting in Madison, William McFarland being presiding judge, and Samuel Smock, and William Cotton of Switzerland County were Associate Judges. Father came home, put up his horse, ate his supper and went to bed, keeping the fort until morning and then surrendered it to mother, who had returned with the family and others.
After peace was made in 1814, the country was settled very fast. Among others, a man by the name of Jesse Neal came. One winter night a comfortable snow fell; next morning he took his gun and went hunting; It was cloudy and snowed that day. It being cloudy and no sun to be seen, he got lost. He wandered about, crossing his own tracks several times, until I suppose he was tired down. He creeped into a hollow log in the creek bottom, where he was frozen stiff. The creek has been called Neal’s Creek ever since. It empties in Big Creek near Paris.
For a few years we had to go to Kentucky for provisions or to Work’s Mill in Clark County, near Charlestown. It was not long until Mr. Edwards built a mill on Clifty, just above the road that now crosses the creek. The next nearest mill was built by William Ramsey on the creek called Ramsey’s Fork of White River, next to the mill where Kent now is. The first fruit trees brought to the neighborhood were brought from Shelby Co., Ky., by father and Peter VanCleave. Previous to Edwards’ and Ramseys’ mills, father had built a hand mill. The neighbors brought corn and taking turns would grind it. It ground slow, being turned by hand, but it was toll free. We had to pen the sheep every night to keep the wolves from them. To exterminate the wolves as much as possible, the first settlers built pens to trap them. The pens were built of logs, generally split logs. The top was so heavy a wolf could not raise it. It was constructed with a trigger to which the bait (a piece of meat) was fastened. The trigger was attached to a pole which held the lid or top of the pen up. When the wolf got into the pen and pulled the meat the trap fell and Mr. Wolf was caught and killed, and $2 received for his scalp, which was the legal price for both ears.
The people were more social then than they are now. They went ten or twelve miles to help one another roll logs or raise a house. The Indians would sometimes help, but they were very awkward. The men sometimes went 8, 10 or 12 miles to work the roads. Joshua Deputy told me some years ago that it cost him $12 one for failing to work one day. Before this county was organized, this county, Jennings, and Scott Counties all belonged to Clark County and we had to go to Charlestown to attend court. I have criticized Mr. Dinwiddie and Colonel Vawter, and I may be criticized by others, but I have given, as I have no doubt they did, what I believe to be facts. I have lived within the bounds of what is now Jefferson County longer than any person now living. If these reminiscences will interest anyone, all right. I have been interviewed by a good many friends, and requested to write what I know about the first settling of the county. Now you have it
Your fellow citizen John Smock
P.S.—There are some things I omitted to state in their proper place, so many thoughts were crowding themselves upon me. When the Indians came upon my grandfather’s family in Kentucky, they were working in the clearing, opening a farm. Uncle John hid in a brush heap and might have escaped, but when he saw the Indians came upon my grandfather’s family in Kentucky, they were working in the clearing, opening a farm. Uncle John hid in a brush heap and might have escaped, but when he saw the Indians had caught Peter, he betrayed himself by crying. One of the Indians gave father a close chase for life; when father jumped the fence which enclosed a yard around the house the Indian struck at him with his tomahawk, the lick falling on the top rail of the fence. The Indian then made tracks in the bushes, and the whole party hastened across the river as stated.
Some of the Indians were filthy. I have already said I never knew them to take anything said I never knew them to take anything without asking for it. I will give a case at hand. Father had a large white sow to die one winter; she was in good order; she was dragged to the woods and thrown by a big log. Some two or three days after she was deposited there, one of Old Painter’s gang or company came to father and asked if he might have the hog. Father told him c-o-hon (yes); but asked him what he wanted it for. The Indian said “to make venison.” They skinned the hog, cut it up, and smoked it; I suppose they ate it.
White Eyes’ wife was a good cook. The family had eaten at father’s frequently, and father was invited to come and eat with them. If you refused to eat with them, they take it as an insult. So father promised to go one day and take dinner. He concluded and he would go pretty early and see the cooking done. She—that is, Mrs. White Eyes—had scoured her brass kettle as bright as a new dollar, washed her bear meat and venison through two or three waters, and had a nice dinner.
How the Indians Made Mush: Some of them got milk of mother to have mush and milk for supper. I was at their camp and saw them make it—They put the milk in their kettle, put it over the fire and stirred the meal in the milk.
How the Broom-Sage Came Here: The grass which is such a pest, generally called broom sage, is a native of North Carolina. It was brought here by a family by the name of White. They thought they were going to a new country, to a wilderness as they said, where they could get nothing but brush to sweep with and the woman put a few bunches carefully tied in the wagon. That brought the seed here. The farmers know to their sorrow how it will spread. Mr. White first stopped on Mr. Dungan’s where John McMurrray now lives.
The First Barbecue ever held in this county was held in Madison in the woods on Main Street, where William Wells’ store now is. There were not a dozen houses in Madison at that time. There came up a rain, and the people sheltered under the cover of grape vines and tree tops. We had plenty of talented fresh fish for dinner; they were caught in the Ohio River.
JEFFERSON COUNTY PIONEERS
This was a series of articles that appeared in the Madison Courier. Some were first hand accounts by the early settlers and others were taken from autobiographies from other sources. They are reproduced in their entirety by the Jefferson County Historical Society and with their permission we offer them on our website.
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