Monday, January 30, 2017

The 1865 Bath County Election: An Election Overturned

The political arena is always a hot and debated topic, especially during election years.  Our country has just underwent a Presidential Election that has certainly caused a plethora of debate and turmoil, but it wasn't that long ago, voters in Kentucky could be turned away for their beliefs.  


Kentucky was considered neutral in the American Civil War, but across the state, there was a strong Southern sentiment among Kentuckians, including many in Bath County. During, and at the conclusion of the war, there was a sense of uneasiness within the states and who would become the newly elected officials.  

 Governor Thomas Bramlette had won the 1863 gubernatorial vote with controversy, as it was alleged that Union forces used intimidation tactics against opponent Charles Wickliffe's supporters. During Governor Bramlette's term, in early 1864, President Lincoln declared martial law in Kentucky and appointed General Stephen Burbridge Commander of the Military District of Kentucky.  Burbridge was considered a harsh commander, and in August 1864, issued Order 59, which empowered him to apprehend and arrest those suspected in guerilla tactics against the Union, and those who assisted them. Burbridge ordered the capture and deportation of nearly 30,000 suspected Southern sympathizers.  In addition, many more were killed, along with Union loyalists who wouldn't conform to Burbridge's demands. 
These actions soured Governor Bramlette's opinion of President Lincoln, but in early 1865, the final straw was drawn.  General Burbridge attempted to overtake the seat of Kentucky's government, but was thwarted.  In a letter to Secretary of War Edward Stanton,  the governor said, " This unwarranted assumption of power by an imbecile commander is doubtless instigated by those who have long sought to provoke an issue with the state, and which I have prevented".

Lincoln relieved Burbridge of his command, and in 1865, martial law in Kentucky was ended by President Andrew Johnson.  Governor Bramlette sought to end the intimidation tactics at the upcoming election; his proclamation stated "the law requires that a person offering to vote should state on an oath that he had not entered into the service of the so-called Confederate States, nor in the service of the so-called Provisional Government of Kentucky in either a civil or military capacity since the 10th day of April, 1862, nor has he continued in such service since said date; nor has given since that date voluntary aid or assistance to those in arms against the United States and the State of Kentucky".

Bath County held an election on August 7, 1865 to seat a representative in the Kentucky General Assembly.  Lander Barber, a former Union lieutenant from Mud Lick, and B. D. Lacy, a prominent lawyer from Owingsville were the two candidates on the ballot.  Voters were met with armed Federal troops at the  polling stations that morning.  Ambrose Wright arrived before the polls opened at Olympian Springs and testified during a later inquiry that Lacy and precinct judge J.A. Rice were overheard talking about how the election would be held.  Rice was known as a deputy revenue agent, and was heard telling Lacy that he had military orders from General Palmer, and asserted that Kentucky was still under martial law.  Lacy argued with Rice that the election should be held per the Governor's proclamation, but to no avail.  According to Wright, there were "ten to fifteen troops present, some armed with rifles others with pistols. They were part of Barber's company of the State Guard and one of the soldiers, Rogers seemed to be in charge".  He also testified that about forty or sixty legal voters were either at the polling station or on the way who were not allowed to vote. The precinct officials had in their possession a list of names of those who were deemed ineligible to vote due to their alleged association with the Confederacy.  
Mr. Wright went on to testify that Rogers shouted into the crowd "the next illegal voter would be promptly arrested and taken to headquarters".  It was also testified that it appeared Rogers was intoxicated and that the other precinct officials or friends of Barber did not attempt to challenge Rogers' authority.  One man, W.B. Harvey, attempted to vote but was told by Rice "you cannot vote.  I've heard you speak of treason myself".  Harvey protested the claim, and was willing to take the Oath of Voter, but was still denied his right.  This played out several times throughout the day, as testified by several others later.

At the close of the polls, the official count was tallied at 490 votes for Lander Barber, and 460 for B.D. Lacy.  This was recorded by Circuit Judge T.B. Hamilton, Sheriff Daniel Harper and County Clerk R. Coulthard August 9, 1865.  The results did not set well with Lacy, who immediately contested the election based on the intimidation tactics used by Federal troops.  In the days following the election, depositions were issued for testimony in the election contest.  William Satterfield testified that when he delivered a notice of deposition to Lander Barber, Barber stated he was "annoyed by Lacy and would take it in hand by himself and stop it".  Three of the soldiers present with Barber commented they would shoot anyone intending to make a deposition against Barber, but the newly elected Representative eased the situation by telling them to "cool it".  

At least one instance of violence erupted because of the election.  Two men, known as Lee and Mullins, got into a heated argument near White Sulphur about the results and B.D. Lacy's efforts to have a new election.  Shots were fired, with Mullins being struck by a bullet in the thigh.  Lee and some other soldiers present then decided to go to the home of Van Young with the intent on shooting him as well.  They were met by Young's wife, who brandished a pistol; Van made his escape out the back of the residence.  

In December, 1865,  Lacy petitioned the House of Representatives and Kentucky General Assembly to contest the seat of Lander Barber.  In the petition, Lacy argued that the election was not free and equal as defined by the Constitution and that Barber should immediately vacate his seat in the General Assembly.  He also argued that the troops at the election polls were under direct command by Barber, who threatened with arrest and bodily harm those who were refused their right to vote legally.  Many witness depositions were presented as evidence, and can be found among the Journal of the House of the General Assembly of the Commonwealth of Kentucky and Kentucky Public Records, Volume 2, December 20, 1865.

The House of Representatives appointed a committee to hear the testimonies and conduct an official hearing and review of the Bath County election. The findings concluded that Barber should vacate his seat in the General Assembly and a new election be held.  B.D. Lacy won the seat under "free and equal means" and on February 6, 1866, took his place in the House of Representatives, serving one term.  Lacy died in Owingsville, October 27, 1893 and was remembered as being an honorable man. 

The contested Bath County election of 1865 was not unique.  Other counties within the Commonwealth experienced similar problems during the first post-Civil War elections.  Worse problems were recorded in other states, with lynchings and deadly shootings among the Southern states.  

It is difficult to imagine such actions at a polling place in the United States and Commonwealth of Kentucky these days, but in other countries, the threat against openly expressing a right to elect officials is very real.  Regardless of the outcome of an election, we should count our blessings we live without fear or repercussions for exercising our rights. 

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

The Mystery Hands and Tunnel at the Bourbon Furnace

The Bourbon Iron Furnace was the one of the earliest industrial facilities in what we know as Kentucky.  In fact, when it went into operation around 1791, the iron making facility was the first west of the Allegheny Mountains.  The facility looked much different than it does today; only the furnace stack remains.  At the time of it's operation, the Bourbon Iron Furnace smelting site had various structures around it used to house workers, store supplies and protect the site from Native American raiders.  The furnace remained a strong and steady operation, even producing cannon balls and shot for the United States Navy that were used at the Battle of New Orleans in 1812.  Operations at the site ceased in 1838 and all the structures, spare the famous stack, were dismantled. 
The faint trace of the hands in the furnace
One of the most curious things that is noticed about the furnace site is the handprints that are on an iron support beam. The handprints are not imprinted or recessed into the beam, but are brought outward in a relief feature; as if the hands were melted into the metal.  To see these mystery hands, you have to go into the bigger entrance of the furnace stack that faces Slate Creek.  About midway on the iron beam are the small hands pushing outward.  I have heard two tales of how these hands ended up in the metal.  One tale is that a slave was caught stealing and as punishment, his hands were burned into the hot metal while the furnace was in operation.  Another tale is that someone fell into the furnace and in an attempt to catch themselves, they reached up and touched the hot beam, melting their hands off.  We may never truly know how those hands were forever etched into the iron, but the victim was most unfortunate.

Thomas Deye Owings became sole owner of the Bourbon Iron Furnace in 1810, a year before Owingsville's establishment.  By 1814, Owings had built his residence a couple of miles north of the furnace in the heart of today's downtown Owingsville.  Elaborate galas were held at the Owings House and famous dignitaries graced the mansion at various times.  It is rumored that the whiskey that Owings provided at these events was distilled on the Bourbon Ironworks site, and to keep bandits or Natives from hijacking the distilled spirits, a tunnel system was built to connect the Owings House to the furnace. 
The tunnel entrance was allegedly in the basement of the Owings house in a discreet location, possibly via a secret door behind a fireplace or a trap door in the floor.  In the early 1980's, the Owings House was purchased by the Byron family.  I've spoken to Tom Byron, Jr. about the tunnels and he asserted he had never found a tunnel, but did find a small passage behind a mantle that led nowhere.  The construction for the tunnel would have been a daunting task for anyone to undertake, even in this modern age.  Owingsville sits high atop a ridge that us underlined with thick rock layers.  The distance to the furnace is a couple of miles at a gradual, steep grade, crossing a few small streams and old springs along the way.  The natural barrier that would have had to have been over  come was Slate Creek, which borders the ridges and valleys below Owingsville.  So far, no trace of such tunnel has ever been found along the banks of the creek.

One Winter day in 1998, I did some inspections on buildings in Owingsville as part of a firefighting pre-planning project.  Under the sidewalks and streets, there is a tunnel system that goes under North Court Street to Main Street.  I gained access to this tunnel system (with permission, of course) and was quite astounded at the subterranean world below our city.  These tunnels were used as a drain system I was told and we could look up at man holes and storm drains along the curbs.  We did find a staircase that led up to street level in front of the row of shops across from the Owings House, but no other access past that. 
These days, most of the tunnel system is off limits and inaccessible.  It is possible that over time, these old tunnels may have been the basis for the tale of the Bourbon Furnace tunnel; no one knows for sure entirely. For now, the furnace site holds the mysteries of the hands and tunnel, and is unlikely to reveal anything beyond what is speculated.

Monday, October 24, 2016

A Cryptic Message


Owingsville has a rich and storied past, but perhaps it's the words found scribbled in peculiar places that tell something more. 
A couple of weeks ago, I had the opportunity to go inside the Bath County Courthouse's bell tower for the first time, accompanied by Emergency Management Director Jason York and his step-daughter Kenzie. On one of the boards, there were names scribbled with dates from as far back as 1917 on it; surprisingly well preserved over all this time.  As we made our way downstairs, one cryptic message was found written on a wall behind a door.  This message wouldn't normally be visible and is almost hidden behind the door, but is written in an old style of lettering.  But first, a little back story.
July 6, 1895 was probably a hot summer day in Owingsville.  One could imagine the sun beating down and the dust kicking up off the dirt roads in town.  A circus was in town on that day with many people taking in the day's activities.  Around 11 o'clock in the morning, two men met at Young's Saloon in town for the first of several times that day.  John D. Young, Jr. was the son of Congressman John Young and well known in Owingsville.  Pliny 'Clem' Fassett was a cousin to Young and the pair were soaking in some drinks when an argument erupted over an unpaid debt Fassett owed Young; another witness attested that the argument was due to Fassett asking Young to borrow money.  At either account, the pair squared off, then parted ways into the street. 
A while later, Young and Fassett were seen at the saloon once again, and another heated argument ensued.  A witness by the name of Coyle saw Young strike Fassett, knocking him to the ground.  Clem was put out of the saloon at this point, but was seen outside the doors with an open knife, taunting Young and threatening to "cut his heart out".  Fassett made such a ruckus in the street, that a crowd had gathered around him.  Witnesses stated they saw the drunken man with a knife and he was spouting off obscenities and threats toward Young. Town Marshal Marks approached Fassett and made him leave the street, escorting him to a bench in front of the Owings House, which was a hotel at the time.  After sitting with Fassett a few minutes, the town marshal left and went into Gaunce's Grocery Store across the street (in the row of businesses next to Smith's Hardware).  In the store, Marshal Marks saw John Young and asked him to go to the circus with him.  Sheriff James Lane was also in the grocery and witnessed this exchange.  Young told the marshal to go on, that he would catch up to him at the circus later.
After a few more minutes, Young walked out across the street and approached Fassett, who was still sitting on the bench.  Mr. Brother, who ran the dry goods store at the corner of North Court and Main Street, was leaning up against a lamp post talking to two other men when they noticed Fassett and Young begin to exchange words once again. 
"What did you follow me for," Pliny Fassett asked John Young.  Not saying a word, Young approached Fassett and knocked the hat off his head.  The Congressman's son then grabbed his cousin and dragged him outward into Main Street.  Fasset broke loose from Young's grip and asked, "what did you hit me for?  Why don't you tell these good gentlemen why you hit me".
Pliny shoved John away at that point and said again, "I want you to tell these people why you hit me for!". 
"I ain't afraid of you!  You better do something about it," Fassett taunted.  Young opened his coat and reached in it.  Witnesses scurried into the hotel, fearing Young was about to brandish a firearm.  E.V. Brother, George Young and C.C. Hazelrigg intervened and separated the two men, believing they had defused the conflict. At this point, the witness' recollections vary; it is agreed that Young backed Fassett against a rail, but their actions  are debated.  According to one testimony, Fassett lunged at Young, holding the knife he was seen with earlier.  Another witnessed stated he saw the men lock into a struggle and Young had a knife.  Whatever was the case, the result was Young struck Fassett in the neck with a knife, inflicting a fatal wound.  Fassett stumbled backward a few steps and collapsed against the railing outside the hotel, dying a short time later.
John D. Young, Jr., son of a congressman, was arrested for the killing of Pliny Fassett.  He was tried in Bath County Circuit Court, found guilty and sentenced to eighteen years in prison in May, 1897.  The case was appealed and a motion for a new case was granted the following year.  The first retrial resulted in a hung jury. At least four of the jurors were heard openly talking about the case and how they felt Young should 'pay dearly for his actions'.   The second trial resulted in a fifteen year sentence, and an immediate appeal was granted on the grounds that an impartial jury could not be seated due to the Young family's stature in Bath County.  Circuit Judge Cooper granted a change in venue to Menifee County and the case was heard for a third time.  The Southwestern Reporter, Volume 42, published in 1898, contains Young's appeals case with a wealth of information regarding the case's details.  The final hearing was heard in April, 1899, with a sentence of two years for Young to serve for the killing.  It was the defense's argument that Young feared for his life and acted in self defense, due to statements made by Pliny Fasset that were overheard by witnesses;  some statements were in the context of Fassett stating he would "cut Young's head off and kick it in the hollow".  Eventually, in December, 1899, John Young, Jr. was formally pardoned by Governor William S. Taylor. 
This incident surprisingly isn't chronicled in John Adair Richards' A History of Bath County book, and I personally hadn't heard anything regarding this story until the day I went into the bell tower.  The cryptic message written on the wall reads, "Clem Fasst killed by John Young Clem Fassets gost inhabits this court house attic".  Whoever wrote this message is a mystery, and if Pliny 'Clem' Fassett's ghost really does haunt the attic of the courthouse is an equal mystery.  So, the next time you are in the courthouse and think you hear someone walking around upstairs or feel a strange presence, it may be Clem Fassett seeking justice after all this time.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Turning Back Time: Restoring the Bath County Courthouse Clock Tower


The Bath County Courthouse is undergoing a renovation project just in time for it's 150 year anniversary.  The courthouse you see today is actually the third one for Bath County.  The first one was planned in June 1815 and completed in early 1816.  It was described as a brick two story structure and sat almost in the middle of Main Street at the stop light in Owingsville.   A second, wood frame courthouse was built in 1831, where the current one stands today. 
During the Civil War, Federal troops occupied Owingsville and were briefly garrisoned in the Bath County Courthouse.  Early on the morning of May 22, 1864,  the troops were alerted that a Confederate column was approaching Owingsville.  In their haste to meet the rebel troops, a coal stove was knocked over, quickly igniting the courthouse.  The building and many vital records of Bath County's earliest days were consumed by the fire.  The county received an indemnity from the Federal Government, and a new, and present, courthouse was built on the same site in 1866.
From 1866-1903, the Bath County Courthouse was a rectangular, ordinary structure.  The interior rooms were built to be fire proof and sturdy to prevent the loss of other vital records.  Under the administration of Judge Executive John A. Daugherty, a major renovation project was contracted, starting in 1903 and finishing in 1904.  The front of the courthouse was extended over four feet toward Main Street and a balcony was added for town criers.  The most prominent addition was the construction of the 102 foot tall clock and bell tower.  The tower was built with four clock faces pointing at each direction of the compass.  Built entirely of wood and brick, the tower is supported by several long iron rods that bear the weight of the structure and the 1,500 pound bell inside. 
Galvanized iron ornaments adorn the upper corners of the tower near the clock, and the belfry is an open structure with slats to reduce the elements from creeping in.  The upper dome of the tower is covered with slate tiles and more iron ornamental accents; indeed a commanding structure once finished. 
Accessing the bell and clock is not for the claustrophobic or those uneasy with high places.  Over the years, able bodied men, including my father Tommy, would make the climb up the narrow wooden ladder to wind the Seth Thomas clock mechanism and to clean the mounds of potentially harmful bird droppings.
Access into the bell tower via ladder
Some of those people added their names on a board near the clock's southward face; the earliest I personally found was the name John W. Brother, dated July 6, 1917.  
The bell, located on the fourth story of the five, was cast by the MC Shane Bell Foundry from Baltimore, Maryland and is date stamped 1903.  The large wooden wheel still turns and rocks the bell on the pedestal, but the pendulum was replaced with a mechanical striker attached by steel cables to the clock mechanism on the fifth story at some point.  Over the years, the elements crept into the aging tower and the boards began to decay.  It became unsafe to climb into the clock and perform the maintenance needed to keep it going; the once hourly bell fell silent.  The clock faces, however, still light up at night as a sort of beacon of time. 
Current Judge Executive Bobby Rogers has committed to restore the aging Bath County Courthouse during his term.  Utilizing local contractors and labor from inmates under the supervision of Jailer Earl Willis, work is being done to bring the structure back to its glory.  Tommy Johnson, owner of TJ Construction, was contracted to restore the interior of the bell tower.  Emergency Management Director Jason York gave me an exclusive tour of the tower recently and gave a progress report of the work that has been completed and what's yet to come.
"When they started working on the tower, there was about four inches of pigeon droppings all over the place," York said. 
"We had to have the guys working up there wear hazardous materials suits and respirators in order to stay safe".
The tower itself had shifted about four inches to the west due to seeping water damaging boards and support beams, according to Mr. Johnson.  Some of the ladder's rungs had to be replaced, along with other surrounding support beams that had rotted.  A large hydraulic jack was used to shore the tower and correct the lean, which wasn't readily noticed from street level.
Soon, the clock and bell will be restored back into working order, according to Emergency Management Director York.  Another proposed project at the old courthouse, spearheaded by the newly reorganized Bath County Tourism Council, is the creation of a Bath County Museum in the second floor court room area. The museum is only in the initial planning phases at this time, pending final approval and other preparations that need to be made to accommodate  
Judge Executive Rogers says he "feels the old courthouse is a lasting monument that has meant so much to the people of Bath County. 
That's why the Fiscal Court and I placed such an emphasis on restoring this county treasure." 
 The restoration and future projects at the old Bath County Courthouse should make this historic county treasure an active part of many more generations to come.

Below are some pictures inside the clock and bell tower:

A Seth Thomas type clock mechanism



An ominous message scribbled on a wall
Names and graffiti from long ago

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

A Close Call: Downing & Yates' Escape From Natives


John McClung published a book in 1832 entitled "Sketches of Western Adventure" that offered a glimpse into the settlement of the Western United States.  This book tells the stories of Kentucky's earliest settlers and the struggles with the Native Americans who inhabited the area.  One local recollection can be found in the book and tells the story of two young men and their close encounter with Natives. 
It was August, 1786, and two young men, Francis Downing and one only known as Yates, were living in the blockhouse fortification adjoining the Bourbon Furnace.  A horse belonging to Yates had wandered off from the settlement and, with the help of Downing, a search commenced.  By evening, the pair found themselves some seven miles from the ironworks overlooking a valley.  Downing halted and hushed Yates, advising him to listen closely as he heard what sounded like sticks being broken behind them.  Concerned that the pair were being followed, Downing urged caution.  Yates, who was a bit older than Downing, was an avid hunter and warded off the concern as nothing more than the usual sounds associated with the forest.  Downing voiced his concern again, noting that the sounds seemed to have been following them for some distance before they stopped.  Again, Yates passed it off as paranoia and continued onward into the valley.  Downing followed at a cautious pace, fearing they were being tailed by hostile Natives.  Eventually, Yates had walked several paces ahead and down a hillside.  Downing took the opportunity and ducked into some tall brush nearby, waiting to see if his fears would be verified.  Sure enough, two Natives appeared out of a cane thicket and were observing Yates' movements.  Downing brought his rifle to bear and misfired the shot before he could get the Natives in sight.  The Natives were startled and before they could gather their senses, Downing headed in Yates' direction in a full run.  Yates had heard the shot and was running back to meet his friend, seeing the Natives hurriedly pursuing the pair.  The young men bolted across the field, while the Natives took another path to cut the distance.  The Natives gained on the pair as they tried to outrun them, and soon, a deep trench ahead proved to be the deciding factor in the fight or flight response.  Seeing that retreating back toward the Natives could spell certain disaster, Yates took a bounding leap across the ravine.  Downing attempted to follow suit, but fell short and landed into the deep trench.  The Natives crossed the ravine down from the fallen settler, but either failed to see him or assumed he was too far gone to try and fight.  Downing regained his senses and began to follow the trench until it crested, coming into view of a Native returning to his location.  During his haste, Downing failed to reload his rifle and threw it at the advancing Native as he retreated away.  Fatigue began to set in with Downing as he ran for his life and the Native rapidly gained ground.  The pair ran along a large downed tree, and just as they approached the roots, fate intervened on Downing's behalf.
The Native arrived at the base of the fallen tree, and as he made the turn to meet Downing, a large mother bear with a cub was there.  The bear jumped up at the Native and pounced on him; both Native and animal interlocked in a fight.
The Native managed to brandish his knife and stab the bear, who was viciously defending her cub.  Downing watched this event very briefly and took the opportunity to flee back toward the Bourbon Furnace stockade.  The young man ran at full speed and finally reached the stockade without further incident.  Yates was already back, having escaped his pursuers who had given up the chase some two hours before Downing's arrival.  The pair told their harrowing tale of survival and were thankful they had been spared.  The next day, a party of men returned to the tree's location, but found no sign of the bear, the cub, or the Native. 
Although few, clashes between settlers and Natives weren't uncommon in Bath County.  Two more incidents near the Bourbon Iron Furnace are noted in John Richards' A History of Bath County;  John Ely was attacked and killed by Natives a short distance from the furnace in 1787 along what is now called Ely's Branch, and John McGuire was shot and injured by Natives in the same vicinity in 1792.  Several more widely known, and very bloody, fights occurred in surrounding counties; Little Mountain and Morgan's Station in Montgomery County, Battle Run in Fleming County, and Blue Licks in Robertson County.  Eventually, Native attacks in Kentucky subsided and settlers began taking over the once 'dark and bloody ground' the Natives used for hunting.  While these tales have been handed down through many generations, the early days of Kentucky were surely a fascinating, and dangerous time; painting an adventurous scene in the minds of those who followed.

Monday, September 5, 2016

The Night Riders & Tobacco Wars


Around this time of year, farmers are cutting their tobacco crops and hanging them in barns to cure, eventually selling their crop product at warehouse auctions.  It is hard work, and relatively uneventful these days, but around the turn of the Twentieth Century, tobacco farming was a dangerous job for area farmers.  

The American Tobacco Company had acquired a sizeable trust and had monopolized the tobacco industry, becoming the third largest trust in the United States by 1908; third only to the Unites States Steel Corporation and American Oil.  Their dominance over the market eliminated any smaller competition.  Farmers were forced to sell their crops for barely the cost of producing the tobacco, while the American Tobacco Company's income grew.  At the end of 1907, American Tobacco's gross surplus was approximately 32 million dollars.  After stock dividends were paid out, the company showed a 117 percent income profit, while the farmers were barely getting by.  A growing discerning among farmers spawned the creation of the Burley Tobacco Society and Planter's Protection Agency as a way to make a stand against the American Tobacco Company and to secure fair prices for farmers' crops at market.  Waller Sharp from Sharpsburg was among several who led the charge locally with the Burley Tobacco Society.  The movement was statewide, and soon other states were joining the fight against American Tobacco.  Farmers were urged to deliver their crops to the Burley Tobacco Society's warehouses and barns for storage until their tobacco could be negotiated and sold at a fair price.  In 1907, the farmers agreeing to pool their crops resulted in over 10 million dollars worth of product, with an additional reserve of 6 million in the previous year's being held.  It was proposed to cut the 1908 crop to avoid increased surplus and to create a demand for the unsold tobacco, but some farmers declined to cut their crops as requested. Like a workers' strike, the fight against the burley giant American Tobacco would send a message to both the big corporation and to those who shared the ideas of the cause, but refused to stop production.  As a result, a group called the Night Riders came to be. 

The Night Riders were a posse of armed, masked men who used intimidation tactics, and in many cases, violence to try and force farmers to abide by the stand against American Tobacco.  These groups of marauders were more prominent in Western Kentucky, with the most violence occurring in Caldwell and Christian Counties. The men called themselves the Black Patch Society in that area of the state and part of Western Tennessee.  They found where crops were being raised and destroyed tobacco beds and standing fields.  Barns and warehouses were set afire by the Night Riders, lighting up the skies in the darkened cover of night.  Farmers began arming themselves to protect their homes and farms, on some occasions intense gunfights erupted, with the bloodiest of the fighting taking place December 7, 1907 in Hopkinsville.  Approximately 200-300 armed riders rode into the city of Hopkinsville that night and set two large warehouses on fire near the L&N Railroad yards. Gunfire erupted and a railway worker was fatally wounded.   According the the newspaper The Country Gentleman's March 12, 1908 edition, a man was forced from his home and beaten nearly to death in the streets that night by the Night Riders.  Entire cities feared for their safety, and the rural farmers were especially vulnerable.
 
Typical Night Rider attire
Bath County farmers were not spared the intimidation or acts of violence, although nothing to the extent of the ordeals in Hopkinsville.  Local farmers in went to the county court to express their concerns about the threats made against them, with many of the farmers vowing to continue to raise their crops regardless of the Night Riders.  A group of around twenty masked riders rode into Bethel and Bald Eagle in late November, 1907, posting notices on the barns belonging to Oscar Chandler, Thornton Snelling, Claude Whaley, Richard Donaldson and others, warning the owners against selling their crops at market.  The actions of these marauders prompted Governor Augustus Wilson to mobilize a detachment of twelve mounted cavalrymen to Bath County in an attempt to thwart any violence.  The presence of the armed militia prompted Judge James Lane to inquire what their purpose was, but the commanding officer only stated they were under orders by the Governor.  Judge Lane then ordered the cavalry away, telling them that if he felt the need for armed troops, he would appeal to the Governor himself.

Twenty Night Riders approached Bethel one night early in 1908 and cut the telephone lines into the town.  They stopped at a warehouse belonging to A.S. Robertson, which housed 35,000 pounds of tobacco purchased on the open market.  Beside the warehouse was a dry goods store belonging to the Peters Brothers, with one of the brothers present upstairs.  One rider voiced his concern that the Peters man would fire upon them, prompting a remark that "if he sticks his head out, shoot it off his shoulders".   The riders poured coal oil into the warehouse and set it alight.  The fire quickly consumed the warehouse and spread to the Peters' store.  The lone occupant of the store escaped the flames and began to try and salvage goods from the store, but was unsuccessful.  The warehouse and store burned to the ground, but thankfully no one was injured. The riders left the blazing inferno, heading down Little Flat Road into Sherburne and set fire to the barn of Thomas Daugherty before disappearing into the night.  Although these men weren't masked, no one could identify who they were, even after Governor Wilson issued a $500 reward for the capture and conviction of any member of the Night Riders.
 A couple of nights after the incident at Bethel, the farm of Hiram Hedges at the Bath and Nicholas County line was targeted by the Night Riders.  Hedges was awakened by rocks being thrown against his house late that night.  Armed with a gun, Hedges went to investigate the sound and was met by a group of men.  After lowering his weapon, Hiram agreed to destroy his tobacco bed he had sown and not produce a crop in compliance with the riders' demands.  It is unclear what exactly happened, but a shot rang out and bullet struck Hedges in the stomach.  Hedges fell back into the house as his son ran out to try to help.  Convinced they hadn't shot Hedges, the riders' leader entered the house, and found the man's lifeless body inside the home. The riders quickly rode away, and their true identities were never known. 
Another incident along Prickly Ash nearly ended fatal near the same time, when a group of residents were guarding Nunley Everman's wagon loads of tobacco that were set to be sold in Mount Sterling.  A previous warning was issued not to sell this crop, but Everman ignored it.  Around 10 p.m. on the evening of the incident, horsemen were heard coming down Prickly Ash.  Twelve to fifteen men dismounted and walked to the barn, coming within sight of the guards.  The guards ordered the riders' leader to halt, but the order was ignored as the marauder continued forward with a bottle of coal oil.  A warning shot was fired, which quickly became an all out firefight between the barn's guards and the Night Riders.  One of the guards was inured in the hand by a bullet and the fight intensified.  The riders began to retreat with the guards pursuing them to the junction of the Wyoming Turnpike as the guards continued to fire upon them.  After the Night Riders retreated, several items, including a bottle of coal oil, were located along the road.  The sheriff was summoned to the scene, and more guards dispatched to the barn, but no more incidents occurred and the tobacco was safely delivered to the market in Mount Sterling the following day.

Faced with a short supply of tobacco during the 1908 growing season,  American Tobacco was forced to negotiate with the coalition of tobacco farmers.   The actions of the burley corporation and the Night Riders gained national attention.  The American Tobacco Company was charged with violating the Sherman Antitrust Act of 1890 by the Department of Justice in 1908.  A judgement was entered  May 29, 1911, splitting the American Tobacco Company's assets into four competitive markets; R.J Reynolds, Liggett and Myers, Lorillard and a reduced version of the American Tobacco Company.  The ruling in United States v. American Tobacco Co. stated that the combination of the tobacco companies “in and of itself, as well as each and all of the elements composing it whether corporate or individual, whether considered collectively or separately [was] in restraint of trade and an attempt to monopolize, and a monopolization within the first and second sections of the Anti-Trust Act.”  The farmers had won their battle to gain fair market value of the crops that provided them with much needed income to survive; with much bloodshed and fear during their fight.  

Today, the tobacco industry is in a steady decline.  Some Bath County farmers who once had sprawling fields of burley have resorted to alternate crops to sustain their way of living.  The Tobacco Wars and the Night Riders passed after just a short amount of time, but the violent legacy left will always be etched into the annals of our local history.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

The Sky Is Falling!

Most of us have seen the movie Armageddon, or at least know the plot; an asteroid is on a collision course with the Earth and could spell certain doom and disaster for the planet and its inhabitants. Popular television shows on The History Channel and other stations show a 'what if' scenario should an asteroid or large meteor strike happen in populated places, and makes for good entertainment.  The reality is, these kind of things have happened many times in the 4 billion year history of Earth.  Billions of years ago as the universe was being born, hundreds, or thousands, of meteors and small asteroids struck the planet on a regular basis as planetary bodies slammed into one another, raining the rocky debris into the atmosphere.  Most smaller meteors or meteorites are torn apart and disintegrate due to atmospheric friction, but occasionally, some penetrate through the volatile conditions and strike land. 
Perhaps the best and most poignant example of a stellar strike is what scientists believe caused the extinction of the great dinosaurs some 65 million years ago.  An asteroid or comet plunged into Earth near the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico and created a worldwide destructive event that killed off the vast majority of plant and animal live.  This may not have been  the first mass extinction event; scientists now hypothesize a much earlier event may have happened between the Triassic and Jurassic period that also wiped out much of the life on Earth.  Another incident in 1908 in the remote regions of the Ukraine involved what scientists believe was a comet that exploded in the atmosphere.  That explosion caused widespread destruction to the area, which was thankfully uninhabited.  Kentucky has been no stranger to these cosmic events, but with much less catastrophe.
There are three documented meteor strike zones in Kentucky significant enough to leave a lasting scar.  One such zone was mistaken for a volcano from 1887 until 1968.  The Jeptha Knob is located in Shelby County between Lexington and Louisville and is a 425 million year old impact site that caused the Earth to rise above the surrounding countryside, creating what's called an astrobleme.  Another strike occurred near Versailles some 440 million years ago.  The town of Middlesboro sits inside a 300 million year old meteor crater that struck the area adjacent to the Cumberland Gap.  The evening of November 15, 1902, residents in Bath County were shaken by the sonic boom of a meteor that struck five miles southeast of Salt Lick.
Around 7:45 p.m., residents in Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi and Georgia observed a brilliant streak in the sky as a meteor burned across the upper atmosphere.  People in each of those states described the stellar light show as a "bright streak, like a roman candle; starting off dim and growing in intensity".  John Richards' published account in his book An Illustrated History of Bath County states that an eye witness in Owingsville said the streak started low above the horizon and grew almost as bright as daylight for about five seconds before disappearing.  A loud sonic boom was heard over Owingsville in a southeasterly direction toward Preston or Olympia, followed by a low rumbling sound. 
Meanwhile at White Sulphur Springs, near present day Clear Creek Lake, Buford Staton heard the noise and went out to investigate the sights and sounds above.   Observant scientists and curious people also traced the path of the falling object, but weren't sure of the exact point of impact.  The next morning, Mr. Staton found a piece of peculiar rock embedded in the ground along the roadway almost directly in front of his home.  Scientists from Kentucky and Ohio had studied the path and deducted from the azimuth calculations that the meteor should have struck somewhere near where it was found.  A day or so later, Buford Staton became a sort of local celebrity when word got out of his unique find.  Staton sold the piece to W.H. Daugherty for a sum of fifteen dollars.  Scientists arrived within the next few days to inspect the piece of extraterrestrial rock and documented it as being a polygon shaped, crusty, black piece  eight and a quarter by six and a half inches, weighing about thirteen pounds.  They also deducted that this must be just a fragment of the meteor that had broken off from a main body, as this small specimen couldn't have made such a spectacular entry from space.  The piece changed hands again when Mr. Daugherty sold it to Professor Harry Ward of Chicago for $300.  Eventually, the fragment found its way to the National Museum in Washington, D.C. and officially called the 'Bath Furnace Meteorite'.
Once at the museum, Professor Merrill studied the composition of the meteor fragment and determined that it was made of nickle, iron, olivine and pyroxene.  Other metallic deposits were scattered in the rock, mostly of rare elements not normally found on Earth.  Professor Merrill officially designated it as a chondrite, a type of meteor that hasn't been melted or altered from the original body mass.  Back in White Sulphur, local residents hunted for the remainder of the meteorite, and after the new year, Dick McCarty found two smaller pieces weighing a few ounces each.  These fragments found a home at the State A&M College in Lexington and officially called 'Bath Furnace 1 & 2'. 
In May, 1903, Hugh Pergram noticed some trees that had the bark skinned off and branches broken high atop them while out hunting about a mile and a half from Buford Staton's home.  Upon investigation, he struck lucky as what appeared to be the main body of the meteor was located partially buried under a grove of trees.  With some help the next day, Hugh Pergram excavated the large rock and took it to Thomas Pergram's home, where he traded it for two mules.  The meteor was triangular shaped with each side being roughly eighteen inches long, eleven inches deep and weighed an astonishing three hundred pounds approximately.  It was a glazed brownish-black with pitted holes throughout.  Word quickly got around and soon, college professors visited Pergram to view and attempt to purchase it.  One offer for $2400 was rejected in hopes a higher price would be offered, but a legal process soon began over the rights to the meteor.  The space debris was found on the land belonging to the heirs of Clell Ewing, who laid claim once it was discovered the meteor was so valuable.  Their argument was that since the meteor fell upon their property, they were the rightful owners.  Thomas Pergram refused to relinquish the piece to the Ewings, and a lawsuit followed.  Before the suit came to trial, both parties made an agreement; the Ewing heirs agreed to pay Thomas Pergram $300, with understanding if the meteor sold for more than $1200, Pergram was to receive one-fourth of the amount.

The Bath Furnace Meteors gained national attention through scientific publications of the day and the fragments were displayed in various science centers.  The largest piece and the smaller thirteen pound fragment was eventually purchased and placed in the Ward-Coonley Collection.  These pieces were also featured at the 1904 Louisiana Purchase World's Fair and viewed by hundreds, including visiting dignitaries from other nations.  The Smithsonian Institute voiced interest in the Ward-Coonley pieces of the Bath Furnace Meteor, but an agreement could not be reached.  The pieces are now housed at the Field Museum in Chicago.  Other meteors have struck Earth since the 1902 incident, but no more in Bath County.  Each year there are various meteor showers that give a sometimes spectacular show in the night sky, but nearly all the ones seen burn up before they pass the atmosphere.  A meteor streaked across the sky recently in Russia, causing a sonic boom that shook buildings and shattered windows for many miles.  With modern technology by NASA and other observatories constantly watching the skies, should a large asteroid or significant meteor pose a danger to Earth, there will be some advanced warning.  While it is unlikely, a small meteor can, and at some point will again, strike the planet creating a flurry of social activity, anxiety and awesome wonder.

The pictures are from the Field Museum and Ward-Coonley Collection, and are of the actual meteor fragments found in Bath County.