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.
Monday, October 24, 2016
Wednesday, October 12, 2016
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.
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.
|Access into the bell tower via ladder|
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 accommodateThe 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.
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."
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."
Below are some pictures inside the clock and bell tower:
|A Seth Thomas type clock mechanism|
|An ominous message scribbled on a wall|
Tuesday, September 13, 2016
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.
Monday, September 5, 2016
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 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.
Tuesday, August 16, 2016
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.
Tuesday, July 12, 2016
Although not fought in Bath County, the Battle of Little Mountain was an encounter in neighboring Montgomery County that pitted a few brave Kentuckians against an equally strong Native force. This is an event that is largely ignored outside the Gateway Region, but an important piece of our local history.
The early Kentucky frontier was a place of marvel and promise. Early Virginian settlers came to the 'dark and bloody land' to establish western colonies, expanding the New World that was quickly overcrowding. Kentucky was also prime land that provided abundant resources for the early settlers and pioneers who bravely cut trails or followed the Native American and large game trails along the rich waterways and mineral deposits. Although the frontier was a much desired place to be, it was also very dangerous.The American Revolutionary War was still raging in the late 1700's; the Natives allied themselves with the British on a premise that they would retain their lands. The British armed and equipped the Natives with munitions and weapons to assist in their fight against the Americans who were fighting to gain independence from King George III's reign. The Natives were well acquainted with Kentucky territory and frequently raided settlements and stations. Toward the end of the Revolutionary War, the fight had spilled into Kentucky as the Natives increased their raids and attacks on the western frontier theater. A siege at Fort Boonesboro in 1778 conducted by over 400 Natives and a few militiamen fighting under the British flag was the largest insurgence against any Kentucky settlement at the time. The siege lasted from September 7-18 and ended with the Natives retreating from Boonesboro; dividing up into smaller raiding parties, attacking stations and settlements along the way back to Ohio.
Captain James Estill of the Kentucky County, Virginia Militia, established a blockaded station in present day Madison County, about fifteen miles south of Boonesboro. On March 19, 1782, an alarm was raised when empty canoes were observed floating past Boonesboro. Knowing this was a sign of a Native war party in the area, runners were sent to Estill's Station and to Logan's Station near Stanford to gather men in an attempt to protect settlements north of Boonesboro. Nearby Strode's Station in Clark County had been raided by a fearless Wyandot war party a couple of weeks before; a siege that lasted thirty-six hours, so the settlers knew this was a formidable force to reckon with. Colonel Benjamin Logan sent fifteen men to Estill's Station with orders to mobilize an additional twenty five for a reconnaissance mission to see where the Natives were gathering. The following day, Natives began to attack nearby stations, including Captain Estill's. The attack was swift, catching those outside the confines who had been gathering wood by surprise. Fourteen year old Jennie Glass was killed and Estill's slave, Monk, was taken prisoner. The fort had been nearly abandoned of all able men at the time of the Wyandot raid. In fact, only one man was in station that day, nursing wounds he had suffered during another raid that had also left James Estill with a broken arm; an injury that would prove fatal for the captain.
The Natives bore their tomahawks on Estill's men, clubbing them as they were interlocked in hand to hand combat. The Kentuckians fought for their lives, swinging their rifle butts in self defense. Other men fell back into the trees for cover in an attempt to regroup, striking down several Wyandots with their musket fire. Knowing they were outnumbered and outgunned, Estill ordered the militiamen to retreat as the Natives pounced on them. One Wyandot warrior tackled Captain Estill and quickly gained the advantage on him. Both men struggled and rolled across the ground, locking arms as the Native attempted to stab the captain. Joseph Proctor watched with his rifle at the ready, waiting to get a clear shot of the Wyandot, but couldn't due to the intense fight. Meanwhile, Estill's other men were being attacked just as fierce and six fell where they fought. The Native who was wrestling with Captain Estill was described as a large warrior, weighing approximately 200 pounds, and was showing no signs of relenting. While the two were arm locked, the captain's previously injured arm began to fail and gave out, giving the Native the final blow. With a yell of triumph, the warrior plunged his knife deep into Captain Estill's chest, killing him. At almost the same moment, a shot rang out from Joseph Proctor's rifle and the warrior fell across the slain captain's body. The battle lost momentum after this, while the Kentuckians retreated back with their wounded, the Natives fell back across Hinkston Creek and disappeared into the thick woods. The battle was brutal and mostly non stop, lasting about two hours. The entire battlefield was concentrated to only a couple hundred yards deep; unlike conventional battles we know today as being over large spans of ground.
|Captain Estill's grave marker in Richmond Cemetery depicting his final battle with a Wyandot Warrior|
The surviving men of Estill's party were bloodied and exhausted, but knew they had to make haste back to the protection of the station some forty miles away. Joseph Proctor reportedly strapped a gravely injured man named Irving to himself and carried the man all the way back to Estill's Station. Monk, who had secured the horses, joined the party and assisted another seriously injured man all the way back to the fort. Seven Kentuckians, including Captain James Estill, were killed; Monk counted as many as seventeen Natives killed. One of Estill's party was taken prisoner, but escaped soon afterward and confirmed the number of Native casualties.
Three days after the battle, a party of about 40-50 men from Estill's and surrounding stations returned to the battlefield to bury the dead. In the haste of retreat, the bodies were left where they fell; the Natives had either taken their dead with them or had returned after the battle. According to witness statements taken at a deposition regarding a land dispute in 1803, the bodies of Captain Estill and his men were buried where they fell using the rocks, brush and logs from the battlefield to cover them. They had not been desecrated by the Natives, either as a sign of respect, or a sign of an equal hasty retreat by the Wyandots. In the same depositions, it is said that for years after the battle, bullet marks on the trees could still be seen and the bones of some of the dead were exposed from their resting site. No markers were placed at the battlefield marking the dead or who was placed where. Today, the Battle of Little Mountain site is on private property, and Interstate 64 runs right through the middle of the battlefield.
The battle was considered a defeat in the eyes of the early Kentuckians, as the Estill militia did not hold the ground and repel the Natives. Lieutenant Miller nor his men never returned to the station and all were considered cowards, which would have resulted in death by hanging. David Cook, a survivor of the battle, vowed for twenty years that he would personally kill Miller should he ever show his face again. Miller reportedly lived until the age of 95, forever shamed by his actions that March day. Captain Estill's slave, Monk, would receive great accolades for his actions before and during the battle, gaining the distinction of being the first freed slave in the state of Kentucky. He later went on to become a Baptist minister, married twice and had thirty children. Monk died in Madison County in 1835. Joseph Proctor was the last surviving member of the Battle of Little Mountain, passing away in 1844 with full military honors and fanfare.Captain James Estill is forever immortalized by the Kentucky county that bears his name. A bronze plaque was placed on a millstone on the site of the Battle of Little Mountain, but moved when the interstate was built. Today, that millstone is at the entrance to a Mount Sterling Factory near Midland Trail Industrial Park. A historical marker was placed at the corner of North Maysville Street and Hinkston Pike in Mount Sterling that gives a brief account of the battle, although the battlefield is some mile and a half away. This wouldn't be the last fight between the Kentuckians and the Natives; five months later, the Battle of Blue Licks took place not far from where Captain Estill fell. In 1793, a Shawnee and Cherokee war party raided Morgan's Station along Slate Creek in present day Montgomery County, the last known organized Native American raid in Kentucky. Although the Battle of Little Mountain is regarded as Estill's Defeat, it was a courageous and hard fought battle by a group of brave men who helped shape the Commonwealth of Kentucky.
|Millstone marker depicting the Battle of Little Mountain, along US 60 in Mount Sterling.|
Monday, June 27, 2016
|Tater Knob Fire Tower, after the 1959 renovations.|
Atop the highest point in Bath County, there are the gleaming, silver remains of a structure that once played a vital role in the Daniel Boone National Forest. Sitting 1,388 feet above sea level, Tater Knob is a rock outcropping millions of years old that perches high above the native trees and provides a spectacular view of the entire region. On a clear day, one can see up to thirty miles in each direction; a place many have found as the calming solace in this busy day to day world.Fires have always been a danger to heavily forested areas. The fallen timber, dried leaves and vegetation are a rich catalyst for a conflagration. A forest fire can be started by lightening, careless campers, or at the hands of an arsonist. As people began to settle near the natural beauty of the Daniel Boone National Forest, and industries based on the resources began to boom, a wildfire could be personally and economically devastating to those involved. One such wildfire burned over three million acres across Washington, Idaho and Montana in August, 1910. The fire killed 87 people, many whom were firefighters trying to contain the inferno. This fire is considered the largest wildfire in United States history. After the fire, a focus was placed on preventing such an incident from happening again. Public awareness of conservation and new rules incorporated by the newly formed U.S. Forest Service sought to educate and reduce the fire danger, and to provide an early detection of fires in the forested areas of the United States. Lookout towers were built across the nation to do just that; with men staffing the towers who would be the watchful eye.
Thursday, June 9, 2016
The Eastern Kentucky hills and mountains are beautiful to look upon, especially in fall and winter. The sheer cliffs of Southern Bath County along the Menifee County boundary is a majestic view, but a dangerous journey. These cliffs once hid another danger; moonshine stills and those who wished to keep their clandestine activities guarded from revenuers.
During the Prohibition Era between 1920 and 1933, it was illegal to possess, sell, or transport alcoholic beverages in the United States. People found ways to bypass laws by making their own alcohol in secret, and often heavily guarded, locations. The Bureau of Prohibition was organized in 1920 with the sole mission of thwarting the sale, possession and transport of the illicit spirits. Federal Agent U.G. McFarland had received word during a raid that Charley Ballard had a large distilling operation on his property along East Fork Creek near Means, Kentucky. Bath County resident and former Bath County Jailer Robert Duff was a Federal Agent with the bureau division, joining in October 1921. He was approaching fifty years old with a wife and seven children during the winter of 1922 and tasked to take on the Ballard family and shut down the illegal distillery. On December 9, 1922, Agent Duff, accompanied by Agent D.R. Carter and a group of other deputies, set out to execute a search warrant on the Ballard farm.
The group arrived at the home of Jeff Ballard and confronted him with the warrant to search for and seize any items related to the illegal distillery. Ballard denied having any moonshine stills on his property, but was detained by two other deputies while Duff, Carter and another agent, W.P. Treadway, began their search. The trio found a path behind the Ballard home that led to the base of a mountain along a creek bank. At the edge of the mountain side, they noticed what appeared to be a large brush pile; but at closer inspection, they could make out what looked to be a pathway into the brush.
Cautiously, the agents moved in to inspect their find and noticed it was a fortified structure dug into the side of the mountain. In the front were double logged walls with space between them filled with rock and dirt. Other logs were made into a lean-to type structure across the top, with a layer of tar paper to make a roof. The entire structure was covered in surrounding brush to camouflage it's true appearance. A door was to the right of the logged walls and a small shuttered window was in front, giving those inside a view of the outside. The elaborate structure was built to withstand even the most powerful bullet from a long rifle, and to conceal anyone who may be inside.
The next day, Prohibition Bureau Director Sam Collins arrived in Lexington and organized a posse to return to Means and bring the Ballards to justice. Joining Collins was Lee Stewart, who had a reputation of being one of the most feared and tenacious agents in Eastern Kentucky, and eight other deputies. The group arrived in Mount Sterling and were joined by five other deputies before trekking to East Fork. Once the party arrived, they made their way to the site of the previous day's bloody gunfight; Agent Duff's body had been removed by the undertaker as agreed. The still house was unoccupied but housed an enormous distillery operation; seventeen barrels and fermentors, forty gallons of moonshine, 1,400 gallons of beer and a substantial assortment of related manufacturing materials were seized and destroyed. A still and a 'worm' - a coil made of copper that is a vital part of a still - were missing. Stewart exited the still house and began following a trail up the mountain, attempting to locate the other components of the operation.
At the same time, Deputies Eubanks and Phillips began searching for a missing firearm lost during the previous day's battle. A shot rang out from above and the two dashed for cover, not knowing where the shooter's position was. A group of eight or ten agents and deputies began to move around to the back of where they heard the shots, to close in on the shooter. At the crest of the mountain, another shot rang out even closer, but the party couldn't ascertain where the shot had originated. After regrouping from taking cover, the posse cautiously continued along the ridge crest. About fifty yards from where they had ducked for cover, David Treadway, one of the deputies, lifeless body lay along the path. Treadway was a twenty-four year old Montgomery County resident and had just joined the posse when they met in Mount Sterling earlier in the day. The group retrieved Treadway's body and headed off the mountain; a second bloody day in the hollows of Means, and the Ballard's were still on the run.
The bureau agents convened in Lexington that night and decided to wait a few days for tensions to ease before launching another raid. Kentucky Governor Morrow offered a $500 reward for the capture of Bob and Charles Ballard for their connection in the murders of the bureau agents. Twenty agents and deputies moved out at 2:15 a.m. December 15, 1922 with the sole mission of taking the Ballards into custody once and for all. A new strategy would be deployed; the posse would park at the Means Post Office and walk to the Ballard farm. It was a cold, drizzly night as they made their way on foot. Along the way, agents detained anyone they found along the way to insure the Ballards wouldn't be alerted. Around daylight, the posse arrived at the home of Albert Ballard and arrested him and a cousin, Willie Ferguson. Soon after, they arrived at the home of Jeff Ballard and found no one was home. About a half mile away, the group found a cabin behind Willie Ferguson's place and cautiously surrounded it. Mat Sanders, a deputy in the posse, busted the door open with the butt of his rifle, to be met with instant gunfire. Sanders was struck and fell at the front door. While Agent Guy Cole attempted to enter the back door, he was shot three times; twice in the torso and once in the head.
The other members of the posse formed two lines and began openly firing into the cabin. Approximately 150 shots were fired into the cabin; the return fire ceased after a few minutes. Charley Ballard ran out of the rear door and fled into the woods, being struck twice before disappearing into the thick brush. Mat Sanders was injured, but Guy Cole succumbed to his injuries on site. As agents looked inside the cabin, they found Bob Ballard lying in the floor with a fatal wound to his head. The remaining agents pursued Charley Ballard's trail to the home of Henry Reffett, where they learned the injured assailant had been bandaged up and left via horseback toward Mill Creek in Bath County. They broke off the chase around dark and returned to the Ferguson cabin to find that Jeff Ballard had been apprehended.
The following day, agents returned to Means to attempt to locate Charley Ballard. They were met by Menifee County Sheriff Ben Wells who had a message from Ballard stating that he would surrender to Wells only. Wells was reportedly a relative of the Ballards and had knowledge of Charley's hiding spot near Preston's train depot. The bureau agents agreed, on the condition that Ballard be brought to Fayette County.
A total of five were arrested and brought before the United States District Court in Lexington for their roles in the moonshine operation; Jeff and Albert Ballard, Willie Ferguson, Joe Clem and Henry Reffett were charged with violating the National Prohibition Act. Charley Ballard was charged for the killing of Agents Duff, Cole and Treadway in Menifee County, and charged similarly by the US District Court. He was under hospital care during the judicial process due to wounds he received in the final gunfight at East Fork, and had to have surgery while in jail to avoid an amputation of his foot.
The raid garnished national attention; numerous papers nationwide told the story of the raid and killings within the following days. Headlines across the country told of the spectacular raid and shootout in the hills of Eastern Kentucky and how the slain bureau agents were bravely performing their duties before they were cut down. A Lexington Herald Leader article states that the initial court appearances of the men accused was set for January 2, 1923 at the US District Court in Lexington; however, not many records relating to the trial, which started in 1924, are readily available. It is known that Charley Ballard was initially acquitted of his murder charges in Menifee County, but was later sentenced by the US District Court to six years in prison for his actions.
|Agent Robert Duff's grave at Owingsville Cemetery|
Special thanks to Felicia Stalder for inspiring this story, and the pictures she sent!
For more information about this incident, go to http://www.kentuckystewarts.
Friday, June 3, 2016
|Shannon, Kentucky's Indian mound, just to the right of the church.|
Long before Kentucky was settled, nomadic tribes of people wandered the forests and fields, hunting and gathering resources to survive. We know that when the first white men entered Kentucky, bands of Shawnee, Iroquois and Wyandot natives, with smaller factions of Cherokee, were present within the region; but long before those people, another cultures existed and left lasting remnants with their artifacts and ceremonial sites we still find today.Around 13,000 B.C., early humans began migrating into North America during the Pleistocene Era, probably with the glacier movements that linked Asia and the American Continent. Some of the earliest ancestors of indigenous North Americans, called the Clovis People, arrived around this time and first settled in what is now New Mexico. The Clovis People began migrating to other parts of North And South America; archaeological sites attributed to this early culture are found from Oregon to Pennsylvania and as far south as South Carolina. Other sites are found as far away as Brazil and Chile. A time at the end of the last great Ice Age called the Paleoindian Era, circa 9,900 B.C., descendants of the Clovis People had begun to appear in Kentucky, but the only evidence so far are a very few arrow and spear tips that have been found. Mastodon and other large mammals roamed Kentucky and gathered at the rich mineral springs and salt deposits. The early inhabitants hunted these giant beasts for food, clothing and shelter; in fact, remains of a mastodon were recovered in Sharpsburg, at a place called Fleming's Pond near the Sharpsburg Cemetery. In the nearby cemetery, there is a conspicuous earthen mound that greets visitors as they enter. This mound is indeed man-made, but not due to digging graves and discarding the unused soil.
|Mt. Sterling's Gaitskill Mound|
|The Gaitskill Tablet|
The Gaitskill Mound stands just off Kentucky 686 adjacent to the Gateway Plaza Shopping Center. Only slight archaeological excavations have been conducted yielding one curious object; a tablet made of baked clay that appears to be a spider with a human face on it. The purpose of this tablet is still a mystery.
|A small Adena mound in Sharpsburg, Kentucky|
|Shannon Cemetery mound|
Today, known and documented mound sites are protected by Federal Laws to preserve cultural and early American heritage. While we may never know the true customs of the earliest people to inhabit Kentucky, we can piece together their ceremonial practices through these sites. There are probably many more sites yet to be discovered, or realized, hidden along the ways or maybe even in plain sight. Arrowheads, spears and other early native artifacts are highly sought after by collectors, but are the physical remnants of the first people to arrive in North America, and should be treated as precious relics. The mounds were considered a sacred place for those early people, and should still be considered just as hallowed as they were thousands of years ago.
For information about the protection of Native American sites and artifacts, go to https://www.justice.gov/usao/priority-areas/indian-country/native-american-artifacts
For more information about Kentucky's Historic State Parks, go to http://parks.ky.gov/things_to_do/historic/
Monday, May 23, 2016
When some people these days hear the name REO Speedwagon, they think, "oh yeah, I've heard them on the radio a time or two," but they don't realize the origin of the band's name stems from one of the workhorse vehicles of the early Twentieth Century and it has an Owingsville connection. Ransom E. Olds, founder of the Olds Motor Vehicle Company that later became Oldsmobile, established the REO Motor Car Company in 1905. Based in Lansing, Michigan, the REO line of vehicles lasted until 1975 and at one time was one of the wealthiest automobile manufacturers of the early 1900's. Touring cars were largely produced by the REO Company those early days; usually open top convertibles that people used to drive across the dusty country roads on a leisurely afternoon.
A truck manufacturing division was established in 1910 to help move products across the booming nation. A light duty truck called the REO Speedwagon hit the production market in 1915 with a state of the art chassis and basic design that became a widely used service vehicle until around 1953. These trucks were the predecessor of the modern pickup truck and used as hearses, ambulances, delivery, tow, dump and fire trucks. Prior to World War I, the Speedwagons were a highly successful and durable line of vehicle.
Fire trucks have been in service for hundreds of years throughout the world. The earliest trucks were hand drawn pumps that were deployed by men carrying or dragging them to fire scenes. Cities soon began to sprawl out, demanding the need for more efficient trucks to carry more water and get to fires more quickly. The first self-propelled fire truck was a steam powered engine built in New York City in 1841; probably the first modern fire truck powered by a combustion engine was manufactured by the Knox Automobile Company in 1905. The REO Speedwagon fire trucks usually featured what was called the 'Gold Crown' type six cylinder power plants; a heavy duty motor which gave them extra power to pull the weight of the truck with a load of water and other equipment. The top speed, however, was left to be desired; most of the trucks only managed about 45 miles per hour at best.
|Classic open cab style|
The City of Owingsville sought a new, modern fire truck sometime in the 1930’s. The earliest known fire truck Owingsville had was an old hand-drawn Howe pumper housed where the Hometown Mortgage office now stands. Water was drafted from cisterns or wells into the truck via large rubber hoses as men used a lever/piston type mechanism to get water pressure through the cotton fire hoses. The City Council voted to purchase a reliable fire truck and settled on a 1932 REO Speedwagon vehicle. Unfortunately, the council meeting minutes from that era have been lost, so the actual date is unknown. Current Fire Chief John Barry Staton recently sat down with Tom Byron and discussed some of the history of Owingsville’s ‘Old REO’. In the early 1930’s, Owingsville’s water supply was upgraded with new fire hydrants to better protect the city under the direction of Ernie Downs. Byron said that Downs was in charge of the water company and held a significant role in the city’s affairs. He wasn’t sure of Downs was fire chief at the time, but Tom says his uncle, Ed Byron, was the mayor during this time. “I believe Dinks Jones may have been the Fire Chief when the truck was bought,” said Tom. “Jones actually went to St. Louis and drove the fire truck all the way back to Owingsville". This was an interesting feat due to the slow speed of the truck and the fact it was an open top.
The 'Old REO' stayed in service many years and was housed at the old city hall building which is located across from Gray's Funeral Home on Slate Avenue. During this time, the fire truck was only allowed to respond to fire calls within the city limits; a policy that remained until more recent times. Tom Byron said that the city bought another fire truck around 1953 or 1954; a Ford that with the Speedwagon, were the two front line trucks for the City of Owingsville. It was mentioned that the REO fire truck was an open topped vehicle, which maintains that vintage, classic look. The padded wooden seat probably wasn't very luxurious or comfortable for long rides, but it served the purpose. The truck's hose bed is wooden planks that were stained to protect against the wet cotton hoses that were stored until the next call. Unlike today's fire trucks that hold 1,000 or more gallons of water, the REO Speedwagon only held maybe fifty gallons of water. There is a coupling that is fitted onto the driver's side of the truck that hooked to a hose firefighters secured to a fire hydrant which fed water into the tank for larger fires. In its day, the fire truck was a vibrant red with gold trimmings painted on it and Owingsville F.D. painted in gold on the hood. A simple 'O.F.D.' was also painted in gold on each side of the truck's body just behind the cab. Only a couple of people could ride in the open cab, which left the other firefighters to ride on the side boards or tailboard to the fire scene. One can envision this classic sight of a fire truck roaring down the streets as firemen hung onto the sides.
Eventually, standards in firefighting were streamlined and certain rules were established regarding how much water a fire truck needed to flow to effectively extinguish a large fire, rendering the REO Speedwagon truck obsolete. The truck went out of service sometime before the fire department reorganized in 1975. Jeff Adkins, who has been a member of the Owingsville Fire Department since 1984, recalls seeing the 'Old REO' sitting at the service station that once stood where Owingsville Fire Department's station is now located. Around 1982 or 1983, the truck was even decorated as a parade float and pulled through the May Day Parade. As time went on, the REO Speedwagon was moved to the old water plant that used to be along Slate Avenue, and next door to Tom Byron. Tom told Chief Staton that he was talking to the late Mayor William Steele and the mayor told Tom, "this old truck needs to go away somewhere soon". Understanding the historical and local tradition the old truck had, Byron purchased 'Old REO' , saving it from being scrapped. The truck was moved to a barn Tom owned and there it stayed for twenty-eight years.
About a month ago, Tom Byron needed help repairing a tractor that was on the farm. Randy Ferrell, who owns a local repair shop and tow service on East High Street, came to help Tom. Along with him was Jeff Adkins, who had always knew the truck was somewhere on the property. With permission, Jeff opened up the door to a barn and before him was "Old REO". Randy and Jeff negotiated with Tom and was granted permission to haul the vintage fire truck out of the barn to the shop on a journey of restoration. The truck is in quite remarkable condition; the vibrant red and gold paint has faded and oxidized, the tires have dry rotted and seat cushions are gone, but the truck is just stunning to look at.Owingsville's REO Speedwagon fire truck will be restored back to its original state over the course of the next several months. If you attended the May Day Parade last week, you saw the truck poised upon
Owingsville Fire Department junior member Jacob Purvis atop it. Randy said that over the past month, several people have stopped to snap pictures or even asked to buy it. The truck still belongs to Tom Byron, who has the original title dated 1932, and there are no immediate plans to sell it anytime soon. There are only 7,000 original miles on the REO Speedwagon, most of which were tacked on when the maiden trip from St. Louis to Owingsville was made. One piece of equipment that isn't on the truck is the old bell, which was donated to the Bath County Memorial Library in honor of Mayor Robert Gilmore, but an old pike pole and section of hose is still there. The spotlight and red beacon light is still on the truck and appear to be in great condition. Randy said the power plant six cylinder motor is in remarkable shape, and has been pulled out to be restored along with the rest of the truck. As months go by, it will be interesting to see the restoration progress of this vintage gem of a truck; a true visual relic of Owingsville's history.
|Hand crank type windshield wiper|
|Faint Owingsville FD on the hood|