Over the years I’ve shared a lot about the history of Kentucky. Volumes have been written from the earliest day by historians, each giving us a little more information of how our Kentucky ancestors lived.
I came across an 8-part series by one Mrs. W. T. Lafferty who spent many years of her life studying and teaching Kentucky history. She authored several books and spoke to a large number of historical or cultural societies, was with the University of Kentucky. In the Daily News, published in Glasgow by the late historian and newspaper lady, Vivian Rousseau, she ran 8 articles which appear to be based on lectures that Mrs. Lafferty gave. All of the articles are complete except one. I am going to take time now to share these with you; I think you will enjoy them and learn a little along the way. The series was called “The Long Ago in Kentucky.”
The first article is entitled “Kentucky’s Early Settlers Were A Cross-Section of America.”
The colonists along the Atlantic seaboard were largely a farming people. Those who had secured fine land were prosperous and satisfied, while the less fortunate wandered restlessly up and down the coast seeking richer soil. After Boone had blazed the Wilderness Road the eager pioneers came to Kentucky in what seemed to be an endless procession, bringing their wives, their children, their slaves, their live-stock and all their worldly goods with them.
There were self-reliant North Carolinians among them, a scattering of thrifty Germans from Western Pennsylvania, a sprinkling of light hearted French, a few substantial Dutchmen, Scotch-Irish, Presbyterians, Baptists, Maryland Catholics, scholars, statesmen, adventurers, shiftless poor whites; a cross-section of early American citizenship, descendants of those foreigners who had settled the thirteen original colonies; the result of one hundred and fifty years of Americanization; - the first native Americans to settle what later became the first native born state in the Union.
The settlers had heard much of the land from fur traders and explorers. They knew of its beauty and fertility, but they also knew it as the Happy Hunting Ground of Indian tribes that came hither in great numbers, not only to kill their winter’s meat but to hide behind rocks and trees and relentlessly kill or capture the pioneers who in their opinion were trespassing upon their preserves. And yet they came and because of their high courage, their resourcefulness and their industry, we have happy homes in the heart of God’s country.
The journey to Kentucky was a test of their ability, patience and fortitude. For safety’s sake, the pioneers came in groups, whole families or neighborhoods, or churches, travelling together. Someone who had been previously sent to spy out the land and select a place of settlement, led the way. A day and a starting place were agreed upon. The men prepared their livestock for the long journey. The women prepared food that would last to the journey’s end. The head of each family had his pack-trains of six or eight horses, strung together, the bridle of each horse fastened to the saddle of the one before it, so that two men and a leader and a driver could operate each team. On the backs of these pack-animals, strong new pack-saddles were carefully adjusted and into these receptacles the pioneers packed their worldly goods, for a trek across the Alleghenies. There was provender for the live-stock and seed for planting, tools for felling the forest and building forts and cabins, farming implements, power and lead, domestic fowls, long-handled iron and copper cooking utensils, pewter platters, clothing, bedding, and medicines, a few treasures in silver and china, the Bible, an almanac, candles and lanterns, a few vegetables and flower seeds, some dye stuffs, and a gourd of salt.
The pioneer mother usually rode her own saddle-horse, her baby in her lap and a child or two astride behind her. She was an expert horse woman, and sprang into her saddle from the ground choosing the restive steed for her own use and leaving the gentler beast for the little children to ride. Some of the little ones were packed admidst the bedding in crates of hickory withes that hung panier-fashion across the backs of gentle old work horses.
When the day of departure arrived, the whole community gathered to wish them God-speed. When the signal was given to start, each family moved as a unit. The men, fore and aft, guns loaded, guarded their caravans, half-grown boys and slaves drove the livestock ahead and minded the pack trains.
They followed a narrow trail scarcely more than eighteen inches in width, guided by the blazes on the trees along the way, put there by some great trail-blazer. At nightfall a camp site was selected near a spring. The men gathered brush for the campfire; the mothers stirred appetizing ingredients into the camp kettles, the tired little children had their fill of foaming milk, fresh from the cows and the evening meal in the twilight was preceded by a fervent prayer of thanksgiving to Almighty God for His protection during the long, weary day.
There were no hospitable homes along the way for the tired travelers, but every man provided privacy for his own family in the brush lean-tos. With break of day they were up and astir, to the song of birds and the lowing of cattle, cows were milked, breakfast was cooked, animals were fed and watered and pack-horses laboriously reloaded for the days march. They made an average of three scant miles a day. The old and the weak became ill; some died and unnamed graves were left along the trail. But in spite of the ever-present danger of wild beasts, savage Indians and turbulent streams, that had to be crosses and re-crossed, they finally reached their destination and established themselves on Kentucky soil.
Next week: Ohio River Was Called Ohezhu, Oheyo, Ohe, Oyo, Belle Riviere.