This article is taken from the Louisville, (Kentucky), County Journal. It was published in the paper sometime in the late 1930's. It was transcribed and submitted by Lisa Haug.
|EVERY CREEK'S A STORY
IN CLINTON COUNTY HILL
Ridge hikes and crossroad chats yield a bumper crop of legends
By Howard Hardaway
No more will the strains of "Tenting Tonight On the Old Camp Ground" rise on the air at Green Grove Camp Ground among the hills of Clinton County in Southern Kentucky.
For almost three-quarters of a century after the close of the War Between the States the boys in blue from Clinton and Cumberland Counties gathered at Green Grove to revive memories of old comradeships. But now the very last of the old soldiers has gone on.
Only the speaker's platform and the long tiers of plank seats stretching away under a roof of unbroken shade remained at the old camp ground to make the hiker pause, to muse, and to picture the days when the old boys in blue crowded the grove.
A mile to the east of Green Grove Camp Ground the hiker was forced to wade at Illwill Creek that was tawny and swollen from a hard shower that ended. The designation of Illwill was rather fitting at the moment. But how did the pioneers fix on such a name?
"In the early days," someone told me, "a party of hunters camped on the creek. One man wanted to go further. But he couldn't persaude the others to move. One day he packed up and started off, hoping his companions would follow. He walked some distance, found no one was following him, so turned and came back to the camp on the creek.
"All right, then, we'll stay here, he agreed - but added, ‘but it's with a damned ill will."
From Illwill, I went past Shelley's Store and Brown's X Roads along a clay road that reeked with the odors peculiar to a clay road after a rain. Houses were close together along this century-old road. Children played in the puddles. Men went by on horseback, with flour sacks thrown across the horse either behind or before the saddle, bulging with groceries or with cornmeal from the little mill that I passed.
The county seat of Clinton was not always at Albany. For two years, it was at Paoli, two miles to the southward.
In 1938 a special election was called to decide on a permanent county seat. Three sites were being considered. First was Paoli, already furnished with a log Court House. Second was a now forgotten site several miles to the north. Third was Benny Dowell's place, about midway between the first two.
Now, Benny Dowell was said to own an extensive apple orchard that produced excellent hard cider. Some times the cider was exceedingly hard. As time for voting neared, several mellowed citizens began to circulate the crowd, urging "All for Benny." Two words being easier to repeat than three under certain conditions, the slogan soon became shortened to "All Benny." When the vote was taken "Albany" won by a walkaway.
The New Era is Clinton County's only newspaper. W. H. Nunn has been the publisher for a number of years. He tells a story on his predecessor of forty years ago.
"Tom Neat, of Adair County, was running for office in a district that included Clinton," Mr. Nunn relates. "The editor of the New Era opposed him. Tom decided to beard the lion in his den. During a speech in the Albany Court House Tom called on the editor to stand up.
"Take your dirty little sheet and fight me," Tom challenged. ‘It won't amount to a damn, because I can stand on the court house steps and spit all over its circulation."
Those same court house steps on which Tom offered to stand and spit were treated with indignity once by Uncle Marion Gibbons of the Duvall valley neighborhood. Uncle Marion, in a holiday mood, rode his horse up the steps and into the hall of the court house. This was a bit too informal. The presiding judge called Uncle Marion before him and assessed a $10 fine. The prisoner before the bar fished out his roll, peeled off a twenty, and handed it over to the judge.
"I'm afraid I haven't change," admitted the judge.
"Oh, that's all right," Uncle Marion waved it off. "Just keep the change. I enjoyed it all so much that I think I'll go out and do it again."
Albany has good fresh spring water. Down at one edge of town a large lake is formed by a sheet of water that gushes from below a broad shelf or rock. From the lower end of the lake the water flows by a flume to a flour mill. The water has also been used to generate electricity for town use.
From Bug the limestone highway runs in three miles of sweeping curves between widely separated knobs to the picturesque village of Static, Kentucky-Tennessee.
Off to the right, just north of the State line, is the old Hollingsworth Place, birthplace of Thomas E. Bramlette, "Governor of Kentucky from 1863 to 1867.
To the left the Alvin York Trail leads eastward toward the mountains that began to pile up along the Kentucky-Tennessee boundary.
East of "Boiling Springs" where Clinton County thrust a long narrow wedge between Wayne County and Tennessee, "happy oak" used to stand on the State line. In days gone by, when one State was wet and the other dry, purveyors of mountain dew would meet their customers on the line at the oak tree. Should an officer of the law of one State be present, the lawbreaker would merely keep on the opposite side of the oak tree-out of the officer's jurisdiction.
Passing northward through a mountain gap at Doc Powers' place. I started down the valley of Koger's Creek by a narrow trail that is passable only by horseback or afoot.
"There have been wagons up there," I was told later, "but not for a longtime."
And, yet people live up there, and apparently live very well. The farms up in the gap look well-tended and prosperous.
In this neighborhood is a cave, a "bottomless pit," known as Georgie's Hole. No one knows the depth of the vertical shaft.
Georgie was the name of an old woman who lived hereabouts many years ago. Georgie and her husband "got their backs up" at each other. They couldn't seem to patch things up.
One day, out in the pasture, Georgie is said to have maneuvered around so that she got her old man with his back to the hold. A quick shove - and Georgie was a willing widow.
Georgie's Hole and its story has served as a warning to Clinton County husbands for 100 years to patch up differences quickly with the wife - or else stay away from bottomless pits.
Rolan, at the junction of Koger and McIver Creeks, was the scene of an exciting episode in the lives of two preachers of a century ago.
These two preachers, having heard of certain cults or if individual prophets laying claim to ability to foretell events, including the exact date of the earth's dissolution, became conscious of such a knowledge within themselves.
They traveled afoot, warning and exhorting. On the very eye of the fateful day they covered a wide territory and held numerous meetings. The last night caught them far from home, weary and footsore. Where Rolan now stands they found a haystack and climbed into it.
During the night, from some unexplained cause, the haystack caught fire. The glare and heat aroused one of the sleeping prophets. "Wake up, John!" he yelled. "The Judgment Day is come - and look where we are!"
Once back on the ridge trail, I passed a score of log or box houses along the boundary between Clinton and Wayne Counties and came to the narrow bridge of land where four trails cross. From here Duvall Creek flows off to the south while Gap Creek leads northward to Alpha on the Monticello-Albany Road.
Wondering which way to go, I glanced along the mountain side overhanging Duvall Creek. I saw great piles of loose earth showing along the forested slopes. Here were the two-by-four coal mines I had heard about.
Stooping, I followed a track several hundred feet into the mountain side until I came to a pair of miners who had just finished filling the little push cart. The mining is done entirely by muscular power - no machinery nor dynamite. The miners told me how they worked the mines.
"The people come for the coal and pay us eight cents a bushel for the lump and four cents a bushel for the nut. We get half and the bank that owns the land gets half. Some days we made $1 a day apiece."
Thanks to a short ride with the young schoolmaster at Savage, I got back to Albany just as supper was being placed on the table. An unexpectant feature at the home where I found lodging was a big batch of ice cream made by the hand of the landlady's son. I required one fish of it for every ten miles of walking, that is three. My sixteen-hour day had me ready for the feathers before 9 o'clock.
Next morning I started north, leaving to my right Sewell Mountain with it's mineral springs near the top, an ideal location for a summer resort -or, best of all, for a youth hotel.
At the edge of Sewell Mountain is Cartwright, birthplace of Preston H. Leslie, who was Governor of Kentucky from 1871 to 1875 and was in 1887 appointed Territorial Governor of Montana by President Cleveland.
|RESTFUL SEVENTY SIX|
The little town of Seventy-Six, with its few large homes sets well back behind spacious shady lawns, is just such a village as the traveler always pictures in his mind's eye, but seldom hopes to find. A perfect place for the tired businessman to spend a summer vacation.
Northward along the new road toward Desda I turned down the hill at the roadside to where an oil rig was pounding away. Oil lies in pools here and there throughout the country.
At the spring under the big tree by the side of the oil rig I drank 50 cents worth of cold water. That is, I twice emptied a tin can that bore on its side "United States quart, 25 cents."
Cooled and refreshed, I was ready for the last stretch of my Clinton County ramble, down Tearcoat Creek and through Wells Bottom to the Cumberland River. The way down Tearcoat was both easy and interesting. From a level of sandy soil, the soil descended through strata of loose powdery shale finally to the smoothest layers of limestone I have ever seen. Between high wooded banks the road ran down a dry creek bed over natural limestone as level as the choicest concrete highway.
I met quite blue eyed boys and girls following the creek bed highway home from Wells School.
I thought of the pioneer whose misadventure gave the creek its name. This particular old timer, it seems, had started off alone to church one morning all rigged out in a fine new coat. But before coming to the meeting house he encounterd a bear. The little black bears that once infested this region and traveled so easily beneath the low interlocking branches of the "rhododendron hells" were normally of a very peaceful, even cowardly temperament. But this singular little black bear bruin let out a roar and charged.
The old timer, being unarmed, took to his heels. Unfortunately, he headed straight into one of the "rhododenrom hells." Now the only chance of being able to travel rapidly through one is to be three feet or less in stature and to posses an exceedingly tough and pointed muzzle. The old timer didn't meet these specifications.
According to legend, the little black bear didn't take the chase very seriously and soon went about his business. But the old timer struggled on. By the time he reached a place of refuge the condition of his new garment had suggested the name of Tearcoat for the hitherto unnamed little creek along whose entire length he had fought through the rhododendron hells.
We know that the old timer's flight must have been through a rhododenron thicket with its tangle three feet above the ground and upward. He only tore his coat.