Owen County

Written and Submitted By: Thomas S. Fiske



The Odd Tombstone


It was an odd tombstone.  Over in Scott County's Georgetown Cemetery, there is a tombstone in the shape of a tree cut down.  It covers the grave of Henry Bruce Vallandingham, who died in 1856 at the age of 49.  There's no clue given about how he died. 

            Research laid out a story of murder.  He was about blown in half by a shotgun blast to the stomach at noon on a public street in a town called Lexington, Missouri.  The killer turned himself in, shotgun in hand, and said he did it.  He was released immediately and disappeared before he was required to face a grand jury.  It was all planned out ahead because Henry was a bad man; he had helped to free slaves.  In Missouri, freeing slaves was a capital crime.  Besides, the crazy John Brown had just hacked up seven slave owners in nearby Kansas and it looked like Henry's death was revenge.

            Where did Henry get his anti-slavery opinions?  He was born in Scott County but was raised in Owen County, where his dad, Lewis, owned 3,000 acres of good farm land.  There were slaves on the land, too.  So Henry grew up with slaves all around him.  Yet, he did not like slavery.

            Lewis Vallandingham seems to have been half Indian.  Henry himself had high  cheek bones.  Lewis and his wife Betsy Bruce Drake, carved a farm out of the wilderness in Scott County area about 1786, after Lewis quit soldiering for Daniel Boone and George Rogers Clark. James Frances Drake and Betsy's step-mother lived nearby.  But something got into Lewis and Betsy so in 1819 they sold off their Scott land and bought new land in Owen County.  That was the year Owen was founded. 

            Henry grew up in Owen County.  He was only one of the nine Vallandingham children who did not take to farming.  A family named Bainbridge moved to Owen and stayed a while to farm.  Absolom Bainbridge, the father, was both a doctor and a minister.  He had a lot of children.  Three of his daughters married three of Lewis Vallandingham's sons.  Henry married a 15 year-old girl named Armilda Bainbridge, and the couple had one daughter, Martha Ann.  (Martha married a young lawyer who lived in Owen.  His name was Asa P. Grover.)

            Henry tried various jobs in Owen, such as running a tavern and acting as lawman, but he never seemed to be satisfied.  It was in 1855 that Henry and Armilda moved to Lexington, Missouri to start a restaurant.  The restaurant was a success, but on the side, Henry was helping to free slaves.  That's when the pro-slavery people had him publicly murdered as a warning to anti-slavery folks.  It worked.

And that explains the odd-looking tombstone.  It was shaped like a tree that was cut down, just as Henry was cut down in the prime of his life by a killer and brought back to Kentucky to be buried.  He was just another part of the fabric that made America what it is today.