Sunday, February 10, 2013

Stephen Stateler

Hartford Herald 12-2-1891 page 1  

Stephen Stateler, Biography and Adventures of This Old Pioneer - Early Days in Hartford

Editors Herald: This is in answer to a Mrs. Miller, of Owensboro, who addressed me a letter in my distant home in Montana, some time since, requesting me to furnish her the date of my father, Stephen Stateler’s, arrival in this country.  I felt at a loss to answer her inquiries, so was not prompt to answer her letter.  She said it was her purpose to write an account of his early life, and his history in this country. There are a few items of his early history that will be interesting to read, and I will give them as best I can from memory.

My father was born on the Monongahela river. My grandfather having in the early settlement of that country, erected a fort on the above river, at the mouth of Dunkard’s creek, thought to be in the State of Virginia, but when Mason and Dixon’s line was run, it fell in the State of Pennsylvania.  My father’s grandfather came from Germany, hence he was of German descent instead of being of Dutch descent.

A number of my father’s kindred were killed in that country by the Indians during the war.  I have no means of knowing my father’s age, for the records were lost and I have heard him say he did not know his own age.  This much I have heard him say, that during the Revolutionary war he was large enough to be sent to mill, and could hear the cannon in the distance.

Sometime between the years 1780 and ’85 in company with several others, he started from his home on a trading boat for New Orleans.  They passed where Cincinnati now stands, at which place there was a military fort, called Fort Hamilton, and Louisville, then called the Falls of the Ohio, where there were a few cabins at that time, from where they continued down the river, and not far from Evansville they landed on the Indiana side.  My father and two others were sent out for the purpose of killing a supply of meat, as game was very plentiful. They saw some old marks on some trees, and one of the men took fright and slipped off, ran back to the boat and said they had seen Indian signs and reported that he heard the report of a number of guns, and had no doubt that the other two men were killed.  The boat at once cut cable and floated away and left these two alone in the woods in an Indian country.

They at once set about making a raft of dry logs, bound together with grapevines in order to pursue the boat.  Just below where they put the raft in, there was a fallen tree that reached out in the river.  My father told the other man if they put the raft in above the tree it would strike the end of it and sink them, but he insisted on putting it in, and they got in and started out.  And accordingly, when they started, it struck the log and began to sink.  My father caught up his gun, jumped on the timber and that gave the raft a turn, and it went out in the river with the other man still on.  Father called to him to come in to shore and help him out, but he went on and left him alone to perish.

There were limbs hanging from the trees out over the log on which my father stood, so he fastened his gun to limbs.  He must have perished there, but as he knew how to swim, he reached the shore, for the water was twenty feet deep, as he afterward ascertained.  He saved his shot-pouch and butcher-knife, by which he had the means of making a fire, which he did, and dried his clothes and rested until morning. As soon as it was daylight, he looked for his gun, but it was gone.  He supposed that floating timbers passed and tore it off.  He then started and followed the stream down until he reached a point called Big Pigeon, where Evansville now stands. He could not cross that stream, so he thought the best thing to do was to make a raft and cross over to the Kentucky side, which he did, and landed at the mouth of Green river.  He then went up the Ohio river as far as where Owensboro now stands.  There he waited two or three days, hoping to get some boat to take him on board.  Though a number of them passed, and he hailed them, none of them would come to his relief, fearing a decoy from the Indians.  He had heard of a falls on Green river, called Vienna, and thought he would try and find that place.  The whole country then was a vast cane brake and elk and other game were in abundance, but he had no means of killing anything.  Though he was starving to death, he traveled on for a number of days, having no road and not knowing the right course.  He made his way to Hartford instead of Vienna, and I think, about the tenth day he arrived at the bank of Rough creek, about sun down. He could hear the children at play, so he called and was answered.  After a while a man called Rhoads came down to the bank of the river and talked to him.

My father informed him that he was a lone man that had been lost from a boat on the Ohio river and was nearly starved to death.  Mr. Rhoads told him that the Indians had been there the night before and had stolen their canoe and that they were very careful about strangers, fearing they might be decoyed into the camp of the Indians.  My father assured him he was alone, that he need have no fears, and asked him to come over after him.  Mr. Rhoads told him there was a trough in a gulch, about a quarter of a mile below where the present bridge now is, but a tree had fallen across the mouth and had shut it in, but if he would wait he would go and get an axe and cut the tree away and bring him over; so he told him he would wait.  He accordingly cut the log away, went over and brought my father to the Hartford side and took him to his home and took care of him. He was so near starved that Mr. Rhoads would only give him a mouthful to eat at a time, and just kept him along for a few days that way until he thought it safe to let him have what he wanted to eat.  During his long fast, he ate the berries off the rosebushes, chased an o’possum, killed it, and having his powder horn and flint, he made a fire and roasted the meat and so was able to subsist on that.

Mr. Rhoads wife, who spoke the German language, scolded her husband very much for bringing that renegade in there; she told him he would stay a little while and then would slip off and bring the Indians in on them, but he told her he didn’t think so, that they should show kindness to a stranger, which they did not fail to do.  After some days, my father saw an almanac hanging there and took it down and was looking at it.  Mrs. Rhoads asked him if he understood that; he told her that when a boy he had been sent to a German school and understood the language.  She seemed very much mortified that he had understood her when she had been talking about him being a spy.  After she had recruited, he told them to give him a gun and he would go out and kill them some meat.  They were, however, very careful, counted out a few balls to him and sent one of the men out with him to see that he didn’t run away. Finding however, that he did not try to run away, they trusted him to go out alone and kill game.

The Indians made a raid after he had been there some time, killed some children and captured one little girl, knocked down a woman and scalped her.  As well as I remember, the little girl was a daughter of Gen. Barnett, who was the father of the late Colonel Robert Barnett, who resided near No Creek.

A call was made for volunteers to pursue the Indians and my father was one that made a respond to the call.  They started in pursuit, the father of the little girl being in command of the company.  They had not gone far on the trail, when they found where the Indians had stopped and taken off the little girl’s shoes and stockings; they supposed the Indians had put moccasins on her, so she could travel.

They circled around until they turned in the direction of the Ohio river.  The General told them they intended to take the child to their town beyond the Ohio river, and that they might possible overtake them before they reached the river, but unless they killed the Indians at the first fire they would kill the child, that it was better to let them take her on into captivity and risk ransoming her through traders, which was finally done within a year’s time.  So accordingly they turned back to Hartford.

The people were all kept within the fort, as it was not safe for them to go out to live elsewhere.  The only way they could cultivate was to post guards all around their fields and while some watched others cultivated the ground.  My father being a good shot and good hunter, he grew in favor with the people and when any Indian depredations called or men to pursue, he was always on hand.

I remember of hearing him tell of many Indian conflicts, the particulars of which I can’t repeat.  I remember he said the next fall after his arrival he got a company of men to go with him to where he had lost his gun.  They went to the river opposite the place, stationed part of the men there and the others swam across the river and hit the very place where the gun was lost.  They walked along the bank and there they found the gun.  The leaves and vines had hid it. They all returned home and said that confirmed the truth of his statement.

He spent his time in the common labors of the settlement, killing deer and dressing the skin, out of which they made their clothing.

I think he stayed three years.  He then secured a horse and joined the travelers, going on the trail eastward and going in force sufficient to protect themselves. Finally he arrived at his home on the Monongahela, to the astonishment and joy of his kindred and friends, who thought he was drowned going down the Ohio river.  He didn’t stay there long until he returned again to Hartford.

My grandfather, Ignatius Pigman, from Baltimore, Maryland, who had been for years a traveling Methodist preacher, came about that time to this country.  My parents became acquainted and were married, I reckon, about 1795 or ’96. My father settled on a farm about 4 ½ miles from Hartford.  There they resided all their married life and reared their children. There they died and are buried on the same place. I am their youngest child, and all have passed away except my youngest sister and myself.

I have now told from memory the incidents of my father’s life.  If you carry out your purpose in writing a history or biography of my father, I hope this may be of some assistance to you.  

Very respectfully,

L. B. Stateler

Note: Stephen Stateler went on to be first Ohio County sheriff.  The cemetery for Stephen Stateler is the same as Harrison Taylor is buried in.  It is on Hamlin Chapel Road.  Thanks to Helen McKeown for this article.

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