Saturday, July 6, 2013

Stephen Stateler - First of Three Articles

On February 10, 2013, I posted an article about Stephen Stateler, which was copied from The Hartford Herald published on December 2, 1891. That article was based on recollections of Mr. Stateler’s daughter. Recently, thanks to Helen McKeown, I found a longer article about Mr. Stateler that had been first published in a Louisville newspaper in 1860, with greater detail about his life. The 1860 article was republished in the Hartford Herald in 1907, in three parts. This is a wonderful look at pioneer life in early Ohio County.

Part One of Three.  The following article was taken from the Hartford Herald, published October 23, 1907.



Graphic Narrative of Dangerous
Travel and Encounters
With Indians

            Mr. John H. McHenry, Jr., had the following account, published in the old Louisville Journal, dated the first of April, 1860, of early times in Ohio County and adjoining region:

            Sometime in the year 1856 there died in Ohio county, Kentucky, at his residence, six miles north of Hartford, Mr. Stephen Stateler, aged about 86 years. He was at the time of his death the oldest resident of the county, having first gone there the spring of 1790.  He was a man of extraordinary constitution, and the writer of this remembers distinctly to have seem him in the harvest field on the 4th of July previous to his death, handling a scythe with the alertness of a young man.  He was from Pennsylvania and of German parentage.  His original name was Stradler which, for the sake of euphony, was changed to Stateler.

            The following account of his early trials and tribulations will no doubt be read with great interest by those persons who were acquainted with Mr. Stateler or other persons whose names are mentioned in the narrative.

            In “Collins’ History of Kentucky” there is mention made of several incidents concerning which I have often heard this old gentlemen speak, and from whom, no doubt, that interesting information was obtained.

            Some years before his death he gave an account of his adventures to a friend who wrote them out for publication.  His statement, for the truth of which it is scarcely necessary to vouch, is as follows:


          In the winter of 1789 a gentleman by the name of Kendall, who lived in Virginia, had contracted with a man to furnish him with part of a boat load of buffalo meat, and Kendall was to bring barrels and salt down the Kanawha river and take in the meat at the mouth of the river.  I was at the point at which the boat was to start, and, desiring to go down to the mouth of the river, went on board the boat and came down, intending at that time only to the mouth, and, if the buffalo meat had been furnished according to contract, I should not have gone any farther; but, as the meat was not forthcoming, Mr. Kendall was driven to the necessity of proceeding down the river with what load he had, and hired several persons, among others myself, to accompany him, and kill game enough, as we journeyed along, to complete his load.  As we were floating down we discovered buffalo signs and several of us left the boat in a large pirogue to hunt on shore.  We met with ut little success, however, and reached Mr. Kendall in a few days at Louisville.  It was thought by some that buffalo could be killed below Louisville and Mr. Kendall accordingly concluded to pursue his journey and complete his load with buffalo meat and skins below the falls, if possible; so we launched out on the broad bosom of the Ohio on our way to New Orleans.

            On March 17th, 1790, Levi Whitsell, Samuel Davis and myself left the boat a short distance below “red Banks” – where the city of Henderson now stands – and went on shore on the Indiana side, for the purpose of killing bear and buffalo, expecting the boat to await our return.  We started into the forest, which had scarcely ever before been trodden by a white man, but we had not proceeded far when we discovered “blazes,” which Whitsell said were Indian signs, and insisted on our returning to the boat.  We objected and Whitsell left us. Davis and I, in a short time found buffalo, wounded a fine bull, and in pursuing it were led several miles from the river.  We were very successful in our hunt and did not return to the river until the evening of the third day.  Imagine our horror when we discovered that the boat had left us.

            I afterwards learned that Whitsell had returned to the boat the same evening and reported that we had been killed by the Indians.  Mr. Kendall waited for us until the next morning and, as we did not return, believed us dead, and proceeded on the journey.

            We determined to make raft of logs and follow the boat as far as Diamond Island, hoping to catch up with them at that point.  We commenced early the next morning and, constructing the raft, placed our guns upon it and launched out on our frail, unsteady float into the stream, which, at this time, was very high and turbulent.  A few rods below us was a large sawyer, swaying to and fro, and rising up and down in the river.  We discussed the probability of coming into contact with this formidable enemy before we shoved out and thought we could avoid it, and used our utmost endeavors to do so. But if we had pulled directly for it with all our might we could not have struck it more directly, or with more disastrous consequences than we did.  The force of the current carried us to it, in spite of all our efforts to the contrary.

            As soon as we struck the sawyer, seizing my gun, I leaped from the raft upon it, in order to avoid falling into the river.  The raft floated around and moved down the river.  I called to Davis to land and help me off, but it was impossible for him to do so, and he replied that he “could not to save both our lives.”  In a few moments his raft swept around the bend of the river, I watching him with beating heart.  He waved his hat to me as he passed out of sight and I never saw him again.

            My condition then was indeed fearful.  There was no human habitation that I knew of within a hundred miles of me and I had no hopes of assistance from any one.  Thinking, possibly, some one might be within my hearing, I endeavored to fire off my gun, but the powder was wet and it would not strike.  My next effort, of course, was to reach the shore, and at the same time to secure my gun.  I was some five or six rods from the bank, but I was afraid I could not reach it with my gun in my hand, so I twisted some twigs and branches of the trees within my reach, through the guard of the gun and around the small of the stock, and having secured it in the best manner that I could, I plunged into the river and swam to the shore.  After reaching the shore my next object was to get possession of my gun.  To do this I made a raft of such logs as I could get together in the river, lashing them together by grapevines.  I then cut me a long vine and tying one end of it to the shore and the other to the raft, I shoved out into the river, holding on to the vine, thinking the current would drift me down to the sawyer, and having discovered my gun, I could pull back to the shore by the vine, but unfortunately the vine was not quite long enough for the raft to strike the sawyer.  I reached forward and caught the branches and pulled, in order to reach my gun, which was within a few feet of my hand, but the current was so strong it sunk my raft, so that I was compelled to let go.  Holding on to the vine the current of the river swung myself and the raft slowly to the shore.  I could get no more vines to lengthen the one I already had, so I tried the second time to reach my gun in the same way, but with the same success.  A third and fourth time did I float around with the hope of reaching it, but I was each time disappointed; still my gun was swinging by the twigs.

            By this time it was growing dark and I determined to camp for the night and renew my efforts in the morning to obtain possession of my gun, for it seemed to me that my “stay in life” depended upon the recovery of this faithful companion that hung so tantalizingly before my eyes, and yet not within my reach.

            I struck fire and made my camp between two rocks, and here I spent the night – a very small portion of it, however, in sleep.  During a portion of the night I was engaged in drying my powder.  This I did by holding the horn to the fire until it became warm, and then shaking the powder about until it became cool, and I continued this process until my powder was dry.  I then laid down to rest but my sleep was disturbed by desperate visionary attempts to get my gun.  One, indeed, I succeeded in reaching it, and my joy was so great that I was awakened and beheld by the moonlight my gun still hanging by the branches of the tree on the sawyer.  Slowly and heavily passed the weary hours of that night after the moon had sunk and I could no longer see my gun.  Morning came at last and as daylight was stealing through the trees and clearing the mist from the river, I was revolving in my mind the different plans which had suggested themselves during the night for the recovery of my gun; but when it was light enough for me to see the sawyer I almost sank to the ground when the appalling truth flashed across my mind that the twigs and branches with which I had tied my gun had released their hold, and it had fallen off the sawyer and sunk to the bottom of the river.

            (Continued in next week’s Herald, which gives an account of encounters with Indians and scenes around Hartford, Ky. in the long ago.  Save it for your scrap book.)

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