Saturday, April 30, 2016

Early History - Bill Smothers

The following is an excerpt from the opening chapter of “An Illustrated Historical Map of Daviess County, Kentucky,” published in 1876 by Leo McDonough & Co.

            "There seems good authority for the claim that the first permanent settlement in what is now Daviess County was made by the celebrated William Smoothers, otherwise known by the more popular name of Bill Smothers. This settlement was made on the site of the present city of Owensboro. Hartford, on Rough Creek, and Vienna (now Calhoon) at the falls of Green River, now respectively the County seats of Ohio and McLean Counties, were the centres of the principal settlements made in this part of Kentucky. Each place was rudely fortified against the attacks of the Indians, and crowded with men, women and children, who had gathered in the stockade for safety. Disease began its ravages among them. Their chief source of subsistence, wild game, became scarce in the vicinity, and as soon as danger from Indian depredations was somewhat over, the families settled outside the forts, though usually at first within an easy distance of the centre of the settlement. The families at Hartford located on the banks of Rough Creek, and those at Vienna scattered through the hills in the rear of that place.

            Among the settlers at Hartford and Vienna was Bill Smothers. For the incidents of his history we are indebted to articles in the Owensboro Monitor from the pen of the Hon. Thomas C. McCreery. He was born on the western frontier of Southern Virginia, near the Holston River. One day his father while hunting was killed by the Indians, and his mother on the ninth day afterward followed her husband to the grave, dying from grief. These tragic circumstances engendered an undying hostility against the Indians in the breast of William Smothers, who was then a boy of twelve. Standing by the graves of his parents, he raised his hand to Heaven, and swore that he would devote his life to the destruction of the Indian race. When he subsequently came to Kentucky it was with the intention of fighting Indians, and avenging the murder of his parents, and so joined a party who were coming down to fortify the Green river country. A fort was built on Rough Creek, and called Hartford. In besieging this fort it was noticed that the Indians generally came from lower Kentucky, and waded Green River at the falls. At this point, now the spot where stands the. County seat of McLean County, a fort was accordingly established and called Vienna. After its construction, the Indians seldom came in great numbers, and the white families soon scattered and selected locations where inclination, or safety directed.

            Bill Smothers disliked living in a densely settled neighborhood, preferring
rather the solitude of the wilderness, and he accordingly fixed on a location on the Ohio River at a point nearest the settlements. He built a cabin where now stands Owensboro. It was erected on the bank of the river near the gas works, and the exact spot is now occupied by the tobacco factory of Frazier Brothers. His cabin is described as being of round logs, and having two doors, one of which looked out on the Ohio, and the other opened into his garden On the lower side of the house there was a shed room, made by extending the main roof, being enclosed by slabs of timber planted in the ground. About four feet of a single log had been cut out to make a passway into the room. In this were deposited his peltries and groceries, and when he entertained a large company, which was frequently the case, it was converted into a bed-room, more comfortable and agreeable in cold than in warm weather, owing to the abundance of deer and bear skins and buffalo robes which were kept there. Such was the beginning of the city of Owensboro. In person Smothers was within an inch of being six feet in height. His hair was dark brown, and his thin heard of the same color. His complexion was fair, and his eyes deep blue and prominent, and the expression of his face pleasing and intelligent. His figure was erect, his limbs and body firm and symmetrical, his motions easy and graceful, denoting great activity and a considerable amount of muscular power. He did everything deliberately, nothing in a hurry. His mind was in keeping with his body, quick, active and vigorous. He was rarely vulgar in conversation, and never affected the coarse manner and rude speech of the ruffian. He was inferior to no man in personal courage. In short, if he had received a thorough education and possessed good morals, he might have occupied a prominent and honorable position. His love of fun, the controlling passion of his life, led him into many improprieties, and perhaps clouded his memory with crime.

            It was some time about the opening of the present century, certainly not later than 1799, that Smothers made his home on the Ohio. The situation was lonely enough to delight him with the solitude. From Panther Creek to the Ohio, and Green River to Blackford be was the only inhabitant. He roamed the forest alone, and slaughtered the game at pleasure. The necessaries of life were obtained at his door. The barges, slowly cordelled by their armed crews down the Ohio, would stop and give him salt, flour, and groceries in exchange for dried venison, hams, bear meat, and buffalo robes. These advantages enabled him to live in a style far beyond the towns of his old friends and comrades. No gentleman below the falls could furnish so sumptuous aboard, and no man entertained with more genuine hospitality. “Old rye" and “ flour bread " were unknown in the interior, and his visitors manifested a general partiality for those articles. “ Pass the flour bread up here," “start the old rye down here," were remarks usually heard at his table, while the generous host was attentive to the wishes of his guests, and labored to supply their wants. The one fear Smothers possessed above all others was that new settlers would intrude upon the domain he had marked his own, that farms would be opened up, the game driven away or destroyed, and that he would be left in his old age without the means of support in the very country from which he had expelled the Indians. He regarded a surveyor’s chain with particular abhorrence, and "corner trees" were an abomination. He determined that his house should present fewer attractions, and that he would thus not assist in luring strangers to the neighborhood. Instead, therefore, of delicacies, the simplest and coarsest fare of the hunter supplied his table. He almost deserted his home, wandering in the woods for weeks and months together. He hunted deer and bear on the Kentucky side of the river, and twice a year took an Indian hunt on the other side of the Ohio, where he was as equally successful. Sleepless days and nights would he spend to get a shot, and at every crack of his rifle an Indian fell. If Indians were plenty, which was generally case on the upper Wabash, he would kill from two to half a dozen on a hunt; and if they were scarce he sometimes crossed that stream and shot them on the boundless prairies beyond. When horses were stolen from the settlements at Hartfort and Vienna, he led the pursuit, and generally returned with the animals, or an equal or greater number. These expeditious made him familiar with the country as far west as the Mississippi. Smothers was compelled at last to witness the inroads of other settlers. The news saluted his ears that about twenty families had arrived on his territory, and were preparing to build houses and open plantations. The surveyor, with compass and chain was making new lines, and the axe was laying low the trees."

No comments:

Post a Comment