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Autobiography: A Trip Back to Kentucky PDF Print E-mail
Written by Wilson Thompson   



ON THE 20th day of April, 1811, our son Grigg M., (later known as "Gregg"--DM) was born, and sometime in the August following I took my wife and child, he being now about four months old, and we started on horseback for my wife’s father’s place, in Campbell County, Kentucky. This was a long journey to travel on horseback and to carry a child. I attended an appointment, previously made, for a funeral in Illinois, near Gash or Silver Creek. We crossed the Mississippi fifteen miles above Cape Girardeau, at the Coffin Spring, or what was then called Green’s Ferry. From thence we traveled the trace for Shawneetown and came to the place of meeting. After preaching to a large assembly, we went to a preacher’s house on our way, a few miles farther, and were treated kindly. I think his preaching could not have been very edifying, but he treated us well, in his rude way. Next morning we proceeded on our journey, and in a few days passed the Salt Works, and reached Shawneetown, on the bank of the Ohio River. We crossed the river, and once more entered Kentucky. Here we stopped to camp for the night. I built a large fire, and my wife prepared supper.

About this time four Methodist preachers came on, and concluded to stop with us, and share our hospitality. In the morning my horse’s back, having been hurt before, was so badly swollen that I was doubtful whether he could travel or not. One of the preachers, seeing his situation, and finding we were going near Cincinnati, gave me five dollars, and said he: “If you need it in getting along, then use it; but if you should not need it, and can spare it, you might send it to me at Cincinnati, as we are going there to attend a conference.” This I considered as an unusual act of benevolence for an entire stranger. I have never thought of his kindness since except with respect and gratitude. I had to exchange my horse for another; but after I got through, I sent the preacher his money. I think few men would show as much benevolence to a traveling stranger. I hope this narrative may influence all its readers to follow the example of that Methodist preacher. He received his money all safe, and in addition to that he won my lasting gratitude. He enjoyed the sweetness of an approving conscience, and felt, before God and his associates, that he had done a good deed without any solicitation from me.

We traveled on slowly. I changed my horse for another, with but little loss; and with this fresh one we proceeded rather better. We generally camped during the night. Our course of travel was to pass Hardensburg, Elizabeth, Yellow Banks, Bardstown, Frankfort, and Williamstown, thence down the dry ridge to near Banklick, then crossed Licking at Decory’s Ford, and thence to my wife’s parents.

I will state one singular event that occurred on this journey: We missed our way, and after traveling some distance found we were on the road to Redbank’s. After receiving some directions we crossed to our road again, which was several miles distant, and the way being very intricate, we were obliged to inquire very often. On stopping at a large house to make inquiry, an old Virginian approached us with as much kindness and friendship as if we had been his children, and, with a remarkable suavity, insisted that we should stop and rest until Monday, it then being Saturday afternoon. I made some excuses, but he still insisted, saying we must be tired of riding, and that the child was tired, that he had plenty of food for us and our horses, and if we would rest until Monday we should be refreshed for our journey, and it would cost us nothing. The proffered hospitality of this entire stranger so won our friendship that finally we accepted his kind invitation, and made his house our home until Monday. Every act of kindness that could well be shown us was freely administered by this family while there; and when we started we found that our portmanteau was filled with cakes, cheese, dried beef, etc., and every arrangement made for our comfort that was possible for them to make.

We left this hospitable mansion, feeling more like we were leaving the domicile of kind parents than that of strangers. I think his name was Anderson. He wore his hair tied at the back of his neck, and he was a very jovial old man. He was an infidel in his religious views. He charged me not to stop at the Yellow Bank, as murder and robbery had, it was thought, been committed there, and he said it would not be safe for us to stop at that place. He told us to stop nine miles back on the road, at a place he described, and we did so, although we had time to have traveled the whole distance to the Bank. The next day, as we passed the place where they had suspected the murders to have been committed, we marked it well so as to avoid it on our return back. This kindness, shown to entire strangers traveling the road, with nothing to introduce or recommend them, was remarkable.

I often think of such events, and believe that the God of providence and grace superintends the affairs of his children. Although unseen he may lead them from the road they design to travel, and throw them upon some unexpected friend, whom He has in readiness to administer to their needs, such as the events above described fully illustrate. So, while we feel thankful to kind friends for their attentions, we should feel doubly thankful to God for his rich and wisely-directed providence in guiding us to such friends without our knowledge and often against our wills, as in this case, for by missing our way we were thrown upon this kind old friend.

We arrived safely and in due time at the house of my wife’s parents, and were received with much joy. During our stay the North Bend Association met with the Old Licking Church, and most of the old ministers and members from a large scope of country were there. This was a feast to me, to see so many of the old brethren and to hear them proclaiming the gospel of the grace of God, while the saints, like a flock of sheep, were feeding on “the sincere milk of the word”. Still my mind would be running back to Missouri, and fondly anticipating a great display of Divine power and grace in that place, where I had endured so much, and where I had felt so lonely and sometimes so much discouraged. After a very agreeable association was over, I traveled with Elder James Lee, and visited several churches, and then crossed the Ohio River and visited a number of churches north of Cincinnati up the Miami Valley as far as Middle-town, and then filled an appointment west on Cotton Run. Here we were forced to retire to a grove, on account of the immense crowd. The people were very attentive and solemn, and a deep effect was visible. The same afternoon we preached at Elk Creek Church to a similar congregation, and with similar effect, and again at candle-light at Deacon John Lucas’s. This was a night of great power and deep effect. I then returned to my wife’s father’s, and after visiting some of the churches, we started again for our home. We made a few stops on the way, and I preached a few times.

I will now relate an occurrence that may interest the reader. Night overtook us, and there was no house for about five miles farther on our way, so we were forced to travel on in the dark. Scarcely able to see the road, we still proceeded slowly. After traveling a considerable distance we saw a light, and soon came up to a house; we asked for lodgings, and we were admitted. The landlord came out with a candle. As soon as the light shone on the outside of the house, I was surprised to find we had stopped at the very house that my old Virginia friend had warned me of as we came out, and which had caused me to notice it so particularly. I immediately recognized it, and then knew it was nine miles to the next house, through a dark, heavy-timbered bottom. To go on, after calling for our lodging for the night, would be more dangerous than to remain; only we should keep ourselves on the watch.

Having no time to consider, I dismounted and went to help down my wife and child. Four other men came out, and one of them took my saddle-bags from my saddle, and weighing them in his hands, he gave a significant look at his friends. I had collected for my father and uncle five or six hundred dollars in silver, and had it in my saddle-bags. We went into the house, taking my saddles and saddle-bags with me.

I had a lead horse with me with a pack-saddle on it to carry food for the horses as we traveled through the wilderness. On the tree of this pack-saddle I had tied an old musket that I had taken for a bad debt, and the main spring being broken, I had procured no ammunition. I had also a butcher-knife with me, which I had brought to cut hobble rods to hamper my horses when we camped out. This was in a scabbard and fastened to the tree of my pack-saddle. I had been in the house but a few moments, when the landlord invited me to walk out and see what a number of deer-skins he had taken from deer he had killed. I thought it strange for him to wish me to go out in the dark to see deer-skins. But I had resolved to brave every danger and show no fear, so I went, leaving my wife within. After feeling of the skins, of which a long pole was strung full, managing all the time to keep a proper distance from the landlord, and keeping him constantly talking, by asking many questions, I said that I was very tired, and wished to return into the house. He asked me if I carried weapons of defense while traveling. I replied that is was my own business, but if any person wished to know, they could find out by making an attack. He repeated this question, and I again gave the same answer. I again observed to him, that being tired, I wished to go into the house; and so saying I started, when he said, “We will go into the other house.”

The building was arranged with two log houses set end to end, with a hail between the two. We went into the west one. Some fire was burning in it, and one chair only. I sat down in that, and the landlord stood by me, and again inquired if I carried weapons about my person. I replied that I was always ready for whatever might come, that I never shrank for fear, and a coward I did despise. I said I wished never to insult or injure any man, yet if any one was concerned, or deeply interested in knowing what kind of weapons I carried, he would ascertain by perillng an attack, and the consequences would convince him how these matters were. At that time I was young, large, and strong, and presented something of a formidable appearance, being about six feet high and pretty well proportioned. But the truth was, I had neither side-arms nor weapons of any kind, except a small penknife, and the old musket and butcher knife, which were in the other house. Shortly after I had sat down, the other four men came in, one at a time, and formed a circle around me. The last one that entered was a most savage-looking man. Indeed all of them were large, fierce, villainous-looking creatures. The landlord kept up an incessant talking about the fights and conquests he had made, sometimes conquering two or three men at a time.

The last one that came in was the tallest of the gang and the most ferocious in appearance. He wore a leather apron reaching from his neck down to his ankles, and had a belt around his waist, and in his right hand he held a large butcher knife, and was whetting it across the palm of his left hand. He stepped into the circle now formed around me, leaving only the opening between me and the fire. I arose to my feet and observed to him: “Sir, you seem to be the oldest man in the company, and as there is but one chair here, it of course belongs to you; take the seat.” As I thus spoke I arose and stood with my back to the fire, leaning against the mantle so that no one could get behind me, and that I might keep them all under my eye. I accomplished this in as easy and careless a manner as possible and without showing fear or excitement. I intended if any motion of violence was made, to prostrate, if possible, the one between me and the door, and then leap into the dark. I said to the landlord: “I wish some supper for myself and my wife, and must go and notify the landlady.” “No,” said he; and then he hallooed to her. She soon came in to prepare supper. I then said I would give the lady my room about the fire, and stepping out into the other house, took a seat by my wife at one side of the fire.

All the men soon came in and began to stride back and forth across the room, and occasionally they would meet in the middle of the floor and huddle together, whisper, motion, and consult quietly for a time, and then stride across the room again. After one of these consultations the landlord stepped off and got a bottle of whisky, some glasses and water, and placed them on the table. I comprehended the plan, which was evidently to get me drunk, and then they would have me in their power; or perhaps, some deadly poison or narcotic had been prepared for me, so I resolved that all would drink first. As soon as all matters were arranged on the table, I was invited to drink of some “old Bourbon”. I replied: “Fond as I always am of this ‘creature,’ and dry and as I feel from my journey, I cannot violate the rules of propriety. The landlord must first drink to his guests, and must follow in the order in which they came in; and as I was last to come in this evening, I must drink last in the rounds.” This rule was adopted to my satisfaction, and I saw I could soon drink them drunk, which I resolved for the first in my life to do; and that too as soon as possible, for in that condition I thought I could manage them if attacked. I loathe a drunkard, and the man who, under ordinary circumstances, would induce others to get drunk, I despise. But my life, and that of my wife and child, besides the money, all depended on thwarting their plans in some way. By this time I was fully convinced that this was their design, and since our safety depended on frustrating their intentions by any means, this opportunity was not to be refused in such a crisis. By the time supper was ready they were in my power, and yet they could walk and seemed to keep their senses. I had drunk scarcely one drop, but feigned to drink whenever they did, which was every few minutes. They drank from glasses, but I turned up the bottle so that I could see the size drains they took, though they could not tell what quantity I drank.

As soon as supper was over I gave my wife a sign to follow me, and we went into the room where our saddles were, and I asked the landlady for a bed, which she showed to us. I then untied the gun for to use as a war-club, drew the butcher knife half way out the scabbard, leaving it on the saddle, and then drew all close to my bed so that I could grasp either in an instant. I also took my penknife in my hand, and so lay down, having put my saddle-bags under the edge of the bed. The bed was in the corner of the room with the foot toward the fire, and curtains were hung around it. These I parted at the foot so as to see all that passed. Here I lay and watched. Very soon after I lay down all the men came in, and, drunk as they were, they still seemed intent on mischief. They began their walking to and fro again, and every few minutes they would huddle and again consult. They would get near the foot of my bed, where the curtains would have perfectly hid them had I not parted them, so I could see all that was going on. In these consultations I could see them point to the gun, the knife, and the saddle-bags, and then shake their heads as if they thought there was great danger. If they killed me they must also kill the woman and child; and seeing the gun and knife and not knowing but the gun was well loaded, they appeared to fear getting hurt, and besides they supposed I was well armed with private weapons about my person. After many such consultations three of them went off yelling and screaming like Indians, and the other two (the landlord and another) threw themselves on some bearskins on the floor before the fire. From their motions and actions I concluded they had abandoned the attack, but it was my conviction that the three were to go off making a noise, and the other two were to lie down, and when I was sound asleep, crawl under the bed and steal the saddle-bags. I believed, however, they were so drunk that they would soon be asleep, and awake no more until morning; and this belief proved true, for it was broad daylight and I was up before they awoke.

This was an awful night to me. There was a traveler murdered here but a short time afterward, which I shall have occasion to say more about hereafter. These men saw the gun and knife, and supposed they were in good order; and, from my apparent unconcern, they supposed that I was armed, and probably well-provided for an attack. All these things must have had their effect; but I have ever regarded our escape as a merciful interposition of God’s providence. The morning found us early on our road, and we kept a sharp lookout, for we suspected they might waylay us on the road, as we had to travel about nine miles through a dense forest which was entirely uninhabited; but we were not molested. After this we proceeded pretty well until I was attacked with the fever and ague, but we did not stop for this.

One afternoon, as we traveled along through a heavy fall rain, I took a chill, which was followed by a high fever and pain in the head and back. About nightfall we came to a house where we were permitted to stay. We were dripping wet, and I was unable to sit up. The family would afford us no bed nor bed-clothes, so we had to lie on the floor on our wet blankets. It was a cold November rain, and, of course, the night was a hard one on a sick man. My wife and child had to suffer with me for the people would get us no supper, and my jaded horses were tied out in the rain and had nothing to eat.

We were then in Illinois. I will mention that the night before we had stayed at the Saline Salt Works, and while we were there, a messenger came with the news that General Harrison had been surprised at Tippecanoe and was defeated with great loss, and that the Indians were desolating the whole country. A council was called to determine what they should do, whether to abandon the salt works and go to Kentucky, or send out spies to ascertain what was best for them. But to continue my narrative: After passing a miserable night and, morning having relieved us, we were soon on our journey, although I felt scarcely able to travel. Nothing more of importance occurred until we reached home. Finding all our friends well, and my corn gathered, I felt well-satisfied.

Last Updated ( Wednesday, 15 November 2006 )
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