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Bill Thayer

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Chapter 39

This webpage reproduces part of
Fortescue Cuming's
Sketches of a Tour to the Western Country

published in
Thwaites, Early Western Travels, Vol. IV.

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
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Chapter 41
This site is not affiliated with the US Military Academy.

Tour to the Western Country

[240] Vol. IV
Chapter XL
Scuffletown — A good military position — Green River — Scarcity of stone — A hospitable Scotchman — Town of Henderson — Cotton machine — Diamond island — Banditti and their extermination — Former dangers in descending the rivers.

We continued to float down the river the remainder of the 14th and all night, fifty miles — passing Deer creek, Windy creek, Anderson's river and Crooked creek, and some islands — the banks having settlements at every mile or two. The shores of the river now became low, the hills being lost in the distance on each side.

May 15th. — Having passed two more islands, and some new farms, in nine miles and a half, we came to a string of six or seven good looking settlements, called Scuffletown, on the left, and two miles and a half farther on the right, we observed two new settlements, a small creek, and a bluff rock, serving as a base to an elevated conick promontory, terminating a wide reach, and narrowing the river so by its projection, as to make it an eligible situation for a fortified post. Seven miles from hence we came to Green river on the left, about two hundred yards wide. It falls into the Ohio from the eastward, and at the junction the latter river, changing its direction from S. W. to west, the view of it upward is lost, [241]and looking back to the eastward, Green river appears to be a continuation of the Ohio. Several new settlements are forming on the banks of Green river, the climate and soil being well adapted to the culture of cotton, but the former is esteemed unhealthy, the inhabitants being very subject to intermittent fevers. A skiff boarded us here from an ark astern, which was bound to the mouth of the Ohio, from whence the people on board were to proceed in a keel up the Mississippi to St. Genevieve  p266 in Upper Louisiana.​174 A few miles farther we spoke two large loaded canoes bound upward.

Nine miles below Green river, we passed a point of rocks on the right — the only stone on the river between this and Shawanee town, a distance of seventy miles, on which account the section it lies in was bid up at publick sale to ten dollars an acre, though the usual price is two. Three miles from hence we left Blair's ferry on the right, where a road crosses from Kentucky, fifty-four miles to Vincennes. A mile more brought us to Patterson's on the right, where we landed in the skiff. Mr. Patterson is a Scotchman from Aberdeen, which he left before the revolutionary war, going to Grenada in the West Indies, where he managed the noble estate of Harvey's plains (noted for its rum of much superiour quality) nine years. The liver complaint forced him to remove from thence to New York, where he married and resided several years. He brought his family from thence to this place last year. Mrs. Patterson thought they were to find a country abundant in every thing, with little or no trouble, but now, being undeceived by experience, she jocularly remarked, that if the current of the river would change, she would most gladly seize the occasion to return immediately to where she came from. This family is settled in a much more comfortable manner than the generality of new planters. There were some neighbours on a [242]visit, and the table was covered for supper in a very neat and plentiful manner, which, with much hospitality, we  p267 were pressed to partake of, but the boats having passed, we could not stop.

Five miles from hence we stopped and moored for the night at Henderson or Redbank. This is the county town of Henderson county in Kentucky.​175 It contains about twenty wooden houses and cabins, including two stores and two large tobacco warehouses. At a squire M'Bride's we saw a patent machine, which gins, cards and spins cotton, all at once, by one person (it may be a child) turning a wheel. Eight threads are spun at once, and wound upon eight spools. It is ingenious and simple, and occupies no more room than a small table.

About five hundred hogsheads of tobacco are shipped here every year, and the place now begins to thrive a little, since several wealthy people have settled in the neighbourhood, and on Green river. From the opposite bank a road leads to Vincennes, which is only fifty-two miles distant.

May 16th. — Proceeding, we went to the right of Redbank island, and at twelve miles passed a ferry on the right, and entered the right hand channel of Diamond island — there being settlements every half mile. Nothing can be more beautifully situated than this fine island. It is four miles and a half long, and contains eight hundred acres of the finest land, well timbered.

It takes its name from its form, which is that of a rhombus or diamond. The river is above a quarter of a mile wide all around it, and above half a mile wide below in a straight reach of two or three miles. It is owned by a Mr. Alvis, a Scotchman, of great property in South Carolina, who bought it about two years ago of one Wells, the original locator. Alvis has a negro quarter, and near one hundred and  p268 fifty acres of land cleared on Kentucky shore opposite [243]the island. This used to be the principal haunt of a banditti, from twenty to thirty in number, against which the names of Harper, five Masons, and Corkendale, were the most conspicuous. They attacked and plundered the passing boats, and frequently murdered the crews and passengers. At length the government of Kentucky sent a detachment of militia against them. They were surprised, and Harper, one of the Masons and three or four more were shot, one in the arms of his wife, who escaped unhurt though her husband received eleven balls. The rest dispersed, and again recruiting, became under Mason the father, the terrour of the road through the wilderness between Nashville in Tennessee and the Mississippi Territory. About four years ago, two of the gang, tempted by the reward of five hundred for Mason dead or alive, offered by the governour of Mississippi Territory, shot him, carried his head to Natchez, received the promised reward, which they expected, and a more just one which they did not expect, being both found guilty of belonging to the gang, and being executed accordingly.176

It is impossible to convey even a faint idea of the dangers to which people descending those rivers were liable, until within a few years that the population of the banks has become general.

The Indians could not brook the intrusion of the whites on the hunting grounds and navigable waters which they had been in habits of considering as their own property from time immemorial, and partly through revenge for the usurpation of their rights, partly to intimidate others, but chiefly from the hopes of booty, all the nations in the  p269 neighbourhood of the Ohio, the Cumberland, the Tennessee, and the Mississippi, and even those more remote, used to send detachments of warriours and hunters to lie in wait in the narrow passes, and do their utmost to cut off all travellers, in which they often succeeded through [244]their expertness with the rifle; and it is not improbable but some white desperadoes, under the appearance of Indians, were guilty of atrocities of the same nature against their countrymen, without the shadow of any of the excuses afforded to the aborigines.

The Editor's Notes:

174 The original village of Ste. Genevieve was about three miles south of the present Missouri town of that name. The exact date of its founding is not known, but it was upon a mining grant given to Regnault. A relic of a chimney found in 1881 bears the date 1732 — possibly the first year of the settlement. The cession of the Illinois to the English (1763) brought an accession of French inhabitants; and in 1766, the Spanish ordered to Ste. Genevieve a commandant and garrison. The earliest American inhabitants were John and Israel Dodge, the latter being father of Governor Henry Dodge of Wisconsin. The encroachment of the river (about 1784‑85) caused the old to be abandoned for the modern site. — Ed.

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175 Henderson County was formed in 1798, being named in honor of Colonel Richard Henderson of Transylvania fame. The great ornithologist, John James Audubon, came to Henderson in 1812; but it was not until many years later that his work made him known to the scientific world. — Ed.

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176 The tales of the robberies and atrocities of the Harpeº and Mason banditti are numerous, differing largely in details. Cuming's account seems to be fairly accurate. See Claiborne, Mississippi (Jackson, 1880), pp225‑228. — Ed.

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