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Iles, Elijah. Sketches of Early Life and Times in Kentucky, Missouri and Illinois . Springfield: Springfield Printing Co., 1883. [format: book], [genre: memoir]. Permission: University of Chicago
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Chapter I. Early Life.

My Ancestors and Birthplace — Life in Eastern Kentucky — A Limited Education — A Hermit's Life — Run Over by a Bear — Cuttle Raising — A Desire to Emigrate.

The writer was born in the state of Kentucky, March 28th, 1796, at which date all west of the Alleghany mountains was little other than a wilderness.

My grandfather, William Iles, was an emigrant from England, and my grandmother was of Welsh descent.

My father, Thomas Iles, was born in Pennsylvania in the year 1766. After the death of his mother, his father having married a second time, he became restless, and determined to leave his father, depend on himself for the future, and hoe his own row. At the age of seventeen years an opportunity presented itself. His father furnished him with a good horse and outfit of clothing, and sent him on a trip to collect money. He got the money, and thinking himself amply provided put out to Virginia, and emigrated to Kentucky with a family by the name of Trumbo, in the year 1788. When he got to Kentucky, the Indians were stealing horses and killing the inhabitants, and for a while his time was occupied in skirmishes after the Indians, driving them across the river into the then territory of Ohio.

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Finally the Indians stole his horse; his money was used up, and his clothes worn and rusty. He then went to work for wages in summer and to school in winter, paying for his board by his work mornings, evenings, and Saturdays. By this course he got sufficient education to enable him to teach school. He then taught school in winter and worked on farms in summer. He pursued this course until the year 1792, when he married Betsey Crockett, who was of Irish descent.

After his marriage, my father, with two of my mother's brothers, John and Robert Crockett, and others, formed a colony and settled on the border, in Eastern Kentucky, in a rough, hilly section, on Slate Creek, one of the headwaters of the Licking, now comprised in the county of Bath.

My earliest recollections bring to my view a Buck-eye cabin of one room, in which we lived, that stood on the bank of a clear stream of water, the bed of which was of flat limestone rock and pebbles. The bottom-land surrounding the cabin was covered with a heavy growth of beech timber, so thick that it darkened the sunlight. The upland was a varied growth of timber, not so thick, but covered with a dense thicket of cane. Our neighbors were not so near that we could see the smoke from each other's cabins. This district, at that day, was truly a wild and backwoods country. Bear and deer were so plentiful that we could often see them from the door of our cabin. We could not raise hogs until the bear and panther were thinned out, as they would kill and eat the pigs. But we made good use of the bears by killing them and using the meat as we do pork.

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My mother, with her wool cards, spinning wheel, and loom, manufactured all the clothing worn by herself and the family, except the buckskin pants worn by the men and boys. All these were made into garments with thread spun by herself. No other kind of apparel was used at that day.

We had to make out with very little, as almost every article used about the house had to be brought from Virginia to Kentucky on pack-horses. Our tableware consisted of pewter plates, pewter dishes and spoons, and japanned tin tumblers. We made much use of gourds for drinking cups. Our cooking utensils were a small dinner pot, oven, skillet, and frying-pan.

Our bread was always corn bread, mostly baked on a board and called johnny-cake, or in the ashes, when it was called ash-cake. Our meat, consisting of bear meat, turkey, venison, squirrel, quail and fish, was often roasted before the fire.

One day, when my father and Uncle Robert were burning brush and logs, preparing the ground for raising corn, they had their guns along and killed some squirrels. My sister, then in her sixth year, and myself four, roasted one with the skin on, and were picking it to pieces and eating it when we were discovered. We got a little scolding and were sent back to the house. This was the last of our squirrel baking.

My mother died in the year 1802, leaving five children — Polly, Elijah,William,Washington, and Betsey — the youngest 8 days old.

After the death of my mother, my aunts Carlyle and Harper took my sisters and brother Washington to their homes in Woodford county, 66 miles distant, and

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my aunt Crockett took my brother William and myself for a short time, until my father went to Winchester, Virginia, where he had a sister living (Mrs. Barnett). There he bought and brought home a negro woman (recommended by his sister) to keep house and care for brother William and me. She proved to be one of the very best of negro women — a good cook, who kept our house and clothes in good order. We were taught to call her Aunt Milly, and to obey her.

Our nearest place of trade was Lexington — 60 miles. We often got out of pins, and had to use in their place the thorn from the haw bush, which was a good substitute.

My aunt Crockett and the neighbor women would collect at our house every spring and fall, and make up our summer and winter clothes.

The first time I went to school I was boarded out four miles from home, two winters. The only education we received consisted of our letters, spelling, reading, writing, and some little arithmetic. After this, I was sent fifteen miles from home to a better school, for two winters. There was seldom a school in summer, as most every child able to work was kept at home to help in the farm work. I never got far enough to study English grammar. My father was a good scholar, and taught me writing and arithmetic at home, and as there were now children enough in the neighborhood, I taught school one winter to perfect myself in what little education I had.

After living eight years a widower, my father married the widow Wheeler, with two children (Samuel and Eliza), and soon after bought mill property and

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moved to Licking river, leaving myself, the black woman, and a negro man to carry on the farm. During the war of 1812 he was sheriff of Bath county, and I acted as his deputy.

In 1816, I wanted to be doing something for myself, and my father let me have $300 in money. With this I bought one hundred yearling calves at less than $3.00 each, and drove them several miles beyond all settlements to the headwaters of Little Sandy river, in a mountainous, wild, and rugged country. The cliffs were very precipitous, overhanging so as to form good shelter for my cattle in the winter. The valleys between the bluffs were from five to fifteen miles long, and from bluff to bluff about three hundred yards wide. In these valleys I wintered my cattle, by changing them from valley to valley as they ate out the bunch grass. They got poor in winter, but by herding them on high land in summer they would get very fat. I camped and staid with my cattle three summers and two winters, and although my only companions were my gun, horse, dog, and cattle, I did not feel lonely. I had an object in life.

Game was plenty. My father or some one of the family would visit me about once a month, and I would load them with bear, deer, or turkey, to take home.

One day I got badly scared. I shot a bear in the loins. It made a terrible squalling and snapping at the place where it was wounded, and tried to drag itself to a thicket. I started to head him off until I could load my gun, and had reached a point about ten feet below him. He made no halt, but came straight at me with his mouth open. The hill being very steep and the ground covered with frost, my feet slipped and I fell on

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my knees. I struck at him with my gun and threw myself forward on the ground. He ran over my back, and made no stop until he reached the thicket. I must have struck him a hard blow, as the stock of the gun was badly shattered; the lock and breech, however, were all right. After loading my gun I went to within ten steps of him, but for my life I could not take aim. I had the "buck thumps." I had to go thirty steps back to get a rest for my gun.

My living while in camp was very simple. My bread consisted of johnny-cake, which I baked on a board, or of ash cake, which was baked in the ashes. I liked my meats stewed, and would often stew together in the one little pot I had, a mixture of turkey, bear, venison, squirrel, and a piece of fat bacon. I never used plates, as they would need washing, but in lieu would use a large chip or piece of bark, and would change it every meal for a new one. My lunch, when out hunting or herding cattle, was jerked venison and fat side meat — the venison I ate for bread and the bacon for meat.

There were a number of saltpetre caves in the vicinity of where I had my cattle, and the men who came out to work them would often visit me in passing. Sportsmen from the vicinity of Lexington and Paris — the Bedfords, Basses, and others — would come out in the fall to hunt and would make my camp their headquarters, and whilst they were with me I had good living and no cooking to do, as they always brought a negro along to keep camp, and pack horses to pack home the game. As the game was plenty, they would return to their homes well laden with bear, venison turkey.

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I sold my cattle in the fall of 1818. Such cattle as would only sell at that day for eight to ten dollars each, would now bring more than forty dollars per head.

I now heard of a new country in Missouri called the Boone's Lick, about six hundred miles distant, represented to be very fine. By this time I felt well weaned, and determined to emigrate to this new country, where I expected I would have to depend on myself for the future, and that, too, among strangers, far away from all my kin. This was before the government had offered the land in Missouri for sale.

After arranging my money matters I had six hundred dollars. This seemed to me a big pile, and with it I left Kentucky, which was still new, for this wilder country, in October of 1818, in company with a young man by the name of Wiley.

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Iles, Elijah. Sketches of Early Life and Times in Kentucky, Missouri and Illinois . Springfield: Springfield Printing Co., 1883. [format: book], [genre: memoir]. Permission: University of Chicago
Persistent link to this document:
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