A Bad Man Of The Old Days


March 28, 1918

 

A Bad Man Of The Old Days

 

(By LONNIE CLIFT.)

 

Many traditions have been handed down from generation to generation concerning the wickedness and evil deeds of one, James Ford, who was one of the original inhabitants of Crittenden County back in the days when the bear and the panther prowled at random through the woods and a [sic] only a small part of the land had been cleared and settled.  "Old Ford" as he is generally called by the people of the present day and time, must have been one of the worst men the county has ever known, unless, he has been grossly misrepresented by those who were acquainted with him.

It is not known when James Ford first came to Crittenden county but it is generally thought that he settled at the mouth of Crooked creek, just immediately after the second war with England.  He owned a large farm in addition to a number of negro slaves and it is said that he was a very hard and cruel taskmaster.

"Old" Ford established a ferry across the Ohio river and the little town which was eventually built near this plac[e] came to be known as Ford's Ferry.  There was a considerable number of travelers and emigrants who crossed the river at this point and it was rumored, that not a few of them were lightened of their pocket-books while passing through this neighborhood for old Ford had some plans and methods for receiving money and property which were similar to those which were employed many years later by a well known gentleman who bore the appellation of Jesse James.

Old Ford organized a band of desperadoes and robbers who were known as the Ford's Ferry gang.  The terrible deeds of robbery and murder which was commit[t]ed by this gang, caused the news of their infamy to become circulated far and wide over the land and it was only a few years ago that I read an article in a big magazine which gave some interesting facts concer[n]ing the old Ford's Ferry gang.  In writing this article at the present time, however, I am not seeking to plagiarize the literary production which I have just referred to, and I will conscientiously endeavor to tell in my own language a number of things about James Ford which have never yet been published.

Notwithstanding all the fearful deeds which were commit[t]ed by old Ford and his gang and which would seem to indicate that he was a villain of the deepest dye, it is said that he was not a real brave man when put to the supreme test.  The people who knew him have reported that he was big and strong in body, but he did not possess a heart and nerve which would match his physical prowness [sic].  There was one man who gave him a severe whipping in a fair, stand up fistic combat, and there was also another man who cursed him bitterly on another occasion and compelled him to beg for mercy.  Old Ford must have nursed many bitter feelings against the man who whipped him for he finally wrecked out vengeance against his conqueror by having him killed.

As I have already stated, old Ford owned a number of negro slaves and he exhibited ruthless cruelty toward the poor creatures who were under him woe betide any of them who incurred the ill will of their tyrannical master.  He cut off the ears of one of his slaves and then salted the wounds, but not being satisfied with this measure of punishment he also caused the poor fellows hand to be pressed with a blacksmith's vise until the victim cried out in agony from the effects of the torture, so it was told of him.

When we take into consideration all the fearful deeds which were commit[t]ed by James Ford we are disposed to wonder whether he was not more like a veritable demon than some human being.  But the very worst of men have got some good about them, just like the very best of people are not without certain weaknesses and imperfections.  Old Ford had his good points, in his rough manner he did a number of good acts and he befri[e]nded his neighbors in more ways than one.  If any man in the community had a barn-raising or a log-rolling old Ford and his crew of slaves would be among the first to volunteer their assistance.  There is no doubt but what he had a few good qualities and there is equally no doubt but what his wickedness and evil deeds heavily out weighed all the good which was in him.

James Ford was shot in 1832.  He was killed one night in a rather unexpected manner and the great majority of people never knew just exactly who did the deed.  A number of men were suspected, but it was never definitely established just which one of them actually committed the act.  It was generally thought, however, that it was some man whom old Ford had wronged or badly mistreated in some manner.  Probably it was a relative of some of the people who had been murdered by the Ford's Ferry gang.  After the death of their leader, this infamious [sic] and widely known gang of outlaws were scattered and dispersed in many different directions.  Old Ford had been the directing genius which had guided the movements of the notorious band; he had kept them inspired by the magnetism of his personality and when the followers found themselves deprived of their cunning and able chieftian [sic] they lost heart and eventually disbanded.

In writing this article I do not wish to cast any reflection on the good name of the many Fords which are living in Crittenden county at the present time.  To the best of our knowledge they are not any relation of the notorious James Ford of the old days.  He has not got any descendants in this county that we know of.  The Fords which we are acquainted with are all respectable and law-abiding people and they have never commit[t]ed any such crimes and depredations which were once charged against old Ford and his gang of outlaws who once terrorized this neighborhood for many miles around.

 

Source:  Crittenden Record-Press. (Marion, Ky.) 1909-191?, March 28, 1918, Image 7 - Chronicling America - The Library of Congress.

 

[My comments are in brackets.]