Part 1 of 2
The Crittenden Press. (Marion, Ky.) 1919-Current, September 17, 1920, Edition 1, Image 1 - Chronicling America - The Library of Congress.
(Reported by R. C. Haynes.)
Although there has always been a charm in the forest, the stream, and the "deep tangled wildwood," few people today realize the hardships privations and dangers of the sturdy pioneer settlers of our country--those hardy men and brave women who first broke the virgin soil and built their homes in the wilderness, where the wild beasts roamed at will, where might was right and the "majesty of the law" was trampled under foot by the desperado and the renegade.
Among the early settlers of what is now Crittenden county was Abram Wright. He was born in Ireland, nearly a century ago, immigrating with his parents to this country when a boy. At the age of twenty-two young Wright came to Kentucky, locating on a farm, or rather in the woods, a few miles from what is now Crittenden Springs.
At that early date the country was very thinly settled, and few people lived between that section and the Ohio River. The cite[site] where Marion now stands was nothing more than the place where two roads crossed--one road leading from old Salem to Morganfield and the other from Princeton to the Ohio River.
Whom Abram Wright married is not known to us, but as this adventure will show, she was a young woman well fitted to be the wife of the dauntless and fearless pioneer. Having pre-empted from the government a tract of land, they built their cabin home on the outskirts of a very densely wooded section, several miles in extent, subsequently known as Panther Hollow.
(Panther Hollow! Who in Crittenden county has not heard of Panther Hollow? Though since the time of which we write the woodsman's ax has been busy and today the country is dotted with farm houses and growing fields of corn and wheat and tobacco, as well as the location of a valuable spar mine, yet even twenty-five years ago it was an uninhabited wilderness of wood wherein none cared to adventure at night--which fact "looking backward," the author of these sketches recalls with discomfiture.)
Abram soon cleared a few acres of land and furnished his house with such articles of furniture as he could make himself. His land was new, his soil fertile and he had little difficulty in producing what provisions he needed for his family. At night from their cabin they could hear the howls of the wolf, the cry of the wild cat and the scream of the panther. He was a typical frontiersman, strong, and fearless, and she in her way, equally brave; yet sometimes, when the savage cries came weirdly floating up from the dark depths of Panther Hollow she would draw nearer her husband, as if for protection.
There being no rail roads at that time, the people had difficulty in procuring such supplies as they needed, other than those they produced. It so happened on one occasion that the family were in need of salt and this could not be procured nearer than at the old Equality, in Illinois. This led to the adventure we have to relate. From bits of unwritten history, handed down from father to son and from son to grandson, we will let Abram Wright tell his own story in his own way:
It was one morning in September that I decided to make the trip to old Equality across the river, for the salt we needed. Though the distance was some twenty miles I thought by starting early I could make the trip and back in one day.
"Mama", I sad to my wife as I bade her good bye, "I shall be back by sunset if nothing unexpected happens, if I should be delayed take care of yourself, don't venture from the house, and lock the doors at night, also keep your gun handy."
"Oh Abram," she replied, "I shall be safe enough, but you--Oh I fear for your safety. You know the dangers of Panther Hollow at night. Besides there are desperadoes all along the river and the roads leading to Cave-In-Rock."
"Have no fear for me mama," I said, I'll take my gun along and old Ben will soon bring me back home safe and sound."
She kissed me good-by and I mounted my mule and rode off, my way leading down through Panther Hollow. It was, as I have said, very early, scarcely light as yet, and the dim pathway was scarcely discernible as I went on my way through the thick woods. No wind was blowing and everything was still. Nothing broke the monotony of silence except the sound of old Ben's feet against the flinty roadway. The mule had struck a trot, his favorite gait, and we were making rapid progress along our way.
We had traveled thus for perhaps a mile when the mule came to a sudden halt. From behind a high clump of trees bordering the road a man stepped out before us. He was an evil looking man, wore buckskin trousers and leather jacket and carried a gun and an ugly looking knife.
"Pardner," he spoke up, "whither do you go at so early an hour?"
His words were friendly enough, but his looks were sinister and threatening. I thought his purpose was probably to raise a quarrel with me and I had no desire to have any trouble with him so I answered him evasively.
"Oh," I replied, "I'm just riding around a bit to get fresh air and to give old Ben a little exercise."
"Then why steer you toward Cave-in-Rock? Do you not mean to cross to the Illinois side?" The stranger returned with an evil look.
"Well, what if I do?" I said "I am at least following my own nose and minding my own business," and I started old Ben forward and at the same time showing the intruder my gun.
"Don't be impertinent, young man" he said with a wicked scowl, "I'll see you again." And stepping back he disappeared in the dense woods of Panther Hollow.
Knowing the treachery of such scoundrels as I thought this man to be, I forced old Ben into a gallop and in a short time we were miles away from the scene of our holdup. I again brought the mule to a trot and in half an hour we had left Panther Hollow behind us.
We had now emerged into the road leading to what was then Bakers Ferry. It was a more traveled thoroughfare than the one we had left, and though it was woods on both sides of the road, the growth was not so dense.
I felt relieved, as my wife intimated I well know the character of the desperate men infecting the country along the Ohio River. Making their headquarters at Cave-in-Rock, an organized band of robbers and cutthroats had spread terror throughout the country. Travelers had been held up, robbed and murdered. Flatboats going down the river had been seized, the crews murdered, and the boats with their cargos run down the river to New Orleans and sold. It is no wonder then that my wife was fearful of my safety, yet I had little fear, as such things are mostly done under the cover of darkness, while I meant to make my trip in the friendly light of day.
On down the road we went, Old Ben still in a trot. We had met no one, excepting the stranger of our holdup, and no one had overtaken us. There was evidently little traveling going on. Still on we journeyed, old Ben's ears flopping in the breeze as he trotted along. Finally after we had traveled about ten miles, we came in sight of the river. There was no town there at all, only a ferry, where the road crossed the river.
The wind had now arisen, blowing a strong gale from the west and I could see that the river was very rough. The waters seemed in turmoil. Great mountain waves, chasing each other lashed and dashed and crashed against the shore.
"Barker," I said to the ferryman, as I rode up, "Can you row me over to the Illinois side?"
"Not against those waves," he replied, looking at the surging waters of the Angry Ohio.
"It is urgent, my wife being at home alone. I will pay you double, if you take me across at once," I said, hoping to overcome the ferryman's objections.
"My boat could not withstand these waves" he replied, "we would lose our lives and your wife would probably be alone the rest of her life."
"It may be," the ferryman went on, "that by noon the wind will lie, then I can take you across."
I much regretted being away from home over night, my wife, brave as I knew her to be, there alone. But I know of nothing else to do so I told the ferryman I would wait.
Barker was a good man. He offered me the use of his stable, and there I took old Ben that he might rest and refresh himself on a supply of hay. I removed the bridle and saddle and placed them on the floor in a corner of the stable; then not wishing to be encumbered with my gun, I laid it by their side on the floor, locked the door of the stable and returned to the river.
When I returned the wind was still blowing and the huge waves still rolling and dashing as before. On the Illinois shore the rugged cliffs of Cave-in-Rock rose high and steep and seemed to frown gloomily across the surging waters. In the center of the towering wall of rock was an opening about twenty feet wide, and as many feet high and extending perhaps fifty feet back from the water's edge. This was Cave-in-Rock. The floor, walls and ceiling were rock, and in the center of the ceiling was another opening leading to another apartment directly above, which, it was said, had a secret exit into the hills beyond the river. It was here that for years the robbers and desperadoes of every kind had their rendezvous. It was a place well fitted for such characters. It was here that "Mike Fink," "The last of the boatmen," while drifting down the river in his boat, The Lightfoot, had his remarkable encounter with the bandits
Looking across the river I could see no one about the cave. The place seemed deserted. The ferryman told me it would remains so until night fall, when it would suddenly present a different aspect.
The morning wore on, noon came and still the wind did not abate, a fierce gale continuing from the west. I would wait a while longer I told the ferryman. If I could get across the river by the middle of the afternoon I could reach Equality by night fall, remain there during the night and return home on the morrow, thus traveling all the way by day light.
However, the wind did not cease to blow and after waiting until the sun was perhaps two hours high, Barker told me it would be useless to wait longer.
"Well" I said, "I will have to return home and make the trip across the river another day."
The ferryman kindly went with me to the stable for old Ben. When we unlocked the door and went in we found the mule, saddle and bridle apparently undisturbed, but the gun was gone! I would have to make my way through the perilous wilds of Panther Hollow unarmed!
(To be continued)
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