An Old Timer Tells His Story
Letter From a Citizen of Early Days
Ironton Register, Thursday, April 14, 1892
The following letter will call up many memories of the past, especially among the pioneers of this immediate region. Though the writer aims to give some information about the exhumed skeletons, his theories are not correct. The graves are those of the Mound builders and not of the Indians. This region was never thickly populated by Indians. They did come here, and frequent Hanging Rock and Ferguson’s bar to entrap flatboatmen bound down the river, but they did not congregate here in great numbers, such as the mounds around suggest.
We are obliged to Mr. Carpenter for his letter, for it is an interesting chapter of the old times:
CARPENTER STORE, P. O., MO., MARCH 26, 1892
EDITOR REGISTER – I see in the St. Louis Republic a statement from Portsmouth, Ohio, that on the old farm of Joshua Kelley’s at Union furnace landing, and under the old house there was unearthed a lot of human skeletons, that produced a sensation among the citizens in that part of the country. When I read it, it did not surprise me in the least. I was raised one mile above Hanging Rock on the old Wm. Carpenter farm, and one mile below Ironton and left there in 1841 to come to Missouri when I was 8 to 12 years old. I used to visit John Kelly’s mid one-half mile below Union Landing and often went up to the Kelly farm before the Union furnace landing was established to look at old Indian mounds not far from the landing in the Kelly field, to find old bones of humans, dogs, horses, deer and other animals. It was said then to me, by old settlers, old aunt Amy Davidson wife of[illegible] Davidson, that there used to be an old Indian town there, and on the John Kelly farm just below it, and at an early day it had been a battle ground of the Indians and many were killed and buried there. After the Ohio river had been up in the spring of the year, the banks caved off from Union landing to opposite Mrs. Austin’s old brick house, and there were many human and other bones left on the bank after the water went down. I with other boys have picked up five or more barrels of them when we went to mill, and waiting for our grist. I heard my grand father, Samuel Clark, who did the work on John Kelly’s log house, in the Fall of 1804, say that while he was there at work, some of the work hands found close to the line between the Kelly farm and the Austin farm a pile of lead bullets; that filled a peck measure full; and when digging the cellar for the Kelly house, in the southwest corner of the cellar, about 4 feet down, they dug up big human skeletons that were nearly 7 feet long and the jaw bone with teeth in it would slip over the jaw bone outside of the flesh of grandfather’s face and not press it any. He was 5 feet 9 inches high and weighed 165 pounds. The leg bone from the knee joint to the ankle joint would, put on the floor, come to the top of his knee; and that there was a bone spear in the shape of a straight knife blade 11 inches long found with the skeletons when dug up there.
I have heard many thrilling stories told about the Indian doings at the head of the Ferguson bar in the river at and below Union Landing; of the murdering of a whole family going down the river in what was then called family boats, made to move down the river in taking the family and stock in the boat, and the bar in the river forced the boats close to the bank there, they became an easy prey to the Indians and many of them were murdered for what they had in their boats. These things were talked of many times by the old settlers, such as the Trumbos, Austins, Dollarhides, grandmother Yingling, Mr. Gillruth, Mr. Neff, father of George and Jacob and grandfather of Gabriel and Samuel Neff and by Mr. Osborne and Mr. Norman who lived at the mouth of the branch at Hanging Rock. The lower branch was named Normans run, after Mr. Norman, who lived at the mouth of the branch, on the lower side of the branch. The upper branch, Osborne run, that divided the old Bartles farm from the Hanging Rock the place just where the road crossed the bridge just west of the ground occupied by widow Ellison, west of the Ellison house. And on the farm just opposite, where I was engaged, on the old Clancey farm, there were many Indian mounds full of human bones; that many of them were thrown out the ground by plow. I have heard old Mr. Warnoch and old Mr. Dugans talk of the big Indian town on that and the Mead farms and the stories they told would make the hair stand straight on one’s head.
Now this is what I have been told by the old settlers in that part of the country, and have seen myself when I was a small boy and lived there then. I am a son of Wm. Carpenter and cousin of Wm. and Edius Lambert. Wm. Lambert is the father of Wm. and Whitfield Lambert, who were interested in the foundry at Ironton. I left there in 1841; came to Missouri and was back to the old place in 1855 and have not been there since. I would like to be back there to see the changes that have taken place since. I found when back there, but few of my old acquaintances and the old Lee, Smith, Davidson and Lionbarger farms sold and the town of Ironton on them, and the old man Bartles farm sold and a part of the town Hanging Rock built on it; and would not now find anyone that I ever knew as most of them are dead and the balance have moved away and I would be a stranger there now. I am too old to think of coming back to see the old place again; am 74 years old; have good health, strong hearing and sight; can shoot a rifle and hit the bottom of a half pint tin cut at 40 yards, 3 out of 5 shots; have chopped a cord of wood a day this winter.
When you read this, it will probably give you some idea of the mystery on the Kelly farm and you can publish it if you like, as it would give many of your people of your country an idea of how things used to be in that part of the country and the change that has taken place since I left there in April 1841, and hope this will not worry your patience out of you to read it.
- S. — Wilson Clark of Mason in your country is my cousin. My father, Fred Bartles, John Steece, Joseph Huffman and Wm. Wolf built Center furnace in 1836 and sold it to Robt. Hamilton, Jas. Rodgers and Wm. Shirer.