James B. Ireland


I was married on the 25th day of April, 1822, and the next spring I moved to Gallatin county and settled four miles east of Fredricksburg (now Warsaw) on the headwaters of Sugar Creek, so named on account of the number of sugar maples that grew along its banks. This was a hilly, heavily timbered, productive country. Gallatin was a newer county than Scott, but was fast settling up with a good class of people from east Tennessee, Virginia and the Eastern States. I bought plenty of land but it was all in the green woods. I had a small house to live in but no place to put my two horses except in a rail pen. When not working the horses, in order to save feed, I would bell one of them and turn them out to live on the range, always being careful to get them up of nights, as it was rumored that there was an organized gang of horse thieves operating in that country. One evening there came a tremendous hard rain and the horses did not come home. So next morning I was up by day-light to hunt them. I had not gone far when I heard the bell in the direction of big Eagle Creek, and I hurried on for fear they would try to cross the swollen creek and get drowned. When I got in sight of the creek I saw them on the far side and I knew they had started back to their old home forty miles away, but they were traveling slow, picking the green grass as they went. Big Eagle is quite a river and swollen as it was that morning it was two hundred yards wide with a very swift current. I scarcely knew what to do. I was a good swimmer but had never tried it with my clothes on. I took my shoes and hat off, took some back and tied my pants tight around my ankle and plunged in, but I had not swam far when I found out my mistake. My breeches legs filled full of water and as it could not get out my legs felt like they were in two water sacks and were very heavy. To make matters worse when about midstream my dog that had followed me in the water crawled upon my back and all the scolding and coaxing I could do would not get him off. I whirled over and gave him a ducking and he cut out on his own hook. I landed on the far bank a long ways below where I started, in a very much exhausted condition, but I ran on and got ahead of the horses, made halters out of hickory bark, got on one and led the other and swam them back across the creek. The wind had got in the west and was very cold and I thought I would chill to death before I got home.

It was slow, laborious work clearing the land of the heavy timber. In the fall of the year people would raise houses and barns and in the spring every man would have a log rolling. I would lose a week or two at a time in the busiest part of the year helping my neighbors roll logs. Every one had to be neighborly in self defense. If you did not help others, others would not help you. This log rolling was no fun. Men would go early, work hard and late. At dinner time they would gather around the spring, quench their thirst and wash their blackened hands. The bottle and sugar would be set out. All would take a toddy and sit down to a good dinner which had been cooked in pots and skillets around the fire place or outside under a shed and which the women took great pride in serving. We would be treated to hog jowl, fried eggs, turnip greens, corn bread, fried ham, hot biscuits, butter and buttermilk, winding up with half-moon fried pies and maple molasses. In order to make one dinner answer two purposes the women would frequently invite their friends the same day to a quilting or wool picking.

Sugar and molasses making was an important industry at that time; there were only a few days in February and early March in which to manufacture the year’s supply of sweetening. It was good management to have the troughs, spiles, and wood all ready so there would be no time lost when the season came. An ideal sugar day was to freeze hard the night before and the day to be clear and warm. On such a day the water would commence running by eight or nine o’clock and drip on until after sun down. Often when we had a good run we would have to boil long after dark to keep up. You could look all around and see the light shining up against the sky from the neighbors’ camp fires. Deer was not so plentiful as they had been in Scott, but there was plenty of turkeys and squirrels, and other small game was in abundance. Men would get the hollow bond out of turkey wings for callers. Put this bone in the mouth and blow a certain way would sound very similar to a turkey hen’s yelp. Find where the turkeys used, get as close as you think safe, conceal yourself well and give a yelp on your caller and a gobbler would answer you. Yelp again and he will start towards you. Yelp again at intervals and he will continue to come but you must have patience, for he comes slowly, struts along, stops and scratches, picks up a bug or a beech nut and on again. As he gets close you must not yelp too often or loud, for he is a cautious fellow and has an acute ear to detect any unusual or suspicious noise. A little longer suspense and you fire and are well paid for all your waiting, for you have a bird worthy for a Prince’s dinner.

It was a custom of those days in the spring of the year, after the corn was planted and generally on a Saturday, to have a squirrel burgoo. The man that could furnish the most squirrels was the hero of the day. Men would be in the woods as soon as it was light enough to shoot, to compete for this honor, each one going the direction he might think best. If a man was late he was docked on his number. The women would bring the bread and seasoning and the men would do the cooking. Women could make good enough soup at home but when it came to burgoo it was strictly a masculine art and it took an expert to know exactly how much water, how many squirrels and the amount and kind of seasoning to put in the big kettle, and the length of time it should cook. It was all left to the judgment of one or two men who prided themselves on their culinary art. When done every one would come with a slice of bread. The cook would fish them out a part of a squirrel and lay it on their bread and give them a cup or a bowl full of burgoo and all would sit around on the ground or logs and eat and compliment the cook. After dinner the young folks would talk, laugh, and court, the women would brag on their smart children and talk about their domestic affairs and the men would shoot at a mark, and all would go home feeling that it had been a day well spent.

 We had plenty of copperhead and rattle snakes and men when at work in their new grounds were ever on the alert to jump if they heard anything rattle. I was very watchful through fear, and I killed a great many rattlesnakes. Mr. Andrew Hamilton, quite a wealthy man, and grandfather of Mrs. W.S. Thomas, bought a large tract of land and came on with his Negroes to build his house before moving his family. He was exceedingly afraid of snakes, and in order to be safe he built a platform about ten feet high to sleep on. One night he woke up and felt a rattler in bed with him. He rolled out instantly, the fall hurting him badly.

One of the worst pests was the small ground squirrel. For several years they were very numerous and were a perfect nuisance. The little striped rascals would jump around the racks and fences, cluck and chatter while we planted corn, and as soon as we were out of the field they would dig it up. They would eat as much as they wanted, carry off a dozen or more grains in their jaws, hide them under a rock or root, and go back and get more. Men and boys would catch them with dogs under deadfalls and poison them, but it all done but little good, and it was a hard matter to get a stand of corn around the out edge of the fields. Some would sow corn over the ground to feed them so they would let the planted corn alone but the contrary fellows preferred the soft corn. Others made rattletraps—a wooden cog wheel turned by a crank—a spring board fastened so every time it slipped off a cog it slapped another board, making a loud noise. They would start around their fields at day-light with their rattle. The ground squirrels were badly scared by the noise and would scamper away and hide in their holes, but by the time they got on the other side of the hill with the rattle the little rascals would be back in the field digging up corn again. But in years they almost disappeared. I never knew why.

Physicians were scarce at that time and people would often have to send quite a distance when sick for a doctor and when he got there he had but a limited supply of medicines, but he would give you a dose of all he had in stock. For ague or chills he would first give you a dose of tartar emetic. After you get through vomiting and your stomach was a little settled you take a dose of calomel and jallap working it off next morning with castor oil, and before your chill time you must go to bed, cover up good and take a corn sweat, after which for two or three days you must take every four hours a dose of Peruvean bark stirred in a little wine or whisky. This remedy generally cured the chills. For fever the first thing the doctor would bleed the patient. Bleeding was a favorite remedy, not only with the doctors but with everybody. Every neighborhood had some one who owned a lancet and would bleed the people for accommodation, believing he was doing humanity a good deed. They were bled not only for diseases but as a preventative. Men when particularly anxious to remain well during a certain time or when going from home or on a journey, would get bled beforehand. Women would get bled for headache and many other causes. My mother-in-law was a tall, spare, pale, delicate woman, and for many years was in the habit of being bled every month and I believe this was finally the cause of her death as it was of hundreds of other women. My left arm has today many scars made by the lancet and I have no doubt there was more Kentucky blood shed in one year at that period than was ever shed by Kentucky soldiers in any one war, and the most of it was female blood.

 Gallatin was a very large county at that time. It embraced all of Trimble and Carroll counties. The county seat was Port William, at the mouth of the Kentucky river, now Carrolton. Not long after moving to the county I was summoned on the grand jury. I lived twenty-six miles from Port William and I had to leave home at three o’clock in the morning and ride hard to get there in time for court. We got through our duties that day but too late for me to return home, so I stayed at the hotel that night and started home next morning, if not a wiser, at least a poorer man, for I got neither pay nor thanks for my services. Juries were not paid in those days and it is needless to say they did their business with dispatch. Petit juries were only summoned for one case. That decided, they were dismissed and a new jury summoned for the next case. Circuit Judges were appointed by the Governor during good behavior and they were very independent of the people, were strict in their discipline and impartial in their decisions. The Circuit Judge appointed three magistrates for each county. Their term was for six years, one going out of office every other year, the retiring ‘Squire becoming the sheriff for two years.

Taxes were low—50cts. poll and 6 ¼ cts. on the hundred dollars. The first tax receipt I got in that county read as follows: Received in full for state and county tax for the year 1824 one dollar and 5 cents – David Gibson, Sheriff

 Mills were scarce at that time. They were all water mills and could only be built where there was sufficient force in the creek to furnish power to turn the wheel. They were few and far apart. They did well enough during the wet season of the year but during the dry months of summer and fall they could grind but little and the people were often hard run for bread stuff. The mills would grind for an hour or so and then shut down the water gate and wait perhaps for four or five ours until they could accumulate another head of water. Millers would often get up once or twice of a night, grind out their water supply and go back to bed again. Men would often keep a standing sack of corn at the mill, but it would sometimes be a week before their turn would come and they would have to borrow several sifters full of meal from their more lucky neighbors before they could get their corn ground. I recollect at one time the weather was so dry that the mills even on the largest streams almost ceased to grind and people had to pound up their corn for meal or live on lye hominy. Hearing that Sanders mill fifteen miles below on Eagle creek was still grinding I started at midnight with two bushels of corn for that mill, hoping to be the first one there. When about a mile from the mill I looked across the broad creek bottoms and by the early morning light I saw a fellow coming from an opposite direction with a sack on his horse. I thought I would whip up a little and beat him to the mill but I soon discovered he had grasped the same idea and that I had a race to run—a race on which might depend supper or no supper—no small matter to me, as I had had no breakfast and would get no dinner. We were soon in a trot and from that we reached the mill under full lash the sacks flapping our horses sides as we went, but he beat me. After awhile I gave a boy that lived close bye twenty cents to swap turns with me, got my corn ground and reached home before night. In order to be more independent I concluded to build me a horse mill. I went to Bedford, Ind., and hired a man to dress me out two mill stones and haul them to Madison. From there they were shipped to Warsaw and I hauled them out home and built my mill which was unlike any mill I ever saw before or afterwards. The whole thing turned around on a pivot. The motion was given by two wheels that ran a circular track that was laid on sills on the ground, but it made good meal. It also ground wheat and I built a bolt near by which a man could turn with one hand while he fed the ground wheat in evenly with the other hand. It separated it into good flour, shorts, and bran. It was a two-horse-power mill and of dry weather I got a big custom, but it ground so slow and I was so busy on the farm it did not pay me to attend to it. I would set the mill alright of a morning and the people would come with the gears on their horses, hitch in, grind out their grist and go home. If a man only had one horse he would join with a friend and both come. I kept the toll dish and a box to put the corn in convenient for each one to do their own tolling. This they generally did very honestly, but occasionally a fellow would think he had hard enough time any way and would go home without once thinking of the toll. They would sometimes grind all day long and late in the night. I would loan them my tin lantern when it got dark and they would grind on until maybe the last thing I would hear before going to sleep would be the mill grinding.

 Years afterwards Hezekiah Clements down on Dry Creek bought a steam engine which ran a grist mill, saw mill, and carding machine. This was a great relief to a large scope of country for both men and women. People no longer had to depend on the creek for their bread stuff. Men no longer had to use the whipsaw, and the women no longer had to card their wool by hand. To encourage the building of steam mills the Legislature passed an act allowing steam mills to take one sixth for toll, other mills being allowed one eighth.

For several years while my mill was running people had a great deal of trouble with sick wheat. This wheat looked as nice and plump as any, made white flour, raised well and tasted well, but a short time after eating it a person would become sick at the stomach and would get no relief until they threw it up. I never knew of any other bad results more than a good vomiting, but the people did not know what the matter was, and were almost afraid to eat wheat bread at all. By close observation I discovered a very small red spot of mold or fungus on the end of the grains and I learned to tell the good from the sick wheat and I would have to go far and near to examine seed wheat. While it would germinate and grow as well as any, farmers were afraid to sow it for fear it would come sick again. Stock of no kind would eat it, even the hungriest hog would not touch it. Many tested their wheat this way. I never knew what caused the red speck or why it stopped.

It was wonderful the number of wild pigeons there was at that time. They were the color and shape of the common dove but twice the size. They would come in droves in the latter part of fall and winter time and feed on nuts and other mast. When traveling they would pass high over in a long line reaching as far as the eye could see from one horizon to the other. Sometimes they would be so thick as to almost hide the sun and in such large gangs that they would be ten minutes or more passing over, and yet they flew very swiftly. They would fly a great distance to their roosting grounds, often getting there long after dark and so thick would they roost that they broke large limbs off the trees by their weight, and of morning there could be found a great many dead and crippled ones on the ground. They were more plentiful some years than others. Farmers disliked to see a pigeon year. They ate up the mast from the hogs. Sportsmen would kill plenty of them but they were generally poor and tough, and but little account to eat.

 It was right difficult at times to get leather to make shoes. There were but few hides to be had, and by the slow process of tanning it took nearly twelve months to convert a hide into leather, but it was good leather when finished and wore well. Men would buy the leather at the tan-yard and take it to the shoemaker and have their family shoes made. I made a great many shoes. I would work on the farm of good weather and of bad weather and nights until bed time would shoemake. The neighbors would come, bringing a side of upper and a side of sole leather, and a half-dozen or so measures and I would make shoes for both male and female. I only wanted the length of the foot. I would guess at the balance. I made my own lasts. Both shoes were made on the same last. It was a great relief to the shoemaker when pegs were invented. Before that time shoes all had to be sewed with a waxend, which was slow, hard work on thick, coarse shoes, but it was a long time before the people became satisfied with pegged shoes. For several years it was fashionable to have a squeaker in the shoes. This was made by lapping two pieces of leather between the two soles in such a manner that every time the wearer would step they would slip a little and make the squeak. You could hear a man walk a hundred yards with a pair of such shoes on. The louder the noise, the more fashionable it was. Three or four men coming in church at the same time with good “squeakers” in their shoes would drown the preacher’s voice. People took good care of their shoes, which were roughly and stoutly made. They would keep them well greased and change them on different feet every morning to keep them from running over. A neighbor saw a pair of boots in the store and bought them. He was highly pleased with the fit but the next day when he had changed them he could scarcely walk at all. He went back and told the merchant they were every-other day boots and when the merchant told him they were rights and lefts and he must wear them on the same foot all the time he became dissatisfied and wanted his money back, but it was not long before everybody wanted rights and lefts, and that let me out of the trade. If I had to have two lasts to make one pair of shoes I would quit the business. I patched and half-soled along for awhile, but I never made a pair of rights and lefts.

 About 1837 and for several years afterwards there was a great business depression. Times were hard, money scarce, and prices low. A good horse could be bought for $30, milk cows from $7 to $10. Wheat was 30 cts per bushel, corn 60 cts a barrel (5 bu) a good hand would work all day on the farm for thirty cents. I killed some nice hogs, hauled them to town and sold the pork to Willis Peak, the merchant, for 1 ½ cts per pound and took my pay in trade. Times gradually, but slowly, got better and ten or twelve years afterwards money got to be too plentiful, of that kind. Banks were issuing it everywhere. The money of the Kentucky Banks was almost good but Ohio, Indiana, and other States had a free banking system that flooded the country with “wild-cat” money as it was called. The bills of these “wild-cat” banks were artistically engraved and promised great things, but it was badly depreciated and counterfeits at one time were about as plentiful as genuine bills and the people were very suspicious of it. The towns and almost every neighborhood had its money judges—men who were close observers and quick to detect anything wrong about a bill. Men would not accept any considerable amount of money without first submitting it to the inspection of a money judge. Merchants and other business men would take a semi-monthly magazine or pamphlet called the Detector, which would give the rating of the banks, describe counterfeits and give the subscribers all the information they could for their protection. Yet, notwithstanding all these precautions, men would occasionally get caught by a counterfeit or a broken bank bill. Whenever they would get any of this “wild-cat” money they would be anxious to buy something to get rid of it. There were generally more buyers than sellers, which caused high prices.

The forties were years of improvement and advancement, on the farm as well as elsewhere. The old reap-hook had given away to the cradle, with which a man could cut three times the amount of grain in a day. The Sloop and the Peacock plows with their steel and cast mouldboard had driven the Cary from the field and the ground-hog threshing machine was fast taking the work from the frail and treading floor. Merchants were keeping a larger and more varied stock of goods. Salt had gotten cheap and plentiful. Sugar could be bought cheaper than it could be made. Stores were keeping flour by the barrel or they would open a barrel and sell you as little as you might want. They kept boots, shoes, and hats in plenty and a big variety of women’s dress goods and even ready-made clothing for men.

The Lucifer match was invented and there was no more need for the steel flint and punk. No more borrowing fire from the neighbors, but it was a question with the people whether the match would prove a blessing or a curse. While they were a comfort and convenience, many were fearful they could cause accidental fires and would increase incendiarism and cause the destruction of much property.

Mr. Sayre, who lived on an adjoining farm, went to Cincinnati and paid fifty dollars for a cooking stove for his wife. That stove was the eighth wonder of the world to the women. They all had to go to see it and would stay for dinner to try how they liked the victuals cooked on a stove. Some liked them and some didn’t, but they all wanted a stove. Why, it was nothing but pleasure for Mrs. Sayre to do her cooking. No stooping, but little heat. It took such a short time to get dinner, she could cook everything all the same time. I believe of all things invented by man nothing has equaled the cookstove for the comfort and happiness of the human family and especially for womankind, for to stoop over a hot fire for an hour or two three times a day during the hot summer months and lift the heavy cooking utensils was a burden that was almost intolerable. The women would have fire blotches all over their faces, arms, and hands caused by the heat from the fire while cooking.

 The musters were still continued but they had lost their glory. The war spirit of the people had long since died out and men would rather be at home cultivating their crops than senselessly tramping around over the parade ground, and nothing but the fear of a fine would cause them to attend. One day we met at town to muster, but just as we had formed ranks on the drill ground there came pouring out of an old warehouse that stood near by a company of nearly fifty men, the like of which no one had ever seen before. For meanness the boys began to yell “earthquakes, earthquakes!” They had on hideous looking false faces and their uniforms were of all colors and kinds of shabbiness, and they had stocks, brooms, and paddles for guns. Our Captain could no longer control his men. They all broke ranks to look at the earthquakes who, in obedience to the command of their Captain would go through all manner of ludicrous maneuvers and gyrations. When they started to call the roll our Captain hurried up with pencil and paper in hand to get their names so as to have them arrested, but their names were as ridiculous and outlandish as their costumes. They returned back in their fort at the warehouse and disbanded, and we did not know who they were, but that complete burlesque had the desired effect. It broke up the musters and everybody was glad of it. The officers afterwards summoned the men to muster, but none would go. Earthquakes were taking place all over the State and the next Legislature repealed the muster law.

 Good steam boats were now running, giving us daily mails, pleasant and swift travel, and good shipping facilities to either Cincinnati or Louisville. The Ben Franklin came down one evening and blew a blast that alarmed the natives, for no one had ever heard a noise as loud and long as a steam whistle. Some quit their work and went to town to see what was the matter. An old Negro woman who was out in a corn field gathering beans, ran home, and almost out of breath told her mistress that there was a panther down there in the woods, but it soon got to be a familiar sound and every evening almost as punctual as a clock that whistle would sound, echo, and reverberate through those rough Gallatin hills.

 We could get plenty of newspapers now published at Cincinnati and Louisville, but of all of them the Louisville Weekly Journal was largely the favorite, especially among the Whigs, containing as it did so many of George D. Prentice’s long, interesting and logical editorials; so many of his pithy, keen-cutting paragraphs and occasionally a beautiful poem from his pen. The Journal was a weekly feast for which the people would ride many miles to the post office to get on the day of its arrival. The subscription price was $2.50 in advance or $3.00 at the end of the year. The postage on it was 6 ¼ cts per quarter.

 In 1844 Henry Clay, Kentucky’s idol, had again been nominated for presidency and the Whigs had high hopes of electing him this time. Four years before they had swept the country for General Harrison with a hard cider and log cabin campaign and the rallying dry of “Tippecanoe and Tyler too.” And now they would do the same things with the “Sage of Ashland—Harry of the West” and the enthusiasm and excitement of the people was never so great before. All fall was given up to public speaking, rallying, campaign sing, and barbecues. The day of the election the voters went to the polls in delegations. The Whigs carried hemp stalks, and it took cool and sober heads to prevent trouble between the two parties. When the news came of Clay’s defeat there was greater sorrow, disappointment, and chagrin among Kentuckians than there perhaps was ever before or since.

 The following winter Texas was annexed and admitted into the Union as a State, and then came the Mexican war with all its excitement and the people were again imbued with a martial spirit. There was a company of cavalry volunteers, composed of our best young men. The company was to leave one Sunday evening by boat for the war. Nearly everybody went to Warsaw to see them off, to wish them well and that they might have a safe return home. When the boat came down they embarked amidst the shouts of the crowd and the crys, screams and lamentations of their mothers, sisters, and other relatives. They became Company B of the first regiment of Kentucky cavalry. Col. May did valiant service for General Taylor in most all of his victories of that war. A few were killed, others died from diseases, but the most of them returned home to tell their wonderful feats of chivalry and how they fought and whipped the bloody Mexicans.

 In 1850 the new Constitution was adopted, among other changes making all the state and county offices elective and the year afterwards the common school system was established. The county was laid off in districts of the proper size and in order to get the benefit of the three months free schooling people all over the county were to work building school houses.

 In that summer of 1859 having heard that Robt. Boyd, of Hancock county, wished to sell his farm, I went down to see him and bought, but Mr. Boyd was in the midst of a very warm and exciting canvass for the Legislature against Eugene Faulkner and would draw up no writings, and requested me to keep it a secret for fear the knowledge that he had sold his farm would injure his elective. I went back home and returned again Tuesday after the election and Mr. Boyd was so disappointed and mortified over his defeat that he was more than anxious to close the contract. I put my family, my stock, and farming implements and everything I possessed on a flat boat, and after floating the hundred miles in eight days I landed and became a citizen of Hancock county, Oct. 15, 1859. 


These are excerpts from Looking Backward through One Hundred Years, written on the occasion of James Beatty Ireland's 100th birthday.  He was born June 4, 1797 and died Jan. 10, 1901, and was once featured in Ripley's Believe it or Not for having lived in three different centuries.  He was a resident of Gallatin County, Ky. from 1823 to 1859.  Portions of his memoirs before and after his life in Gallatin County have not been reproduced here.  He came from Scott County, Kentucky, and later moved to Hawesville, on the Ohio River south of Louisville. Did I mention he was my great, great, great grandfather?