A Visit to Gum Springs, the Mecca of Pendleton & Grant Counties
Some Entertaining Reminiscences of Its Early History
The Utterback Robbery and Attempted Murder of Some Fifty Years Ago
A ride through any portion of Grant, one of the banner counties of the Blue Grass Country, is not only inspiriting and beneficial to the physical man, but historically interesting and instructive. Such was the trip I had the pleasure of undertaking on Sunday morning of last week. But in order to make the trip a pleasantry and at the same time instructive to me it was necessary that I be accompanied by an intelligent and companionable guide – one who knew well the “lay of the land” and had vivid recollections of the memorable episodes of bygone days and old landmarks that now lend such a romantic character to the picturesque localities through which the pike passes. I was fortunate in this respect in securing the company of Mr. H. Clay White, a gentleman and friend, whose sole aim and delight seems to be to accommodate and extend information to those who seek it. For facts and data contained in this article I am indebted to Mr. White; and also for information that has escaped the attention of the county historian.
Procuring one of Mr. D. C. Points’ thoroughbreds, I mounted and started out with Mr. White, at the same time realizing that the morning betokened one of the warmest days June could produce. Our destination was the locality made memorable in the history of Grant county by a tragedy that occurred years prior to the birth of those now at the average age of man, but through some misinformation we passed on in ignorance of the spot and soon discovered that we were in the vicinity of Gum Lick Springs. Mr. W. V. Sparrow, a clever young farmer of the neighborhood, gave us much valuable information and kindly volunteered to guide us to the historical spot.
A visit to the Springs was first made. The springs are located near the Pendleton and Grant line, about seven miles east of Williamstown. An old gum, now almost obliterated by the hand of time, marks for the tourist the spot where the original spring was located, but a few yards distant from it is a box-like structure a foot and a half square and seven feet high that that tells the passer-by of the location of another of more recent date for the accommodation of the public. From a metal spout the water flows at the rate of about a gallon a minute. The water has been analyzed and its medicinal qualities proven to be iron, magnesia, and salts, and not of an unpleasant taste to those who have imbibed of mineral water in other localities made famous by the like. A short distance from the springs, and on an elevation of several feet higher is located the old hotel, a structure that is fast approaching decay and utter dilapidation. This aged landmark was originally constructed of logs some time in the year 1840, but it was remodeled in 1848. It was, no doubt, of palatial appearance to those who frequented it in the early days of its existence, but to the visitor of today it presents a dilapidated and weird aspect; yet picturesque, made so by dramatic incidents connected with its past history and the wild romantic rural scenery that surrounds it. Henry Woodyard, the original owner, finally sold it to Reuben Coleman. The latter was its owner and landlord for many years until death ended his earthly career in 1861. The tract of land in connection with the hotel comprised over four hundred acres, which was then a dense forest. Coleman was somewhat on the crank order, an eccentric genius and a great favorite with the gambling and sporting fraternity of his time. From far and wide came his guests, some to drink of the healing waters or to seek rest beneath the sylvan shades of the forest giants that surrounded the old hostelry, or perchance to bathe or angle for members of the finny tribe in the murky waters of Fork Creek that flowed slowly along near by, or to hunt the festive squirrels that abounded then in countless numbers. It is said that as many as three hundred guests would tarry here in one night to partake of Rube’s hospitality, and every bed, nook, corner, and available floor space would be taken up by tired tourists.
It was an important stopover resort for cattle drovers on their way to Cincinnati with cattle. Mr. Harvey Lillard, now a well-known and reliable citizen of Williamstown, informs me that while he was employed by Coleman to oversee and feed stock as it came in, on once occasion he fed ten thousand head of hogs. Gamblers came to the hotel in considerable numbers, and they could ply their games and schemes without a sign of remonstrance from old Rube. Draw poker, sucre, 7-up, etc. were indulged in to excess, and if the old structure could speak what a thrilling and dramatic tale it cold unfold – a choice morsel indeed, for the sensationalist. These games, however, were not indulged in for mere pastime or small stakes, but large sums of money were frequently put up, and many a guest who “came for wool went home shorn,” or in other words, left with a heavy heart and an empty purse. Disputes of a nature that threatened tragical results frequently occurred far into the night, but I have no authentic record of more than one life being extinguished within the walls of the old hostelry. On one occasion a negro child lost its life by falling into the large gum then used to confine the water.
Coleman was a person of small stature, and a peevish disposition. It is said of him that he was possessed of a mania for perpetrating jokes upon his guests that sometimes did not take well with the latter. It is told by old settlers as a fact the one evening forty of fifty people partook of ice cream that contained croton oil [Small doses taken internally cause diarrhea], and as a result much commotion took place during the night. It is never known who perpetrated the joke, but had the guilty one been apprehended at the time it is probable that he would have been roughly handled by the victimized guests.
Retracing our journey, we enter into a locality where once were enacted two scenes of which neither have a parallel in the history of Grant county. What I am about to relate is yet fresh in the minds of many whose locks are white with age. It has been related from time to time in the school room. Fond mothers have whispered it to their children, and aged eye witnesses shudder when they think of the deed and the terrible consequences that followed it.
On the 18th day of June, 1841, Wm. S. Utterback left Covington after having disposed of a drove of cattle and deposited the money, seventeen hundred dollars, in a bank there. H was watched when he received the money by two desperate men, Lyman Crouch and Smith Maythe, who had both served terms in the Ohio Penitentiary. They were ignorant of the fact, however, that Utterback had deposited his money and they concluded to follow and kill and rob him when the opportunity offered. Utterback, ignorant of their murderous designs, started for home, with the villains, like two sleuth hounds, close on his trail. the road passed through a wild country at that early day, but the opportune moment for the robbers to accomplish their bloody work is near the close of day, yet they gain on their intended victim. They finally reach the desired spot, then in wild and almost uninhabited locality, about three miles from this place on the Pike leading to Paris. They pounce upon their victim, one knocking him in the head while the other cuts his throat with a butcher knife. While they were in the struggle and rifling his pockets, a peddler passes by and sees the terrible work. He gives the alarm at a house some distance away. The robbers, finding that they have been discovered, leave their horses and buggy and disappear in the depth of the forest.
The first man to come to Utterback was Jacob Redenour, now eight-five years of age and still living near the scene of the attempted robbery and murder. He retains to this day the handle and part of the blade of the knife the robbers broke in their desperate attempt to take Utterback’s life, and which can now be seen in the possession of Mr. H. Clay White, of this place. Utterback, when found, was thoroughly conscious, but unable to speak. He wrote on a piece of paper a description of the assassins and the direction they had taken. After the unfortunate man had been removed and his wounds attended to, a posse was formed, composed of sturdy and determined farmers of the neighborhood, and a search at once instituted for the capture of the robbers. The latter were finally surprised in a dense wood but a few miles from the tragedy. They were brought to Williamstown, and on the 21st day of June, 1841, were tried on the charge of attempt at murder and robbery, before B. H. Evans and Henry Woodyard, Justices of the Peace. They were sent up without bail to await trial at the next term of the circuit court.
But in the meantime Judge Lynch was preparing to take a hand, and on July 10, 1841, about three hundred and fifty men from neighboring counties went to the old jail – long since removed – forced the door open, and taking the cowering culprits to near the spot where the alleged crime was committed hung them to a gallows. Their bodies, after being pronounced dead, were cut down and buried beneath the gallows that ushered them into eternity, and a rude stone was placed at the head of each grave. Crouch’s body was soon after exhumed and taken to Covington by his friends in that city. The head was missing, but it is supposed to have been taken by some young Paris physicians ho were present at the hanging. It is said the Maythe’s bones have never been disturbed, but have been left to crumble and mingle with the soil he help to stain with the blood of an innocent man. The stone, now covered with moss, still remains. The old gallows, apparently as a warning to those who had murder and robbery at heart, remained intact until only a few years ago.
Utterback fully recovered from his terrible and supposed fatal wounds and lived until the year 1885, when he did.
- The Observer
Williamstown Courier, June 23, 1892