On the Present Site of Ludlow
An Exciting Episode of the Early Days
The Story of Matthew Bentley’s Cider Cistern
A showman by the name of Woods decided, in the year 1852, to make a fortune on the present site of the city of Ludlow.
He had in his employ a conscienceless fellow by the name of Crisp, and the two together concocted a scheme for the “buffalo hunt,” which would take in the dollars of the confiding people of Covington and Cincinnati. Accordingly, Crisp went to Columbus, O., where he secured a tame buffalo, at private sale, and brought him to Cincinnati.
His next job was to construct half a dozen Sioux war dresses, which were fitted to the forms of as many competent Irishmen.
All preparations being completed, Showman Woods notified the public of the Ohio River Valley that on a certain day a grand buffalo hunt would take place in Kentucky, just opposite the west end of Cincinnati, and that a savage bison would be slain by a party of Sioux Indians, imported from the great West for the occasion.
Graphic posters, hand bills and newspaper accounts were thrown broadcast over the country, and the public worked up into a frenzy of excitement. Woods in the meantime chartered the Ludlow ferry and special boats to assist in carrying the crowds across the Ohio. He even arranged for lines of carriages and omnibuses to transport the sightseers.
On the day set, early in the morning, throngs of people began to gather on the grounds of the Queen City Race Track which occupied the site in Ludlow now known as Burns’ pasture. As the day advanced the crowd swelled into thousands and finally, when the hour for the hunt rolled around, fully 30,000 spectators were crowded within the race track fences. Mot of them came with revolvers, fearing that the wild buffalo might make a rush at the audience and kill a few dozen people.
At 11 a.m. there was a noise of distant whooping, then a nearer blowing of trumpets and finally a dray drawn by one horse entered the enclosure, followed by the mounted war party of Sioux.
“Be jabbers, there’s a foine crowd oy paple here!” whispered on warrior to his nearest companion. “But let’em rest aisy, we’ll show’em a shindy, the loike of which was niver seen outside of ould Ireland.”
The Sioux unslung their bows and each drew an arrow from his quiver while the crowd stood with bated breath as far from the buffalo as it was possible to get. Everybody’s hand was on his hip pocket.
The Showman Woods and his assistant Crisp mow approached the prostrate bison with great caution, and by certain quick, dexterous movements, freed him from the ropes. Then they took refuge under the dray.
The shaggy animal arose, shook himself, and started out for a “constitutional.” The Indians thereupon raised a wild whoop, and putting their horses into a gallop, charged bravely, firing arrows at the beast s they went. Several of the shafts happen to hit their mark, and the buffalo, surprised and pained, ran for a little pond that lay in the center of the place. Upon reaching it he deliberately laid down in the mud and the water.
The spectators by this time had tumbled to the imposition that was being practiced, and no longer fearful of the buffalo, the entire mob, with drawn revolvers, rushed toward the pond, filling the air with smoke and bullets and completely riddling the poor animal. It was dead before the vanguard reached the spot.
A rope from the dray was quickly secured, and the mob, half-mad and half-amused at the showman for selling them out, placed it around the animal’s neck and dragged it bodily away, hooting and yelling.
Woods and Crisp meanwhile made themselves scarce, but did not forget to take along the $15,000 of entrance money which they had secured from the gate.
Woods was conducting a museum at Fifth and Walnut Streets, Cincinnati, at the time of this occurrence and the night after it was mysteriously burned to the ground. Rumor has it that one of the spectators at the buffalo hunt fired the establishment in order to get even.
The race track where the “hunt” occurred was built in 1848 and for 10 years was the most celebrated institution of its kind in the western country.
The best horses of the day were found at its annual races and the spectators came from all over the United States. Finally another race track was constructed out Mill Creek Valley in Cincinnati, and the one on Ludlow fell into disuse.
Among the interesting stories which are told concerning the early residents of Ludlow are several relating to Matthew Bentley, now deceased. He was the father of Messrs. Lew, Charles and William Bentley who are well known to the citizens of this town.
It was several years prior to this time of the buffalo hunt that Matthew Bentley undertook the novel job of building a “cider cistern.” He was living then in the old “Bentley homestead” on Butler Street, near Elm, and was engaged in the cider and distilling business.
The market price for cider happened to be very low and the price of barrels was correspondingly high. So Matthew bethought himself of a plan to take care of the cider that would be economical and enable him to keep the product good until the market stiffened. Water keeps cool and fresh in a cistern, he decided, and why should cider not do well in one?
So he built a 200 barrel brick cistern on the spot now occupied by Mr. Shepherd’s stables, and when the cider came forth from his mill that fall he dumped it into the new receptacle. Finally, he had the cistern filled to the brim with cider and then a feat came to his mind that before prices rose the beverage might begin to “work.”
There was nobody in the country who had previously incarcerated cider in a cistern and so there was no way of judging its probable outcome.
Months passed by and the cider remained undisturbed. Finally Mr. Bentley gave up in despair, it is said, when he found that his cistern was filled with a vigorous growth of vinegar.
During the exciting days of ’62, when [Confederate General] Kirby Smith was marching up from the South toward Cincinnati, the hills around Ludlow were filled with citizen soldiery hastily gathered together for defense. These men were ill-trained and liable to commit overt acts of depredation.
Bentley at the time had a considerable quantity of whiskey on hand in barrels, and he was in fear every day that a foraging party might hear of the liquor on his premises and steal it for a general debauch.
In casting his eye around for a hiding place for the barrels, it occurred to him that the safest place would be under the floor of his house. He accordingly tore up the boards in a pantry and lowered the barrels into the open space underneath. The flooring was then replaced, and a piece of matting tacked down to cover up the marks. Next morning a file of soldiers, headed by an officer, appeared and surrounded the house.
A demand was made for liquor that might be stored upon the premises. Bentley responded by telling the squad to search.
This they did with great care, but never thought of looking in the right place. Several years later, when the war troubles had blown over, Bentley took up the floor of the pantry, and, as he thought, removed all of the barrels.
In 1878, however, Mr. L. B. Bentley, his son, was rebuilding a portion of the house, and in doing so discovered several barrels of the whiskey still lying under the floor having been there for over 18 years.
In concluding, these reminiscences of the past, it may be well to tell in brief about the part which Mrs. Ludlow took in effecting the escape of the celebrated Confederate leader, John Morgan, after he had slipped out of the Ohio penitentiary in 1863.
Mrs. Ludlow was a woman of strong secession sympathies, and Morgan, in some manner, became acquainted with the fact. Upon his arrival with one companion on the Ohio bank of the river, they were ferried across to Ludlow by boatman Sam Worley. The fugitives slipped over to Mrs. Ludlow’s house and were taken in and sheltered.
Some eight hours later Mrs. Ludlow harnessed up her pair of black horses to the family carriage and spirited Morgan back into the country as far as Anderson’s, where other families took him in charge. Officers from Cincinnati searched the Ludlow house just after Morgan left, but of course failed to secure their man.
from the Kentucky Post, February 4, 1893 (author uncredited)
NKY Views would note that a similar buffalo hunt scam was put on by the legendary P. T. Barnum, but with a twist that left Barnum miles ahead (usually the case with Barnum!).
Barnum pulled off the same buffalo hunt, with the same fake Indians. He had a lot more buffalo, but they were young, and emaciated. Barnum featured free admission to the widely advertised spectacle, so when the crowd became aware it was a bust, the crowd knew they had been had, but couldn’t see where it had profited Barnum, so they weren't that upset.
What they didn’t know was that Barnum had rented a ferry for the day, and raised the fare from a nickel to a dime. The ferry had to be used to get to the site of the “free buffalo hunt spectacle.” Barnum doubled the fare on the ferry he had rented for the day, and literally took his crowd coming, and going. And nobody in the crowd knew how he had done it, or even that he had done it.