Grand Pockets’s Blog

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The Saga of Ben Butler and Jim Craig – Fantastic


A remarkably lively and entertaining look at early frontier days in Knox County Ohio from the eyes of two who lived it. Interviewed in 1862, two old timers give a terrific account of those early days right after 1800. It sure takes a poke at the TV version of pioneers with white starched shirts, combed hair and polished diction and manners.

“Ben Butler, in his 84th year, is yet of vigorous physical frame and of strong mind. Few men of forty can be found with more rugged constitution. The Butlers were always fond of fun and frolic, and never occupied a back seat when any sport or fighting went on in early days. Ben is about five feet nine in height, weighs about 150 pounds, is straight as an arrow, and fleet as an Indian. He is ready to-day to run a foot race with any man of his age in the world, and a few years since gave a public challenge through the press to run for a wager a foot race with any man of his age in the State or nation.

He was born in Monongahela county, Va., April 18th, 1779, and when just turned of twenty years he married, on the 2d of May, 1799, Leah Rogers, of Crab Orchard, Va., then in her sixteenth year, and by her had fourteen children, seven boys and seven girls.

Betsey, their oldest child, was born in Monongahela county, Va., February 22d, 1800. She married John Bouse, who died at Racine, Meigs county, leaving five children. Betsey is now living with them at that place.

Hiram was born on the Tuscarawas river, about two miles from Coshocton, in October, 1801; he is dead.

Ben. was born on Whitewoman, July 31, 1804, and is also dead.

Joseph was born in Mount Vernon, the 23d of October, 1806.

Matilda in Mount Vernon, October 8th, 1808 ; she married Charles Critchfield, and is now dead.

Huldah was born on his farm down the creek where he has ever since lived, in 1810.

Reasin was born August 12th, 1812, and is now dead.

Laban R., born March 7th, 1814, married Lucinda Peckham, and lives in Union township.

Maria was born October 1st, 1815 ; married S. W. Sapp, and is now dead.

Polina, born August 31st, 1817, married Robert Grimes, and lives in Iowa county, Iowa.

Hetty, born July 5th, 1819, wife of John Carpenter, with her two boys and two girls, lives at the old farm with Ben.

Squire John, born in 1821, and George Washington, born in 1823. Squire John married Mary Jane, daughter of Joseph Workman, and George W. married Miss Lydick, daughter of another old settler. They live in Union township.

Joseph married Polly Biggs, and lives in Newcastle;

Huldah married Joseph Jones, and lives in Knox county, Ill.

Three of the boys and three girls are dead; the rest living, together with seventy-five grandchildren.

“Pretty well done, is it not,” said Uncle Ben to us this 8th of June, 1862, “for old Virginia and a little Quaker gal!”

In 1800 Ben Butler settled in the neighborhood of Dresden, and raised a crop on land belonging to Major Cass. In 1801, he moved to Lewisville, two miles above Coshocton, and in 1802, he settled or Whitewoman above the mouth of Kilbuck, and from thence to Mount Vernon in April, 1805 where he resided until 1809, when he moved down the creek, where he has ever since resided. Before he moved to Mount Vernon he had bought thirty- six acres of land of Joe Walker, which he had purchased of Matthews and Nigh, and Matthews executed the deed to Butler. Patterson, Walker and himself conceived the plan of laying out a town on their possessions, and accordingly in July, 1805, it was surveyed by Bob Thompson, and taken to Lancaster, and recorded in Fairfield county records. Captain Walker’s house was the first one within the town plat; the next buildings were two little log stables, built by Ben Butler, on the corner now owned by Adam Pyle—Gambier and Main streets, north-west corner. In one of these log stables Ben Butler lived and kept entertainment until he built his log cabin on the corner, which for many years continued the principal tavern of Mount Vernon. He paid for shingles and work on that house $150. This was the building wherein the Commissioners who came to locate the county seat were most hospitably entertained. Ben moved into it in the fall of 1805, and lived in it until 1809. It continued as the war office under successive administrations. Ben bought two hundred acres on Licking, and built a log cabin on it, intending to move his family there in 1809, but having met with a favorable offer he sold it to Hanger, who occupied the place until his death.

The most extraordinary event of those early times was a terrible tornado in the summer of 1806, which played havoc with the early settlers. It came up suddenly, and was very violent. It tore off the roofs of all the houses, killed most of the stock running about, and tore down all the large white oak trees that were on Ben’s thirty-six acre tract, as also many trees on Walker’s land. In its course it took in Andy Craig’s old stand on Center Run. Ben had nine head of horses; as the storm came up they attempted to run out of its way; two of them were killed; one of the horses ran all the way to Craig’s, and jumped into his garden patch; its skin was torn and flesh scratched in many places by limbs of trees hurled against it by the storm as it ran to get out of its reach. Walker had some horses killed; also Patterson and Kratzer, and a little fellow from Virginia who lived on the hill, named Zinn.

A little doctor named Henderson was with us when we laid out the town. He was from Baltimore, Maryland, and proposed that we should call it after Washington’s home-place, and we all sanctioned. When it came to giving any name that pleased Washington, it pleased all proprietors.

Henderson was a clever young fellow; his father made a regular doctor of him, and started him out with a good horse and outfit, but he was too damned lazy to practice. The first time Ben saw him, Patterson came out into the lot where he was plowing, and introduced him to Ben, who was mad at the infernal beech-roots catching the plow so much, and when Patterson said he was a doctor, and Henderson spoke up and said he had just been inoculating a child, and wanted to inoculate Butler’s,

Ben said, ” God damn you, haven’t I moved away up here to get rid of the damned small-pox, and now damned if you shall inoculate my child. I didn’t know exactly what inoculating then meant, but I was mad, and I threatened to put my knife into him, and scared him so that he would not attempt to ‘noculate any more in that town. He stayed about for a time, until he ran away with a woman, and no other doctor dared to show his face there during my stay. We had no lawyers either in them days.”

The first election Ben recollects of attending, the neighbors and himself went down to Dresden and voted in 1803 or 1804. Another election he recollects of was held at Bill Douglass’. David Johnson wanted to be a constable, and ‘lectioneered hard, and agreed to take on executions and for fees raccoon skins, if he was elected. But when the votes were counted, he was beaten by Dimmick. This was the first time he voted a ticket. In old Virginia it had been always the custom to vote by singing out the name of the candidate voted for. Speaking of raccoon skins: old Amos Leonard preached Presbyterian doctrine, and would often say when he commenced, “Now, you had better pay the preacher a coon skin or so.” It was with him ” poor preach and poor pay.” ” Once I passed along where he was preaching, with corn on my back, to feed about one hundred hogs that I had about where Norton’s mill is, and seeing Walker listening to him, I hallooed to him to come along with me—that he could learn no good from Amos —that he knew nothing; and Walker came along with me.

Another Sunday I was out hunting calves with my brother Tom, and when we had found them and were driving them along the road, preacher Leonard took off his hat and shook it at them, scaring them off, so I told him if he ever did so again, preacher as he was, I would whip the hide off of him ; and I would have done it, too, for at that day I could whip anybody; I was little, but never saw the man I couldn’t whip.

” Leonard went on to his meeting, and took satisfaction out of me by preaching at me. Captain Walker said to me the next day: ‘Oh! you ought to have been at meeting just to hear Leonard abuse you; he laid it on to you severely.’ I thought that may be so. Many a man can whip with the tongue that is afraid to try it with the fist.”

One of the greatest fights of that early date was between Ben Butler and Jim Craig, in which Craig was badly whipped. Butler’s hand had been tied up from a hurt, but he took off the poultice and gave him a severe thrashing. The next day Jim and Ben met together and took a drink over it; the quarrel was dropped, as Jim said he deserved the whipping and would not fight it over again.

When Ben bought his land of Captain Walker he had no thoughts of laying out a town, nor had Walker. He gave $2 an acre for it. Ben helped dig the first grave, that of Mrs. Thomas Bell Patterson, the first person that died in Mount Vernon. He says that Col. Patterson was a very smart man, much smarter than any in the town now.

The old school house stood near where the market house stands, and the public well, with a sweep or pole, was north of it, nearly in the centre of High street. He helped wall the old well.

Gilman Bryant said, that he came to the county in 1807, and landed in Mount Vernon from his pirogue in March, and at that time there were only three families living within the then limits of the town, viz; Ben Butler, who then kept a sort of tavern; James Craig, who kept some sort of refreshments and whisky, on the corner, east side of Mulberry and north of Wood street; and another family, who lived south of Craig’s on the opposite side of the street. These buildings were all log. On the west side of Mulberry, opposite to , was a little pole shantee, put up by Joe Walker, a gunsmith, who had a little pair of bellows in one corner, and tinkered gun-locks for the Indians.

Further west, on what is now Gambier street, and beyond the town plat, stood the building occupied by Walker, also a log. There was also at that time a small log house with a roof, but the gable ends not yet filled, standing on the west side of Main street, between the present market house and where the court house stood in 1849, which would be in High street. There was at the time living in the neighborhood, and recollected by Mr. Bryant Colville, on his farm east of town; Bob. Thompson, where Stilley now lives; Andrew. Craig, at or near the old Indian fields (on Centre Run, above Turner’s mill); old Mr. Walker, near Banning’s mill, on the left hand side of the road; and old Mr. Hains, south of town. Mr. Bryant brought eight barrels of whisky by water to Shrimplin’s mill on Owl Creek, and from thence had it hauled by Nathaniel Critchfield’s team, Joe driving, to Mount Vernon. Tradition says that the first log shelter occupied by old man Walker was made of little round poles by Casper Fitting in 1802, but we can find nothing to sustain a claim to its erection at so early a period. Fitting, doubtless, was the builder, we should think about 1804, though it may have been in 1803; however, as our own recollection does not extend quite that far back, we give it as it has been told to us.

Joseph Walker, Sr., of whom we have been speaking, emigrated to this county from Pennsylvania about 1804, and settled near where we now write. Philip, Joe, Alexander, James, Robert and John were his sons, and two daughters—Sally, who married Stephen Chapman, and lives three miles south of this town, and Polly, who married Solomon Greller, a Pennsylvania Dutchman, who was one of the early settlers of Mount Vernon, and subsequently moved into what is now Morrow county. Joseph Walker, Sr., and his wife, both died many years ago; and their bodies were buried in the Clinton graveyard, with no stone to mark the spot where they lie, and this record, it is hoped, may serve to perpetuate their memory. From all accounts, they were very worthy pioneers.

James Craig, one of the three men living in Mount Vernon in the spring of 1807, was grit to the back bone, and was constantly harrassed by peace officers. It became almost an every-day occurrence with him to have a fight; and, if no new comer appeared to give his fighting life variety, he would, “just to keep his hand in,” scrape up a fight with his neighbors or have a quarrel with his wife—all for the love of the thing, for “Jamie was the broth of a boy.” He had as high as four fights in one day with Joe Walker, who was also a game chicken! When arraigned before court for assault, etc., he would always put on his most pleasing smile, and say to the judge: “Now, will yer honor jist please be good to the boy, for he can’t help it.”

We have been told by an early settler of a little incident, illustrating the sports of the pioneers in 1807, at James Craig’s house, after he had moved out to the log cabin, erected, and yet leaning, not standing, on D. S. Norton’s farm, south of High street extension, on the Delaware road. Craig had tended a few acres in corn, and had the only corn for sale in that part of the county. Mrs. Rachel Richardson sent her son Isaac to buy some for bread, and, after spending a short time in the village, he went out to Craig’s, got his corn, and stayed all night. The family had just got to sleep, laying down on the floor, when the wild fellows of the town came in to the doors and fired a volley over their heads. Craig at once sprang out of bed in his shirt- tail, grappled with one of them, and in a short time all present were engaged in a lively little fight, just for the fun of the thing. ” Knuck Harris,” a ” colored gemmen,” the first one ever in Mount Vernon, and Joe Walker, are recollected as having been among the parties.

One of the most noted fights that ever came off in this county was between James Craig and his son-in-law, Jack Strain, and two of the Georges of Chester township. It occurred in this way: Old Jim was, as he said, in a fighting humor, when, in company with Jack, coming along the road home on foot they met the Georges near Clinton riding sprucely on horse-back, and required that they should get off their horses and fight them. Parson George explained that they were in a hurry to go home, and had neither time nor disposition for a fight. But Jim swore that they must get off and fight; and, there being no way of getting past them, as they held possession of the road, they reluctantly got off their horses and “pitched in.” Jack soon whipped his man, but it puzzled Jim to make his fight out, and the conclusion arrived at was, that they had taken too large a contract when they undertook to whip the Georges. Jim, in after years, would revert to this one fight with regret, as it was entirely uncalled for and only provoked by his own determination for a trial of strength.

After the marriage of Jack Strain into his family, old Jim counted himself almost invincible. Jack was a very powerful and active man, unsurpassed for thews and sinews, bone and muscle.

The great fight of the county might, with propriety, be called that of Strain with Roof. The county pretty much en masse witnessed it. It was a regular set-to—a prize fight not inferior, in the public estimation, to that of Heenan and Sayers.

Jack fought with great spirit; he fought, if not for his life, for his wife; for old Jim swore that he (Strain) should never sleep again with his daughter if he didn’t whip him.

When Craig was indicted the last time for fighting he told Judge Wilson “not to forget to be easy with him, as he was one of the best customers the court had.”

In wrestling with Tucker, Jim had his leg broken, which he often regretted, as he couldn’t stand on his forks right. He was not a big, stout man, but struck an awful blow, and was well skilled in parrying off blows. He called his striking a man giving him a “blizzard.” He was a backwoodsman from Western Virginia, but of Irish extraction—fond of grog, fond of company, fond of fighting, fun and frolic—kind-hearted, except when aroused by passion, and then a very devil. He fought usually as a pastime, and not from great malice. His wife was an excellent, hospitable and clever woman. We have heard very many anecdotes of Craig, but have space for only one more. One of the last kind acts of the old settler was his endeavoring to treat Bishop Chase when he first visited our town. Jim having heard much said of him as a preacher and a distinguished man, met him on the street, and, desiring to do the clever thing by the Bishop, accosted him with an invitation to treat. The Bishop was somewhat nettled at the offer, but declined going to a grocery with him, whereupon Jim pulled a flask from his pocket and insisted upon his taking a drink there. The Bishop indignantly refused, and Jim apologised, if the Bishop considered it an insult. ” Bless your soul, Bishop, I think well of you, and have no other way to show that I am glad you have come to our county but by inviting you to drink. Don’t think hard of me.”

Craig’s family consisted of eight girls, and he often regretted that he had no boys to learn how to fight. If the girls did not fight, they did run, and run well too. One of them, we recollect, was very fleet; many a time did she run races in the old lane, between Norton’s and Bevans’, and beat William Pettigrew and other of the early boys, notwithstanding the scantiness of her dresses, which then were made of about one-third the stuff it takes for a pattern in these fashionable days of 1862.

At one time old Jim was singing to a crowd, when a smart young man, in sport, winked to those present and kicked his shins. The wink having been observed by him, he instantly drew back his fist and drove it plum between his eyes, felling him to the ground, at the same time exclaiming: ” There, take that, damn you, and don’t you ever attempt again to impose on ‘old stiffer!'”

A History of Knox County, Ohio, from 1779 to 1862 Inclusive

By Anthony Banning Norton

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