THE HOME OF THE MAN WHO KILLED TECUMSEH
“Then, Billy, if I was you, I would go and see ! ”
Thus replied Esther Whitley of Augusta, Virginia, to her husband William Whitley, when, early in 1775, he had told her that he had a fine report of Kentucky, and that he thought they could get their living in the frontier settlements with less hard work than was required in Virginia.
Whitley took his wife at her word. Two days later, with axe and plow and gun and kettle, he was on his way over the mountains. Daniel Boone had not yet marked out the Wilderness Road that was to become the great highway of emigration from Virginia to Kentucky. At first his only companion was his brother-in-law, George Clark, but on the way seven others joined the party.
During the next six years he was one of the trusted pioneers at Boonesborough and Harrod’s Fort, two stations on the Wilderness Road. When he had a house ready for his wife, he returned to Virginia, and brought her to Kentucky. It is said that she was the third white woman to cross the Cumberland Mountains, Mrs. Daniel Boone and her daughter being the first and second. The claim has been made that their daughter, Louisa, who was born in Boonesborough, was the first white child born in the present limits of Kentucky.
Louisa was perhaps four years old when Whitley removed to the vicinity of Crab Orchard, the famous assembling place for parties about to take the dangerous journey back to Virginia. Two miles from the settlement he built Whitley’s Fort. In 1788 he felt able to build for his growing family the first brick house in Kentucky. The brick were brought from Virginia, and the man who laid the brick was given a farm of five hundred acres for his services. The windows were placed high above the ground to prevent the Indians from shooting in at the occupants. The window-glass was carried across the mountains in pack-saddles. The stairway had twenty-one steps, and on these steps were carved the heads of thirteen eagles to represent the original thirteen Colonies. The doors were made of wood, elaborately carved, and were in two layers, a heavy sheet of iron being placed between these. The old-time leather hinges are still in use.
The owner laid out on his property the first race track in Kentucky, and he called his house Sportsman’s Hall. In its walls scores of settlers found refuge in time of danger. Famous men sat with Mr. and Mrs. Whitley at their hospitable table, among these being Daniel Boone, George Rogers Clark, and General Harrison.
Until his death at the battle of the Thames in 1813 Whitley was one of the chief defenders of the settlers against the Indians. On his powder horn he cut the lines :
William Whitley, I am your horn, The truth I love, a lie I scorne, Fill me with the best of powder, I’ll make your rifle crack the louder.
See how the dread, terrifick ball Makes Indians blench at Toreys fall, You with powder I’ll supply For to defend your liberty.
One day in 1785 a messenger came to Whitley’s Fort with the tidings that Indians had captured a mother and her babe, after killing three older children. Mr. Whit-ley was not at home, but Mrs. Whitley sent for him. In the meantime she collected a company of twenty rescuers. On his return Whitley placed himself at their head, pursued the Indians, and rescued the prisoners.
The title Colonel was given to Whitley in 1794, when he commanded the Nickerjack expedition against the Tennessee Indians, who had been conducting foraging expeditions into Kentucky. The march was conducted with such secrecy and despatch that the enemy were taken by surprise, and were completely routed.
The last of his campaigns took place in Canada against the British, French, and Indians in 1813. Many claim that before he received his mortal wound in the battle of the Thames, he fired the shot that killed Tecumseh, the chief who had given so much trouble to the settlers of Kentucky and Indiana. Others say that the shot was fired by a Colonel Johnson.
The body of the Indian fighter rests in an unknown grave hundreds of miles from the territory he helped to wrest from the Indians, but the brick house he built near Crab Orchard is still one of the historic buildings of Kentucky.