Stories about Kentucky
Family Folklore and legends.
The Legend of
has it, once there was an Indian maiden in love with a young
brave, although she was betrothed to his father, the chief. The
young brave determined that she was his, and wrapped her in his
blanket. They mounted the back of a friendly elk and fled.
They rode for days, always pursued by the angry chief. When
they reached Kentucky the elk was shot by the old chief's
arrow. As the elk lay dying, he used his horns as a shield and
the chief gave up the pursuit. The young couple would spend
their lives in this valley. As years passed, the elk’s horns
sank into the ground forming indentations that filled with a
flowing stream of water the Indians called Elkhorn.
My great-grandfather, Raleigh Dixon, told a story about how
Alonzo Dixon, became a mountain healer.
Alonzo was a baptist preacher and blacksmith in Johnson County
late 1800's, probably some time after 1880.
The story goes that one day Alonzo was shoeing a horse when
him in the leg. The resulting wound festered, and nothing
cured it. He soon became desperate. Then he remembered hearing
man living in the hills of Johnson County who was supposed to
Alonzo tracked this man down and went to pay him a visit.
at Alonzo's wound, the old mountain man went to work. He struck
flints together, letting the sparks fall onto the wounds, while
some words that Alonzo didn't understand. Afterwards, he told
that the wound would start itching around midnight that night,
but not to
bother it because it would be healing. Alonzo, feeling like a
left and returned home.
Sure enough, around midnight that night Alonzo was awakened
by a fierce
itching on his leg. He remembered the healer's warning and
bother it. The next morning, the wound was already beginning to
Within a few days it was completely healed.
Alonzo was fascinated, and a little embarrassed about
healer's abilities. He sought the man out again, only this time
the old man to tell him what he had done. The healer only told
it was bad luck for a healer to tell his secrets. Alonzo again
home disappointed, sure he would never learn how the old man
Several years later, the healer's wife showed up on Alonzo's
She told him that it was indeed bad luck for a healer to teach
man the healing secrets. However, a healer could teach the
secrets to a
woman, and because it was also bad luck for a woman to practice
secrets, she had to teach them to another man. Before the old
died, he had taught the secrets to her and instructed her to
and teach them to him.
My great-grandfather swore that as a child he had witnessed
using the healing secrets.
Terrifying episodes linked to skull of slain Indian
For the past 100 years, residents of Butler and surrounding
counties have been listening to the hair-raising tale of the
ghost of Skull Bone Cave.
It has been whispered from one wide-eyed generation to
another in the flickering firelight of the homes that dot the
foggy valley and wooded hills in which the haunting occurred.
During the early days of Kentucky, the story goes, Indians
killed a woman and child and ravaged the home of a settler near
Mile Tree Hill, a short distance from Caneyville in southern
When the man of the house returned and discovered the
sickening sight, he vowed to avenge the murders. He immediately
set out with his dog in search of an Indian party that he
believed to be responsible.
Several miles away, near the banks of Coopers Creek in what
is now northeastern Butler County, he came upon an Indian
shelter and lay in wait for his prey. Seeing only one Indian in
the camp, the settler leveled his rifle and fired, the fatal
shot striking its target.
Worried that other Indians might seek reprisal if they found
their companion, the settler stuffed a cloth in the wound, and
covering his tracks as best he could, moved the dead Indian to
a bluff on a nearby hillside.
There he buried his victim, in a shallow grave in the soft
earth on the floor of a natural limestone cavern, hidden among
the large beeches and oaks that surrounded it.
Several decades later, Mason Embry, who was born in Madison
County in 1828, came to own vast tracts of land in northeastern
Butler County, including the ominous looking cavern.
Being a great hunter, and some what of an adventurer, Embry
decided to search the cavern floor for remains of the Indian's
grave. Indeed, we are told that he found part of a skeleton,
including the skull, which he removed and took with him as
proof of his discovery.
He fitted the skull on the end of a stick and made for
himself a macabre tool-a kind of crude hoe that he used for
covering his seed corn at planting time.
There is little doubt that a skull did exist. Clyde Embry,
79, a respected citizen of Grayson County and a grandson of
Mason Embry, says his father told him that he had seen the
had helped cover corn with it.
Likewise, Joan Sauaders of Leitchfield, a
step-great-granddaughter of Mason Embry, and author of
genealogical quarterly "Silent Footsteps," says that her
grandfather and father both told her identical stories about
It was a frightening episode in the family's history, one
that may never be forgotten. Almost immediately after Mason
Embry started using the skull to cover his corn, bone-chilling
screams began to haunt his nightly hunting excursions.
They followed the hunting party, screaming like a human in
agony, terrifying the horses and dogs and unnerving the
Repeatedly the fearless Embry and his companions sought to
discover the source of the blood-curdling screams, but to no
avail. They sometimes spurred their horses homeward at a fast
gallop, hoping to outrun the tormenting screams. It was no use,
the invisible shrieks stayed right at their backs-as if at any
moment the party might be overtaken and devoured.
Embry was increasingly disturbed by the screams, and family
members told of how, one night the cries were so close on his
heels that he jumped his horse across the draw-bars at his
front gate, then rushed to the house where he waited at the
front door with a shotgun, staring into the empty darkness as
the awful screams taunted him from the gate.
Convinced that the screams were the spirit of the dead
Indian whose grave he had desecrated, Embry returned the skull
to the cave and re buried it the very next day. The horrifying
screams ceased, never to be heard again. But they wee never
forgotten by Embry and his family.
Years later someone asked Mason Embry's wife if she would
recognize the sound if she ever heard it again. "Would
I know the sound of my own son's voice?" she replied. "It is a
sound I will never forget." Embry died in the summer of 1897
at the age of 71. The log barn in which he carded wool is still
standing, within sight of what has come to be known as Skull
Many have looked at the cave and wondered if the curse of
the dead descends on those who disturb their eternal rest.
Mason Embry died believing it did.
Taken form the Courier-Journal, written by Byron Crawford
Posted by: Elaine Miles
The Corn Cob & The Horse
Around 1953 my maternal grandmother Lillie Valentine Stearns
told me a
story about her childhood days and how she saved one of their
well-loved horse's from being sold. GrGrandpa Ed Valentine had
to sell the horse and had arranged for a gentleman to stop by
afternoon (around 1897-98) to see the animal. Grandma, along
younger siblings, Fred and Julia, were heartbroken. Scheming
morning, they came up with what they thought was the perfect
keep the horse. The three quickly set about putting their plan
action. All too soon, the gentleman arrived to see the horse
and so Ed
took him to the barn. As they approached the horse, he flicked
tail, let out a loud snort and began to buck. Ed tried to calm
down, but the more he tried, the harder the horse fought.
man muttered angrily that he wanted no part of such a "wild"
stomped off, with Ed on his heels, apologizing. Meanwhile, out
barn, Grandma Lillie s!
tepped up and pulled a scratchy little piece of dried-up
beneath the horse's tail where she had tied it earlier. The
laughed happily and the "wild" horse nuzzled them each in turn.
never did figure out what went wrong with that "crazy" horse.
didn't try to sell him after that either, much to the
I don't know if it would be possible to tie a cob beneath a
tail, but my Grandma swore it was the truth. What do you think?
The illegitimate son of Jefferson Davis
Lester Calhoun was my great great grandfather it is a well
Known legend through my family
that Lester was the first born to Jefferson Davis. My dad was
raised by his grandfather who
married Lester’s daughter Elizabeth “Betty” she told my dad
many stories about how Lester
was the son of Jefferson Davis and how he was wanted by both
sides of the civil war.
I have done some research on this story and can not prove
nor disprove the legend.
I have found that Lester’s mother was a Davis by birth, and
that the two may have been
cousins. I also found that they lived in the same area at one
time. This leads me to believe
that Jefferson Davis may have had a child with his cousin and
did not want this to be known.
At the same time the north may have heard about this and wanted
him for propaganda.
Lester was born about 1830, It is thought that his name may
have been James Lester or William L. Calhoun or Lister” Davis (
Calhoun ) and changed it to Lester to avoid his situation. His
mother was Jennie Davis dau of John Davis of N.C. Lester lived
and died in K.Y. Jefferson Davis was born between 1807 and 1808
in K.Y. during the time Lester was born he was second
lieutenant, serves in what is now Missouri, Iowa, Illinois,
Michigan, Wisconsin, and Arkansas. Before that he was in
Kentucky In 1835 he marries Sarah Knox Taylor in K.Y. in 1845
he marries an 18 year old Varina Banks Howell.
It should be noted that Jefferson Davis makes no mention (
That I have found )of Lester
Calhoun but this story is very real to my family.
Jefferson Davis' Speech Recommending John C. Calhoun
State Democratic Convention
Jackson, Mississippi, January 8, 1844
Though instructed by the delegation from Warren to cast the
vote of our county, in this
convention, for Mr. [Martin] Van Buren, as the presidential
candidate, I hope I will be
excused for availing myself of the nomination of Mr. Calhoun,
to express some of my opinions, as an individual, in relation
to the comparative claims these gentlemen have upon us.
SHERIFF LEROY LAFORCE & SPKUNKY LAVINA
A STORY TOLD TO ME BY MY UNCLE LEROY LAFORCE ABOUT MY
GREAT GRANDFATHER AND GREATGRANDMOTHER, iN 1880 HE WAS THE
SHERIFF OF WILLIAMSBURG,KY, HE WAS HOLDING A PRISONER IN THE
JAIL. SOME OF THE TOWN'S CITIZEN'S DECIDED TO MOB THE JAIL AND
HANG THIS PRISONER. IT WAS A TWO STORY JAIL AND GREAT
GRANDMOTHER LAFORCE STOOD IN THE SECONDFLOOR WINDOW AND POURED
BOILING WATER DOWN ON THE MOB WHILE WILLIAM LAFORCE TOOK THE
PRISONER OUT THE BACK DOOR TO ANOTHER COUNTY. GREAT
GRANDMOTHER LAVINA LAFORCE WAS SAID TO HAVE BEEN A FIREY AND
SPKUNKY LADY ALL HER LIFE. THERE WERE MANY STORIES ABOUT THESE
TWO PEOPLE,WHO LIVED AN EXCITING LIFE,THEY ARE BUIRED IN THE
Posted by: Mary Catherine
THE PURPORTED "COUSIN" OF JEFFERSON DAVIS
Aunt Gertie was trying to tell me how we were related to
Jefferson Davis. Grandfather (Charles U.) LOCKWOOD used to say
that J. D. was his own cousin, but he would just as soon shoot
him down as he would a hog (Civil War Animosities) & I think
she means that Jefferson Davis' mother & Great-Grandfather LYON
were brother and sister. Some day when I have time, I'll try to
figure it all out. Ruth 4-20-1979"
Cousin Ruth's first record requests concerning this family
story, to which I have the replies, began in 1929, fifty years
before she wrote this notation. I had learned this story as a
child. The above note of Cousin Ruth, was on the reverse side
of a transcription of Grandaunt "Gertie's"
notes, which read, "Jefferson Davis' mother &
Great-Grand-father LYON were bro. & sister. His
mother...married a DAVIS. - Grandmother LYON was a MORROW."
Charles Urban LOCKWOOD m. Sarah Ann LYON, the dau. of Reason D.
LYON and Ann Magdalen MORROW. Reason D. purportedly stands
for DAVIS, whose brother's middle initial supposedly stood for
EMERY. Reason D. LYON, b. 16 Dec 1797, Bourbon Co. KY.
The KY-MORROW's were numerous descendants of the Virginia
I have seen the official Jefferson DAVIS Papers web site on
his genealogy. It did not show any siblings of Jefferson's
father Samuel Emory DAVIS, and Jane COOK. www.ruf.rice.edu/~pjdavis/jdp.htm
"Gertie" and Ruth both left family charts. "Gertie" with her
chart of the ancestry of both Jefferson and our family, and
Ruth with the purported lineage, showing my 3rdGrgrand- father,
Reason Davis LYON, as the 1st cousin to Jeff DAVIS, with one
vital link missing, his mother DAVIS' given name that is
purportedly this sister of Samuel Emory DAVIS, that she shows
as the father of Jefferson DAVIS. They are both shown to be
the children of Evan DAVIS and Mary (Emory)
WILLIAMS. That vital link is again missing on the official web
page, "Genealogy of the Davis Family", where Samuel Emory DAVIS
is shown to be an ONLY child. If, in this case,
the term "cousin" is defined at we understand it to be today,
and these middle names are not mere fantasy of my cousin, could
there be other unadmitted children, aside from the slavery
issue, as none of us have black features?
All our other genealogy is serious and all that has been
completed falls nicely into place. Our LYON and MORROW
families, that should connect in KY with Jefferson DAVIS, are
found to be in Bourbon County, KY. However, TODD Co. is not in
close proximity to Todd County, KY.
Isn't it wonderful to have all this handed down without any
documentation to prove it? Perhaps the Internet can speed up
the process, so that I am not writing letters for 50 years,
only to note at the end of those 50 years, "Some day when I
have time, I'll try to figure it all out."
If Evan DAVIS and Mary Emory Williams did have only one
legitimate son, Samuel Emory Davis, were there others
Or were my predecessors jumping to conclusions based on a
statement that could have meant a number of things. Was
Charles Urban LOCKWOOD's statement a general one of
anyone named DAVIS, and misunderstood. Or, was he full of it?
Or, if that was the case, why is this story taken so seriously
by each generation prior to me?
Posted by: Sandi Goetze
James C. Musick and the B'ar
The following story was sent to me by a cousin who did not
know where it came from. I have typed everything that was on
the xerox copy that she sent me. James C. Musick was b.in 1806
in NC. but moved to KY. If anyone knows where this came from, I
would be so pleased to hear it so that I could give proper
credit to the author. I am also willing to share my Musick
Excerpt from the Mountain Chronicle: March 1983
The Kaintuck Wagon Road and the trails through Cumberland
and Pound gaps were well-defined highroads when James Musick
decided to move his family from the vicinity of Washington
County, Virginia to Floyd County, Ky.(Washington County was
divided over a period of time into Russell, Smythe, Lee, Scott,
Buchannan, Wise and Dickenson counties -
it is not clear what part was the location of this family.)
However the journey was made, by wagon or horseback, it must
have been a weary trek for the forty-year-old wife and nine
children, ranging from the twenty-two year old daughter to the
year-old baby son yet
come they did around 1849 or 50.
We can imagine that their journey was made easier by the
hospitality of the occasional cabin along the way where they
may have received food and shelter. But the people back then
were used to depending upon themselves therefore, likely the
Musicks had set out well-prepared for
the trip. (This name is found on all records spelled Musick ,
but descendants have dropped the final -k from the name.)
James Musick had been born in North Carolina around the
year 1806.Since the push of the population was westward, James
Musick emigrated into south-western Virginia. Here, in this
area, he was married to Mariah Shell Some transcribers give her
name Martha, obviously an error. Mariah (pronounced then Mariar)
was born in Tennessee around 1810. Their first child was born
in Tennessee around 1828 - Mary A. The next eight children
were born in Washington County, Virginia two others after
their arrival in Kentucky.
Besides Mary A., these children were John-b. 1832 Andrew-b.circa
1834 Abraham-b.ca. 1836 a daughter Ferby (Phoebe)-b.1839
Archibald-b.ca. 1841 Newton-b.ca.1844 Louisa-b.ca. 1845 and
Milton, the last of the children born in Virginia,b.ca. 1848.
After the arrival of the family in Kentucky, another
daughter and son were born-Emmaline-b. 1852, and James K. -b.
1857 Abraham wed Batha (Rachael) Collins on July 3,1857.
To the census taker James Musick gave as his occupation
"Blacksmith." It seems that all the men in the Musick family
were skillful at such tasks as smithing, milling, stonemasonry,
carpentry. James Musick was said to something of a gunsmith
and was supposed to have kept the best gun in the community.
In order to raise a little money, one practice of the time
was that a man would sell a set number of chances on a beef and
then "rifle off" the beef with a shooting match. All chances
were sold prior to the day the match was to be held. Each
chance or shot sold for perhaps twenty-five cents and was for
one quarter of the animal.
The first round of the shooting was for the choice of the
quarters of the beef the second round for the second choice
and so on until the entire animal was accounted for. If a man
had paid for several chances, and after the first round of
shooting he saw that he had been beaten, he could then use
another of his shots to try again to win or he could wait and
try for the next quarter coming up. Jim Musick's gun was
always on loan to some of the neighbors unless he or some of
his sons were involved in the shooting match.
James Musick walked with a slight limp which in no way
seemed to hinder him. He was known to strip up his britches
legs and show horribly scarred calves and thighs on either leg.
This is the story James Musick told: While living in
Virginia he often hunted with a companion. One day in early
winter while in the woods, they approached a cliff, and in a
crevice in the rock they noticed hair where an animal had
rubbed against the sides of the walls.
Examining it closely, Jim said, "Bear! He's holed up in there,
sleepin' the sleep of the jest! I'll get 'im!"
Taking his gun, Jim ventured into the crack in the rock and
after a few feet discovered he was entering a cave. Feeling
around in the dark, he touched the sleeping animal. Scratching
and rubbing its flank, Jim worked his way to the animal's
head. The bear merely gave a grunting sound and barely seemed
to be breathing. But suddenly, Jim encountered the head of a
second bear! Returning to the outside, Jim explained the
situation to his companion. "Thar's two uv'em. Now we'll
both crawl in. I'll take one head and you take t'other. We'll
set our gun muzzles in their yers an' I'll say, 'Ready? Fire!'
an' at 'Fire!' we'll both shoot at the same time an' git 'em
both. There's no danger. Jest scratch yourn along the flank
and rub 'im around the yer a little, an' he'll jist sleep right
The other hunter agreed to the plan. Into the crevice of
the rock they crawled, Jim Musick in the lead. As agreed, one
took the one on the right t'other on the left. By touch , Jim
located his bear and set the muzzle of his gun in place. "You
found his yer?" he asked in a low voice.
"Yeah," the other hunter answered. "A'right, set yer
muzzle." She's sot," came the reply.
"Fire! " and Musick squeezed off a shot that in the confines
of the cave was deafening, but not so much that he failed to
realize that no second shot had sounded.
All in one instant of time, he saw his "Chickened out"
(author's expression) companion darken the hole as he scrambled
for the outside and sensed the coming to life of the bear whose
winter's sleep was not so profound as to ignore what had taken
James Musick was a large man, tall and powerful of muscle.
The bear seized him just as he entered the slit. Musick told:
"I'd reach jist as fer as I could and dig my fingers in an'
pull myself. I felt 'im strip off my huntin' britches an'
knowed my laigs was bein' tore to
pieces, but I kep' a-reachin' an' a-pullin'. The crack was so
nar' he never could get a hug around my laigs nor reach me with
his teeth to do no good. Ever' time I'd pull, I'd feel his
claws grit bone. When I busted out into the daylight, I'd
broke 'is holt. The first thing my
eyes lit on was the gun that feller had drapped when he left
I grabbed it an' got off a shot before that bear got use' to
the light in his eyes. That was the last I remembered fer
awhile." Meanwhile the other hunter returned to the settlement
and told the
people that a bear had killed Jim Musick. A party went out and
found the mangled man and the dead bear . Not knowing the full
story, they were astonished when Jim begged for a loaded gun to
take a whack at the fellow he had been hunting with.
He urged the men to go into the cave and get the second bear
and his gun, but the sight of Jim's wounds was deterent enough
and no one would venture in. The dead bear and the wounded man
were dealt with according to the practices of the time- the
bear was skinned and Jim
carried back to his own cabin for Mariah to doctor as well as
she knew how.
Eventually, soaked with the grease of the bear and "wropped"
with strips of the bearskin, Jim's legs responded to Mariah's
treatment. Jim got able to stir about, still swearing
vengeance against the man who had deserted him.
Spring came. "With the help of one of his sons, Jim made
his way back to the cave, crawled in, and retrieved his rifle.
The carcass of the bear was too far gone to salvage. Jim said
that the months in the cave had ruined the rifle and that he
traded it off, but since wished he'd
As for his threat against the other fellow, Musick said:
"When I seed the spring come ag'in an' ever'thing a-gittin'
green an' new after that awful winter, an' I could crawl
outside an' git me a place in the sun an' watch them big
white-billed peckerwoods a-maulin' on the dead trees
out in the clearin', an' hear squirrels ever' now an' then 'Whee'
over in the cove, then I was so glad jist to be alive that I
said, 'God hates a coward! An' if God hates 'im, why ort I to'
- but - I'd druther never lay eyes on 'im!
Another friend said, "You've learnt yer lesson, ain't ye,
Jim? Ye'll never go in after another denned-up bear, will ye?"
Musick glowered from under shaggy eyebrows, "Yes, by darn',
I will! But never with no other dam' feller to foul me up, I
James Musick settled in the head of Greasy Creek in Johnson
County, at one time owning the whole area of the Bear Branch
besides other land.
By the year 1900, all of the offspring of James and Mariah
Shell Musick had moved to other areas with the exception of
their sons Newton, and Milton, who evidently fell heir to the
holdings of their father.
Supposedly some of the Musick descendants were
allied with the
Hatfield and McCoys.
1880 Census of Johnson County, KY
Name Age Occupation
James Musick 73 Farmer
Mariah 72 wife
Polly Waller 50 dau.
Dru Waller grand dau.
Green Waller grand dau.
James Waller grand
The Musicks and many other KY pioneers may have married
into a fascinating group of people called Melungeons. There are
health issues involved with descent from these fascinating
people. So please see my Melungeon Health Education and Support
Network site at: http://www.melungeonhealth.org Ask me what a
Melungeon is! :-) Free info via e-mail including a common
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