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Interviewer: John Forsee
Person Interviewed: George Dorsey
Location: Owentown, Kentucky
Date of Birth: June 16, 1860
Although this article is presented in narrative form and has but few characters, the writer believes it to be an excellent example of life in Owen County sixty or more years ago. With the exception of the grey eagle episode, similar events to these described were happening all over the county. There is no reason to doubt the authenticity of any part of the article. The narrator (George Dorsey, age 76 (negro) Owentown, Kentucky, born in slavery and raised by a white family) bears a good reputation and is intelligent enough to react favorably and intelligently to questions concerning the past. Further interviews concerning more general subjects are planned.
“I was born on the 16th day of June, 1860 on the ole poor house farm ’bout two miles from Owentown. My mother yousta tell me I’d be a sleepy head. I didn’t know what she meant by that so finally one day, after I got to be a great big boy, I asked her what she meant.
“Well, she says, Chickens that is hatched in June jess stand ’round in the hot sun an’ sleep themselves to death. So, as you was born in June, you’ll jess be a sleepy head.”
“My mother belonged to Sammy Duvall, the father o’ little Sam Duvall who died not long ago. Little Sam usta be town marshall here and a guard at the pen over at Frankfort. I was born a slave an’ stayed one till the niggers was freed.
“Bout the time the war was over I seen my first soldier. The road that passed along in front of our house was a dirt road. I’d gone with mother to watch her milk a young cow late one night, ’bout dark I guess, when I heard somebody hollerin’ and yellin’ an’ I looked down the road an’ seen ‘em comin’. I was ’bout five years old then an’ it looked to me like all the army was comin’ up the road. The captain was on a hawse an’ the men afoot an’ the dust from the dirt road a flyin’. There was a moon shinin’ an’ you could see the muskets shinin’ in the moonlight. I was settin’ on a fence an’ when I seen ‘em it scared me so I started to run. When I jumped off I fell an’ cut a hole in my for’head right over this left eye. The scar’s there yet. I run in the house and hid. Mr. Sammy Duvall had to get on a hawse an’ go to New Liberty an’ fetch a doctor to plug up the hole in my head. I seen lots of soldiers after that an’ I always run under the bed or hid in a closet or somewheres. They stayed ’round here for a long time. Finally provender got low and the soldiers took to stealing. We called it stealin’, but I reckon it warn’t for they come and got the stuff like meat out o’ the smoke house in broad open daylight. Mr. Duvall had a chestnut earl stallion he called Drennon an’ they come, or somebody did, an’ got him one night. One day, ’bout two or three weeks later, Will Duvall, a son o’ Mr. Sammy Duvall, heard that the hawse was over in Henry County where the soldiers had a camp. So he went over there and found the Captain an’ told him he’d come after old Drennon. The Captain said to describe him an’ Will said, “Captain, he’s a chestnut earl named Drennon. If’n I whistl’ a certain way he’ nicker an’ answer me.”
“Well, they went down to the stable where they had a lot of stalls like, under tents. An’ when they got there, Will, he whistled, an’ sure ‘nough, old Drennon nickered. So the Captain, he said, That’s your hawse all right. Go in an’ get him an’ take him on home.
Will brought the hawse home an’ took him down in the woods on the creek where the water’d washed all the dirt offen a big, flat rock and we kep him hid for three or four weeks. We didn’t want to loose him again.
When I was ’bout six years old we moved offen the creek to a new road up on the ridge. It was on the same farm but to another house. I had a great big, ole grey cat I called “Tom.” I wanted to move him so I put him in a pillow slip so’s he couldn’t see where we wus takin’ him so he couldn’t fin’ the way back. He stayed ’round his new home for a few days an’ then he went back to his ole home. Mr. Duvall went and got him again for me. Not many white men would do that for a little nigger boy. He musta told Tom somethin’ for he never run off no more.
Mr. Duvall usta ride a blazed-face, sarl [HW: sorrel] mare named Kit. He most al’ays taken me up behind him, ‘specially if he was goin’ to town. Kit was trained to hunt deer. I can’t remember any deer in the country but Mr. Duvall yousta tell me ’bout ‘em an ’bout the way they had their hawses trained. He said there wus a place down on Panther Lick Creek, below where we lived, that was a deer lick. The deer would come there and lick the ground close to the creek because there was salt left there by the high waters. He’d put a strap with a littel bell on ’round ole Kit’s neck; an’ tie her to a tree not far from this lick. Then he’d hide behin’ ‘nother tree close to Kit. When the deer come ole Kit’d shake her head an’ the deer would raise their heads to see what the noise made by the bell was an’ where it was comin’ from. Then he’d shoot the deer in the head. He showed me the place where he killed the biggest buck he ever seen right here jess out o’ town a little ways. He kept the horns. An’ I remember seein’ ‘em in the attic at his house. He had an ole riffle he called “Ole Betsy” that’d been his deer rifle.
After I got to be a big boy, huntin’ and fishin’ was good. I never got to do any uv it except on Saturdays and Sundays. Everbody had a brush fence ’round the house to keep the stock in out o’ the yard and one day I seen a big bird sail down on the fence and run under it. Mother was out in the back yard so I said to myself, I’ll get the gun and kill that hawk. I taken good aim at its head and banged away. At the crack o’ the gun I never heard such a flutterin’ in my life. Mother come runnin’ to see what was the matter and when she seen it, she said, Son, that’s a pheasant. Some day you’ll be a good hunter. An’ guess I was for I killed lots o’ pheasants, quail, squir’ls and rabbits.
Little Sammy Duvall had a pointer he called “Quail”. She was the smartest dog I ever seen, but everybody had smart dogs them days. Quail’d trail birds when they was runnin’ till she got clost and then circle ’round ‘em an’ make her stand.
Be careful there, Quail, Mr. Sammy would say. He’d nearly always get eight or ten out uv a covey an’ sometimes the whole covey. I yousta go along jess to see him shoot. He hardly ever missed. There was so many quail that nobody ever thought to leave any uv a covey if he wanted that many an’ they didn’t get so scattered that he couldn’t fin’ em.
After the deer was all killed out, people trained their deer hounds to chase foxes, coons and such like. The white boys from town yousta come and get Will and young Sammy to go coon huntin’. They al’ays had ten or twelve dogs. They al’ays taken me along an’ treated me jest the same as if I was as white as they was. If I got behind or out o’ sight somebody was sure to say, ‘Where’s George’?
One night we treed three coons in a big hollow oak. They started to cut down the trees an’ put me at the butt with a fire bran’. When the tree fell the coons’d come out an’ I was supposed to drive ‘em back with the fire, jest lettin’ out one at a time so’s the dogs could kill ‘em. I was about half scared uv ‘em and when one big feller come out I backed up an’ he got by me. I throwed the fire at him an’ it lit on his back an’ burnt’ him. I never seen a coon run so fast. But the dogs soon treed him again an’ we got him. Then we come back an’ the dogs picked up the trail uv another one an’ we catched him. I never seed a bigger one. He was as long as this umbrella (3-1/2 ft.) The other one got away. Coon huntin’ was a great sport with the boys an’ men in those days.
I catched the only grey eagle that was ever seen ’round here. They was a bunch of us boys out rabbit huntin’ one day one fall. The dogs got after a rabbit an’ chased it across a holler out o’ range. I had the only gun in the crowd an’ was right after that rabbit. The dogs run over the track an’ could see ‘em over on the hillside jess settin’ still. All at once I seen a big bird-I taken it to be a hawk, fold its wings like a man’d fold his arms ’round his body, and drop straight down on the rabbit. But the rabbit saw it too for when the eagle got there he was ten feet up the hillside. The bird hit, “boom”, jest like that. But the rabbit was goin’ over the hill an’ the eagle musta saw him for he riz an’ flew in that direction.
‘You boys stay back, I’ll kill that hawk. That’s the biggest hawk I ever seen,’ I told them. When I got to the top of the ridge I seen him settin’ in the top uv a big tree. The boys stayed where I told them and I slipped along till I got pritty close enough to shoot him. He was either watchin’ the rabbit or didn’t think I was watchin’ him for I got pritty close before he started to fly. Jess as he opened his wings I let him have it with my old muzzle loader shotgun. Down he come makin’ as much noise as a whole flock o’ hawks oughta made. He was alive when I got to him an’ made right at me, strikin’ with his claws an’ bill. The dogs come when they heard the shot an’ he whipped ‘em off. Every time he struck one of ‘em he (the dog) would holler like he’d been speared. The other boys wanted to kill it but I gotta a long pole an’ got it on him so’s it held him down. We’d found out by this time that one wing was broke by my shot. So we jess hold of the tips of his wings an’ led him to the house. His wing spread was ’bout six or eight feet. When I got him to the house I told ‘em I had the biggest hawk they ever seen. A ole man by the same of William said, “Hell that ain’t no hawk, that’s a grey eagle.” A ole colored fiddler, named Fred Roberts, sent word he’d buy it from me. He even got so fraid he wouldn’t get it that he come for it.
‘What’ll you take for him’, he asked me, and before I could say anything he says, ‘I’ll give a dollar for him’.
That was a lot of money for me an’ boy like I sold him then and there. I coulda got two or maybe three dollars for him. Fred taken him to town an’ fed him live hens and raw meat. On court days or when there was a crowd in town he showed him for ten cents a look. I bet he made $50.00 on him. People yousta to come for miles to see that eagle. He finally died.
Fishin’ was good too. We cut our poles in the woods an’ used to flax thread for lines. Where people built water-gaps in fences that crossed the creeks the water’d fill in till it made a dam. Then the creek spread behind it. Them water holes was full o1 perch an’ cat fish. They didn’t get much bigger them your hand but they bit fast and we had lots o’ fun catchin’ ‘em.