Reminiscences from the Life
of Col. Cave Johnson

Written by Cave Johnson, 1849, several months before his passing.
Published in the Ky Register, May 1922, Vol. 20, No.59
Reprinted in the Johnson Digest, by Robert R. & Louise Stracener Payne Private Printing, 1990


I was born on the 15th of November, in the year 1760, in the County of Orange and State of Virginia. My father's name was William Johnson. He died when I was four or five years old. My mother's maiden name was Elizabeth Cave. I had three brothers, Robert, the eldest, has been dead upward of thirty years; Benjamin, who has been dead nearly fifty years; and Valentine, the youngest, who now lives in Orange City, Va. I had five sisters, Nancy married Wm. Rogers; Mildred married John Sebree; who died at the siege of York in Virginia; Elizabeth married George Eve, who died at Elkhorn more than thirty years ago; Hannah married Robert Bradley, who died in Scott Co. some 40 years ago; Sallie married Laban Shipp, who died in the southern part of Kentucky. After the death of my father, I con- tinued with my mother and worked on the farm. What education I got was at country schools. I learned to read and write and arithmetic so far as to include the rule of three.

On the first day of April, 1779, my Brother Robert, myself and one other man (Wm. Tomlinson) set out from Orange county, Va. for a visit to Kentucky. There was then about two hundred miles of the road from the back settlements on Holston waters to Kentucky that was considered to be quite dangerous, traveling with so small a company as ours (only three); but we pushed on, and at the Cumberland River we overtook a company of several families of Bryants, from North Carolina, on their way to Kentucky, to settle the place since called Bryant's Station, on North Elkhorn. We joined the company and arrived first at Boonesborough where we obtained some little Indian corn, and then went on to North Elkhorn, where we arrived about the last of April. We, that is, Tomlinson and myself, assisted the Bryants in putting up some cabins. Robert Johnson left us and went to Lexington, which had just been settled from about Alleghaney and Monongahela. After viewing and exploring the country some weeks, he return to Virginia. Tomlinson and myself planted about four acres of corn, and after we had finished working it, in July we left for home.

And there I will mention an incident that happened on the way in the wilder- ness. A number, now, of Bryants and others, were along. One company was considerable as to numbers, and when in the wilderness, not far from the Cumberland River, we stopped to eat our dinners and noon it, as it was called and to let our horses graze. While we were stopped, a number of men took their guns and turned out to hunt, wishing to kill deer, and while they were out from camp, one man, Aquila White, shot and killed William Beamlett, mis- taking him for an Indian. Beamlett was a preacher, and one of our company, and there we buried him. Tomlinson and myself reached home in safety.

My brother Robert, having got somewhat acquainted while in Kentucky, with some of the military surveys that had been made by John Floyd, purchased two tracts, and in the fall of that year started with his family to Kentucky, to go by water. He got to Redstone or Brownsville, when the river got too low, and continued so until it froze up. He continued there until spring of the year when he took water and landed at the Falls of Ohio, and moved from there to Beargrass, upon John Floyd's land, where he raised a crop of corn, and sometime during that summer he went out with the expedition under Gen. Clark into the Miami country against the Indians.

And here I will mention another incident which occurred while he resided at Beargrass. The Indians had waylaid the trace that led from the settlement on Beargrass to the Falls, and had killed several people there. Having understood from the spies that were sent out to examine the neighborhood that they had discovered Indian signs, and that they apprehended they might be waylaying that trace, the inhabitants of the Falls and those of the Beargrass settlement raised a company and undertook to examine said trace. They divided into three companies. One marched along the trace, the other two marched through the woods on each side. They found the Indians, as they expected, lying in ambush near the road, and, coming on their backs fired on them, killing them on the spot and wounding one other that got off. The Indians, discovering the men on the trace, fired on them at the same time they were fired on, and wounded one of the white men badly. My brother Robert was one of the men who fired at the Indians. While Robert Johnson, with his family, continued at Beargrass, Richard M. Johnson was born.

I will now go back a little. In the year 1779, some time after our arrival at Bryant's Station , Col. Bowman, who lived on the south side of the Kentucky River, raised what force he could, and crossed the Ohio at the mouth of the Licking, and went up against the Indians where they lived on the little Miami, at old Chillicothe. They got to the town in the morning before daylight un- discovered, and attacked them. The Indians stuck to their houses and fought, and killed several of the best and most daring soldiers. The whites retreated, and the Indians followed them nearly to Ohio.

Robert Johnson moved from Beargrass to Bryant's Station , I think, in the fall of 1780. There he built some cabins, making part of the fort. I, then a young man, was part of his family. Buffalo being very plentiful in the woods, there was not much difficulty in obtaining meat for the families, except that of risking our scalps, from which danger we considered ourselves never absent when out.

The next years, 1781 and 1782, were disasterous for Kentucky. Captain Bird, a British officer from Detroit, with a large force of Indians, came over the Ohio, brought one field-piece (I suppose a six pounder), and captured Riddle's and Martin's stations on the Licking. The Indians also broke up Grant's sta- tion, on the waters of the Licking and killed a number of persons; also Estill's defeat, on the waters of the Licking. Captain Estill was considered on of our best defenders of the Indians. He raised and headed some twelve or fourteen men, said to be good soldiers, to fight Indians, and followed about the same number of Indians as he had men, overtook them and had a severe battle. Captain Estill himself was killed, and near one-half on each side were killed, and they made a draw battle of it.

Another incident I will mention here. Hunting in the woods for our meat being a dangerous business, twelve of us at Bryant's turned out for that purpose, all in company. When we got into the hunting woods, near where Georgetown now stands, we separated into three companies. Wm. Bryant, the head and principal man of the families and station at that time, headed one of the companies. Another of the Bryants headed the company that I belonged to. The agreement when we parted was that we were to meet at night at the mouth of Cane Run on North Elkhorn. Soon after we parted, the Indians, some twelve or fourteen in number, got on the trail of the company I belonged to, (for it was easy to track a single horse in the woods at that time). Our leader, Mr. Bryant had slighted from his horse to shoot a deer. The other three of us were sitting on our horses when the Indians came in sight. I was the first to discover them. We made out to get off before they fired on us, and having the heels of them, we made use of them, and not being strong enough to fight them, we went on to the station. On the next day, twelve or fifteen men of the sta- tion turned out and went to hunt Wm. Bryant and his company, who encamped at the mouth of Cane Run the night before, and were out the next day not far from Georgetown. He discovered the horse that was hobbled, and with a bell on him, that was on the other side of the creek from where he was. He dir- ected the other three of his company to remain where they were, while he should cross the creek and see what it meant. He got over, and when near the horse, the Indians who were in ambush fired on him and wounded him with three balls. His horse, however, carried him off. The company from the station who were on the hunt of him were in hearing of the guns when they fired on him. They rushed on to the place and found the Indians and a battle ensued. They killed one Indian and got his scalp and wounded several more. Five of the whites were wounded; one of them, David Jones, was shot through the middle of the breast, but none of them died except Mr. Bryant , whom the company found in the woods, badly wounded. He was taken to the camp where he died, much lamented.

Again during my residence at the station in 1781, we were in want of salt, and a company of us, about ten or twelve, got on our horses, with our rifles on our shoulders, and started for Bullitt's Lick, near the Falls of the Ohio, where salt was then made. We passed through Lexington, and a little trace to the Kentucky River to Leestown, as it was then called, situated about a half mile below Frankfort. The weather was warm, and we rode down the bank into the water; and while our horses were drinking, all near the bank of the river, a party of Indians that followed us, came on the bank, fired on us and killed one horse, that fell dead in the river. His rider pushed on across the river and the Indians crossed after him and took him prisoner. They wounded five men of our company, all of whom recovered. We gave up our trip and returned to the station.

And again while a man named Daniel Wilcoxen was plowing his corn, in full view of the station about 150 or 200 yards distant, and a man with his son watching as sentry for Indians, a small party crept up near enough and shot and killed him, and one of them with a tomahawk in hand, ran Wilcoxen toward the fort, and was very near getting him, when Wilcoxen jumped the fence, which saved him.

And again, a youth, by the name of Hickey Lea was out of the fort on a horse one morning, into the edge of the woods some 200 or 300 yards, for the pur- pose of grazing the horse, and while he was sitting on the horse, some Indians got near enough and shot the horse, which ran a short distance and fell. The Indians then killed the youth and scalped him.

In 1782, my brother, Robert Johnson, was elected a member of the General Assembly of Virginia, and went to Richmond. I was then also in Virginia. We did not return to Kentucky until after the defeat of the Blue Licks, therefore can say nothing of my own knowledge, as to that and the siege of Simon Girty and the Indians, at Bryant's Station.

About that time, or shortly after, General Clark carried on an expedition against the Indians in the Miami country. My brother, Robert, commanded the company from Bryant's Station, Jeremiah Craig and myself were subalterns. Every man fit for the campaign, except enough to take care of the fort were called out. Col. Benj. Logan was second in command. One wing of the army marched from the Falls, the other from Lexington and Bryant's. They met for general rendezvous on the ground now occupied by Cincinnati, where General Clark took command. We marched through old Chillicothe on the little Miami, on to the Indian town of Piqua on the Big Miami. We had one piece of cannon. The Indians fled and gave us no trouble. They did come back one dark night and fire on us, which caused us to extinguish our fires, but they kept at such a distance as to hurt none of us. Some scouting parties from our camp went out and killed a few Indians and took some prisoners and destroyed their corn fields and villages. We then returned, nearly on the same track we had gone out.

Very shortly after our return home, Col. Thomas Marshall, surveyor of Fayette, who had been waiting for our return of our army, opened his office in Lexing- ton for the entering and surveying of lands. A mighty movement then commenced among the people for entering and surveying. I got the appointment of Deputy Surveyor and commenced surveying, and was considerably in that business for several years. The next year, 1783, the people began to move and settle out on the lands. My brother, Robert, settled on the Big or Great Crossing on North Elkhorn. Captain John Craig settled on Clear Creek, where Payton Short afterwards lived.

Early in 1784 I got married and settled on Green Creek, near Versailles, where it now stands. I was then appointed and commissioned a Militia Captain, and notwithstanding peace was firmly established between England and the United States, yet the Indians continued to be troublesome.

In the year 1786, the government authorized General Clark to carry out another expediton against them, which he undertook, and raised a considerable force. Col. Levi Todd was selected to command Fayette troops, and Benj. Logan from the south of Kentucky; Col. Wm. Steele, Capt. Robert Sanders and myself were selected as Captains, with others whose names I do not recollect. In Col. Todd's regiment we rendezvoused at the Falls, where Gen. Clark took command. He sent his field piece by water down the Ohio and up the Wabash. The army marched by land, and on the way, before reaching Vincennes, the officers held a council of war, and sent Col. Logan back for the purpose of raising another army and marching into the Indian country on the Miami, presuming that the Indians were generally collected on the Wabash in order to meet our expedi- tion. We marched on to Vincennes where we remained a number of days waiting for our cannon, which was detained by low water, until we had eaten up near- ly all our provisions. When the cannon arrived, we marched on up the river about two days, when the regiment that Logan left, mutinied and refused to go further, alleging they had not sufficient stock of provisions, etc. I suppose losing their Colonel had its influence. General Clark was mortified. We returned home. Col. Logan with the command he had raised, went into the Miami country, and succeeded against the Indians fully up to expectations.

In 1789, Woodford County was formed, taken from Fayette, and when the courts were organized, I got the appointment of the County and Quarter sessions; and when Kentucky was made a state, and the courts were reorganized, I again got the appointment to the said courts, which I held until 1796, when I moved to North Bend, in what is now Boone County.

In 1798 an act was passed to establish the said County of Boone, and when the courts were orgainized, I was appointed Clerk of the County Court. Not long after, I was appointed and commissioned a Colonel of the Militia which I held until 1811, about which time I was appointed and commissioned a Justice of the Peace, which office I held until I was commissioned Sheriff of the said county in 1833. In 1813 I was elected a member of the Kentucky Legislature. I have held various other offices and appointments, and filled my stations; have all my life been a farmer and attached to the cultivation of the soil; have served my day and generation, and am now four score and ten, and feel that shortly I must be gathered to my fathers.

(Reminiscences copied from an old printed record in the possession of Mr. William Henry Johnson, Georgetown, Kentucky, January 16, 1922. Annie Payne Giffman)

  
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