George Dorsey


(John Forsee)

George Dorsey:

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


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.

George Conrad George Eason facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail