Moving from Knox to Knott County

A POEM BY JAMES STILL

I shall not leave these prisoning hills
Though they topple their barren heads to level earth
And the forests slide uprooted out of the sky.
Though the waters of Troublesome, of Trace Fork,
Of Sandlick rise in a single body to glean the valleys,
To drown lush pennyroyal, to unravel rail fences;
Though the sun-ball breaks the ridges into dust
And burns its strength into the blistered rock
I cannot leave. I cannot go away.

Being of these hills, being one with the fox
Stealing into the shadows, one with the new -born foal,
The lumbering ox drawing green beech logs to mill,
One with the destined feet of man climbing and descending,
And one with death rising to bloom again, I cannot go.
Being of these hills I cannot pass beyond.

            In the the early 1840's, William and his family moved to Perry County, which later became Letcher County and then Knott County. Footnote It is reported that he moved to Perry County because of his fondness for hunting. Id. He built a cabin on Ball Creek and remained there just above the mouth of Roaring Branch until he moved to Rowan County in 1862.

            In the foreword to his book of poetry entitled The Holy Season: Walking in the Wild, Albert Stewart, a great grandson, commented about William Charlie and his son, Jasper Stewart:

             For a long time now, I have been a walker in the wild--a walker in the wild and a beachcomber in the brush. The Old Hunters out of Southwest Virginia spoke of the territory where I now live as "The Brush" or perhaps in some pronunciations"The Bresh." It was that part of Eastern Kentucky north and west of Cumberland Gap. They loved to hunt " over in the brush" and reported that the deer were so gentle they hardly looked up at the report of a gun. The Old Hunters named most of the streams and other landmarks while slaughtering wild animals for food, fun,and hides. One, because he relished the delicacy of buffalo tongue broiled ( bfiled), shot a btduo, cut out the tongue and left the carcass to rot and suggest rather strongly, I suspect, the name of Stinking Creek.

             When I asked my father why great-grandfather Old Charlie ( or Wm. Charlie) Stewart moved to this area, leaving a more settled, open, gentle country in Knox County, he replied in one sharp sentence that left no room for further discussion: "He was a hunter." I was left to ponder the extended and intricate meaning of that sentence for years. Old Charlie has credit for killing the last bear in the area, and it was said of him that if he got without meat he would kill his last cow or cow brute for that purpose. Grandfather Jasper Byrd Stewart is reported to have killed the last deer to come from the lick spring near where the home now is.

             I once pondered what my immediate ancestors would have thought of a descendant who not only aspired to be a poet but who had the nerve to collect a group of poems in a book with the title The Holy Season: Walking in the Wild. Would they think of him as a freak of nature? An anachronism? A throw-back? If so, a throw-back to what? What of old William Charlie, the bear killer? What of Jasper Byrd, the deer slayer? My apprehensions were somewhat mollified when I learned that Old Charlie had once taught school but gave it up in favor of hunting and that Jasper Byrd became a self-educated man and a medical doctor with an almost total memory recall who loved to read the British Poets, history, and almost any other source of knowledge he could get his hands on. They both had brothers who were well-known and respected preachers. Jasper Byrd's older brother, Preacher Jim Stewart, surveyed and patented the 200 or so crinkled areas on which I now live. It also helped to learn that another Scottish Stewart was represented in a reputable anthology of Scottish poetry.

At his death in 2001, Albert Stewart willed the family farm with 200 acres to the University of Kentucky.

THE
Hunters of Kentucky.

Ye gentlemen and ladies fair, who grace this famous city,
Just listen, if you've time to spare, while I rehearse a ditty;
And for the opportunity conceive yourselves quite lucky,
For 'tis not often that you see a hunter from Kentucky.
Oh, Kentucky! the hunters of Kentucky.

We are a hardy free-born race, each man to fear a stranger,
Whate'er the game we join in chase, despising toil and danger;
And if a daring foe annoys, whate'er his strength and forces,
We'll show him that Kentucky boys are alligator horses.
Oh, Kentucky, &c.

I s'pose you've read it in the prints, how Packenham attempted
To make old Hickory Jackson wince, but soon his schemes repented;
For we with rifles ready cocked, thought such occasion lucky,
And soon around the general flocked the hunters of Kentucky.

You've heard, I s'pose, how New Orleans is famed for wealth and beauty
There's girls of every hue, it seems, from snowy white to sooty.
So Packenham he made his brags, if he in fight was lucky,
He'd have their girls and cotton bags in spite of old Kentucky.

But Jackson he was wide awake, and wasn't scared at trifles,
For well he knew what aim we take with our Kentucky rifles;
So he led us down to Cyprus swamp, the ground was low and mucky,
There stood John Bull in martial pomp, and here was old Kentucky.

A bank was raised to hide our breast, not that we thought of dying,
But then we always like to rest unless the game is flying;
Behind it stood our little force, none wished it to be greater,
For every man was half a horse and half an alligator.

They did not let our patience tire, before they showed their faces--
We did not choose to waist our fire, So snugly kept our places;
But when so near to see them wink, we thought it time to stop 'em,
And 'twould have done you good I think to see Kentuckians drop 'em

They found at last 'twas vain to fight, where lead was all their booty,
And so they wisely took to flight, and left us all our beauty,
And now if danger e'er annoys, remember what our trade is,
Just send for us Kentucky boys, and we'll protect your ladies.

Andrews, Printer, 38 Chatham St., N. Y., Songs, Games, Toys, Books Motto Verses, &c., Wholesale and Retail.