Saturday, June 20, 2015

Father's Day


                               Chapter Twenty-four

                           A    GIFT   TO   DAD




My father died in 1975.  I think of him not only on Father’s Day.  He has stayed in my special memories for forty years. His gifts to me shaped my life, and too often I regret my failure to acknowledge those gifts while he lived.  Now I realize that I gave him something that made his last years the happiest of his lifetime.

Dad was born in 1900.  William Arthur Lobitz, Jr. was an outstanding athlete early on, so he dropped out of school and played semi-professional football and baseball, ending that career with a semi-pro team in Marshalltown, Iowa.  A few scouts watched him pitch two no-hitters and though he never got a call to the big leagues, his looks and personality paid off and in the Roaring Twenties he sold radios and cars.  After he married my Mom in 1923 he was riding high.  My sister Betty was born in 1924 and for five years our family’s fortunes soared, but then came the Great Depression. 

Because the Lobitz clan had discovered Kinniconick in the early twenties, Dad was a fishing enthusiast.  A tradition among members of the angling fraternity back then was to gather at the old Bolles, Brendamour Sporting Goods Company in downtown Cincinnati.  Every Saturday afternoon a crowd gathered at the tackle counter in the impressive store, a place not unlike the original Abercrombie and Fitch in New York, festooned with art and mounted specimens of deer and moose heads and fish. 

The Great Depression put Dad out of work because people no longer could afford radios and cars, but fate intervened one Saturday when he met Wid Daniel of the Early and Daniel Company at the tackle counter conclave.  Wid liked to fish but he also took a liking to Dad and hired him on the spot.  It was this good fortune, a good job with a good company, that enabled Dad to provide for our family, especially since another mouth had to be fed when I was born in 1930. 

Dad’s gifts to me …….
I was included in all of his recreational pursuits, taught to fish when I was a baby, taught to cast lures and flies as a boy, taken on four-day trips to lakes in Kentucky, Tennessee and North Carolina, brought up with a love of Kinniconick.  Every summer our family vacationed, first on a lake in northern Indiana, then in Michigan and Canada.  He always had time for me, he always included me in his life.  Most of all, he was the best judge of character of any man I’ve ever known.  His friends were legion and those friends became my heroes, too.

Early in the 1930’s a group of angling enthusiasts, including Dad, organized the Cincinnati Angling and Casting Club.  A benefactor provided his thirty acre property and four acre pond on the outskirts of the city, along with a small clubhouse, and this became the home of a wonderful group of people for over 25 years.  The Club prospered at Woods Lake and was central to my family’s social life, the place we spent our Sunday afternoons, participating in tournaments and picnicking with friends. This photo, dating to about 1937 or 1938, was taken at the Club and includes most of the original Board of Directors.

                                  The Cincinnati Casting Club / circa 1937
                                         (click on photo to enlarge)            

Back row, left to right:  Phil Auel, Irv Macke, Dad, Ed Kreibel
Front row, left to right:  Larry Sullivan, Ed Brendamour, Lee Clayton, Charlie Niehaus, Bert Milner, Marvin Hedges.  Hedges was the National Distance Fly Casting Champion at the time.

When he was about sixty years of age Dad developed serious bronchial symptoms and this led to emphysema, a lung condition that is life threatening.  He retired, quit smoking the cigarettes that had caused the disease, and began a medical regimen that gave him another fifteen years of life.  Until the last year or two, and despite some breathing difficulties, Dad had a wonderful time.  He fell in love with the cabin at Kinniconick.

My gift to Dad…..
I was the son who came to love Kinniconick as much as he loved it, and I was the son who was inspired to build a cabin on its banks, a cabin like Bathiany’s, not far from our favorite fishing hole, Pine Eddy.  Dad was instrumental in completing all of the finish work that went into the cabin.  He was retired and had a lot more time to spend at Shabo Mekaw, so Mom and Dad spent many weeks up there, sometimes with relatives and friends.  It became their second home.  Dad was a perfectionist and every project was a masterwork that gave him immense satisfaction.    

A week or two before Dad went off to the hospital for the last time, he wanted to talk.  Our conversation that evening was an emotional experience that I will never forget.  He wanted me to know how much the cabin had meant to him.  He felt enormous pride in the fact that his son had realized a dream that he had always had deep in his own heart.  Our mutual love for that place brought us closer as his life came to an end. 


                               Dad fishing for muskies on Pine Eddy, circa 1935
                                                  (click on photo to enlarge)

Monday, May 25, 2015

Upstream



                                          Chapter Twenty-three

                                                     UPSTREAM

    
                                                      Watercolor by Steve Esteban

When I discovered the poetry of Jeff Hardin several years ago, I read his “Always Upstream or Downstream” and was moved to tears.  Jeff is a Professor of English at Columbia State Community College in Columbia, Tennessee, and has published many poems and several books.  This particular poem recalls a stream in Tennessee where, as a boy, he floated a canoe with his best friend, not his “brother by blood”, but one “whose memory on earth” was worth fighting for.  “Men grow old to learn a young boy’s trust of everything that is”, the poet says.  Read slowly, to the very last line, and tell me if this is not an eloquent paean, combining love and nature, life and longing.

 Always Upstream or Downstream
               By Jeff Hardin

We'd push out in an old canoe to float Horse creek,
fishing poles in hand, a Maxwell House can of red worms
dug up from a place we kept a secret past the barn.
Maybe we had all day—who knows—and maybe a day
meant nothing to us, for all of eternity belonged
to the wind on our faces and the slip-slap sound
of the paddle seeking cool and dark-green, still pools
thick with bream and bass and slick-bellied catfish.
Someone had told us catfish were mythic creatures
that could rise up to walk on water and up the slick banks
to perch themselves in cottonwoods; and maybe they could,
but we never saw them, always upstream or downstream
and never quite lonely enough in our hearts. Albert,
who was not my brother by blood but whose memory
on earth I'll fight you for, would take his rod and reel,
bait the hook with such a gentleness, a patience—
he made a music of it, a visionary music
in praise of fish hid out beneath decaying logs
or sunning themselves in shallows. Such iridescence,
olive and yellow—such craft of dorsal fin and gills.
And the two of us stalled in the middle of nowhere,
the only two people in the history of the world
who would ever see these fish! His cast was flawless,
smooth, almost silent, a balletic motion despite the limbs
we had to navigate. The world believed its wars
and greed, believed its clocks and fame and arguments
of history, while silence seemed to push at us
from every side, until the boat bumped the creek bed.
Even now the bliss of that surprise, the memory of it,
the climbing out to drag and tug, to hear the grit
of an existence that sometimes must be hauled
from one dry place to deeper water. Men grow old
to learn a young boy's trust of everything that is;
but Albert won’t grow old, just young and younger,
forever tying flies, biting off the excess string,
trailing his hand in the coolest water of earth;
and I’ll grow old and older, the wide world filling up
with loss of all we ever saw and marveled at
there on that creek from which long summers go on drinking.
Copyright (c) 2010 by Jeff Hardin. All rights reserved.

My old canoe floated many miles on Kinniconick and I sensed the same silence and then the surprise, “the climbing out to drag and tug, to hear the grit of an existence that sometimes must be hauled from one dry place to deeper water”.  Moving upstream was always a battle when the creek was high, but “even now the bliss of that surprise, the memory of it”, makes me want to cry.  Upstream, something like the life we live, the goal we reach after battling many currents.
And finally, Jeff Hardin speaks to old men like me: 
“I’ll grow old and older, the wide world filling up
with loss of all we ever saw and marveled at
there on that creek from which long summers go on drinking.”


Thursday, May 14, 2015

Feasts Made for Laughter

                                         Chapter Twenty-two

         FEASTS   MADE   FOR   LAUGHTER



The fire-place in the cabin at ShaboMekaw.  That’s a mounted muskellunge caught by the author in Wisconsin, but the same species of fish inhabited Kinniconick and grew just as big.

The cabin at ShaboMekaw was an important part of my life for twenty years.  Looking back at all of the breakfasts, lunches and dinners that were served up to family and friends on hundreds of weekends, and recalling the folks seated around a  hand-hewn table with a view of mountains and creek, I’m reminded of how delicious the food tasted in that rustic retreat.  Good food and drink made for hundreds of “happy hours”.
                                                                                                     
Soon after the cabin was constructed, I installed a propane gas stove, a very efficient four-burner with a small, gas-operated fridge below.  The stone fire-place was constructed with a raised hearth because it would serve as an indoor grill when the weather was suitable.  In the heat of summer, an outdoor grill was employed.  Wherever cooking took place the chef was surrounded by guests.


 In this photo, the propane stove/fridge is visible in the “galley”, behind the bar. The kitchen sink was next to the stove, beneath a window, and the hanging cabinet held glassware and dishes.  (click to enlarge)


This was the dining area with a big window overlooking the “Swirl-hole”.  The table was crafted by my Dad and me from Tennessee red cedar logs.  The hanging lamp was an “Alladin” which produced brilliant light by pumping a base containing kerosene and then igniting a mantle.

The dinner that became a “signature dish” at the cabin was beef roasted in the fireplace along with foil-wrapped Idaho potatoes and a simple salad.  Porterhouse steaks cut to a thickness of about three inches were broiled over a bed of embers, preferably made from a beechwood fire.  When the bed of coals was just right, a basket grill containing the steaks was placed on an iron grate, and because I had wrapped the steaks with bacon strips a lot of flames erupted and charred the bacon.  Then the chef kept a close eye on the embers in order to control the cooking time.  In those days beef was mostly grass-fed, more flavorful and tender.  When served, the charred bacon was removed but it had imparted its distinctive character to the meat.  When all went well the meat was cooked to medium-well and medium-rare, but once in a while it was too rare for a few particular folks.  A hunk of the beef was returned to the fire and the feast was finally devoured.

On occasion porterhouse was replaced by whole beef tenderloins.  When I purchased them at Avril’s meat market in downtown Cincinnati back then big tenderloins cost about ten dollars each!  A good friend and frequent guest at the cabin called the prized cut “elephant wang”.  The same friend was disappointed on one occasion when I introduced a boned, stuffed leg of lamb though it was grilled in the same way and was scrumptious.

One memorable dinner was not cooked over an open fire.  Several men who worked in the paper and printing industry were guests and one, a guy from Maine, brought live lobsters for Saturday night dinner.  A big cauldron of water was placed on one of my small propane burners and we got into a “very-happy -happy -hour” and waited for the water to boil.  As I recall, it took all of an hour to bring it to a boil, the pot being large and half-filled, and at one point we thought it was a lost cause.  How would those lobsters react to being thrown into the fireplace embers? At last the critters took the plunge into boiling water and we feasted on them, and after several martinis they were the best I’ve ever eaten. 

Breakfast usually included bacon and eggs, and I’ll always associate those cooking aromas with early mornings at the cabin, when mists began to rise from the creek to the top of the mountain ridge across the way, and the sun beamed through blue skies.  Some of the best bacon ever was procured at a meat market in Vanceburg where locally smoked “jowl” bacon was available.  Jowl is the cheek of the hog and is thicker, more heavily smoked and saltier than the commercial product.   

Without electricity, we toasted bread on a wire rack that sat on one of the stove burners.  Coffee was brewed in an old-style “drip” pot, and I’m convinced that new electric makers are incapable of producing the same marvelous taste and smell.   

Looking back I can’t recall entertaining teetotalers at the cabin.  Happy Hour was always celebrated before dinner and for some reason a cabin mellows people in a lot of ways.  We drank mostly gin back in those days but whiskey and scotch were available, too.  In my days as a buyer at the Procter and Gamble Company, I made lifelong friendships with four co-workers and they became regulars at the cabin for twenty years.  On a Kentucky Derby weekend one year, a member of the group brought a beautiful silver bucket, fresh mint and a bottle of Bourbon, filled the bucket with ice and then swirled the contents until a rime of ice coated it.  We passed the bucket as we sat in a circle before the fire and drained it, the cabin glowing with the laughter of old friends.

One weekend  I entertained a group of suppliers from the Michigan Carton Company.  Soon after we arrived some bad weather moved in and it rained continuously for two days.  Happy Hours were somewhat extended.  I do have a vivid recollection of the four of us sitting on the porch after dinner, with rain pouring down, a black night with thunder and lightning booming.  We talked about a lot of things, but then one of the guests from Michigan began to tell about his experiences during the Second World War.  We were taken back to the jungles of New Guinea,  the torrential rains, the dripping forests, and the stories got better and better as the night wore on.  The more we drank the more we laughed, there in the dark, in the wooded mountains of Kinniconick.

When I look at photos of the cabin interior I want to picture in my mind all of the many friends and relatives who sat around the big table and in chairs near the fire, over all of those twenty years, and keep them alive in my heart, because most of them are no longer living.  Sure, it’s a sad exercise in a way but in another it’s a commemoration. 

Those cabin feasts were “made for laughter”. 


                         The cabin:  a place made for feasts and laughter.


(The title of this chapter is inspired by Craig Claiborne and his book “A Feast Made for Laughter”.)












Thursday, April 30, 2015

O Me! O Life!



                                Chapter Twenty-one                           
                            O  Me!    O  Life!


                              The Cabin in the Clearing at ShaboMekaw

In the golden days of my youth and middle age, when I discovered ShaboMekaw and dreamed of escaping to Kinniconick for all of my days, the world was a very different place.  One weekend in the 1960s several friends had gathered at the cabin and after dinner on Saturday night we talked about Rachel Carson’s book, “Silent Spring”.  For the first time some people were showing concern about humankind’s impact on nature.  I recall lamenting the impending danger to air and water and to trees and birds.  “What if all the birds are gone?” I asked..  Several of my friends laughed but one said, in a reproachful tone, “You sound like an old man!”

Too soon the world has changed, too soon our birds may be gone.  Our skies may be become barren and our oceans may die.  The destruction that humans have wrought is almost beyond repair.  A baby boy or girl born today will join a population boom of five billion by the end of this century, and the planet is already struggling to sustain the multitudes.  Only inspired leadership can save the world.

Those of us who may sound like “old men” and “old women” because we recognize the dangers in climate change and global warming, and agonize over the death of coral and the declining species of fish, and mourn the extinction of plants and animals, we are the friends of the earth.  Every wild place needs protection and we have a duty to save it.  ShaboMekaw remains one tiny oasis in this sea of indifference.  That little corner of the world was saved by Sharmon and Todd, and I will always be grateful, just to know that it is still there, much as it was 50 years ago.  Memories warm my heart in old age and give me hope.  Kinniconick will always give identity to my life.

In 1892, Walt Whitman reflected on his life and identity.  Way back then the cities were “filled with fools”, the “sordid crowds struggled and plodded”, much as they do now.  If he were alive today, Walt Whitman would agonize and mourn with all of us who see the world on the brink, “empty and useless years” stretching before us.  But Whitman the poet had an answer for all of those recurring questions.  Oh, Walt!  We need you again to “contribute a verse”. 

                                                      O Me!  O Life!
                                                         by Walt Whitman     

Oh me! Oh life! of the questions of these recurring,
Of the endless trains of the faithless, of cities fill’d with the foolish,
Of myself forever reproaching myself, (for who more foolish than I, and who more faithless?)
Of eyes that vainly crave the light, of the objects mean, of the struggle ever renew’d,
Of the poor results of all, of the plodding and sordid crowds I see around me,
Of the empty and useless years of the rest, with the rest me intertwined,
The question, O me!, so sad, recurring — What good amid these, O me, O life?
                Answer.
That you are here — that life exists and identity,
That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.

“Dead Poets Society” is one of my favorite movies of all time.  The late Robin Williams recited this Whitman poem to his students in an unforgettable scene.  Click on link  to view this beautiful clip.
       

Monday, April 6, 2015

Bathiany

                                 CHAPTER   TWENTY


                        BATHIANY’S   CABIN 


For those of you who have read more than one chapter of this blog, you may recall that a friend of my grandfather built a log cabin on Pine Branch, a small creek that flowed into Pine Eddy, and when this friend shared his Kinniconick retreat with the Lobitz clan, he became a legend.  I did not have the pleasure of meeting this man but in stories my family told and retold he was simply called “Bathiany”.

Those stories about the man have stayed with me.  He was a bachelor and he loved nature, and somehow he discovered a remote vacation spot in eastern Kentucky.  The Kinniconick Hotel, built in about 1850 on the banks of the creek for which it was named, drew folks from as far away as Cincinnati.  Bathiany traveled to Vanceburg by train and then by horse and wagon to the wilderness hotel.  The old hotel stands to this day.


My guess is that Bathiany was born in about 1860, and his first adventures in Kinniconick country may have occurred late in the nineteenth century.  Perhaps he met one of the Bate family during a stay at the hotel and visited their place on Pine Eddy.   At some point in time he purchased several acres from the Bates and had his cabin built, a genuine log cabin made of chestnut logs.

The original structure was not large, perhaps sixteen feet wide and thirty-two feet long.  Later, he added a spacious screened porch and that addition made it possible for most of the Lobitz family to congregate for summer vacations, a dozen or more, some on cots set up on the porch.  Many years have passed since I slept in Bathiany’s cabin but I can see every detail to this day. 


Two double beds, one single and one roll-away accommodated six.  A wood stove in the kitchen connected to the fireplace chimney, and a sink with a hand pump provided water from a well.  Oil lamps gave us light and enhanced the warm and cozy feel of living in the wilderness.  An outdoor privy was located nearby, as well as a tool shed where dry wood was stacked.



This photograph, taken sometime in the mid-nineteen twenties, records some of my family with Bathiany at his cabin.  Unfortunately, just a corner of the cabin porch is visible in the background, but my grandfather’s touring car is parked there, and in the line-up, from left to right, are:  my Grandfather, Bathiany, my Dad, and my uncles Edward (Dup), Bill and Howard.

My earliest memories of the place go back to the mid-thirties, and then around1940 Bathiany was gone and his cabin was owned by a Norwood, Ohio family.  The Sankers were good folks and they were happy to rent the place to us, so I recall many happy days in that rustic retreat on Kinniconick over the span of twenty years.  Chapter Nineteen of this blog is entitled “Camaraderie” and is dedicated to the memory of annual weekend trips with my Dad and two favorite Uncles.

I believe it was in 1943, during the War, when Mom and Dad and I joined Doc and Ruth Snavely for the Labor Day weekend at Bathiany’s cabin.  Fred Snavely was a dentist in Cincinnati and he and his wife became my parent’s close friends.  Because they were so close, and because I came to love them, I always called them “Uncle Doc” and “Aunt Ruth”.  They were wonderful people to be around.

That night it began to rain.  And the foul weather continued, not a down-pour but a steady, cold rain, so we did little fishing on Sunday.  A big fire in the fireplace kept us warm, and then we discovered some entertainment.  An ancient wind-upVictrola had survived the great 1937 flood, when Bathiany’s place was under several feet of water.  Dad repaired it, attaching a tin can to the armature, and it produced a rather tinny sound, a sound we found hilarious.  Caruso and other opera stars were included in the stack of records but my favorite was a rendition of “Whispering”, a 1920’s hit that lives on to this day.   



One more favorite experience at Bathiany’s cabin occurred in about 1945 or 1946, shortly after my sister Betty and her husband Jim Geers were married.  Betty adored the rustic countryside, old farm houses, lamplight and woodfires, and of course she had the strong ties to Kinniconick that we all shared.  Jim rented the old cabin from Mr. Sanker for one week in June and the three of us spent idyllic days, in perfect weather, on the creek and on woodland trails.  We discovered that Pine Eddy was full of delectable panfish when we decided to try some flyfishing there for the first time.  Fortunately, I had my fly-tying kit with me because we ran out of the best flies, the ones that attracted bluegills, warmouth, sunfish, rock-bass and pumpkinseed.  Jim and I scaled our bountiful catch, and then Betty dipped them in cornmeal and fried them in bacon drippings.  I have no doubt that Betty would have been happy to live out her life in that little corner of the world.

Bathiany’s cabin is gone, ever since one year in the 1960s when someone purchased it and took it apart, one log at a time, then reassembled it, who knows where?  If only that someone could know how the place provided so much happiness to so many people, and how it inspired a kid to follow in the footsteps of its creator, how the kid became a man who built his own cabin deep in those wooded hills, overlooking a wonderful creek in Kentucky.








Saturday, February 21, 2015

Camaraderie


                                                    Chapter  Nineteen

                                   CAMARADERIE   

 

A favorite memory of boyhood, of my Dad and two Uncles, at a cabin in the woods of Kinniconick and the discovery of camaraderie.


It was early in the spring or late in the fall of forty or forty-one.
We loaded our gear in Dad’s Chevrolet and headed east,
hugging the northern shore of the great river in Ohio,
then crossed the bridge at Aberdeen as the sun set in the west. 
Perhaps the moon was full that Friday night, I don’t recall,
but the Kentucky mountains surrounding us were black as pitch,
and the rocky road to the cabin was rough as a cob.
We reached the cabin and listened to familiar sounds
of the creek and of an owl and the calls of whippoorwills.
My heart fills with the memory of being one of them back then,
just a kid with his dad and two favorite uncles, all long gone,
and the old cabin along Pine Branch near a riffle on Kinniconick,
with two whole days ahead of us, the roaring fire at night,
the good food and grown-up talk, the precious time on the water.

There were chores for us to do, the gathering of wood,
the kerosene lamps that needed to be filled, and good old Uncle Bill,
a consummate soul, scalded the cottage pots and pans and dishes.
Soon there was a bed of embers in the wood burning stove
and the fireplace was ablaze, and we ate a late, light dinner.
At crack of dawn the cabin was lamp-lit, warm and aromatic,
with the sweet and rustic aroma of beechwood and bacon.
At this very moment I can hear the unforgettable laugh
of Uncle Dup, a gentle giant, hovering near the kitchen stove
and making all of us happy to be alive and in that moment.
Imagine the kind of camaraderie that filled the old cabin
and followed us to the creek, and glorified a day of fishing.  
Imagine an impressionable young boy with men he loved
and how those impressions have lasted for a life time.


Weekend trips to Bathiany’s cabin with Dad, Uncle Bill and Uncle Dup became annual events until I enrolled in college.  Later, when my own cabin was built, Uncle Bill used his skills and helped with finishing projects, and Uncle Dup and his wife, Helen, spent many happy days with my parents after all had retired.





Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Larkin Liles

                                            
                                     
                                              CHAPTER   EIGHTEEN

                     A    KINNICONICK    LEGEND

                              LARKIN   LILES



“Down on His Luck”, an oil painting by Frederick McCubbin

There are many folks in the Kinniconick valley who not only remember the old stories about Larkin Liles but who are also descended from branches of his family tree that began to grow in Kentucky soil two hundred years ago.  There are many, many Liles scattered in the hills and valleys of Virginia, North Carolina and Tennessee, going back to the earliest days of the Republic.  In or about 1810, however, one William Henry Liles, Sr. trekked into Kentucky from North Carolina with his Cherokee wife and their six children.  They settled on a farm along the Kinniconick and I can only assume that the spot was located on Liles Eddy, a part of middle Kinney.  Their second oldest boy, Larkin, may have been in his twenties when they arrived, but no record exists as to when he married and raised a family.  His father, William Henry, died in 1823.

My memories of Liles Eddy are beautiful ones and I’ve shared some stories in previous chapters, but I have a few more.  I remember the rough road, back then, to Field Stafford’s farm, how it curved around the base of a hill, with big slabs of sandstone hanging close on the left.  Then, emerging from the woods, the spread of the farm came into view, the road paralleling the creek before reaching the old farm house.  Field had given me permission to launch my canoe from a spot on this road, where the bank was not too steep.  The eddy was not big, not nearly as large as Pine Eddy, but it was broken by shallows and holes with lily pads in abundance.  On one trip a friend and I experienced the best bass fishing of all my years on Kinney, and on another trip I caught a muskie at the tail end of the eddy.

Back in those days fifty years ago, the Pileated Woodpecker had just begun to make a come-back from near extinction.  One glorious day a pair of them cavorted over the eddy as we drifted silently in the canoe, and for an hour I was close to those wonderful birds and their distinctive calls.  There were no signs of habitation along the length of Liles Eddy then, and I never encountered another fisherman on any of my visits there.

Often I regret that I knew so little in those days about the history of the area and the people who lived there.  It was not until the advent of computers and the wealth of information available about any subject in creation that I began to appreciate the unique character of the region.  If only I could go back to Liles Eddy and sit with Field on his front porch and talk about the lore of Kinniconick and about one famous fellow by the name of Larkin Liles.

In 1837 or 1838, Larkin Liles rode his horse into Vanceburg, a fifteen mile trip through wilderness and mountain passes.  No doubt it was a Saturday afternoon, and he had a few drinks with the boys after buying provisions and taking care of some chores.  Vanceburg was the frontier and it was a rough town in those days.  A fight broke out in the street and Larkin was in the middle of it.  Thus the legend of this mountain man began, but rather than tell the story myself, I have an excerpt from a book written 100 years ago and it is far more eloquent.  Martha Purcell wrote “Stories of Old Kentucky” in 1915, and included this chapter about Larkin Liles.

               A  Lesson  In  Honor

In the early days of Kentucky, when the shrill whistle of the locomotive had not yet reverberated among the hills, there dwelt in Lewis County a man by the name of Larkin Liles.  He was the hardy son of a hardy race.  He hunted and trapped and lived and loved; and while he knew not a letter of the alphabet, had never attended school a day in his life nor heard the golden rule, yet his rugged honesty and high sense of honor can never be surpassed.

On one occasion, when in Vanceburg and while under the influence of whiskey, he became involved in a rough-and-tumble fight with very serious results.  For this offense he was tried, found guilty and sentenced to serve one year in the penitentiary.  As he left the courtroom, Liles addressed the sheriff of the county.  

"Uncle Buck", he said (everyone in the county called the sheriff Uncle Buck) "won't you let me go home and get in my winter wood and fix to gather my corn crop, so's to fatten my hogs, and to keep the young-uns on?  Then I's be ready to go with ye to the penitentiary."

"How long will it take ye, Jaybird?" All of Larkin's friends called him "Jaybird".

"About two weeks," Liles replied.

So well did the sheriff know the pride with which " Jaybird" Liles kept a promise, and so confident of his return at the promised time as was Damon that Pythias would return, that Uncle Buck said, "Go ahead and do it."

The wood was cut, an arrangement was made concerning the crop, the good-bye kisses were given to his weeping wife and helpless babes, and Larkin Liles was ready to make the trip to Frankfort.  But when he got to the sheriff's office, he trembled at the thought of the disgrace, of being taken by Uncle Buck by stage to the penitentiary as a prisoner.  "You go by stage," he said, "but please let me take my gun and walk over the mountains to Frankfort, and I'll meet you on any spot, on the day you appoint."

The sheriff looked Larkin Liles in the eye and said, "All right, Jaybird, when you get to Frankfort go straight to the governor's office and I'll meet you there."

Then this rugged mountaineer, this unlettered, unpolished son of the hills, with honor as his watchword, walked over one hundred miles, over hills and through vales and across streams, to arrive on one early June morning in the town of Frankfort. Ten hours later, the sheriff came by stage and found Jaybird at the governor's office.

Governor Clark listened to Jaybird's story.  In amazement, he asked the sheriff, "Is this man crazy?  Why didn't he escape?"

"No, Jaybird is not simple.  He is honest," Uncle Buck replied.

With a heart heaving with emotion and eyes dim with tears, the governor hastily affixed his name and the seal of the commonwealth to a small piece of paper, handed  to Larkin Lilies and said in a husky voice, "Mr. Liles, go home to your family and kiss the little ones for me.  You shall never enter the penitentiary while Clark is governor of Kentucky."


Larkin Liles died in 1849 and is buried in a small family cemetery near Camp Dix.  One of his descendants was Amos Howard, the game warden for the valley back in the early 1920s when my father and his family first discovered Kinney.  Amos, along with Dr. William Talley and William Dugan marked Larkin’s grave with a commemorative monument.  I had the great pleasure of corresponding with Dr. Talley before his death a few years ago.  He taught at McGill University in Montreal and was a noted historian and genealogist.  There will never be a more brilliant scholar on the subject of Eastern Kentucky, and especially Kinniconick.

The monument to Larkin Liles remembers him as a pioneer and backwoodsman “whose word was his bond”.