Thomas Wise of Shelby Township
Reminiscences of a Jefferson County Pioneer
Published in the Madison Weekly Courier – Nov. 12, 1873
Old Tommy Wise, Commissioner of this county for twenty-one years, and as well known perhaps as any man in it, was born in the Eastern Shore of Maryland in 1793. His parents emigrated to Kentucky when the baby, Old Tommy, was about two years of age. The family were conveyed by pack horses from their home on the Eastern Shore to Pittsburgh. There they united with five other families in purchasing two boats, in which they floated down the Ohio to Louisville. A constant dread and fear was entertained by the occupants of the barges all through their lonely and tedious journey. Two emigrant boats which had started out just ahead of them were attacked by the Indians, and not a single soul escaped to tell the tale of fiendish cruelty of which they were the victims. The entire party perished, killed, mangled and scalped by the relentless savage. The horrid sight of the wrecked barges, bespattered with blood and hideous with every shape of repulsive death, was enough to unman the stoutest heart. That the party with which young Wise was, persisted in settling in such a country is the best evidence of the courage of the pioneers and their heroic risings above all difficulties and perils.
Our party finally landed at Louisville in the spring of 1795. The Wise family at once moved to Nelson County, Ky. The father of the little brood, environed by so many cares and dangers, here took sick and died within twenty-two days. There was left the mother, Mrs. Wise, with Tommy, the baby, three boys and two girls, the eldest not over ten years of age. The bereaved family remained in Nelson County until 1800 when old Shakeford Gray, of Trimble County, offered them a home on Corn Creek, three miles south of Milton on the Bedford road. Mrs. Wise accepted this friendly offer and with her young boys took charge of a mill owned by Mr. Gray on the creek. This mill was located near the present Corn Creek Baptist meeting house.
While living at this mill, Mr. Wise for the first time crossed the river and visited Madison. This was on the day of the first sale of lots, in 1809. Tommy Wise was then but sixteen years old. In the fall of 1811, two years after, the Massacre at Pigeon Roost occurred. Mrs. Wise was sick at the time and did not wish her son to go to the scene of the massacre to engage in the pursuit of the Indians. But the young man’s blood was way up, and waiting only to procure a nurse for his mother and see her comfortably fixed, he started with a companion to the Pigeon Roost Settlement; at that time on the confines of Jefferson County, now in Scott County some two miles from Vienna.
The mournful task of burying the slaughtered dead was just being commenced as Wise and his friend rode up to the settlement. From twenty-three to twenty-six persons, men, women and children, were butchered by the Indians at this massacre. Wise passed from cabin to cabin and saw the bodies of the dead stretched out awaiting burial. It was estimated that six hundred people assembled at Pigeon Roost and were present at the interment of the dead. There was a great deal of talk about pursuing the Indians, but only one squad started after them, and they returned without a scalp.
The Indians belonged to Tecumseh’s tribe, the Shawnees, and were thought to be led by Captain White Eyes. This was a different Indian from Old Chief White Eyes, the Pottawatomies who lived on Indian Creek. The Shawnee White Eyes was wounded in the battle of Tippecanoe. Several years after that (says Mr. Wise) he came to Madison, and a party of us saw him. We noticed something was the matter with his knee, and had heard about his being wounded at Tippecanoe. We took hold of him and made him pull down his leggings and let us see the place. He objected at first, but didn’t make any resistance of consequence. I felt like cutting his throat.
During the month of October, after the massacre, my mother died, continues Mr. Wise, and in the spring after that I entered into the Ranging service. Congress authorized the raising of four companies of Rangers in Indiana Territory, McKee of Danville, Ky., was in Congress, and he notified his brother-in-law, Williamson Dunn, of the fact, before anybody else knew it. Dunn, with Ristine to help him, went to work and raised the first company. Ristine brought over twenty-five men from Kentucky into the company. I was among these. When we got together there was a hundred and six of us. The company was mustered into the service on the 13th of April, 1813. We were directed then to elect officers. Williamson Dunn and old Col. Ryker ran for captain. Dunn was elected. A Methodist preacher named Henry Brinton was the 1st Lieutenant. Brinton used to preach to us every once in a while. We were as orderly as could be, but didn’t care nothing for it. Henry Ristine, 2nd Lieutenant; David Hillis, 3d Lieutenant; Green B. Fields, Ensign; John Thorn, Orderly Sergeant. We laid in at Madison the night after the election. Ristine took as many as he could accommodate to his Block House on the hill, where old Judge Gale lives; Capt. Dunn took a lot down to Hanover; a squad went to Booth’s tavern, but the most of us laid out in the woods on Third Street, where the No. 1 Engine House now stands, and along there towards the Brewery. The Court House Square was not cleared off then; there was a fort in there. The next day they marched us out to Harbor’s Creek,
to Harbert’s fort. The fort stood right on the site of the meeting house at Wirt, just south of the creek on the high bank. We camped outside the fort. The next morning Dunn divided the company. He sent one half under Henry Brinton to Buchanan’s Block House. He took the other half himself and went to Deputy Block House. I was with Brinton’s command at Buchanan’s. I had been there about a month when Ristine and Dunn came to get volunteers to go down to Eb. Collins’ fort, on Silver Creek, in Clark County. The Indians had come in and killed old man Hoffman and all the stock on his place. The other men kept in the house and fought the Indians until reinforcements came and drove them away.
Ristine was sent to command Collings Fort, about a dozen families having fled there for refuge. When our party left Buchanan’s blockhouse, in Shelby Township, we numbered between ten and fifteen. About eighteen Rangers were left at the blockhouse. We first struck for Malony, a little settlement three miles below the present Brownstown, in Jackson County. It was the only settlement laid out in that county. From Malony, we scouted to Finley’s Fort, which was about seven miles this side of Salem, on a hill-top. Next we went to McKinght’s Fort, about the same distance on the other side of Salem. Our party of Rangers were kept scouting up and down riding through the woods between these forts for a month. Then came on the Delaware Campaign, which lasted fourteen days. Col. Bartholomew, of Charlestown, commanded it. He was an old Revolutioner and a very popular man. Bartholomew County got its name after him. There was Captain James Bigger’s company raised in Charlestown, Capt. Phaeton’s company raised near Salem, and Williamson Dunn’s company raised at Madison. Our order of march was like this:
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The first two marks represent the spies who were sixty or seventy yards in advance. Then came a guard of three men, and some ways behind them the army marching in five lines. Andersontown on White River was the first Indian camp we struck. It was a big town of the Delawares, fully three miles long. All the Indians had run off so all we could do was to burn the bark sheds (wigwams), the corn and whatever they had. We followed down the river till we came to Connerstown. Conner was a white man. He and his brother were captured when young by the Indians and brought up amongst them. There were no Indians here either, and we didn’t find any until we came to Loganstown. A canoe was hitched on the other side of the river from town. Three or four of us undertook to take it. All about the canoe were thick bushes, and we didn’t know but what they were full of Injuns.
However, a man named Hays and myself swum across and got the canoe and came back. I was put on guard right there that night. We saw from the signs that the Injins were about and were ordered to shoot without hailing if we saw or heard anything I was right on the river bank. It was the most bothersome place for frogs I ever seed. They kept jumping in the water, startling me all night. The next morning thirty volunteers under Captain Dunn went over the river where the canoe was to reconnoiter. We saw tracks all around and not more than four miles from the river we heard bells ringing. Then pretty soon we saw the smoke rising from a camp-fire, and then we strained our eyes and got a glimpse of seven or eight horses. We didn’t know how many there was, but we knew there was Injins there.
Our men divided into four parties to form a hollow square to surround them and take them in. The Injins didn’t seem to suspect anything ‘til they saw us forming. They broke and run then. Our two spies, Shields and Ketcham, shot one. They disputed as to which one did the shooting. Shields got the scalp, but after we got back to camp, Ketcham raised a row and got up an enquiry, and the scalp was given to him. The line I was in charged up towards the fire. Pretty soon we saw an Injin dodging through the grass, coming towards us. I was just behind Williamson Dunn. In a minute the Injin dropped behind a log, and we couldn’t see nothing but the muzzle of his gun. The next thing we knew we heard the flint snapping as he pulled the trigger. They tried to get up a yarn on the old man (Dunn) about this, that he got scared and jumped behind an oak tree. He’d a’been a purty fool if he hadn’t – and the fact is I jumped behind that tree, too. There the Injin lay behind the log shaking and pointing his gun till our squad charged and fired. We didn’t know whether there was any more with him or not, but it proved there wasn’t any just there. A bullet went through his body at the first fire and he couldn’t move, the caul fat was running out of him a foot long. After the men got up they all fired again. There wasn’t less than twenty holes in him, and the blood was streaming and spurting out of them all. After all this he drawed himself up on his knees and put his hands over his face and fell over dead.
I didn’t stay any longer, it disgusted me. The men was talking of cutting razor straps out of his back, too, and all such stuff. Another Injin was pursued by the mounted spies, (our squad was on foot). They chased him till he jumped over a steep bank of White River. Then they had to stop and hunt a place to get over. They followed pretty close to after him, however, one after the other jumping his horse over the bank and following on into the woods quick. The last one to leap was Hays, the same fellow that swum after the canoe with me. As Hays went over the bank his saddle-girth burst, and he was thrown down. He got up and was getting on his horse, when the Injin jumped up and fired at him, hitting him in the hip. The painted Injin then grabbed at his horse’s head and caught the bridle, and was off in a minute. He’d hid in the ravine and the Rangers just looked around, when they crossed the creek, and passed on without seeing him. As soon as they heard the shot they wheeled and returned. Hays told him to never mind him, he was wounded, and the Indian was just ahead. They went on but could not ketch him, he got away. We then made a bark canoe and floated Hays down the Muscatatuck to Malony, where he lived. He died in three days after we took him there. His wife moved up into this county afterwards, but I have not heard of her or her children for sometime.
The Mississinewa Campaign took place almost immediately after this, in June, 1813. We met by order of Col. Russell at Vincennes. Col. Russell was a Regular Army officer; he had half his command at Vincennes and the other half at St. Louis. We were gone on this expedition about thirty eight days. Zach Taylor, afterwards President of the United States, was along. Our command numbered from 900 to 1,000 men. The march was from Malony to Mississinewa on the Wabash, about 40 miles southwest of Fort Wayne. We saw no Indians though we went to every town along the Wabash. “Well, can’t you tell me something about President Taylor?” we inquired. “Oh,” replied Mr. Wise, “that would be too much like talking about myself.” After considerable questioning, the following interesting episode was obtained: Taylor and I had a fuss the other side of the Wabash. He was the officer of the day, and it was his business to oversee things and have charge of the line of march. My horse had got lame and Capt. Dunn gave me leave to go between the advance guard and the army. So you see I was out of my regular place. I was afoot driving my horse in front of me when Taylor came up. There were some other men just behind me, and he road up to us cursing and asked, “Why are you out of your place?” He then drew his ram-rod and hit a man named Newland on the shoulder. That fired me up. He came up then and undertook to drive me out in the nettles. The nettles were as high as my head on each side of the trace, and to put a horse in them was like getting him into a yellow jacket’s nest. He’d jump and kick and squirm, and there was no holding him. So when I didn’t get out he turned into cursing me and asked my name. I told him my parents was poor folks and didn’t give me any. He then took his United States rifle and raised it to poke my horse; it was too far off, and he commenced crowding up, I just brought my gun to my shoulder and said, “If you try poking that horse again I’ll shoot you.” He then quit, and saying “I’ll fix you, my good fellow,” started off. That night he traced me by description. Dunn was ordered to deliver up the one that spoke so harsh to the officer of the day. Dunn came to me, but I just told him I didn’t want to talk about it. If they hauled me up and paddled me, I’d shoot Taylor. Finally I went to where Russell and Taylor was. Col. Russell said, “Is this the man, Major Taylor?” Taylor answered, “He looks like the boy, but I don’t say it was him.” So I got off all right. Our company was mustered out in March, 1814.
In June an Act of Congress was passed authorizing the re-raising of Dunn’s company. In re-organizing the Rangers, Dunn, Brinton and Ristine resigned from the service, and left Hillis and Fields to get up the company. James McCarty was 1st Sergeant and George Curry 2d Sergeant of the new company. I enlisted in it again. The company was mustered service by Major Zachary Taylor in Madison, on Main Cross street, between Mrs. Sering’s house and Craig’s store, right in the corner. We had no horses this year, but were stationed at blockhouses ranging from Whitewater to the Muscatatuck .
Inhabitants were coming in then in small squads and crowding out in the country, and every one wanted five or six Rangers. The company served in this way until the expiration of the year, when we were mustered out; that was in 1815, after the war closed. The first year we went out from Madison as Rangers, Harbert’s Creek was the frontier. There were no inhabitants except on the hills bounding the river, and the few at the half dozen Blockhouses. When we quit, Vernon and Versailles were the frontier. In the meantime, the people came in and settled between these places. After the war the flat at Madison was kept busy all the time moving new-comers across the river. The people just poured in after they heard the Indians had left. At this time I boarded in Madison at Henry Ristine’s tavern. It stood east of the new Masonic Temple. I got married in 1817 and moved out to this farm in 1821, and have lived here ever since. I entered my land in 1814, before I was of age. Paid the government $2 per acre for 160 acres. When a Ranger, I was allowed $1 per day for me, my horse and gun, and find myself. The next year I only got 75 cents per day. With money received from the government I paid the first year’s payment and a good part of the rest too. There wasn’t an inhabitant a mile the other side of Mud Lick then, (six miles distant) except old Mason Watts. A brother of mine came and lived on the land in a little log house at first, the fall of 1814. I built this house I am now living in, in 1821. They hadn’t got to sawing plank in those days. The boards in the flooring and loft were sawed by hand.
The first settlers in Shelby Township were John Clines, Samuel Ryker, Robert Lott, father of Mark Lott,-Jones, Peter Ryker, John Weatherford, George Kindle, James Christie, Abraham Lewis, John Minor, William Benefield, Moody Fullom, Billie Robbins, Robert Irwin and myself, Thomas Wise. I think Samuel Ryker and his son-in-law, John Weatherford, were the first and came here in 1809.
In 1816 we changed from a territorial to a State government; Shelby Township was not laid off until after this. The Delawares and Pottawatomies claimed this country. It was bought from them at Vincennes in 1805 by old Harrison, Governor of the Territory. Jefferson County then spread out over Scott and Jennings and Ripley.
The narrator of the above and subject of the sketch, the Hon. Thomas Wise, is still residing on his farm near Bryantsburg. The wide and enviable reputation he enjoys in this community is expressed most strongly by the simple fact that the people elected him County Commissioner for seven distinct terms. Mr. Wise served Jefferson County in the capacity indicated for twenty-one years, a term of service that will probably never be equaled for duration as long as the county has a history.
Mr. Wise also represented Jefferson in the State Legislature for two terms. At the age of eighty his faculties are still well preserved, though beginning to fail, and his conversation bright and intelligent. When the writer for the first time accosted him on Tuesday last, he found the old warrior, Cincinnatus like, at his farm labor – chopping wood. A trifling task for a pioneer, a man of our heroic age, but much too difficult for many of our modern youths – such men as live in these degenerate days.