Tag Archives: Crab Orchard

Retta Younger and A. B. Rawlins – Destiny by Marriage

The following is a preview of what readers can expect to find in THIS BLOODY GROUND – Volume II of the Jesse James Soul Liberty quintet, scheduled for publication in 2015.

Henrietta Younger-Rawlins with brothers Jim, Bob, & Cole Younger
Henrietta Younger-Rawlins with brothers Jim, Bob, & Cole Younger

While history recognizes Henrietta Younger-Rawlins as a sister to the notorious Younger brothers, history has ignored Retta’s husband A. Bledsoe Rawlins. When Retta married A. Bledsoe Rawlins on April 2nd of 1894, two families whom Frank and Jesse’s grandfather John M. James had known as his neighbors in Kentucky, were brought together in a union destined to be both comfortable and natural. The two families had known each other for over 100 years, through at least three generations.

Charles Lee Younger, Wilbur Zink Collection
Col. Charles Lee Younger, Wilbur Zink Collection

When Retta’s young but aristocratic grandfather, Col. Charles Lee Younger, arrived on the Kentucky frontier at Crab Orchard, no one could mistake the young man for what he was. Col. Younger first appeared as the dutiful son of his father, John Logan Younger. But the untamed and wild frontier of Kentucky soon transformed him into the man he was destined to become, as the destiny of many of Col. Younger’s new neighbors also was being constructed.

The elder Younger was crippled. John Logan Younger had suffered “a rupture” while serving at Valley Forge in the 12th Regiment of Gen. George Washington’s Continental Army. John M. James, then a wagoner and spy for Washington, was there, too, suffering from a bullet wound. Valley Forge was where the alliance of the James-Younger families first aligned. Despite his disability, John Logan Younger continued in military service until discharged in January of 1779. He and John M. James then migrated with a Traveling Church of rebel Baptist preachers, arriving on the Kentucky frontier around 1782. Also among those rebel preachers were the brothers Moses Owsley and William Miller Bledsoe. According to pension papers, the elder Younger was a farmer, but now he was “unable to follow it.” He was in need of an income. More importantly, he needed his youngest son’s help. Col. Younger arrived to assist his older brothers, Lewis, Peter, Henry, and Isaac. The Colonel brought the company of his Indian woman.

The Olde Fort of Harrod's Town 1775-1776
The Olde Fort of Harrod’s Town 1775-1776

Nothing on this bloody ground of Kentucky wilderness could be achieved alone. The land Col. Younger tried to farm, also forced him into taming and protecting it. Around Crab Orchard, Col. Younger found himself among the surveyors and cabin builders from Fort Harrod, Abraham and Isaac Hite. From Harrods’s Fort, their cousin Col. John Bowman repelled the Shawnee back into Ohio territory with his brothers Isaac, Joseph, and Abraham, all grandsons of Hans Jost Heydt and Hite cousins. The Bowman brothers were renowned as “The Centaurs of Cedar Creek.” The bonds formed here among the Hite, Younger, and James families would strengthen across two future generations, when the grandsons of John M. James and Col. Charles Lee Younger produced the explosive identity of the James-Younger gang in the Civil War era.

Nearby at Cedar Creek in the shadow of Col. William Whitley’s station, John M. James was acquiring land adjacent to his neighbors, the former Marylanders Thomas Owsley and Johannes Vardeman. Daniel Boone hired Vardeman as an ax man to blaze his Wilderness Road. John M. James was captain of a militia protecting it from Native-American assaults.

Col. William Whitley
Col. William Whitley

An early arrival at Cedar Creek, William Whitley became mentor to all of these men. Whitley perfected the principle of fighting the enemy on its home ground. When he did, Whitley always returned with the finest horses the Indians could breed, excellent enough to attract the eyes of Col. Younger and John M. James, who became gambling turfmen of horse racing at Whitley’s Sportsman’s Hill. Here the personality for racing and risk entered the DNA of the James-Younger gang.

As the rebel preachers, led by the rabid Elijah Craig, fanned out across this new frontier, ferociously founding churches in all the future Kentucky strongholds of the James family, Rev. William Miller Bledsoe married Craig’s niece, Elizabeth Craig. When she died giving childbirth, Bledsoe married Patience Owsley, a daughter of Thomas Owsley, John M. James’ adjacent neighbor. Bledsoe initiated a religious revival, expecting to seed the meetinghouse at Cedar Creek as the first Baptist church of Crab Orchard. Through the power of four hundred conversions, Bledsoe made his move.

The expectation of the upstart preacher John M. James to build a house for the Lord was eclipsed once more. John had occupied himself too much with ushering and settling migrants, furnishing supplies for them, and keeping an eye for more land to acquire, and perhaps a town he could found for a church of his own.  For now, the ministry of others shadowed the fervor of John M. James. He vowed, someday his fervor would be unleashed.

Rev. Jeremiah Vardeman, son of Johannes Vardeman. As a teenage miscreant, Jerry Vardeman played fiddle for balls in William Whitley’s attic. After eloping with a daughter of John M. James, Jerry was brought into the fold of the Cedar Creek Baptist Church, later succeeding William Miller Bledsoe as its pastor. From his 4,000 converts and an abundance of other churches he preached among, Rev. Jeremiah Vardeman culled money necessary to supply Frank & Jesse James’ father, Rev. Robert Sallee James, with 7 slaves, and fund to buy James Gilmore’s farm and found William Jewell College in Clay County, Missouri.
Rev. Jeremiah Vardeman, son of Johannes Vardeman.

As a teenage miscreant, Jerry Vardeman, a son of Johannes Vardeman, played fiddle for balls in William Whitley’s attic. After eloping with a daughter of John M. James, Jerry was brought into the fold of the Cedar Creek Baptist Church, later succeeding William Miller Bledsoe as its pastor. From his 4,000 converts and an abundance of other churches he preached among, Rev. Jeremiah Vardeman culled money necessary to supply Frank & Jesse James’ father, Rev. Robert Sallee James, with 7 slaves, and $20,000 in additional funds to buy James Gilmore’s farm and found William Jewell College in Clay County, Missouri, installing one of Vardeman’s converts, Robert Stewart Thomas as its first president.

When William Miller Bledsoe’s son was born, Rev. Bledsoe looked at the infant and commented, “He looks like a Bledsoe,” pronouncing the word a as the letter A. The boy was nicknamed “Honest A. Bledsoe,” to become the future namesake of A. Bledsoe Rawlins.

Prior to the Civil War, A. Bledsoe moved to Texas. He purchased the headright of Capt. Roderick A. Rawlins, who later became his son-in-law. In 1865, A. Bledsoe was elected Chief Justice of Dallas County, but was unseated in the following election. During Reconstruction, A. Bledsoe was elected again to the Constitutional Convention, aligning himself with the Radical Republican faction, familiar to some among the Younger family. When A. Bledsoe took the oath of loyalty to the United States, A. Bledsoe was nicknamed a second time as “Iron-Clad Bledsoe.” A. Bledsoe established the controversial and unpopular Texas State Police. Then A. Bledsoe returned to Dallas County to live out his days as a judge.

Abram Bledsoe
Abram Bledsoe, aka A. Bledsoe
Capt. Alexander Roderick Rawlins
Capt. Alexander Roderick Rawlins

In 1852, Roderick Alexander Rawlins married Virginia Bledsoe, granddaughter of Rev. William Miller Bledsoe who eclipsed John M. James in founding a church, and the great granddaughter of Thomas Owsley, John’s neighbor at Cedar Creek. The couple named their firstborn, A. Bledsoe Rawlins. On April 12th of 1894, A. Bledsoe Rawlins met his destiny when he took Retta Younger, the granddaughter of Col. Charles Lee Younger, as his midlife bride. Except for his eight children spawned in his prior marriage, his marriage to Retta Younger went unfruitful. The families of Cedar Creek and Crab Orchard had forged the destiny of the union of Retta Younger and A. Bledsoe Rawlins beginning one hundred years before.

This map gets you to the Jesse James family ancestral lands

Here’s a map, crucial to identifying the early settlement in Kentucky of John M. James, after the American Revolution and his entry into the Western frontier.

What this map reconstructs is some original military land grants distributed by Virginia to participants who served in the American Revolution. Virginia set aside these lands about 1783 and began to dispense them about 1790. John M. James was among the first of the Kentucky pioneers to acquire land here. In his lifetime, John leased, owned, sold, and controlled most all of the land on this map.

topo map of Shopville, Kentucky

The principal grant holder here was Col. Nathaniel Welch, who acquired most everything west of Buck Creek, identified on the right. On another map not shown here, Welch also acquired about 3,500 acres east of Pitman Creek. From the land at Pitman Creek to the land at Buck Creek, most al of it intermittently fell under the control of the James family. These are the lands that formed the foundations of Pulaski County, Kentucky, of which John M. James was a founder.

Looking more closely in the upper center, Fellowship Knob identifies the first acquisition by John M. James.  Following the road, upper center of Fellowship Knob takes you to the site of John’s Flat Lick Baptist Church, founded in 1799, and still operational today. John’s land extended further, well beyond the top boundary of this map to adjoin the military grant of Robert McAlister, another family relation.

Flat Lick Church
Flat Lick Baptist Church, founded 1799

From Fellowship Knob on the road extending to the lower left is a black square identifying the Mansion House of John M. James, built sometime in the 1790s.

Dahl Road home of John M. James
Mansion House of John M. James

Proceeding from the Mansion House around the corner and down brings you to the intersection of Dahl Road & Shopville Road at Flat Lick Creek. The black square here identifies the stone house of the “talented, but erratic” Rev. Joseph Martin James.

Shopville Road at Flat Lick Creek
The Stone House of Rev. Joseph Martin James

The open space below Shopville is the big Flat Lick, still in the possession of James descendants today. A buffalo trail originally came down the center of this map from Crab Orchard to Flat Lick, where the buffalo then, and still do today, gorge themselves on its abundant salts, next to Flat Lick Creek.

This map is part of a recent two-volume history Dawning of the Cumberland by Charlene Adkins who is 93 years old. The old military surveys were drafted by surveyor Bobby Hudson, and identified by D. E. Coates, a Pulaski County historian. Their work has proved critical in putting the James family lore about John M. James’ lands into clearer perspective, while adding definition that is plainly identifiable today.

This map arrives just in time for the publication of Volume II of Jesse James Soul Liberty, This Bloody Ground, which tells the story  of the first arrival and settlement on the Western frontier of Frank and Jesse James’ grandfather, after the service of all of these patriots and first military grant holders after the American Revolution.

overview of Shopville, Kentucky

Alfred H. Pence, Cousin of the James Gang, Has died

Alfred Harris Pence Sr. died September 30, 2010 at Fort Logan Hospital in Stanford, Kentucky. He was a third cousin, twice removed of Bud & Donnie Pence of the James Gang.

The earliest Pence family migrated as early as 1800 from Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley to Lincoln County where Stanford is located. Then, Emanuel Pence bought 250 acres on Logan’s Creek from Jacob Swope.

By then, John M. James, the progenitor of the family of Frank & Jesse James, had been residing in Lincoln County at Crab Orchard for fifteen years. The great-grandfather of the Younger Gang, Col. Charles Lee Younger, also had made settlement in Lincoln County at Crab Orchard. In 1800, John M. James partitioned a portion of Lincoln County and departed the area to establish his own Pulaski County, where he became its first judge-executive and state representative.

Among other local neighbors of the Pence, Younger, & James families in Lincoln County were the family of Far West frontiersman William Lewis “Bill” Sublette, and his brothers Milton Green & Solomon Perry Sublette. Their departure from Crab Orchard to the Far West would not occur until the 1820s.

Rev. Jeremiah Vardeman, who was born at New River in Fincastle County, Virginia, migrated to Crab Orchard in 1779 with his father Johannes Vardeman, an axman who cut the Wilderness Trail into Kentucky with Daniel Boone. Before he had become a preacher, Jerry Vardeman eloped with Betsy James, the daughter of John M. James. Later as a successful preacher, Rev. Jeremiah Vardeman baptized Robert S. Thomas, the first president of William Jewell College in Missouri. Vardeman founded the School of Theology at William Jewell, and also gave Frank & Jesse’s father, Rev. Robert Sallee James, $20,000 to also become a founder of William Jewell College.

Lincoln County, Kentucky, and its communities of Stanford and Crab Orchard forged a cohesion and force among the Pence, Younger, & James families that remained strong and powerful until the end of the Civil War.

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The following obituary for Alfred Harris Pence Sr. was published in the Advocate-Messenger newspaper of Danville, Kentucky.

STANFORD — Alfred Harris Pence Sr., 90, of Stanford died Thursday at Fort Logan Hospital in Stanford.

Born June 20, 1920, in Stanford he was a son of the late Alfred L. and Nannie Woods Pence.

He was a life-long member of New Beginnings United Methodist Church, a Navy veteran of World War II serving in the South Pacific, and a 64-year member of Caswell Saufley Post No. 18, American Legion. He graduated in 1942 from the University of Louisville College of Pharmacy (now the University of Kentucky College of Pharmacy) where he was a member and chaplain of Kappa Psi Pharmaceutical Fraternity.

Mr. Pence was the pharmacist and co-owner of Colemans Drugstore in Stanford and was the first pharmacist at Fort Logan Hospital, retiring after 20 years of service. He was a 50-year member of the Kentucky Pharmaceutical Association.

An active member of the community, he served on the Stanford Chamber of Commerce and the Stanford City Council, was a member of the Lincoln County Historical Society and Masonic Lodge No 60, as well as various other community activities.

Survivors include his wife of 68 years, Bettie Marie Bryan Pence of Stanford; four children, Alfred Harris Pence Jr. (Jackie) of Stanford, Ruth Anne Lowe of Lexington, William E. Pence (Carol) of Lexington and Bettie Sue Holthouser (James) of Memphis, Tenn.; 12 grandchildren; and 10 great-grandchildren. He was preceded in death by a son-in-law, Dr. Charles Lowe, and a sister, Anne Elizabeth Gaines.

Visitation is 5-9 p.m. today at Spurlin Funeral Home.

The funeral service will be 11 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 2, 2010, at New Beginnings United Methodist Church. The Rev. Jeremy James will officiate. Burial will be in Buffalo Springs Cemetery. Military rites will be performed by Caswell Saufley Post 18, American Legion.

Casketbearers will be Bryan Pence, Chris Lowe, Matthew Lowe, Adam Holthouser, Cole Pence and Casey Cushenberry. Honorary bearers will be Robert Gaines, Ben Gaines, Sam Matheny, Buddy Pence, Cecil Witt, Cabel Francis, Jack Bright, Brent Iler, Josh Gordon, Joe Glenn Cushenberry, Matthew Darling, Jonathan Dahmer and Jim Holthouser.

Memorials in lieu of flowers may be given to the New Beginnings United Methodist Church Stained Glass Fund, or the Lincoln County Educational Fund, P.O. Box 423, Stanford, KY 40484.