In Victorian Frankfort, Kentucky, high society held washtub boat races on the Kentucky River. In once race, Campbell E. James took his competing craft Bashi-Bazouk to victory. From the Turkish, Bashi-bazouk translates as “damaged head,” and as “disorderly,” and as “leaderless.” The term originated when applied to different soldiers in the Ottoman Army who fought as irregulars. The intent of Campbell E. James to characterize his prospects for victory was evident in his irrepressible humor.
In her book Filling the Chinks, Ermina Jett Darnell wrote about everyday life in Frankfort at the time. As a descendant of the Cole family ancestors of Frank & Jesse James, Darnell was their 3rd cousin. Campbell Edmundson James, or C. E. James, was the son of Judge A. J. James & Mary Allison Beatty, and also a relation. In Filling the Chinks, Darnell recorded the following story of Campbell E. James taking his Bashi-Bazouk to victory.
On September 1, 1877, the local paper announced that there would be a tub race on the river at 5:30 on the following Tuesday. The writer said: “The course selected is from Herndon’s wharf to the boathouse below the upper bridge. All tubs other than the regulation wash-tub will be ruled out.”
“Herndon’s wharf” was back of the site of the present Southern Hotel. “The regulation wash-tub” was a heavy affair made of wooden staves held together with metal hoops.
The contestants were: E. H. Berry, C. C. Todd, Jacob Evans, Ed Grant, M. H. Malone, Dudley Watson, Campbell James, Clarence Drane, Howard Jett, W. C. Dudley, M.P. Gray, John W. Milam, John Pendleton, Robert Franklin, Peter Dudley, T. L. Crittenden, F. C. Hutchinson, Willoughby Rodman, Albert Crutcher.
New announcements were made in such an edgy, eager style that it is hard to see how anyone in Frankfort slept the night before the race. No contestant could be under eighteen. There were to be no paddles, but each man steer and propel with his hands. The winner would become the proprietor of all the tubs. There would be boats in attendance to pick up the crew of any capsized tubs. Crews would not be allowed to swim by the side of their tubs, and no tubs could go ashore until the end of the race.
Then came the great day, and all Frankfort turned out. The bridge was crowded, and both sides of the river were lined with people.
But of the twenty entries, only sixteen started, and of these, only three reached the goal. The Bashi-Bazouk, paddled by Campbell James, came in full two tub lengths ahead of Ocean Wave, paddled by Dudley Watson. The Undine No. 2, by Albert Crutcher, was capsized, alas, about ten feet from the string!
In 1754 at the age of 24, John Cole signed a lease with Hancock Lee for 150 acres of land on the north side of Horsepen Run. The land adjoined the plantation of John Herndon in King George County, Virginia.
In 1775 and 1776, Lee’s son Willis Lee entered Virginia’s District of Kentucky and encamped at the spring named Lee’s Big Spring, midway between today’s Frankfort and Lexington. Willis Lee, his cousin Hancock Taylor, Isaac Hite, James Douglas, and John Floyd surveyed the area, for the Ohio Company. They filed 18 surveys, totaling 7,200 acres. Taylor built a log cabin but then was killed by an Indian war party. In April of 1776, Willis Lee also was killed.
Capt. John Lee, son of Hancock Lee of Virginia, entered Kentucky and made a brick addition to Taylor’s log cabin. He occupied the structure and began a tavern business. The Kentucky Gazette advertised Lee’s Blackhorse Inn.
John Cole died three years after executing his lease. His funeral expenses were paid with a case of whisky. In 1782, John’s youngest son, Richard James Cole, joined John Lee in Kentucky, building a residence on Cole’s Road, connecting Lexington to Frankfort. With Humphrey Marshall, Cole surveyed Frankfort for a new state capitol. He soon acquired slaves. On Cole’s Road, Richard James Cole established and operated Cole’s Tavern. The notoriety of the place nicknamed the business as Cole’s Bad Tavern.
In 1802 John Cole died. His ordinary, not too distant from Cole’s Bad Tavern, was sold to the mulatto William Dailey and his partner John Kennedy. Fortesqieu Cummings wrote his stays at the Blackhorse Inn and Cole’s Bad Tavern.
Any traveler who has once contrasted the rough vulgarity and the badness of his table and accommodations, with the taste, order, plenty and good attendance of his (Cole’s) mulatto competitor will never trouble Mr. Cole a second time.”
In 1811, Cole’s Bad Tavern burned. In December of 1812, Richard James Cole acquired the nearby Blackhorse Inn from Dailey & Kennedy. Richard James Cole Jr. became its operator. Richard Sr. died three years later. His great-granddaughter Zerelda Elizabeth Cole was born in the Inn on January 29, 1825. Zerelda’s sons are Frank & Jesse James.