This collection began with the Kentucky Oral History Commission’s effort to establish oral history programs in each of the state’s 120 counties. County libraries worked with local volunteers to collect interviews. Since 1987, county oral histories have been generated primarily by recipients of technical assistance grants from the commission that provide training and equipment to volunteer interviewers. Interviews donated by independent researchers are also included. Original collection held at Kentucky Oral History Commission/Kentucky Historical Society. Access copies available at Lincoln County Public Library. Authorization must by granted by KHS to use or publish by any means the archival material to which the Society holds copyright.
LINCOLN COUNTY ORAL HISTORY INTERVIEW
LEE DAVIS FISHER INTERVIEWED BY LIBBY FRAAS
June 21, 1978
2 Audio files (2nd file is below)
Ms. Fraas: The following is an interview with Lee Davis Fisher of Somerset, Kentucky by Libby Fraas with the Kentucky Oral History Commission. The interview was conducted at the library in Stanford, Kentucky on June 21, 1978 at about 2:00 in the afternoon.
Mr. Fisher: My name is Lee Davis Fisher, and I was born May 17, 1903, the youngest son…the youngest of six sons of Ethan Spears and Molly Royalty (sic) Fisher. My father, Ethan Spears Fisher was born May 12, 1841. His father died when he was 18…I mean when he was three years old, and he moved to the William Whitley house in 1884 with his mother. [The 1884 date was probably supposed to be 1844 since this account speaks of Ethan Spears’s boyhood adventures at the home and the slaves had been freed by 1884.] Squire William Pennington was the owner of the William Whitley house at that time, and he was my father’s grandfather. And, he owned over one thousand acres of land around the Whitley home and forty or more slaves. Among these slaves were my father’s inheritance from his father. There was, around the old home, a row of slave cabins; perhaps 25 or 30, and the last known Indian killed in Kentucky was shot from a porthole in the William Whitley house. Underneath the house, there was a dungeon. But, since the state has taken it over as a shrine, they have closed the dungeon up. The dungeon was for runaway slaves. And, there’s a story attached to my father’s life and the life of the William Whitley home, of a man riding by one evening with a little girl on the pommel of his saddle, a baby girl, and he was going to the Western part of Kentucky on business, and he asked, I think it was, the William Whitley family, if they would keep this little girl until he came back. And, he did not come back. And, the…some time later, they heard about a man and his horse drowning in the Western part of Kentucky, but no one investigated it. And, this lady grew up to be a very beautiful woman. And, she was my grandmother…my father’s grandmother…my great grandmother.
Ms. Fraas: What was her name?
Mr. Fisher: I don’t remember her first name. And, he told me about the oldest race course, perhaps, in America or in Kentucky, and it was in front of the William Whitley home. And, it’s counter clockwise. And, they used to have match races there. And, he, at one time, was interested in racing and there was a slave boy, a black boy, who did the riding for him. He was considered to be a very excellent rider. And, my father told me that for recreation, he didn’t have much to do during the week, but he would look up bumble bees’ nests, and then on Sunday, he and the little black boys, among the slaves, would take corn and get a hog or something to follow them there and pitch the corn in the bumble bees’ nest, and that was the way they had a great deal of fun on a Sunday. His life was rather free, and it was happy to a great extent, but the war came before he was 21 years of age. So, his uncle Isagood (sic) Fisher rode from Danville, Kentucky to the William Whitley home and tried to get his grandfather, Squire Pennington, to sell his slaves, he had twelve or fourteen slaves that were a very high price about that time, and Squire Pennington said, no. He said, no, the war is not coming, and if it does come, the South will win. And, so, the war came and the South lost. And, my father said, that not any of the slaves would come and tell him goodbye, but they would slip away at night. They were free, and they were allowed to go. And, one thing that he said that has borne on my mind, he said, son, it’s a great thing, that the South did not win the war, because, our country would have been divided, and perhaps at war at all time, even though it took all of his estate and everything and all of his inheritance. He was though very sympathetic with the South, as long as he lived, and he lived to be 87 years of age. Squire Pennington made a deed to the Commonwealth of Kentucky of a mile long road between that house and the highway, and that deed, I understand, is here in the courthouse in Stanford. And, it’s deeded to the Commonwealth of Kentucky, Lincoln County, for eternity, and it can never be closed. And, they used to have horse races a mile from the old home out to the highway. And, he would tell me about the time that he and some of the younger black boys each would have a horse and they would race out there. And, one time, one of them stopped up at the end of the lane, and he went on over its head and caught on the gate. And, it didn’t hurt him too bad. I don’t know whether he did it or if one of the boys that was riding with him. And, his whole life was…I mean, up until he was 44 years of age…no, about 35 years of age, was lived there, and then he and some other men, took a bachelors’ hall at Hustonville, Kentucky, and he married at the age of 44, my mother Mary Louise, or Molly Royalty.
Ms. Fraas: What were some of the experiences that your father told you that he had during this period?
Mr. Fisher: I will tell you many of them…as many as I can remember, because all of this, naturally, is memory. It may not be chronologically right, but the first one that I remember him telling me, was when he was a very small boy, and living there with his grandfather Pennington, that he had a cherry tree out in the front yard. And, as a little boy, he went out and playing around, he pulled it up. He said that was the only whipping that he ever remembered that he got. And, then as he grew a little bit older, before he was of age, the battle of Perryville was fought, and he went over to the battle of Perryville, and his sympathies were with the confederacy, and he more or less joined up with them without having any papers. So, somehow or another, he was taken prisoner, and it caused him a good deal of trouble getting him out of that predicament, because if he didn’t have any papers, you could call it guerilla war…it was called participating in guerilla warfare. But, he never said too much about the war anymore, as I mentioned a moment ago. He said how glad he was that the South didn’t win to split our country. But, he did not tell me this experience, and you can see why. There was five of us boys living who outlived him. And, my oldest brother, the sixth one, died before he did, and he didn’t want us to know about it. But, he told a Mr. Wilder here in Stanford that he was coming North from Somerset and that he met…he was…he had one of those robes that you threw around your shoulders and let fall over the rump of the horse, and it would help to keep the heat in as you are riding along in cool weather. And, a union soldier was coming South, and he told him that he was going to take that coat, or started to take the coat. And, in the fracas, my father killed him. And, he turned and went back to Somerset. And, someone came along and found the soldier dead. And, Kentucky was neutral. And, they tried to find who it was that killed the soldier, they didn’t want any fracas to come up with that, and my father joined the posse that was looking for him. As I say, he never would tell us, and I can see why that he didn’t want us to think that he was a murderer or anything, but it was just the time in which they lived. And, somehow or another, I’m glad that he didn’t. Although, I remember one time that we were driving along in the country…we used to drive stock together. We’d get up at two or three o’clock in the morning, I was twelve years old, he was 74 years old, and we would go out and get hogs or cattle or sheep or whatever it was, and we would be walking along, or sometimes we’d be in a buggy, and then someone would take us out and we’d walk back with the stock. We were driving along, and I wish I could remember the exact place that he told me, but he said, son, over in that pond, I came by here one time, and I threw my pistol over there. He said, I carried a pistol; and, he said, nobody but a coward carries a pistol. And, I figured if I carried it long enough, I was going to have trouble. And, he said, I threw it over there in that pond. And, I think that was to keep me from ever wanting to carry a pistol. And, it did have a good deal of affect upon me. And, he knew so much about so many families in this community, and he had a great deal of knowledge about…He would have been a good veterinarian, and started to Centre College to be a doctor, and his sister called him Doc. And, he was spoiled. Spoiled rotten; after his father died, as a baby, and his sister spoiled him, so he decides to quit college and get even with her. And, so, those are some of the experiences that come to mind at this time. As I say, he knew practically every family from here and back…all the families of Stanford and Somerset. And, I’ll tell you another thing, a lady in Somerset, a friend of mine, who’s interested in the same thing that you are, in the historical society, researching some marriage license, in 1863, there is a marriage license on Mr. Woods…Kenneth Woods, in Stanford who was kin to my father, and I forgot the ladies’ name, but my father went on the bond, E.S Fisher signed that, and I had a photo static copy of it and gave it to another one of my brothers. I don’t have any children of my own. I have step-children. And, I thought it should be in the family. I don’t know what he was doing in Somerset, but as a bachelor, and in keeping bachelor’s hall. That’s where a group of them met and would have someone to do their cooking and someone to take care of their horses. And, my father attended almost…well, every dance that he could, and then with the ladies and horseback riding. He tells a story of going, and I corroborated this account, of going to Harrodsburg…I don’t know whether he was there that night, or he just heard it, but a great ball was going on in Harrodsburg, and a very beautiful woman was at the ball, and during the dancing she dropped dead. And, no one knew who she was or where she came from. No one claimed the body. And, I was over there at the fort one time and I asked a lady; I said, is that a legend or is that the truth? She said, that’s the truth, you can go over here in the cemetery and she’s buried in an unknown grave. And, I remember writing…or reading a letter that he had written to my mother before they were married. He was 44 and she was 22 when they were married, and it was the only marriage for either one of them, and he…I saw this letter; this one memento that I wished I had above all, he wrote to her and said, in effect, I’m sorry that I have to break the date of July 4th…a certain date, I had all the dates and everything…but, it was before nineteen hundred and…let’s see, I’ll be 85…it was before 1885, and he said, I’m sorry I have to break that date with you, and it went on talking about…and it said, if I just had one hour to spend on earth, I would rather spend it with you. It was an outcome of one of his friends that had killed a man. And, in those days, if you…this friend of his was a drinking man, and I think the policeman and the sheriff came after him, and, so, they got into a pistol fight. And, he shot either the sheriff or the policeman through the lung and collapsed it, and he had tuberculosis. And, my father said he got well, but the other one was killed. Well, this friend roamed the country, and hid out up around Crab Orchard, and I think he spent a fortune running from place to place, and finally when he got tired of running, he came back and gave himself up. And, all of the witnesses were practically gone. He got two years in the penitentiary. So, the occasion was, then, I think, bachelors’ hall was celebrating his return, and he broke a date with my mother.
Ms. Fraas: Can you tell me what you mean by driving the stock?
Mr. Fisher: In the days that I drove stock, I was about twelve years of age, and my father was 74 years of age. Mr. Thorough (sic) Jones was a buyer around Stanford and he wanted someone to go that would look after the stock, because there were no trucks or anything like that to transport them. And, we had to drive them on the main highways, you know, with gates and breaks in fences and things where they would want to run off. And, especially hogs, you had to take good care of, because if they got too hot, they would die. And, so, we would get up some mornings at two o’clock and start walking, maybe, four or five miles to a farm or wherever to where they kept scales to weigh them, and to get there well before daylight. And, I remember one time going out on Lancaster Pike…I’ve remembered this all my life, it came a terrific storm cloud. Oh, it was black and ominous, with thunder and lightning. And, I told my daddy…we called him Pap. I said, Pap, let’s go over yonder in that barn. And, he said, no, son, let’s keep going, and there’s something medicinal in rainwater, and if we get drenched, don’t take our clothes off and wring them out, just walk on and let the clothes dry. And, really, it proved very, very successful. And, we would come back with the hogs, or the cattle or the sheep…never could mix them up, because the cattle are much faster than the hogs. Sometimes we would drive sheep and hogs together…I mean sheep and hogs..sheep and cattle together. But, the hogs would have to take it very slow. If you come to a little creek or something by the roadside…in those days, across the road, there were no bridges, and they would stop and just wallow in that and cool off and then come on. One of the nastiest jobs I ever got into in my life, the old…we brought these to Stanford. I don’t think there are any stock pens in Stanford at this time, and this is being recorded the 21st day of June 1978, and I…you take the lambs off the ewes, and have to bring the mother sheep in for the lambs to come with them, so they separate the lambs from the ewe, and then we’d have to milk the ewes, because the milk would sour in the udders. And, a sheep’s smell isn’t pleasant at all. But, when you get your hands gummy with sheep milk, and you are right down next to it, milking it, it is one of the nastiest jobs in the world. Those things stand out. And, I remember, a man gave me a little goat, and the goat was very fond of my father, and my father left and went down, I think, to Middleburg, for two or three days. And, that little goat wouldn’t eat a thing until he came back. And, it followed us, a lot of times, when we would drive stock, just like a little dog. And, I traded it for a little pig. And, I raised a pig that weighed 195 pounds. I remember it distinctly. And Mr. Thorough (sic) Jones gave me $14.00 for it. He said, I’ll give you seven cents a pound straight. And, I remember, with that $14.00, I bought a suit of clothes, a pair of shoes and something else, and loaned one of my brothers five dollars. And, I don’t believe I ever got it back. But, I never missed it at all. It just shows you how times were, and how costly things are now, compared to what they were then.
Ms. Fraas: Were there a lot of sheep raised in Lincoln County?
Mr. Fisher: Oh, yes, there were many more sheep raised then than there are now. And, Roland used to be quite a shipping center.
Ms. Fraas: And, where’s that?
Mr. Fisher: That’s one mile south of…not south, east of Stanford. Sometimes it’s shipped from Stanford. We had some stock pens up here. It was a lucrative business after that time.
Ms. Fraas: The stock were kept at Roland (sic)?
Mr. Fisher: That was when you’d bring them in. For instance, say we would bring them in today, we’d try to get in pretty early. You know, I think a train…makeup train (sic) as they call it, and take them out to Louisville, about four or five or six o’clock in the evening. The same day…sometimes you’d have to keep them overnight, and then they would feed them. And, another thing that Mr. Jones had to watch…watch that the people would fill their hogs up on water, just get them to drink all the water that they could before they weighed them, and if they weighed them out there where they could get the water, they weighed a whole lot more, and it’s the weight I think they charged. And, sometimes, they were just…the lot the hogs were in was so…and we had to be very careful…and when we lost one, my father carried a knife, and he would stick it right in the throat, the jugular vein, and bleed the hog. I can remember bringing…we would bring ‘em to town and come and get somebody to go get ‘em, and he was very good at dressing animals; sheep, hogs or cattle; anything that we killed. And, then all the neighbors would come around. We didn’t have deep freezes. And, my view of refrigerators…they were iceboxes…there wasn’t no refrigerator. And, we would…the whole community would have fresh pork. We kept…I don’t know whether they charged anything…I don’t know whether Mr. Jones charged us anything or not. I don’t think that he did, though.
Ms. Fraas: Did your father tell you about the Whitley Home?
Mr. Fisher: Well, this was connected, not only with the Whitley Home, but his whole life at that time. There were a great number of toll gates on all of the roads around in Lincoln County. And, my father had a little mare that he rode. And, he got a little one, so he could get his head down, crouch down, lean over and go under the toll gate at night, and not have to pay the toll, ring the bell and arouse the toll gate keeper. And, a number of his friends did the same thing. And, I’ll tell you something that happened here, in part of telling you about his friend that was sent to the penitentiary. His friend hid out in…around Crab Orchard, I don’t know how many years, between the time and he was tried, and they would send a posse from Stanford, but those posses, so many of them, their soul and spirit wasn’t in their work. In that day and age, they considered a murder, like we do a fracas, today. And, around Crab Orchard, and around all of this country, there were many murders. I imagine you will find them in your study of the history of this part of the country. And, his friend hid out. And, one day the posse was looking for him, and they sat down on a hollow log, and he was in that log. And, later on, though, he just got tired of running, as all people do, and he spent a fortune. I think he went to South America and went to Europe. Those people had money. He more or less dissolved a great deal of the estates and inheritance and wealth….It was awful [ ].
Ms. Fraas: Uh huh (yes); do you recall going to school? Where was the first school that you ever attended?
Mr. Fisher: I think the first school I ever attended was somewhere up close to Crab Orchard. I used to live in Crab Orchard, and I went to school up there a little while. And, we moved to Stanford in about 1908, and I attended the schools here in Stanford, and graduated in 1923. I went to Transylvania University, and before the first semester was out, they told me they didn’t think my father was going to live, and I came back to Stanford and stayed out of school until it started the next fall, to take care of my father. And, then I went back in 1924 and graduated from Transylvania College. In 1928 and I’m happy about it…not boasting, but I graduated cum laude, and I didn’t know what that meant at that time. I never was outside of the counties that bordered Lincoln County until I was 20 years old. I was born over in Casey County, a little place called Middleburg, but I spent most of my life here in Lincoln County, the early part of it, and for about a year and half or two years, we lived in Danville in 1917 or 18. And, then, I continued my education; it was the old College of the Bible, which is Lexington Theological College now, and I got a Bachelor’s of Divinity (sic) Degree in 1930. And, I started a ministry at Drennen Springs in Henry County in 1925 and went back this last second Sunday in June, 1978 and commemorated the 53rd year in the ministry and there were between twenty and thirty people who were there in this meeting who were there when I started with my ministry. And, then, in 1931, I had an opportunity to attend Union Theological Seminary in New York City, for one week of one summer course. And, I preached in Henry County, Bullitt County, Fleming County, during my years in college, and just immediately following, and came to Somerset, Kentucky the 31st day of December, 1932 and started preaching the next day, 1933, January 1st, and completed 42 and a half years in one church; which, the state secretary told me thinks is a record in all of the churches in Kentucky. Next to me was someone who used to be at Edenside (sic) Christian Church who was there for forty years. And, since my retirement, I’ve been at our little country church about fifteen miles…seven miles North of Somerset. I live down close to Burnside on the lake. So, my life has been spent, all my ministry has been spent within 100 miles of Lexington. And, I kept a record, pretty close lately, that I had between two thousand and twenty-five hundred funerals, and not nearly so many weddings. I don’t know why. And, now, many of the older people have requested, if I’m living…you know, with over forty years together in Somerset, they have requested that I have their service.
TAPE 2, SIDE 1
TAPE 2, SIDE 1
Ms. Fraas: Tell me about your immediate family.
Mr. Fisher: Well, I’m married to the former Eleanor Bellis-Smith. I have two step-daughters, and a grandson and a granddaughter. I’m the youngest of six sons. The oldest one having been dead for, let’s see, 93 years…90 years ago. I have a brother, Richard McKinney Fisher, Samuel Lawton (sic) Fisher, Ludley (sic) Royalty Fisher and Timothy Pennington Fisher. And, I want to tell you a little something about this stuff. When we were at Griffin (sic) Springs, my father used to tell anyone that would come there and stay a week if they weren’t able to eat, that it wouldn’t cost them anything. The water was medicinal and it did help the people and I think the rest helped them. One man came, and about the middle of the week, he got to feeling better, and his appetite came back to him, and he was out there with my father and he was around there and he said, Mr. Fisher, what are your sons’ names? And my father said, the oldest is Richard McKinney, the next one…and he said, Richard McKinney, Scottish. The next one, Samuel Lawton…Jewish; next one, Ludley Royalty…German; next one, Timothy Pennington…Irish (sic); the next one, Lee Davis, and this man wasn’t a preacher, and he says, Rebel, by God. There’s another experience I wanted to tell you, and I can’t remember it very well, but my brothers used to tell it that it happened…early in the morning, I used to get on this stick horse and I would run around on the…in front of all those rooms, in that walkway, all the way around, and the people were sleeping, and that riding on that stick horse. And, it was a wooden building, you can imagine how it sounded, when it would crack on the boards, and I was hollering at the horse. And, the brothers tell me that one time a fellow got tired of it, and I had been getting up pretty early, and it wasn’t too light, so he stretched a rope…a little rope or a wire from his door to a post across the hallway there, and I came around just flying and I hit that, and they said I got a good tumble. Said never any more did I ever ride a stick horse around Griffin Springs.
Ms. Fraas: End of Interview