Rock Bridge

This history of Rock Bridge was submitted by Marcella Pickerel Headrick of Tompkinsville. The history was written by her mother, Mrs. Ammie Pickerel... A Kentucky Colonel. Mrs. Pickerell signs the history as if it were a letter but it contains neither a salutation nor date of writing. It is transcribed here as it was written.

Rock Bridge is, as we are about to speak of, was situated in a little valley in the center of Monroe Co., in Southern Kentucky. We don't know its first existence, but a post office at Rock Bridge was among the first in Monroe County. Then a grocery store was opened for the residents living near. Rock Bridge derived its name from a natural stone bridge which spanned an inlet, on deep branch of water which the main road has to cross on. Therefore, the Post Office was called Rock Bridge. The mail was delivered twice a day.

During the years of the late 70's to 1880 business began to emerge. The grocery business was expanding. A business man by the name of Fleming Page moved in a lumber mill which furnished jobs for the men. A young man by the name of Ingraham Norman, who was born in Rock Bridge became a medical doctor and built himself a drug store. His charges were $2.00 a trip, either far or near to see sick people, and he charged $8.00 to deliver babies. He made quite a name for himself as all boy babies were named Ingraham. I can recall 8 or 9 born from 1872 to 1882. In the meantime there were other business taking place. A blacksmith shop operated by Charlie Vibbert with anvil and bellows. A voting precinct was established. A government distillery one and one half mile south of Rock Bridge and a Baptist Church one and one half miles North. Pretty soon it became a small villiage, estimated to be 250 or 300 people. A large cave about one mile west of the square called by some Miller's cave, which made a great hiding place for drummers and the locals to gamble in. Some drummers never returned to take their orders from the stores. It was also a hiding place for things to come. By 1885 another Dr. by the name of Dr. William D. Sympson moved in. He doled out his medicine in powder on the tip of his pocket knife on paper and twisted both ends. He had one of the first thermonters [sic] ever seen in Rock Bridge. He would press it half way down ones throat and would prescribe quinnine for colds, castor oil for belly aches, toddy for coughs and a pill so large that it required a mucus from the bark of a certain tree to force it down the throat. It was supposed to cure aches and pains, which was called "Rheumatize." The villiage was about 3 miles square, with a one room school house near the limits. It was made from logs, with a fireplace and wooden shutters for the windows. The school term in 1872 was four months. A cider mill owned by James K. Polk Strode which ground and pressed the golden liquid called cider, which was used for vinegar, etc. A cotton gin owned by Samuel Page, Jr. which separated the seed from the cotton fiber. This was used by Icyvenia Quigley Page in her tailoring shop. She made men suits and had a great business. She had the measurments of men far and near that she made suits for. I have the book. At the foot of the big cave was a grist mill for grinding of all kinds of grain. On one corner of the village square lived a lady that would tell your future, and your destiny. Around 1890 another merchandice [sic] store came in with Bob Miller as manager, whose lady operated a millenary shop. Mr. Nelse Hume operated a songhrum mill and also a government distillery. A few names of residents that lived in this area are: Three or four families of Pages, Millers, Pitcocks, Normans, Hagans, Sympsons, Chapmans, Waldens, Bushongs, Carters, Smiths, Belchers, Vibberts, Biggers, Bowmans, Humes, Emmerts, Fergusons, Clemons, Rasners, Harlans and Strodes. In the year 1880, the wickeness and the meaness began. We'll have to say they orginated from around the place, four of the main leaders were two brothers and their brother-in-law. They were 25 to 35 years old. They had caused trouble in other territories but was hardly noticed in their own home area. They were all helpful neighbors. Pretty soon they were called outlaws. One of the four gaugers at the Humes distrillery on and one half miles south of Rock Bridge. Trouble started at this place one Saturday afternoon about four o'clock. The writer of this story heard and saw it. The entire law envorcement from Tompkinsville, the county seat, came to the scene. There were shootings, blaspheming, screaming, a noise of a mighty aremy, the ending of the scene cleared away because everyone rean off, after Jimmie Clemons buried the trigger of a double barrel shotgun in Sheriff Smith skull. Death resulted a few days later. Some were wonded and everone else was scared to death. Nelson Humes had the distillery, and Elzie G. Carter was the gauger. He was a government employer who gauged the alcohol content of the brewer. This was the beginning of their wickeness. The neighbors turned their heads when they heard of the shooting, stealing and lawlessness. All but one man in the neighborhood whose name was Jimmie Polk Strode. He bragged of what he would do if they bothered him. One morning when he went to his front poarch [sic], he found a big switch there. On the switch was a note telling him that this would be applied to his rear if he did not shut up. They ruled the neighborhood by intimadation. It's hard to explain what happened in the months thereafter. The men hid out in the woods and the big cave near Rock Bridge. Many foldks in the neighborhood were related to the outlaws and would put food out for them. My grandmother who was related to all would put milk and food in the spring house near their home. This was in the years of late 1880, and early 1890. It was several months before two of the men were apprehended. Sam Henry Bushong and James T. Clemons, who was married to the two Walden boys's sister Enner Tom. They were sentenced to two years in the state penitentiary. Elgie G. Carter and Loindsey W. Walden left the county, and Walden was never heard of again. There were rumors and thefts and crimes committed during the time the two were in the "pen" and Rock Bridge had to take the blame, of course. Jimmie Clemons served eighteen months of his two years and Sam Henry was parolled. They returned to their homes here, soon they were again united and terrible things began happening again. They began stealing, robbing, torturning aged couples whom they thought had mone. They robbed distilleries, stole meat from the smokehouse of farmers, reaided drugstores to get chlorform, burned buildings and barnes. They tortured an old man by the name of Bryant in Cumberland County. They heated irons in the fireplace and applied them to his feet in hope he would tell them where he had his money hid. The last move they mad the state of mind as the writer remembers was in the early 90's or about 1893. A bank was robbed at Summer Shade, Kentucky, about 14 miles from Tompkinsville. Several hundred dollars were taken, a great amount of merchandise including expensive men clotheing. A young lady in the neighborhood was seen wearing very expensive and beautiful apparels. She was the sister of and girl friend of one of the outlaws. Joe Carter and Fendol Hagan mortaged everything they had to get the boys of of jail. Pretty soon both counties, Monroe and Metcalfe were searching day and night in the coldest winter that had been in years. They hid out until they nearly starved to death. Clemons fled to the mountains of Tennessee near Chattanooga, Tenneessee and established a home for his family. Bushong left the county and was seen in Waveland, Ind., along with Elzie G. Carter. Bushong married and left some descendents. Walden and Carter were never apprehended, reports in later years, was that Walden has met is fate. After being away from this county for 35 or 40 years Elzie G. Carter came home. By this time a new generation was living in Rock Bridge and no one knew him. He was near 70 years of age. He lived a year or two among his relatives and died about 1955.
The little villiage began to decline as many had died, many had married and moved away, most business' had closed its old way of living and by 1900 Rock Bridge was only a spot by the side of the road. However a store and postoffice were still miantained. After the highway came through the neighborhood, people go on their way, forgetting the Old Rock Bridge. Weeds and brush have hid the site of the bridge over which Braggs' army passed on, and youngsters of today don't know one had existed. There's much more could be said about the people of those days. There are a dozen or more houses of the big log houses of two story, big double chimney etc., around this area. Some of them are 150 years old. As far as I am concerned Rock Bridge was, and is one of the finest places on the map. Rock Bridge had some of the finest, bravest, well educated Christians in society. They were, and are still equal to the best. When one asks where you are from, tell them you are from Rock Bridge. They'll probably say, "I don't know where that place is, but I've heard of it".

Mrs. Ammie Pickerell...A Kentucky Colonel

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Last Updated: Monday, 08-Sep-2008 1:49 AM