AHGP Transcription Project

Owsley County

Owsley county was established Jan. 23, 1843, the 96th in the state and named in honor of Judge Wm. Owsley, afterwards governor of Kentucky. It is situated in the eastern middle portion, on the waters of the Kentucky River; is bounded north by Lee County, east by Breathitt, south by Clay, west by Jackson, and northwest by Estill. The South Fork of Kentucky River runs quite centrally through the county from south to north, the main Kentucky forms part of the north boundary line; and its Middle Fork crosses the northeast part. The soil along the river valleys is rich and productive; but the face of the country generally is broken and the soil not sufficiently strong for profitable cultivation. Corn is the staple production; rye, wheat, and oats, cattle and hogs are raised.

Booneville, the county seat, is situated on the south side of the South Fork of Kentucky River, 34 miles southeast of Irvine, Estill County, 35 south of west of Jackson, Breathitt County, and 32 north of east of McKee, Jackson County; incorporated March 1, 1847; population in 1870, 111, a falling off of 10 in 10 years.
South Fork, 4 miles.
Traveler's Rest, 5 miles, and Island City, 10 miles, from Booneville, are post offices and small places.

Members of the Legislature from Owsley County.

Abijah Gilbert, 1850;
Jas. Ewing Gibson, 1859-63.

House of Representatives
Henry S. Hensley, 1857-59;
Abijah Gilbert, 1859-61;
Andrew Herd, 1863-65;
Andrew J. Herd, 1867-69;
Howell Brewer, 1869-71;
Jos. P. Hampton, 1871-73.

From Owsley and Clay counties
Jos. N. Eve, 1853-55.

From Owsley and Estill counties
Elisha L. Cockrell, 1847;
Morton P. Moore, 1850.

From Owsley
John S. Herd, 1873-75.

Owsley County is included in the eastern coal field, except the lower portion of the valley of Sturgeon creek, and the valley of the Kentucky River from the mouth of Sturgeon creek to the Estill County line. The coal measures in the vicinity of Proctor and Beattyville, which were in Owsley County when examined by the state geological survey, in 1859, but are now in Lee county, contain four, if not five, veins of coal. The "main coal," which has received most attention from the miners, measures from 42 to 50 inches; and had then been opened and mined at some 9 banks, on the Kentucky River, the South fork, the Duck fork, Sturgeon, Upper and Lower Stufflebean creeks, and Mike's branch. The general dip of the country is three-fourths of a degree () in a South 52 East direction. "The coal is bright, and breaks with a square butt into fine large blocks, which bear transhipment." The coal veins vary from 6 inches to 1 foot, 3 feet 10 inches, 4 feet, and the "main coal" 5 feet thick. Analyses of the coal from different banks showed the percentage of sulphur to be 0.645, 0.796, and 4.074.

Iron Ore from the North Fork of the Kentucky River, one mile above Proctor, in now Lee county, and some from Proctor, yielded, upon analysis, 35.400 and 34.304 percentage of metallic iron, "rich enough to be profitably smelted into iron, but containing rather more phosphoric acid than is desirable in iron ore."

Of Iron and Lead Ores and Lithographic Stone, some rich specimens were discovered, in the summer of 1866, in Owsley and Wolfe counties. The lithographic stone was of superior quality, bore a fine polish, and the quarry was said to be inexhaustible.

William Owsley, the 14th governor of Kentucky, was born in 1782 in Virginia. His father, Wm. Owsley, emigrated, the next year, to the county of Lincoln in the then "district of Kentucky," settling on the waters of Drake's creek, near the present town of Crab Orchard. The son, William, succeeded in getting a better education than was common for boys at that day, taught school awhile, became deputy surveyor, and afterwards deputy sheriff, his father being High Sheriff of the county. It was whilst William Owsley was engaged in his early official pursuits as deputy sheriff, &c., that he attracted the attention of John Boyle, afterwards chief justice of Kentucky. Judge Boyle, perceiving the promise that was in young Owsley, offered him the use of his library, and the advantage of his instructions in the study of law. The offer was accepted, and by perseverance and close application, Owsley soon obtained license and commenced the practice of law in Garrard County. His success was immediate. He ranked high at the bar, and became the intimate and firm friend of Judge Boyle. He afterwards represented Garrard county several years in the legislature, and became so favorably known to the public as a legislator and lawyer, that, in 1812, when he was only thirty-one years of age, and had been but few years at the bar, Governor Scott appointed him to the supreme bench of the State, as the colleague of Judge Boyle, who had been honored by a seat on the appellate bench three years previously. Judge Owsley resigned this office in a short time, in consequence of the passage of a law reducing the number of judges of the court to three. But a vacancy occurring in 1813, he was immediately re-appointed by Governor Shelby.

During the service of Boyle, Owsley and Mills, on the supreme bench, that ever memorable controversy between the old and new court parties was waged. The annals of Kentucky's history will attest the momentous character of that struggle, and duly commemorate the virtues of the men that were then made conspicuous. Never before did the fires of discord burn more fiercely in any civil community. Never before was a State so near anarchy, revolution and ruin. Firmness, wisdom and coolness alone could save the country in that time of dread and peril. All these qualities were preeminent in the judges who then sat upon the bench. They were equal to the crisis. They withstood the storm of popular tumult, careless of the rage of disappointed partisans, flushed with temporary triumph, but crossed in the enjoyment of victory. It seems Providential that such men were on the bench to save the State in that stormy trial.

Having seen the constitution of his country safe through the dangers that beset it, Judge Owsley remained at his high and honorable post till the year 1828, when, after having served upon the bench longer than any man in the State, except Judge Boyle, he resigned his office, and retired to private life on his farm in Garrard County, which he had held and cultivated as a successful practical farmer, for about twenty-five years. Sometime after this, he again represented his old county, Garrard, in the legislature. But finding it inconvenient to attend to his circuit court practice and his growing practice in the court of appeals, he gave up the former, and having parceled out his farm among his children, (of whom he had five,) he removed to Frankfort. Here he resided until 1843, when, out of the gains of his practice, he purchased himself a splendid farm in Boyle county, to which he removed, giving up his practice altogether. In 1844, after one of the most exciting and hard fought contests ever witnessed in the State, William Owsley was elected governor of Kentucky over Colonel William O. Butler, by far the most popular and formidable candidate the democratic party had ever run in the State. The vote received by Governor Owsley was 59,680, which is larger by 1,191 than the great vote received by General Harrison in 1840.

As governor, he was distinguished for devotion to the duties of his office, his laborious and faithful examination into the affairs of the state, particularly its public debt, and his clear and concise statements thereof in his annual messages. It was the chief glory of his administration, that he checked the fearful increase of the state debt; and for the first time since it was created, began to pay it off and continued its steady reduction to the end of his term.

He then settled on his farm near Danville, and in honorable retirement closed a long and useful public life. He died Dec. 9, 1862, aged 80 years. In person. Gov. Owsley was tall (about 6 feet 2 inches high) and slender. His disposition was reserved, and he talked but little. In times of greatest excitement, there was seldom any perceptible change in his spirits or demeanor. He was proverbial for honesty, firmness, and impartiality; and made the principle of right the ground of every action. His manners were plain, simple, and purely republican. As a public speaker he was staid, sensible, and practical, seldom enthusiastic; but occasionally, when roused or stung by something pointed or unfair in his adversary, he was quick, spirited, and powerful.

Source: History of Kentucky, Volume II, by Lewis Collins, Published by Collins & Company,
Covington, Kentucky, 1874


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