The Melson Ridge area of Adair County was once called Barger Ridge, so named for the family that settled very early in that vicinity, but is long extinct here. Melson Ridge, as it came to be known, became home to the descendants of later settlers from Russell County, who bought farms in the mid-1850s, and their descendants are still living here today. William and James J. Melson, brothers, were the patriarchs of this family. James J., commonly called “J.J.” was twice married and had children from both unions. A slave owner, he fought with the Union Army during the Civil War Between. Though he held slaves, he believed in the sanctity of the nation as a whole.
James J. served in Company G, 12th Kentucky Infantry and often stopped off at his home for rest and food with fellow soldiers while his regiment was on the move. The family cook was an older black woman named Mariah. Family lore says she read tea leaves, which was always an adventure of sorts for the young people, who swore she was always correct in her readings. During the war she would read the leaves and say, “The Massa will be here tonight.” And with no other confirmation, she would start cooking for a crowd. Sure enough, every time she made the prediction J.J. and a group of men would ride up, sometime in the evening or night. On these occasions shelled corn would be put out in a trough for the horses.
The Melsons were my relatives, both by blood and marriage. Noma Cape, sister of our maternal grandfather, married Haskin Melson, son of old. J.J. by his second wife, Agnes Higgenbottom, better known as “Granny Agg” to my mother and her sisters. Haskin and Noma were “Aunt Nomie” and “Uncle Hawk.” They did not have children of their own to grow to adulthood, so doted on their nieces.
My own aunt, Ella, the eldest of her family, often spent time with the Melsons on their farm, which was located only about one-half mile from her parents. She often told of three ghostly encounters from her youth. Ella stated that on several occasions when she and her sisters and/or cousins would be spending the night with their Aunt Nomie and Uncle Hawk, just after dark, and after supper, an audible chewing or grinding sound could be heard in the yard in front of the house. They believed it was the sound of the Civil War soldiers’ horses eating corn from troughs that had long ago been removed from the yard.
She also told of an incident that happened to her and Aunt Nomie. She was a young teen at the time and Aunt Nomie had taken her upstairs in the old log house to find some particular item, not now remembered. While in the big room upstairs, they looked at several items that had belonged to the then long-deceased Melsons. One of these items was a huge ironstone meat platter, one that could hold an entire country ham, and had been used many years by the family.
When they descended the stairs to the main floor, the stair door was closed and would not open. As was the fashion at the time, there was no door knob, but a wooden “button” with a nail through the center and nailed into the door frame. This button could be turned to prevent the outward swinging door from opening when it was supposed to be closed. They had left it open when going up and no one else was in the house that day—Uncle Hawk was in a far field hoeing corn. Aunt Nomie said they should go back up to the top of the stairs and sit a while, which they did. After a few minutes they went back down and the door was open. Later, Aunt Nomie said she believed that Granny Agg didn’t like them looking at her things and locked them in to show her displeasure.
The third incident known to have taken place in the Melson house is known to us only from the story told by Aunt Nomie. She told that when Granny Agg was older, and after the former slave Mariah had died, she intended to use the colorful aprons of Mariah to make a saddle blanket for herself. The story goes that she had stitched several of the aprons together and then set up her quilting frame to quilt the saddle blanket. Once she started to work at quilting, the big frame would rock back and forth of its own accord. At first she didn’t pay much attention, but the action continued. Fearful, she finally unraveled her stitches, folded the aprons and put them back in the drawer from which she had taken them, stating flatly that Mariah didn’t want her aprons used for such a purpose and was showing her dissatisfaction.
The Melsons mentioned above, as well as Mariah, who remained the rest of her life in the household, are buried in the old Melson Graveyard.
The story written below in itself is fiction, it never happened to me personally. The folklore and legend have been handed down over the years and forgotten for the most part. Whether you choose to believe the legend is based purely on your point of view and opinion. The event that has caused this folklore is fact. It did happen and it was recorded. That fact cannot be denied. Whether this is legend or just a myth, the fact that this part of history is brought to everyone’s attention and will not be forgotten is my most important goal.
The event can be copied to here from a newspaper or journal that was written with haste and the story would be boring. This is my attempt at bringing the event to life and in terms that you can feel, hear and connect with so it will never be forgotten. This is a legend from Rockcastle County from the headwaters of the Dix River that happened in the mid 1700’s. The area, according to distances documented in journals from the 1700’s, places it directly at Brodhead.
“Bob Bob White” Bob Bob White” a gentle voice resounds through the forest, bouncing from tree to tree and then carries across the peaceful meadow that is standing ahead. The meadow is standing full of cane poles and clad with Lazy Susan. Their bright yellow petals sway in the gentle breeze as the dark brown center turns to and fro as if hiding from me reminding me of a female flashing her dark brown eyes at me and then turning to look at the ground only to glance back again. This area is full of the local Quail running around with their little white tufts atop their head. It has a small dot in the tuft of feathers that resembles a dark eye as he walks through the grass almost unafraid of me.
Taking a slow walk through a peaceful forest and listening to the wildlife and the sound of running water relaxes me and relieves me of the everyday pressures of the real world. It is as invigorating as a hot tub to me and once complete leads you to a point of relaxing exhaustion. This happened to be one of those outings today.
The pressure at work had kinda gotten me down with everyone wanting answers. It had made me realize I had gotten into the rut of the technical world and I needed one of my forest trips to bring me back to my roots and my peaceful state of being. I compare it to drinking a cup of coffee that slowly gets cold before you have time to drink all of its contents. You have to reheat the coffee and it revives the flavor and spice of the drink. My quests do this for me. The peacefulness brings me vigor and patience to finish my everyday work.
Up over my head dance three small Gray Squirrels playing their games with each other. One squirrel would run to the end of a tree branch and jump to the next tree, stopping to flicker his tail as if daring the other to try it. The smaller squirrel would set for a moment appearing to build his courage and off he would go to duplicate his playmate. Chattering back and forth to each other as if to tell what each one had accomplished they run back to the same tree to go through the same routine.
As I walk along listening and watching the squirrels, I noticed the ground was getting softer as I came closer to the river bank, the mud oozing between my toes feeling like softly melted ice cream with its cool touch. I wondered to myself why I had decided to wear my leather sandles as the mud fills my feet. I find it to be a comfortable feeling and welcome my once rash decision on shoe selection.
Plodding slowly through the mud patch, trying to enjoy every moment of my miniature mud bath, a brown rabbit jumps from a patch of lilies she had been feeding on and gently hops over to a hollow log a short distance away from me. Entering the dark log, the rabbit sets just out of view and the gentle glow of her eyes flash out as she turns, reminding me of two firefly as they cast their eerie green glow. I keep watching for the rabbit to move as I casually stroll along the river bank and eventually I am looking across my right shoulder waiting for her to appear when suddenly I get the fright of my life!
From nowhere, it seems, a loud and sudden “Flap, Flap, Flap” and the continuous clatter of clicks whistles and coos come from under my feet as a beautiful pheasant jumps in the air flapping his beautiful barrage of colorful feathers and taking flight, leaves me with numb legs and a flushed face from my adrenaline rush. My heart starts to slow down from the shock of the encounter when I notice the sun heading down the horizon. I know it is time for me to start back if I am to be back out on the road before dark.
Looking around for direction, I know i have to go right to get to the clearing I parked my car at. I spy a gently rolling incline to my right that appears to open up into a clearing and I head in that direction. As I walk toward the gentle hill I cross a patch of wild onions along the way. The gentle aroma rising from my feet reminds me of Granny’s kitchen and her home cooked recipes that were chalked full of the small garden onions grandpa raised in their garden. For a brief moment I felt my eyes tear up from the pungent aroma.
A Ghost from the Past
Reaching the incline I start to scamper up, as a barrage of small flat stones begin to slide under my feet and tumble to the bottom of the hill, making the effort double what it should be. For a moment I thought I heard some unintelligible sounds of some forgotten language and I stop for a moment. Hearing nothing more I blame the stones and continue my ascent. Finally after what seems like an hour of two steps forward and one step back I reach the top of the hill.
What awaits me is a clearing protected by the stone cliff and a small flat meadow with a stream of fresh water gushing from the rock cliff in the far side of the meadow. Beautiful green grass covers the small meadow as I peer upon its beauty. A scratchy throat reminds and tempts me to drink from the fresh mountain spring and I head over that way. I reach the crystal clear spring and stoop down with cupped hands to sample its soothing relief that has been brought on by the rough climb up the hill. The small pool of water reflects a perfect picture of my ruffled hair and sweaty brow. I peer at it for some time and get up to look around.
From my present view, I can see all around the entire area that surrounds this peaceful plot for what seems like a mile square. Although it is thick with forest all around me, I can see the clouds clearly as well as all along the course of the river that winds like a great snake through the meadows below. My mind wanders back to the days of the colonists and I begin to daydream and place myself as if I am some great trailblazer leading a group of settlers out west. “This is where we camp this day” I think to myself. “This spot offers security from the bottom land below with a steady source of water for the group” I explain. My throat is still dry and it brings me back to reality and out of my daydreams.
As I head back for another drink of the crystal clear water as the sun gently hides itself behind the horizon. I heard a sound as I walk but blamed it this time on the wildlife that were certainly surrounding me I thought. I listened hard and could make out the words that I did not understand. “tsiluga ahutsi Unvsa” I heard from the empty air around me, “tsiluga ahutsi Unvsa” again I heard as a gentle breeze blows my sweaty hair back from off my neck. “Must be the wind” I thought as I stooped down at the spring now before me. The water running down from the stones creates a cool breeze that feels like air conditioning.
From behind me I now clearly hear the words “tsiluga ahutsi Unvsa”. Blowing it off again, I cup my hands and grab a handful of the clear water, causing ripples in the small pool and disturbing the reflection. I drink deeply of the water and stare at the pool to see the reflection slowly coming back. Suddenly I am horrified as I see the perfect picture of an Indian with tomahawk raised, war paint smeared across his face in bright red with solid black stripes of paint blending into the red. His eyes were glowing red as if he was out for blood!
My heart stops as I jump up and look behind me, ready to defend myself. As I turn full face expecting to encounter something I have never experienced, I find myself staring into the now darkening shadows of evening setting in. “tsiluga ahutsi Unvsa” I hear plainly this time as the smell of meat, tobacco and alcohol is blown into my face. My heart was racing and the only thing I could think was “Flee!”. That I did, all the way back to my car.
The True Story
Arriving home that night, I was so scared at my encounter. It would be a day or so before I would investigate to find out what had happened in that area. Upon researching the subject, I found out that the traveling church from Virginia that ended up settling in Garrard County near Lancaster. The travelers had traveled along this old trail in the mid to late 1700’s. A small group of them had decided to camp at the area that Brodhead would become later on.
Some of the group decided to camp there that night. Instead of making the long nine mile trip to Crab Orchard they wanted to rest. The main group of settlers advised against this but it fell on deaf ears. That night the group that camped at Brodhead were slaughtered by Indians. Only one man survived it. The words I had been hearing were Cherokee words. “Kill them Prisoners” it was saying.