According to the Christian era nearly eighteen centuries had dawned in the world's chronology before the sound of a white man’s axe had broken the reverie of the hills, valleys and mountains of Eastern Kentucky, or what is now Letcher County. Soon after Kentucky became a state of the United States, in 1792, and its beautiful streams, rich valleys, fine hunting grounds, high hills and mountains, were exploited, the eyes of many people in the valleys of Old Virginia were turned to the new state and its opportunities. The same was true in the old states of North Carolina and Georgia. Many people whose parents had settled in the states mentioned were highlanders, mountaineers, and when the “travel west” spirit manifested itself in them they were inclined to seek high land sections as far into the mountains as possible. Many of these, pushing toward the western sunset, had only visionary notions as to how to reach the land they coveted - Kentucky. Many of them probably the majority of them, had heard of the Levisa Fork of the Big Sandy, and they knew that beyond this lay Kentucky. They also had learned that beyond the Cumberland Mountains, or beyond Cumberland Gap, lay Kentucky. But how to reach these boundary lines through hundreds of miles of trackless forests, over rough mountains and unknown streams was a perplexing proposition, and hazardous undertaking. But they were brave men, most then toughened students in the schools of experience. Their generations years before had been ground and hardened in the mills of oppression, and they had instilled in their sons and daughters burning impulses of liberty and freedom. The spirit of adventure was also strong in their minds and hearts. With the charming name of Kentucky wooing them, its pictures of wildlife, its wide open spaces and its unquestioned opportunities to build their log houses, churches and schools and worship God as they pleased appealed to them. They sacrificed all they had except their wives and children, shouldered their flint locks and axes, put a Bible in the pocket of their coon-skin coats and struck boldly toward the rising sun, toward Kentucky. Before leaving, they knelt and prayed, kissed their wives and children good bye and promised if heaven spared them to return for them when possible to do so.
The Mountain Eagle
WHITESBURG, LETCHER COUNTY, KENTUCKY.THURSDAY, MAY 28, 1931
The Caudill Family
Biographical and Historical Account of One of the Oldest, Most Numerous
Influential and Popular Families in Eastern Kentucky
The year was 1803. It was spring-time and the sun had climbed over the fog-capped brow of the Black Mountains and was sending golden beams through the deep forests of the very headwaters of Cumberland river. The indistinct sound of an axe broke on the ears of a stray trio of hunters from Virginia. They mustered courage for they feared Indians and peered through the thick trees to know more about it. A man was cutting logs into certain lengths and building a cabin. He had no idea there was a white man in many miles from him. They inquired his name and found it to be James Caudill, lately arrived from the border states of North Carolina or Georgia. He finished his temporary cabin and returned to the southland for his wife and family. And this woodsman was the pioneer James Caudill, Revolutionary soldier, Indian fighter, patriot and progenator of the first and largest family of this name to ever come into the hills of Kentucky.
A bigoraphical sketch of this old pioneer of the hills and his family would, if written fully, read like romance, would make a many page book, and therefore details here for want of space can only deal lightly with a few of the families, referring only slightly to the others.
James Caudill, the first, was born in the old state of North Carolina in the year 1750, and when quite young, enlisted in the American army for service in the Revolutionary War. Like all those who suffered, struggled and fought in this war for independence, he had a colorful part. In the early days of the war he was captured by the British, suffered the brunt of many indignities and was marched through the forests three whole days without food. Finally, with those captured with him, he escaped and rejoined his comrades. He was on many of the battlefields of the South, King's Mountain, in 1780, being one that impressed his memory greatest, King's Mountain is in North Carolina, but the great battle was fought seven miles from this place over in South Carolina. Soon after this battle the one at Guilford Courthouse was fought, which was an indecisive one. From here Lord Cornwallis, the British general, marched to Wilmington and thence to Yorktown, where he surrendered. Returning to his native section of the country after our country was declared free and independent, he engaged in hunting, trapping, breaking bunches of Indian maruders and farming till the spirit of go west entered his mind. On hunting trips he had invaded sections many miles away from his home would often be away for many months. On his hunting trips it is believed he even invaded the hills of Southwest Virginia and probably entered the Sandy river sections of what was then Kentucky County, Virginia. It was on one of these trips that he invaded the Black and Pine Mountain sections and determined when the opportunity came to settle in them.
In his early manhood he married the daughter of a Revolutionary soldier, before settling in Eastern Kentucky had three sons, all three of whom were born back in North Carolina and soon followed the head to its new location. As soon as the skies of hope in the new land began to clear James Caudill with his three sons, William, Henry and Isom, and others who migrated with him began to make themselves felt in hewing out the forests, building homes, erecting church and school houses and otherwise clearing the way for progress and civilization. The first the records now in existence show of James Caudill was in 1820 when he became a charter member of the old Oven Fork Church, organized on Cumberland river in what was then Harlan County. In the same old record is found the names of William Caudill, specified as one of the deacons of the church, and his wife, Nancy Caudill, is recorded as one of the deaconesses. Henry, the oldest of the family, had seven sons and two daughters. These were Stephen, born 1810; James, 1816; Henry H., 1818; Billie, 1820; Isom, 1822; Ben, 1824; Jesse, 1826 and David, 1828. James Caudill's daughter, Abagail, and William Pennington, her husband, are also mentioned in the old Oven Fork record as among the first deaconesses and deacons of that church.
The first William Caudill married Nancy Craft and they had 13 children. Henry married Phoebe Strailer and became the mother of ten children.
Isom, another son of the pioneer, finally settled on Little Cowan creek where he resided till his death at the age of only a few days less than 100 years. By his first marriage his children were, Della, who married Joe Musselwhite; Amanda who became the wife of _____ Sturgill; twins, Billie and Henry, James, Alford and John. At the age of seventy-two he married a rather young woman, Mary Miller, and to him she bore three children, Martha, who married Thos. Johnson; Hiram, who married a daughter of the late Wm. S. Vermillion, and Hannah, the wife of Andrew J. Adams who now resides at Fleming.
Henry, who before coming to Kentucky married Phoebe Strailer in South Carolina and had the following sons and daughters: Steve, born 1810 and married Betsy Fields; Terry, born 1812, wife of Mathew Caudill; Phoebe, 1814, wife of Wilburn Hampton; Henry (Tush), 1818, who married Susan Back; Benj. 1824, (died 1878) married Polly Bowling; James (Froggy) 1816, married Jenny Gilly; Davy, 1828, married Betsy Fields; Jesse, 1826, (Limber Jet) married Sallie Caudill; and Isom, 1822, married Lizzie Back. James, mentioned the second time, married Abby Hampton, William’s girl. The first named of the sons of Henry Caudill, Stephen, was the grandfather of our present County Court Clerk, Cro C. Caudill.
Billie Caudill, son of the pioneer, who married Nancy Craft, had thirteen children born into his family. These were: James, known as Limber, born 1818, married Betsy Mullins; Wm. J. Caudill, known as Stiller, married Nancy Dixon; Isom, 1829, married Judah Sumner; Henry, 1829, twin brother to Isom, married Patsy Campbell; Sally, 1823, married John Back; Susan, married Eld. James Dixon; Mary, married Joshua Mullins; Ellendar, married James Penningtcn; Lila, married Wm. Pennington; Nancy, Wilburn Caudill; Rebecca, Sewell Proffitt; Isabell, Alford Back; Betsey, Cale Mullins.
To follow up all the branches of the above family of Billie Caudill and Nancy Craft Caudill and write it down would be almost a life time task, so, for the present we will take the second son, Wm. J. Caudill (Stiller) and Nancy Dixon and continue the narraive. Billie Caudill, as stated above, was born in the year 1827 and married Nancy Dixon, who was born in the year 1830. They were both born in what is now Letcher County and each died and was buried in the county. Uncle Billie as he was known, died Nov. 29, 1908, and Aunt Nancy passed away nine years before her husband. Only sixteen children were born into the family, ten boys and six girls, all of whom except an infant, lived to marry and rear familes. Uncle Billie was a farmer and great hunter until the war between the states broke out in 1861, when he enlisted in the Southern army and served on many of the hottest battlefields till its close. When he returned to his home, hundreds of others who bared their breasts to the shot and shell of war, he found his large family almost in desperation for the necessities of life and living. His, as well as other farms about, were grown up in briars and bushes and many of the homes of his old neighbors and friends deserted. He sought about for something to do to heal the critical situation. He engaged in the manufacture of corn whiskey and apple and peach brandy. He soon became proficient in the business and for years was regarded as the finest maker of these old time products in the mountains. In the year 1888 when attempts were made to out-law the manufacture and sale of intoxicants he was arrested by John P. Back and other officers at the time and started to prison. Before going far he gave them his word he would entirely quit the business if released. This they did and until his last day never again engaged in it. He returned to his home and farm and resumed work. Following the distilling business so long, he was known far and wide as "Stiller Bill". He was one of the greatest bee raisers, having hundreds of stands, and year in and year out had honey on his table for his family and all who gladly shared his great generosity.
As stated above, Stiller Bill Caudill reared to manhood and womanhood sixteen children: James W. Caudill, (Noah) born 1846; Thos. Caudill, born 1848; Wm. J. Caudill, (Miller) born 1850; Susan, 1852; Hiram W. 1853; Sallie, 1854; Jane, 1856; Isaac D., 1857; Elizabeth, 1859; Jerry P., 1861; Geo. W., 1863; Henry C., 1866; Martha, 1868; and John B., 1670. To give the names of all the children of the sons and daughters of this large family is practically impossible, for the first James W. Caudill had at his home thirteen sons and daughters; the next, Thos. D. had the same number; Wm. J. Caudill, (Miller) eleven; Sallie Watts, fifteen; Susan Cornett, three; Elizabeth Combs, six; Jane Whitaker, twelve; Hiram W. thirteen, J. P., six; Margaret Watts, nine; Isaac D., thirteen; Geo. W., eleven; Martha Cornett, four; Henry C., five and J. B., eight, in all, one hundred and forty grandchildren of Billie Caudill and Nancy Dixon Caudill.
Wm. J. Caudill (Miller) and his wife, Martha Whitaker Caudill, had eleven children born into their home. There were, J. D., born 1872 and married to Manerva Dixon; Lavinia, wife of Kelly Stamper, R. B., married Jane Cornett; Willie J., married Hettie Cornett; Anna, wife of Esquire Thomas A. Dixon; Ella, wife of James Loggans; Calla, wife of Wm. Whitaker (deceased), second marriage, wife of James G. Back; James, married Mary Branson, then Lina Blair (divorced), Crittie, wife of L. R. Andrews, residing in Oklahoma; Chas. B., married Tessie May Hogg, and Vernon deceased in 1886. The latter was buried near the grave of his great grandfather Jas. Caudill, in the Rich Whitaker graveyard near the home of R. B. Whitaker on Rockhouse creek. To the time this is written, sixty-one children have been born into the homes of these, the children of Miller Bill and Aunt Martha Whitaker Caudill, now both deceased. The children of I. D. Caudill are, Emmett and Zola, both deceased; R. B., Jr., Mattie, married to Jesse Logans, and Alta (deceased). The children of Lavina Caudill Stamper are, Verna, married to Belt Tayler, Herma, wife of H. H. Fields; Hays, married Mary Crase; Forester, single; May wife of Robt. Fields, Hassel, single.
The children of R. B. and Jane Cornett Caudill are, Hettie, single; Lizzie, wife of Dr. H. Spear, residing at Cumberland; Denys, unfortunately killed in a car wreck in 1929, and Hubert, a young man, single. Young Denys mentioned here, was one of the brightest young men in all the Blackey section, and was in his fourth year at Centre College when hit and killed by a Southern passenger train near Science Hill. He was unmarried.
R. B. Caudill, one of the two men who sponsors and pays for this small biographical sketch of the Caudill family is a block of this wonderful old family. To read what is written is to know how widely he is connected. He begins when the ownership of all America was across the seas. When the Stamp Act stirred the blood of the American Colonist, his great, great grandfather's blood was stirred too. He heard the sound of the guns at Lexington and Concord. The Southern blood of Marion and Green struck shafts of patriotic lightning in his breast and he joined them. Till freedom's banner crushed Cornwallis and banished the spirit of King George, the fiery blood of Revolutionary Jim never ceased to boil. It is no wonder that from those days back in the ages the Caudill blood has run strong for freedom and the rights of freemen. Back in England, before the name reached America, they were strong Dissenters of a church made and regulated by law, and it's no wonder years after they sought the wide open wilds of the woods to build their primitive churches and bow at freedom's alter.
Here we take up and particularize on another branch of the same Caudill family, just another fork that grew from the Revolutionary patriot, James Caudill. Metion has already been made of Henry Caudill, a son of James Caudill, born back in North Carolina during the Revolutionary War and who married Phoebe Strailer of South Carolina. Ten children as the reader will note, was born into this family and the names of each, with their wives and husbands are given.
The first of this Henry Caudill family was a son, Stephen, born 1810, and married Betsy Fields. A number of children were born into this family, all of whom also reared large families. We shall here take up one of these and follow it to the present day. This son Henry R. S. Caudill, a Baptist minister, married, when a young man, a daughter of Robert Sumner, a member of another old and reputable family, to whom six children were born. This Mrs. Caudill died and afterward Uncle Henry married Mary, a daughter of James Branson, who was shot and killed during the Civil War. To this last union was born eight children, three of whom passed away in infancy. Those who grew to manhood in order of ages are: Wicks, who was accidentally killed by a falling tree at the age of twenty-one, unmarried; Phoebe, wife of Hugh Combs at this time a Whitesburg barber; Martha, wife of General Adams, a farmer; Hannah, wife of D. C. Hall, connected with the L & N railroad, residing at Versailles, and Cro C. Caudill, present clerk of the Letcher County Court. Each of these have fine families of intelligent children, the older of whom are well educated. Cro Caudill married Martha, a daughter of the D. F. and Dianah Day Blair, and they have at this time, Truman, a son of 19, and Harry, a bright young fellow, aged nine. James, a fine young school boy in his fourteenth year, died from the effects of an operation for appendicitis at Seco Hospital only a few months ago. Henrietta, the only daughter of the family, died at the age of three, some years ago. Cro Caudill was born at Middlesboro, where his parents resided at the time. When a boy he returned with his parents to this county and finally located in Whitesburg. He attended school and engagad in any kind of work at which he could make a dollar or any other sum. He married and located at McRoberts where he engaged in mine work. While at this work he unfortunately lost his entire left arm. As soon as posible to do so, he located again in Whitesburg, where he engaged in various professions to make a living. Six years ago he was nominated on the Democratic ticket for County Court Clerk, and in November won with a handsome majority. Again he became a candidate in 1929, and was duly elected with votes to spare. He is indeed a very popular and highly accommodating offical and citizen. No criticism has ever come from the official conduct of his office, Miss Gypsy Combs, his niece and Patrick Banks, well liked young business man, are his present office deputies.
The late Henry R. S. Caudill led a rough life as a Confederate soldier during the late Civil War. As soon as the tocsin of war sounded and battle lines were forming, he flew into the army and never stopped fighting till the war was practically ended. He was in so many hot battles that he never could remember or recall their names. To him, it was a continous siege and battle roar. He suffered, bled, starved and almost died. Toward the end of the war he was captured and sent to Camp Douglas, in the North, where he likewise starved and almost died with smallpox until peace was made. With health and strength broken, he returned to his home county, where he spent almost all the rest of his days. Like all this old host of Caudills, Uncle Henry was a wonderful man. He died in Whitesburg about 1906. Aunt Mary, his widow, a greatly loved old lady, though extremely ill at this time, is alive at the age of eighty-two.
And so winds the biography of one of Letcher County's greatest families. But what of the other Caudill family so well known and so powerful in Letcher County? We mean the old Caudill family whose progenator married a daughter of Pioneer John Adams in North Carolina, long before locating in what afterwards became Letcher County. Stephen Caudill was the father of the late Elder John A. Caudill, so long loved and respected as an old Baptist minister. His brothers were, Watty and Jesse Caudill, who may be remembered by some of our old readers. His sisters, as we recall them, were the wife of old John Q. Brown, the father of the late Miller George Brown; Aunt Easter Eldridge and the wife of Rockhouse Mose Adams. Of course all of these have long since passed to the great beyond. Only a few of their children, maybe and their grand and great grandchildren, remain. As stated, this North Carolina patriot married a daughter of John Adams. So did the first Archelaus Craft, Benjamin Webb, Billie Adams, (Grit) and a half dozen others of the old family trees. Let the living children of these old patriarchs think of the great strings of their relatives. Now we come to the relationship that existed between these two great generations. It is a simple and quickly told story. The original James Caudill had a brother. This brother, the old family records show, was the father of Stephen Caudill, the head of the late Watson G. Caudill and Aunt Polly A. Craft. They are the same family; they have habits, notions, religions, peculiar traits and last but not least, large families alike. They and their generations were, and are, outstanding monarchs of the civilization in the mountains. To these mighty men and women of the old days, rich in the ardor of that which makes giants, this page is humbly dedicated. May heaven’s richest blessings smile and smile on all these and such as these.
Letcher County, KY, Genealogy