Family Stories

James Greenville Trimble and Joseph Proctor – Stories of Long Ago

I found this most interesting article while searching for the obituary of James Greenville Trimble (which I could not find).  Since he lived through so much history, and was given first hand accounts of early history, I wanted to share this with you.  It’s too bad he didn’t talk more about his adventures during the Civil War.  I thought it most interesting when he said he had lived under the administrations of twenty-four presidents!

The Mt. Sterling Advocate, Montgomery County, Kentucky

Tuesday, April 25, 1916

Heard Battle Story From Proctor’s Lips

J. G. Trimble Learned of Historic Event of 134 Years Ago from a Participant

The following article which appeared in Wednesday evening’s Louisville Port, will be of interest to local people.

A famous battle between Indians and white settlers, known in history as ‘Estill’s defeat,’ was fought on soil now included in Montgomery County, Kentucky, March 22, 1782.

That was 134 years ago, before the War of the Revolution was ended, before the United States was an established government, yet there is living in Mt. Sterling today a citizen who has heard the story from the lips of a man who took part in it.

Mr. James Greenville Trimble, head of the Mt. Sterling National Bank, is the Kentuckian who constitutes such a remarkable link between the present and long ago.  He is almost ninety-three years old, and he heard the story from Joseph Proctor, who lived to a great age and died in 1844.

Mr. Trimble has given the Evening Post an account of Proctor and his story of that battle in the following letter:

Editor Evening Post:

I notice in your issue of March 25th you published a letter written by the Hon Henry L. Stone, of your city, which is an extract from a short history of Montgomery County, prepared by the Hon Richard Reid, formerly of Mt. Sterling, in 1876, in which he gives a minute description of one of the greatest and hard fought battles (considering the number engaged) that was ever fought upon Kentucky soil.  He especially alludes, in a complimentary manner, to the gallant services performed by one of the soldiers, named Joseph Proctor, who was the last survivor of those who participated in that great battle, which is known in history as Estill’s Defeat, which took place 134 years ago.

I had the pleasure, as well as the honor, of being personally and intimately acquainted with Mr. Proctor, having lived in the same town and within 100 yards of him for two years, and I met with him almost every day.  He was a large man, six feet high, weighing about 180 pounds.  He was a local Methodist preacher, having been ordained by Bishop Francis Asbury (the first Methodist bishop ever in America, who was born in England, August 20, 1745, came to America in 1771, and died at Fredericksburg, Virginia, on March 31, 1816, 100 years ago).

My acquaintance with Mr. Proctor was during the last three years of his life.  His death occurred on December 2, 1844.  I attended his funeral and burial.  He was buried with military honors at Irvine, Kentucky.  A company of fifty militia fired their guns as his body was lowered into the grave.  He was buried in an old, dilapidated and unused cemetery, which has not been used for that purpose since, and there is not now a stone to mark his last resting place.  I would suggest that the descendants of the man who was carried on the shoulders of Proctor from the battlefield to Madison County, a distance of twenty-five miles, erect a monument to perpetuate his memory.  Captain Estill was honored with a marble monument at Richmond, Kentucky, which cost several thousand dollars.  Why not give one to Proctor, who was a very poor man, and had no property whatever?

During my residence of two years at Irvine, Kentucky, I had the position of Deputy Clerk of the Estill Circuit and County Courts, at the large salary of $100 a year and board.  Major Robert Clark (nephew of Gov. James Clark, whose home was at Winchester) was clerk of both courts, and he being one of the principal pillars of the Methodist church in that town, Proctor made the office his loafing place.  During the summer season and in favorable weather he would spend much of his time at our office, and the people of the town and county would often call to see him and hear him talk and relate the many thrilling scenes through which he had passed with the Indians, and the experiences he had with Daniel Boone, Simon Kenton, Calloway and many other pioneer heroes, which was always entertaining to the people and was a favorite subject with him for discussion.

Mr. Proctor, on account of his advanced age, impaired health and other infirmities, did not preach any during my acquaintance with him, but he never failed to attend his weekly prayer-meetings and Sunday school, and occasionally he would deliver to each of them eloquent exhortations and able in prayer; I was never acquainted with a more devoted and consecrated Christian.  I am perhaps the only man now living who was personally acquainted with a soldier who participated in that bloody conflict which occurred 134 years ago.

Captain Estill, with his twenty-five men, overtook the Indians with a similar number at Hinkston Creek, a very small stream, not more than four or five miles to its head.  He found three of the Indians on the west side of the creek engaged in skinning a buffalo, the balance of them had passed over to the opposite side of the creek and were taking their rest.  The three Indians on the west side immediately joined their main body on the east side, and the firing then commenced; every man on both sides took a tree for protection, so far as was possible, with the creek between the conflicting sides.  When the fight continued for some time without any apparent result, Lieut. Miller, with six soldiers of Estill’s command, withdrew from the company, ostensibly for the purpose of crossing the creek above and getting into the rear of the Indians; but instead, they left for parts unknown and never did return.  This reduced Captain Estill’s fighting strength to eighteen against twenty-five.  It is supposed that the Indians suspected there had been a division of Captain Estill’s forces, on account of slack firing, and they, therefore, made a charge in a body across the creek, most of them with tomahawks and knives.

All of the real hard, hand-to-hand fighting took place on the west bank of the creek, the result of which is so well described by Col. Henry L. Stone in his letter which you published, and which corresponds with the history I have of it from Joseph Proctor.  I will, therefore, not allude to it, except to say that Captain James Estill, who was a very small man, came in contact with the largest Indian that belonged to the company, who would weight over 200 pounds, armed with butcher knives.  Mr. Proctor told me that he was standing nearby, but could give Estill no relief.  He witnessed the giving away of his arm, which had been broken a few months previous, which placed him completely in the power of the savage, who plunged a large butcher knife into his left side which penetrated his heart, and Captain Estill instantly fell dead at the feet of the savage.  Within ten seconds thereafter the trusty rifle of Joseph Proctor, with its deadly and unerring aim, placed the lifeless body of the big Indian by the side of the dead body of Captain Estill.  Mr. Proctor never did admit in my presence that he killed the Indian, but in speaking of the incident he would say, ‘I never heard of that big Indian killing anybody afterward, nor committing any depredations.’

A few years previous to his death, Mr. Proctor was brought to this county and taken over the supposed battle ground to see if he could identify the place where the battle occurred, but he was unable to do so.  In 1782, when the battle occurred, the county was a wilderness – nothing but timber and cane; whereas, at the time of his visit it was all cleared out and in cultivation and bluegrass.

I am a native of Morgan County, Kentucky, and was born in a log cabin on a farm upon which Hazel Green was afterward located, on the 15th day of June 1823.  I will, therefore, be ninety-three years of age on the 15th day of the coming June.  I continued to live in Hazel Green for fifty-three years, and since then I have resided in Mt. Sterling.  I have lived under the administrations of twenty-four presidents of the United States, commencing with James Monroe, and including Woodrow Wilson, who will be our next president.  This includes all the presidents we have had since the formation of our government, save four – Washington, Jefferson, John Adams and Madison.  Their political complexion was as follows:  Democrats, twelve; Republicans, ten; Whigs, three; Federalists, two; making twenty-seven.  Washington had no politics, but was president of all the people of the United States.  I have been a voter for seventy-two years, and during that time I have never held an office of any kind, and, with the exception of local and municipal elections, I have never scratched the Democratic ticket but once.  The first vote I ever cast for president and vice president was for James K. Polk and George M. Dallas.

I can say that which few men of my age can say.  My general health has always been good, and I have never felt the effects of old age.  On the 4th of June, 1907, I fell down the elevator shaft in the Louisville Hotel of your city and sustained injuries of such a character that I have never been able to walk alone without the aid of crutches, and were it not for my crippled condition, occasioned by that fall, I could now take daily horseback rides, of which I am very fond, of from forty to fifty miles a day, with ease.  At one time during the Civil War I rode on horseback one hundred miles without stopping forty minutes.

James Greenville Trimble

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