Owen Historical Society News: Owen County has a rich history of political figures

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By Bonnie Strassell

The stone orator stands erect atop the imposing alabaster monument and gazes out over the I.O.O.F. Cemetery in Owenton. The marker bears the image of United States Representative Evan E. Settle and designates his final resting place.
Like many other Owen countians, Evan Settle devoted much of his life to politics, and nobly served the people of Kentucky.
Evan E. Settle was born in Frankfort. He chose law as his career and in 1870 began his practice in Owen County. Settle married Lizzie Rhett Herndon and shortly afterwards was elected prosecuting attorney of Owen County, a position he held for several years.
After serving in the Kentucky State House of Representatives from 1887-1890, Settle was elected to the United States Congress and served from March 1897 until his sudden death in November of 1899.
Another Owen countian from New Liberty, June Ward Gayle, was elected to serve out the remainder of Settle’s term. June was high sheriff of Owen County from 1892-1896 and was engaged in banking and the tobacco business. Although not an orator, June was extremely popular and highly respected by his constituents.
Kentuckians always considered involvement in politics as a necessary and vital duty. Owen countians held to this same belief. In the “History of Owen County, Kentucky,” Mariam Houchens described how the people of the area regarded their political responsibilities: “Politics was truly the life’s blood of the county, and each precinct swarmed with candidates as election time drew near.”
In true Kentucky manner, many from Owen County ran for public office, not only because it was honorable to do so, but to help assure the rule of a just government.
The years 1824-1861 saw numerous Owen countians serving the commonwealth in both the House of Representatives and the Senate. Seventeen were state representatives.
Maj. Benjamin Haydon represented the county in 1828, 1832, 1834, 1836, 1837, and 1843. He also operated a stagecoach stop known as “Haydon’s Stand,” and in a time when beards came into fashion, Haydon’s luxuriant whiskers extended well below his waist.
Cyrus Wingate was elected in 1824-1827, and Thomas Woolfolk served in 1829 and 1831. Other representatives included: John Brown, Thomas Dillon, James S. Brown, Joseph Rowlett, Henry B. Gayle, James Orr, William Allnut, James Blanton, John Leonard, John Glass, John Calvert, Henry Giles, Hiram Kelsey, and Robert H. Gale.
The three senators from Owen County during these years were Cyrus Wingate who held the office from 1828-1841, James P. Orr who was elected 1851-1853, and Asa P. Grover who served from 1857-1861.
One Owen countian who truly worked his way up the ladder was James Hervey Dorman. He was born in 1831 in a log cabin in Gallatin County.
Struggling to pay his way through college, he earned his law degree and began his practice in New Liberty. During the Civil War, James served in the Fourth Kentucky Confederate Cavalry, was in 42 engagements, and never received a scratch. He married, moved to Owenton and was very active in the Owenton Baptist Church.
James Dorman was elected county judge for four years, and served four years as a state senator.
Another well-known senator from Owen County was James Cammack Sr. who served in that capacity from 1904-1907. He was also a circuit judge and the state attorney general. Cammack initiated legislation to make Mammoth Cave a national park and perpetual public shrine. He worked tirelessly as a public servant to offer the best educational opportunities to Kentuckians, and had a reputation of being capable, impartial and honorable.
In 1910, Owen County Senator L.C. Littrell sponsored a bill which provided pensions for Confederate soldiers and their widows at a rate of $12 a month.
One of Owen County’s best loved doctors, Charles Alexander, died in 1939. Two months after his death his son and namesake, who had just been elected as state representative, succumbed to injuries sustained in an automobile accident at the top of Gratz Hill.
Fiercely independent, Kentuckians never shied away from expressing their political opinions. At times, those views caused divisions in families and among friends. Disagreement over an election exacerbated the feud between the Hatfields and McCoys; and at times fights in many parts of the commonwealth would ensue over who was the best qualified candidate.
Elections have always aroused emotions and during the 17th and 18th centuries, everyone took elections very seriously.
Election Day sermons would be preached from the pulpits of America. Church pastors were expected to guide their congregations in regards to the qualifications of a candidate according to the Bible.
During the Revolutionary War, many clergymen donned uniforms of the Continental Army and led their congregants into battle against the British.
The desire to elect the most honest and upright individuals as leaders of our country has always been a priority of Owen countians.
More importantly, the freedom and right to do so has been jealously guarded by not only Kentuckians, but by everyone across the country. It is a wise person who can hold his/her temper during election, but elections in Kentucky have always evoked heated debates. One unknown author described Kentucky elections in these words:
“With Republican money rattling,
And Democratic liquor flowing,
Many not a’caring,
More not a’knowing
Your worst enemy might be,
Your own grandad, you see,
On election day back in old Kentucky.”
Our sincere thanks to all those who made donations to the Owen County Historical Society in memory of Lori Powers. We will be meeting with Lori’s husband, J.O., in the near future to discuss a fitting memorial to this lovely lady. Her love, talent, and sacrificing spirit has firmly placed her within the hearts of us all.
A historical society board meeting will be held Thursday at 6:30 p.m. at the I.O.O.F. hall.
All board members are requested to attend, and all committee members are welcome to join us.