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Owen Historical Society News: River’s role in history honored

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By Bonnie Strassell

“The American backwoodsman - clad in his hunting shirt, the product of his domestic industry and fighting for the country he loves, he is more than a match for the vile but splendid mercenary of a European despot.”

These words of William Henry Harrison reflected his high regard for the Kentucky troops during the War of 1812. Harrison was commander of the Northwest army during this conflict, and Kentuckians led the way in achieving a victory for the young, untested America.
After the Revolution, Britain refused to abandon many of their forts and continued to supply the Indians with goods and weapons. One of the prime targets for war parties was the frontier of Kentucky. So it was then when the United States declared war on Great Britain in June, 1812 patriotic fervor swept the commonwealth and militias throughout the state scrambled to serve in the front lines.
A tall, lanky militiaman, wrapped in an indigo dyed fringed hunting frock, paid a visit to the historical society last week.
Thad Stern, along with his wife, Laura, took the audience on a journey to the apex of the War of 1812.
Following the footsteps of the Kentucky militia, Thad related stories of battles fought in extremely frigid weather and incidents of determined Kentuckians whose lack of food, weapons and supplies evoked awe-inspiring admiration.
Of the 1,876 Americans killed during the war, 1,200, about 64 percent, were Kentuckians. They represented the majority of America’s fighting force at the major battles of the River Raisin, Fort Meigs and Fort Stephenson. The Battle of Tippecanoe where Owen County’s namesake Abraham Owen was killed is said to have set the stage for the war and was the impetus for its onset.
120 Kentucky sharpshooters were instrumental in helping to achieve Oliver Hazard Perry’s victory on Lake Erie; and the venerable 62-year-old Governor Isaac Shelby led his Kentuckians as the Americans defeated the British and broke the back of the Indian confederation at the Battle of the Thames.
We were also honored by the presence of retired Command Historian of the Kentucky National Guard John Trowbridge. John has served as Kentucky state historian and director of the Military Museum in Frankfort. His vast knowledge of the War of 1812 added extra color and life to the presentation.
The program followed a community potluck dinner where the food tables seemed to groan a bit under the weight of the abundance of tasty home-cooked Owen County dishes.
Ashley and Austin, the great-grandchildren of society members Tom and Mary Lou Morrison, added youthful exuberance to the event.
After the program, some people lingered to talk with our guest speakers who displayed many of their accouterments. Laura Stern kindly took time with Austin who was fascinated with the Kentucky rifle and Brown Bess.
Thad and Laura Stern belong to the Second Regiment Kentucky Volunteer Militia, a re-enactment group whose goal is to educate the public on the War of 1812. They devote many hours presenting programs to schools and historic sites so this vital part of American history is not forgotten. This group of dedicated volunteers brings to life the militias of Kentucky who took center state in a war that determined America’s continued existence as a free nation.
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Trimble County Historical Society hosted the annual six-county historical society picnic Aug. 6.  This gives historical societies an opportunity to feast, fellowship, and exchange ideas. Ten members from Owen County Historical Society attended and enjoyed an evening of catching up with the news from other historians.
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“There is something so soothing and timeless about a river,” reminisced Amalie Preston in William Ellis’ book The Kentucky River.
 Amalie’s family has roots deeply intertwined with the Kentucky and she is one of the speakers scheduled for Kentucky River Day Aug. 17. In her program titled River Rats, Amalie will be relating stories of growing up on the river and of her ancestors who piloted steamboats on its waters.
William Ellis is a retired Foundation Professor at Eastern Kentucky University. He has written several books and in The Kentucky River he not only writes an overview of the river’s history but describes many of the colorful personalities who lived and worked along its banks.
On Kentucky River Day, Mr. Ellis will relate many humorous stories about Kentucky and the river which runs through its land and lives in the hearts of its people.
Dignitaries such as Owen County Judge-executive Carolyn Keith, Owenton Mayor Doug West, and Kentucky-American Water representative Bill Wulfeck will be on hand; and leading off the day William Grier will present the program Kentucky River Showboats. Mr. Grier is an engineer and worked on engineering projects in the upper Kentucky River basin in 1971. He wrote the book The Five Lives of the Kentucky River and presently is on the Kentucky River Task Force in Jessamine County. After traveling many major rivers of the world, Bill declared, “After having seen these world famous rivers, I know that the Kentucky River is one of most beautiful rivers in the world.”
Representatives Matt Thomas and Stephanie Brandt from Kentucky Fish and Wildlife will have a display and Matt will introduce turtles from Pfeiffer hatchery in Franklin County.
Doug Carpenter will display antique fishing reels, including one from Owenton’s own Frank Fullilove, and there will be games for the children. A watermelon-seed spitting contest will be featured at 2:30 p.m. and calliope concerts will be performed by David Stowe and Ann Bush. Plenty of tasty food will be offered by Big Tricky’s Catering and the museum will be open for tours.
This will be a grand celebration for Owen County so bring the whole family and join us on Kentucky River Day, Aug. 17 from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.