Editor’s Note: This is a series of recollections written by Shelby Paul Horn, who was raised in Estill County and went on to become a successful attorney. He now lives in Joplin, Missouri. At the urging of a friend, he wrote down many of his life experiences, some of which we will share with our readers.
By Shelby P. Horn
My family’s life in Kentucky has involved two counties, primarily Estill, where I was born, and Lee, where my father’s people had settled.
My paternal grandfather, Sidney Barnes Horn, was born in Estill County, which borders Lee County, but somehow ended up on a small farm in the latter. His farm was rough and hilly, a riparian farm, several miles down the Kentucky River from Beattyville. The Kentucky, at that point, was navigable; several licks and dams helped to control its flow and floods. In days past, barges went all the way upriver to Beattyville, bringing loads of coal from Breathitt County mines downriver to the mouth of the Kentucky at Carrollton, down the Ohio to the Mississippi, and to wherever they may have offloaded. In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, much of the goods produced by Kentucky farmers and businesses traveled all the way to New Orleans by boat. Lock 14, one of those important control features on the Kentucky, is a mile or so upriver from Grandpa Sid’s farm. Today, it and other locks are wired shut, and tugs and barges no longer ply the Kentucky’s waters.
Through the mountainous terrain, the Louisville and Nashville Railroad’s tracks followed the course of least resistance, the valley alongside the Kentucky River, from Irvine and points beyond, in Estill County to Beattyville, in Lee. Travel on the river itself was exceedingly quiet, for there were no nearby highways and no traffic noise, and thus not many sounds made by humans. There were few houses along the river, and those were far apart. An occasional cow bell might be heard. Birds chirped in the woods. The forest pressed in up on the river banks, acting to stifle sounds. Here the forest had to be pushed back by men, or it quickly consumed the clearings. The area’s quietness was sometimes assaulted by the huffing of steam locomotives and punctured by their shrill piercing whistles. Other than the sound of trains, and occasional electrical storms when thunder rolled and wind moaned through the trees, this was a still, silent place. It remains so today. Perhaps it is quieter now than when family farms meant more riparian population and commerce.
The house where my father and his siblings lived and grew up was a small log and frame structure set between the river and the L&N’s tracks. The tracks were only a few feet from the house. An earthen berm buffered some of the noise, but it must have been impossible to sleep when the night trains passed. Most of the farm was on the other side of the tracks, where a steep hillside pasture had been wrested from the forest. On that side, too, sat a barn and a gristmill.
Grandpa had been married before he married our Grandma Emaline. His first wife, Elizabeth Webb, had died after giving birth to four children. Asa was the only one who survived past his youth. He was not much older than my father, for it seems that people did not wait long after a spouse’s demise to re-marry, at least Grandpa Sid didn’t.
Only a couple of years separated Uncle Asa and my father, but they did not grow up together in the same household. Uncle Asa lived with his maternal grandmother, with whom my father visited enough to consider her his own grandparent. In fact, he referred to her as “Grandma Webb.” This confused me until I grasped all the relationships. But the development of an affectionate relationship with Uncle Asa’s grandmother tells me that my father was around enough to have had a brotherly relationship with Uncle Asa as they grew up. They always seemed to like each other late in life and had a respectful attitude toward each other that I didn’t always witness between my father and his other siblings. Though somewhat shorter in stature, Uncle Asa physically resembled him, but in personality seemed much calmer, more even-tempered, and more gentle. He outlived my father slightly, making it well into his mid-nineties.
Although remote by any standard, Grandpa’s farm was close to a small upriver village named for a city in Germany. Heidelberg, Germany, like this village, is situated beside a river, the Neckar. The comparison ends there; however, for there is no castle on the mountain above this Heidelberg, and no Student Prince. Its founder, Joseph Brandenburg, must have had some connection to the German town, though it is unknown to me. The Brandenburgs were German, of course. On her mother’s side, my grandmother, Emaline Dunaway, came from the family of Joseph Brandenburg. Like Grandpa Sid, she had been married and was widowed with children. I do not know how they met. Photographs-I have two- show a pleasant-looking mature woman whose face is smooth and unwrinkled and a man with a thick, white mustache. They look like someone’s grandparents, although she died when I was two and he died when I was four, and I have no memories of them as my own.
Grandpa Sid was, from all I have been told, not a good husband or father, and he was not very ambitious in providing for his family. Although he made a half-hearted pretense of farming and also ran a small gristmill operation to which neighbors brought grain to be ground into meal, the family fortunes never existed at more than a subsistence level. Not many kind words were said about Grandpa Sid in my immediate family. I barely remember him, except that I recall a fascination with his heavy white mustache, which was interesting to me as a toddler because no one around me had one. I also remember his laugh.
As I was growing up, our father hardly mentioned him, but then, he didn’t talk much more about his mother. When it came to discussion of personal matters, our father became rather taciturn. I cannot understand why a parent would not want his children to know as much about their grandparents as possible, and I may never understand. Part of my love of history, including genealogy, is the opportunity to pass the knowledge I gain to my daughter. Good and bad should be told, so there can be a full understanding of everything that’s worthwhile, especially where it concerns close relatives. My father did not do that. I don’t know why.
To be continued…