Early Election Returns from Kentucky

Well, we’ve had sorrow, inspiration, murder and mayhem . . . now I think it’s time for a little jest. If this year’s shenanigans haven’t convinced you that politics can be funny, maybe this story will. And it may be that some of today’s electioneering antics had their genesis many generations ago.

First a little background: My great-great-great-grandfather was John Rush. There were a whole lot of John Rushes, so there is some confusion; but I believe my John Rush was born around 1755 in Forsyth County, North Carolina, migrated to Kentucky around 1800, married a Wilhite woman thirty years younger, settled in Meade County and proceeded to have seven children and do quite well. The tax book of Meade County for the year 1824 shows he had 150 acres of land, six slaves and seven horses.

John Rush’s house was what they called a “double log house” in Buck Grove. By that, they probably mean one like the picture shown below that was built around the same time by my kinfolks in Boone County.

jonas clore house


John Rush’s place was the location of meetings which resulted in the formation of Meade county from Hardin and Breckinridge counties and was also where the first Meade County court met, in 1824. When the weather was good, court was held in the open; in rainy weather, the people attending court, on matters such as trespassing, swearing and failure to keep roads repaired, found shelter in the residence and farm buildings.

The first general election in Meade County was scheduled for August 1825 for a period of three days, to be held out at the home of John Rush. By this time a log structure had been built on the premises for use as a court house and every man in the county (we’re a century away from woman’s suffrage, remember) was assigned to vote at the court house. On election days, each candidate had his supporters rooting for him, and the outcome of the election was often determined by “fist and skull fighting.” Anyone who fought with a weapon was disgraced and branded as a coward. The title “the best man in the county” was gained with a man’s fists and head (and I don’t mean intelligence).

At this first election, Dan Shacklett (“Gentlemen Dan”) fought a pitched battle with Isaac Vertrees, which may have been the hardest fight in Meade County.  The large crowd made a ring around the contestants and allowed no one to interfere with the competition. Shacklett and Vertrees fought over an acre of ground for 37 minutes. I’m not sure who won this contest, but I’m betting it was Shacklett because of the following story.

George Ridenour’s Early Times in Meade County, Kentucky records that “old Jesse Shacklett [Gentleman Dan’s father] and Benjamin Shaver had two contests. In the first fight Shaver took undue advantage of his opponent by biting off a part of Shacklett’s ear.  As Shacklett did not fully approve of such proceedings, he challenged Shaver to a second fight at a later time.  In this contest to even up the score, Shacklett bit off a part of Shaver’s ear.  Both battles were fought to decide which was the better man.”  Old man Shacklett won this contest.  It was said that “he fought and whipped every man that tried him.”

I don’t know about you, but I’m thinking this sounds a lot more entertaining than town hall meetings and staged debates. And if there’s any virtual DNA in politics, this may explain something about how WWF wrestler Jesse Ventura came to be elected Governor of Minnesota 175 years later.


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