Friday, August 20, 2010

Mrs. Higginbotham's Trip down the Big Sandy River in April 1864

Mrs. Higginbotham was born Louisa Ward, daughter of William and Nancy Thompson Ward, at Ward's Cove, in Tazewell County of Virginia, March 12th, 1808. On September 8th, 1831, she married William Elliott Higginbotham, scion of a famous Tazewell family. For ten years following they dwelt at Burkes Garden, enjoying wealth and public esteem. The family were followers of the Mormon faith. Two years after her husband's death on July 3, 1862, Louisa Higginbotham began a difficult journey from Burke's Garden to Utah Territory. She was accompanied by her sons Simon Shelby (1839-1899), Francis David (1848-1911), daughter Elizabeth Letitia (1846-1938), her four year old grand-daughter Lettie and son-in-law David H. Peery, who, until recently, had served as Assistant Commissary under CS General Humphrey Marshall. In "Tullidge's Histories", Edward Wheelock Tullidge vividly recounts the dangers Louisa Higginbotham and her family encountered while traveling down the guerrilla infested Big Sandy Valley in April of 1864.

Big Sandy River, at Louisa, Kentucky

"David H. Peery's faith in the gospel had now grown active and enthralling. He and young Simon withdrew from the army and sent substitutes; but the conscription in this last epoch of the struggle had become so universal and so strict in the South, that if they departed it must be by stealth. Mrs. Higginbotham gathered the few remnants of her own property and aided her son-in-law in accumulating his available means; and then under her advice, David and Simon left Burkes Garden in the night on horseback, to travel to Catlettsburg, Kentucky, where they were to await her coming. She secured two wagons, into which she packed all the valuables belonging to Mr. Peery and herself which she could safely carry; obtained a considerable number of good horses, and secured a nephew of Mr. Peery, a young boy below the draft age, to drive one team, while her son Francis was to drive the other. She packed away under the false bottom of a trunk $1,400 dollars in coin, belonging to Mr. Peery; and $300 in gold, belonging to herself, she secreted on her own person.

One night, just before she was going to depart, envious neighbors broke into the stables, loosed her horses and drove them away. Undaunted by this disaster, she soon replaced the stock, and this time, in order to make her departure in certainty, she went to one Col. Swan, a Confederate officer of her acquaintance, and frankly told him of her troubles. She said that she was a Mormon, and that she desired to leave for Utah with such little property as the calamitous war had left to her. The Colonel gave her a military escort of fifteen men to accompany her through the Confederate lines; and she journeyed in safety to the banks of the Big Sandy, where the soldiers were obliged to leave her. This was one of the most dangerous spots imaginable, for it was directly on the line between the two opposing forces; and this was an hour, too, of peculiar peril, because all the original bitterness of the strife had been intensified by three long and bloody years. Besides, the region between the two armies was infested by guerillas, who spared neither friends nor enemies, and who had no regard for age or sex.

Sister Higginbotham was a heroine as great as any sung of in classic story. Without shedding a tear, she saw her escort depart and leave her with one dear daughter, just blossoming into girlhood, one precious little grandchild, and two young boys, to face all the dangers of that guerilla-infested region. The first night after her escort left her, her party camped on the banks of the Big Sandy. In some mysterious way she received an intimation that robbers had hovered about her path, and that they were intending to descend upon her camp, murder the boys, steal the horses, and escape with all the portables of value. Without a moment's hesitation she instructed her son and his companion to take the horses up the river, and there secure a trustworthy guide who could lead them through the mountains over to Catlettsburg, a distance of seventy-five miles, where they were to unite themselves with David and Simon. When Francis remonstrated against leaving her, she told him that she and her two girls would stay with the wagons and the property, and without any earthly protector they would still he kept in safety, and that they would join him at Catlettsburg.

Some hours after the boys had departed the guerillas assailed the little camp. They ransacked the two wagons, but failed to find any of the money. They took such things as they wanted, and Sister Higginbotham offered no resistance and solicited no favor, since she believed that either would be fruitless. But finally in overturning a trunk the robbers discovered the clothing and jewelry of her dead daughter Nancy, and these things appearing valuable, they exultingly seized and apportioned them among the members of their gang. This outrage was more than she could bear, and she screamed with pain and anger. Fortunately, she was heard by a Mrs. Blackburn, who lived in that vicinity, and who hastened from her residence to answer the call of distress. The robbers, fearing to be identified by one who could expose them to the vengeance of the military authorities, fled. Sister Higginbotham found entertainment at the Blackburn residence for a day or two, until a flat- boat came down the river; and upon this she took passage with her two girls and such of her property as was remaining after the assault of the mercenaries; and then she journeyed in comparative safety and comfort to Catlettsburg, where she found David, Simon and Francis in good health, but very anxious concerning her."

View of the steamboat landing in Catlettsburg, KY, from Virginia Point,
at the confluence of the Big Sandy River and the Ohio River

At Catlettsburg, the party disposed of their horses. They subsequently boarded a steamboat and travelled via the Ohio, Mississippi and Missouri rivers to Omaha. Mrs. Higginbotham and her family arrived in the Salt Lake Valley, Utah Territory five months later, on August 31, 1864.

Source: Tullidge's Histories, (volume II), Containing the History of All the Northern, Eastern and Western Counties of Utah: Also the Counties of Southern Idaho. With a Biographical Appendix of Representative Men and Founders of the Cities and Counties; Also a Commercial Supplement, Historical; By Edward Wheelock Tullidge;
Published by Press of the Juvenile Instructor, 1889; p. 211/212

Transcribed by Marlitta H. Perkins


  1. I was wondering if there was a blood feud between the Higginbotham and Isaacs in the 1860 till the 1880s? I read somewhere a young Higginbotham was shot while trying to shoot a Godfrey Isaacs during the Civil War.

    -Neil Isaac Dingman

  2. I am a great-grandson of William Elliot Higginbotham (1811-1862) and Louisa Ward Higginbotham (1808-1887) of Burke's Garden, Tazewell County, Virginia. Of their seven children, two of their daughters, Nancy Campbell Higginbotham (1835-1862) and Elizabeth Letitia Higginbotham (1846-1938) married my grandfather, David Harold Peery (1824-1901), also of Burke's Garden.

    After six members of Higginbotham and Peery families had died over an eighteen month period during the Civil War, mostly of typhoid, those remaining went to Utah. In Omaha, Nebraska they acquired an outfit, consisting of ox-teams for three wagons, each having two yoke of cattle, making twelve oxen in all. They also had two cows. They joined a covered wagon company, led by William Pritchett, that left Omaha on June 4, 1864. They crossed the plains that summer, arriving in Salt Lake City August 31,1864.

    David Peery and Letitia Higginbotham were married April 10, 1865 in Holedayburg, Utah, south of Salt Lake City. Their first child, David Henry Peery, was born April 13, 1866. That same year they moved to Ogden, Weber County, Utah, 35 miles north of Salt Lake City. David became very successful as an entrepreneur, merchant banker, politician and religious leader. He and Letitia had ten children, seven boys and three girls.

    Had it not been for their horrendous losses during the Civil War, it is likely the Higginbotham and Peery families never would have left Burke's Garden, Tazewell County, Virginia.