Ezekiel Rogers, Pioneer
By a grandchild
Retold and never forgotten,
Treasured and ever so dear,
Are the tales that our grandfathers told us
Of the days of the pioneers.
Ezekiel Rogers was a bound-boy at age 3; a Revolutionary War veteran at 16; a pioneer until he was murdered here in the Bonhomme Township in 1811. This story of my great-great-great grandfather is known through the writings of his sons and through research in the court records.
HOW DID IT ALL BEGIN?
For Ezekiel it began at age three in 1767 when he was declared to be a “poor” orphan and bound-out by the church wardens of Bedford County, Virginia, to Thomas Watkins. Masters were required to give their indentured children 3 to 6 months of education. Ezekiel learned to read and write, although poorly. His son said that “he was kindly cared for and found as much comfort as ordinarily befalls the lot of fatherless and motherless children.” Normally Ezekiel would have been required to serve his master until age 21, but the death of his master and the Revolutionary War changed that.
THE PIONEER YEARS
After the war, he married Rebekah Williamson of Charlotte County, Virginia, who proved every bit his equal in enduring the hardships of pioneer life.
Ezekiel bought 100 acres of land in Charlotte County, but after about two years they sold it and began heading west.
In 1793, a year after the state of Kentucky was formed, they were going through the Cumberland Gap with a band of emigrants headed for central “Kaintuck.”
The Old Wilderness Trace over which they passed was then suitable only for packhorses and foot travel.
Rebekah made this trip with two little ones and was about seven months pregnant.
A “wallet” was used on a packhorse to carry the pioneer’s family and household effects.
It was a large sack, something like a saddlebag.
On one end it contained a few cooking instruments and bread and meat for the journey.
On the other end was a small bed and bedding that little ones could be tucked into with room enough for the heads to stick out just far enough to breath.
“The mother sat enthroned between this moving kitchen and nursery, guiding the horse and administering to the wants of the babes.”
The family settled in a log cabin that Ezekiel built in the wilderness of central Kentucky.
Times were hard and pioneer families considered themselves lucky if at the end of the year they had enough money to buy salt and shoe leather.
In those years when there was no money, clean hickory ashes were used for salt and buckskin moccasins for shoes.
In 1799 a pamphlet fell into Ezekiel’s hands which gave a glowing description of New Spain, or Upper Louisiana.
It told of the great fertility of the soil, the abundance of game, and vast extent of range for stock.
This was too much for Ezekiel who had developed a great fondness for border life.
He and a Mr. Bradley set out for what we call Missouri.
When they came to the village of Paincourt, now St. Louis, there was not a brick house in the place.
There were two Spanish forts near the river, one above and one below the town.
This insignificant village was inhabited chiefly by Spaniards and French who dealt in furs, which were the circulating medium of exchange.
Ezekiel was offered 150 acres near the village for his fine horse.
Although later the land would be covered with blocks of the best business houses in St. Louis, then there was little promise for the future of the place.
Ezekiel kept his horse.
Ezekiel continued west about 22 miles to the Bonhomme settlement.
He bought a tract of about 600 acres on the Missouri River, part of which is now Faust Park.
The land had 2 log cabins on it and 4 acres under cultivation.
He brought his family out in September, 1801, with 8 packhorses loaded with their most useful things.
HIS SON WROTE:
“We were all delighted with our new home….
Our table was rarely without venison, turkey, catfish and buffalo fish….
Delicious honey was obtained from the forest and prairie grass.
The glades afforded strawberries; grapes were found along the streams and gooseberries in abundance.”
Ezekiel, being an industrious and frugal man, soon had the farm well improved with comfortable buildings on it.
He had a large peach orchard and a distillery for making peach brandy.
He grew corn, potatoes and flax.
They were quite “well-to-do” for those times.
THE BEGINNING OF THE END
The end began for Ezekiel in 1808 when he signed a share-crop agreement with Moses Kenney.
He agreed that in exchange for Kenney’s work on the land he would provide him with board and washing and 1/10 of the crops and peach brandy that was produced.
In two months there was serious trouble between Rogers and Kenney.
Each claimed he was assaulted by the other.
Each claimed that they were in fear of their lives from the other, and each swore out peace bonds.
This feud between Ezekiel and Kenney soon involved others.
All took out peace bonds against the others.
Kenney brought a suit against Rogers for breach of contract, claiming that Rogers would not allow him on his land to do his work.
Ezekiel’s answering plea has not been found, but his son said that his father felt he had been done “a grievous personal wrong” by Kenney.
We do not know what that was.
In the mean time the United States government brought charges of “breach of the peace” against Rogers, Kenney and some neighbors.
Ezekiel’s son said that his father became determined to sell out and return to Kentucky.
Two days before the judgment was to be given on the breach of contract suit, Ezekiel sold his land for $1,200.00 to Frederick Bates, then Secretary of the Upper Louisiana Territory.
Ezekiel’s son said that this father very much regretted the sale of his land.
Judgment on the breach of contract suit was given on November 16, 1808, but the court order book is missing so we do not know who won the suit.
We have supposed that Kenney won the suit, but with neither Ezekiel’s plea nor the judgment, we cannot be sure.
Ezekiel did not leave Missouri right away and trouble continued, for in March 1809 the U. S. government again brought breach of the peace suits against Rogers, et. al.
The next day Ezekiel brought a suit against Kenney which is listed in the Missouri Decennial Digest.
Neither a cause nor an outcome is known.
In the fall, Ezekiel moved his family back to Bourbon County. Kentucky.
Moses Kenney was from Bourbon County, and he too went back the same fall.
The following year Ezekiel returned to Missouri to petition to have his land claim on the Dubois River in Franklin County, recognized by the U. S. government.
The Land Claims Commission, consisting of Lucas, Penrose and Bates, refused his claim.
Ezekiel and his son Samuel returned again to Bonhomme Township in the spring of 1811 to “settle his business,” and Moses Kenney followed him there.
THE END WAS MURDER
The Louisiana Gazette
carried the following on April 11, 1811:
“Died on the 24th
ult. In Bon Homme Township---Ezekiel Rogers---in consequence of boiling water poured over him while asleep and afterward much beat and bruised.
The name of the villain who committed this foul deed is Moses Kenney of Bourbon Co., KY.
JUSTICE IS ROBBED OF THE VICTIM
A grand jury indicted Kenney on the testimony of a man who witnessed the attack, and a warrant for Kenney’s arrest was issued.
But Kenney had filed to Kentucky and finally to the State of Maine.
He could not be gotten back to the Territory where the murder was done and was never brought to justice.
He later married and settled in Harrison County, Kentucky, where he died of cholera in 1833.
This is a mystery where we know the “WHO,” but the “WHY,” has not been resolved.
If Kenney won his suit, why was he carrying a grudge?
Why follow Ezekiel all the way from Kentucky to murder him in such an awful manner in Missouri?
Why not just shoot him in the back along the route?
Did someone want to stop Ezekiel from settling his business which may have been another petition for his land claim?
We have not been able to find Ezekiel’s grave.
In 1825 his son John visited his grave “some 18 miles from St. Louis.”
He mentioned leaving Mr. Mason’s the next morning.
This was probably Thomas Mason for whom Mason Road is named and who owned land in the Bonhomme Township near what is now Manchester and Weidman Roads.
Mr. Mason may have been a doctor to whom Ezekiel was taken, for he lingered 3 to 4 days after the attack.
Ezekiel may have been buried on Mason’s property.
There are ghost stories about the Bates house in Faust Park and the ghost whom they call, “Fred.”
He has never been seen, but the sounds of an adult walking around in hard shoes have been heard in the upstairs part of the house.
At least the central part of the house and basement, I believe, were built by Ezekiel and not Bates.
In the afternoon the ghost is said to clunk around in the old basement.
The sound of running water has been heard.
I have never encountered a ghost, so I can’t say I believe in one, but I think of Ezekiel when I hear about “Fred.”