Photo: William Owsley, Painting by Sophia DeButts Gray, 1910
Owsley County was formed in 1843 from portions of Clay, Breathitt, and Estill Counties and was
named for Governor William Owsley. Owsley County was Kentucky's 96th county. Parts of Owsley County
were used to form Jackson County in 1858 and Lee County in 1870.
The first settlers in Owsley County were John Renty Baker and John Abner. They first settled in 1780
near the present Clay County line at Courtland. The exact year of their settlement is unknown, however,
a gravestone found in a cemetery in Upper Buffalo Creek reads, "Milly, wife of John Abner, died March 1846."
John Renty Baker and his sons, who were all gunsmiths, also invented and developed hand operated machines to
cut the rifle barrels. John Renty's father, Robert Baker, developed the rifle that became known as the
John Renty Baker was known as one of the "Long Hunters", spending more than a year at a time in the forests
of Tennessee and Kentucky trapping and hunting. In "The Conquest of the Old Southwest", it is stated that in 1766
John Baker hunted with Daniel Boone's brother-in-law, John Stewart. He lived on the Green River among the Cherokees
in what is now Kentucky and made trips down the Cumberland River to Spanish Natchez to sell their furs.
After the death of his wife, John Renty Baker became a recluse and lived in a rockhouse near the mouth of Buffalo
Creek and died there in 1820. He fathered at least 21 children that are documented.
The Bakers are the source of many colorful stories. The were involved in one of the longest and bloodiest family
feuds in U.S. history which began in 1943 when Dr. Thomas Baker (a grandson of Julius Bob) shot John Bales.
Dr. Baker and John Bales were both married to daughters of John White and the two young couples became more
intimate than is usual in this mountain country. Dr. Baker became insanely jealous of his wife and Bales. Finally
in a fit of rage, he deserted her and began suit for divorce but suddenly withdrew it. He went to the salt works,
where Bates worked in Manchester, called him to the door and shot him with an old-fashioned "pepper box" pistol.
Bates died, but while he was dying he cursed Baker and authorized $10,000 from his estate to be used toward the
capture and conviction Baker. The feud lasted for 59 years and took over 100 lives before it ended.
The first settler in the City of Booneville was James Moore, Sr. The site of their home is located just outside
of Booneville in front of Booneville Homes apartments. James Moore, Jr., son of James Moore, Sr., built a two
room cabin on the opposite side of the river from his parents. This home still stands, although it has been
remodeled through the years, and is owned by Mayor Charles Long and his wife.
The Moore's land included all of Booneville, east across the South Fork River and toward Lerose. The community
was known as Moore's Station and was later named Booneville after Daniel Boone. James Moore, Jr. was the first
postmaster. Elias Moore donated land for a seat for the new county in 1843 and the town was incorporated Booneville
in 1846. The Owsley Court House Post Office opened in 1844 and was renamed Booneville in 1846. In 1858, Owsley County
lost some of it's territory to Jackson County and in 1860 to Wolfe County. In 1870, when Lee County was formed, again
Owsley County lost some of its territory.
The Moores, Bowmans, Bakers, Gabbards, and Reynolds were the first permanent settlers.
Most land patents came from Virginia. The three types included military service, grants from settlement or preemption,
or warrants from the treasury. There are still families here who have their original land grants.
In January 1929, and again on January 5, 1967, there were courthouse fires. All records were lost in the 1929 fire.
For more information contact:
Ronnie Callahan, Jr. - Chairman
Booneville/Owsley County Industrial Authority
P.O. Box 637 · Booneville, KY 41314
Phone: 606-593-6800 · Fax: 606-593-7700