Galey's Landing


Nearby is a well-cared for Galey's Cemetery. There have been a few burials there in recent years. Upstream a few hundred yards was Galey's Landing. The river is particularly deep on this outside bend, and boats could dock easily when the river was low. A few hundred yards downstream the channel was even deeper for use when the river was at its lowest. The new dams have covered the original landing sites, and the National Forest has take ownership of the area, and everything is now overgrown.

About a quarter-mile from the river was the Robert Prather homestead. Today there is a pile of stones with some of them still laid in a straight line. A few hundred feet beyond is the still flowing Prather's Spring. The house was built in two sections with a covered porch between.

Robert Prather from Meade County, KY, had married Elizabeth Horton from Mt. Pleasant, IN, in 1823. They resided in Kentucky for 5 or 6 years, and then removed to this area by 1829. For some reason they were back in Meade County from around 1836 leaving their land unattended. In the late 1840s two of the sons located nearby. Shortly after 1850, Robert and family returned.

There were 10 children, 8 sons and 2 daughters. The oldest was born in 1824, the youngest in 1842. Their system of stealing horses avoided stealing horses from the near vicinity, favoring nearby counties instead. The horses were lead by the crippled Robert Prather who decided the price to be obtained in gold for each. The horses were then taken to distant states and sold. All this occurred during 5 or 6 years in the 1850s. Most of the gold was supposed to have been buried in several locations around the homestead, and there have been many unsuccessful hunts since then.

In late May 1858 a posse of vigilantes from Crawford and Harrison Counties raided the Prather homestead and arrested 5 of the brothers and Samuel Scott; they were jailed at Leavenworth. In December 1858 the Perry County Sheriff arrested Robert and the youngest son, Richard. The oldest son, Jonathan, was never caught. Another son, Rueben, seems to have remained in Meade County, probably acting as agent in moving horses through Kentucky to more distant parts.

Robert remained in jail at Rome from December 1858 to late May 1859. He received a 5-year sentence and son Richard received 4 years. However, on 16 August 1860, Mr. and Mrs. Robert Prather, Jonathan, and Rueben are listed in Meade County. On 16 July 1860 Jackson, Pleasant, and Renslear Prather are listed in Jeffersonville prison. Thomas had died in jail at Leavenworth before May 1859. William and Richard are unaccounted for in 1860. The Perry County property of Robert and Jonathan Prather was sold at auction by the sheriff. It did not raise enough to settle the fines and court costs of more than $700.00.

The Prathers at Galey's Landing

In the United States the importance of the horse as the principal source of power for agriculture and personal transportation reached its highest level in the 19th century. In an age when the capital penalty for stealing a horse was often administered without the formality of trial by jury, Perry County, Indiana, also experienced this stage of the progress of civilization.

Weston A. Goodspeed in History of Perry County, Indiana, page 590, in 1885 wrote: "At a very early day horse thieves were the plague of the settlement: (around Poison Creed). "There was an organized band in the vicinity of Rome, which was connected with others elsewhere, and all formed a system that was difficult either to discover or break. Finally a squad of incensed settlers visited a man living three or four miles above Rome, called him to the door and shot him dead, having become satisfied that he was prominently connected with the thieves. This act, together with threats to continue such course, broke up the gang in this vicinity."

Here Goodspeed appears to be recording the local version of some tradition and oral history which is reinforced by parallels elsewhere. Summary: An organized ring of horse thieves moved horses stolen in Kentucky along the Rome Vincennes Trail for disposition in Missouri. Several regularly used holding corrals along the route have been speculatively identified: A gully near the juncture of the Rome-Vincennes and Yellow Banks Trails at present Selvin in Warrick County; the so-called Troxel's Fort, a stone horseshoe-shaped enclosure located a short distance northeast of Huffman Mill, the Vincennes Trail crossing Anderson River just south of the mill; the so-called Penitentiary Rocks near Mt. Pleasant in Perry County. The 13-plus miles distance of the last-named from the Rome-Vincennes Trail raises some doubt as to its being a part of this network at the time.

Even approximate years for the operation of this early business venture cannot here be documented. However, Goodspeed's connection of a "very early day" with the "vicinity of Rome" suggests that it was after October 1819 when the name of Rome first appeared. Since inland settlement in Perry County was rather sparse until after the late 1830s, that period would be a logical time for the ending of this large-scale traffic in stolen horses. It might have come into being between the end of the War of 1812 in 1815 and the establishment of Rome because of the "Sinking Creek-Vincennes Trace" was in use from around 1800. (Sinking Creek in Kentucky is across the Ohio River from Rome.)

If Goodspeed's "very early day" occurred in the 1820s and early '30s, it might well be more than coincidence that several members of the rather numerous Prather family were resident in Union Township along the Ohio River between 1829 and 1835. They removed to Meade County, KY, just across the river until Robert Prather returned to upper Union Township shortly after 1850 with his numerous younger generation.

Four households of Prathers are recorded in Union Township in 1830:

1. Reese (Reason) Prather and wife, both over 70 years old -- 1 male between 15 and 20, and 1 male under 5.
2. Widow Elizabeth Prather, between 30 and 40 -- 1 male, 15 - 20 -- 1 male, 10 - 15 -- 1 male and 1 female, 5 - 10
3. James Prather, 30 - 40 -- 1 female, 15 - 20 -- 1 female under 5
4. Robert Prather, 30 - 40 -- 1 female 20 - 30 --1 male, 5 - 10, 2 males under 5.

These households provide a pool of 4 men over 15 years of age with possibly 2 more just under 15 years. With ordinary experience these could for a respectable band of trail herders.

On 23 January 1823 in Perry County Robert Prather, born before 1800 in Tennessee, married Elizabeth Horton. She was a daughter of Anthony and Elizabeth Horton, born in New York before 1804. In 1817 Anthony Horton moved from Breckinridge County, KY, where he had resided since 1804 to the south side of Section 33, T4 S, R1W, just west of present Mt. Pleasant.

Robert and Elizabeth Prather settled in Meade County, KY, where two of their children were born; Jonathan (1824) and William (1827). The births of three know children in Perry County document the period of their first residence here: Rensalear (1829), Rueben (1830) and Thomas (1834). Four more children were born in Meade County after 1835: Jackson (1836), Pleasant (1838), Richard (1840) and Cynthia (1842).

Robert Prather made his first entry/purchase of Congress land at Vincennes on 2 July 1829: 80 acres of the east half of the Southeast quarter of Section 2, T5S, R1W, a mile northwest of Rono. On 16 September 1830 he entered another 80 acres which cornered his original tract on the northwest: The West half of the Northeast quarter of Section 2, T5S R1W. On 16 March 1833 he entered the South half of the North half of Section 1, T5S, R1W, measuring 90.62 acres. This tract had a quarter-mile front on the river and cornered the original tract at its northeast corner. This was the Prather homestead in the 1850s but the time of construction of the house is not known.

Shortly after their return to Meade County around 1835, Robert and Elizabeth sold 40 acres of the Northwest quarter of the Northeast quarter of Section 2 to Washington Chadley on 10 April 1838. Robert's deserting all this real estate in Perry County between the mid-1830s and the early 1850s so soon after acquiring it supports a theory that these 15-plus years were a period of prudently lying low.

In 1850 Robert and most of the family were in Meade County: Jonathan and William were resident in Union Township. On 5 October 1854 Jonathan purchased 120 acres from the heirs of Lewis Galey. This tract lay a mile due east of Mt. Pleasant (and a mile southeast of Penitentiary Rocks), described as the West half of the Southwest quarter of Section 35, T4S, R1W, and the Northwest quarter of the Northwest of Section 2, T5S, R1W. On the same date he purchased 1 1/2 acres near the Ohio River just upstream from Robert's third purchase; the location is marked by stones.

Two years later on 28 April 1856 Jonathan Prather purchased another 80 acres from William Elder located a mile and a half northeast of Derby, 4 miles south of his original purchase. It is described as the West half of the Northwest quarter of Section 27, T5S, R1W.

On 26 March 1857 Pleasant Prather purchase 158 acres from Jane Dearmit which lay in Leopold Township 2 1/2 miles due west of Mt. Pleasant. It is located as the East half of the Southwest and the West half of the Southeast quarter of Section 31, T4S, R1W.

According to one local tradition Robert Prather's house was placed on a hill overlooking the river. A more likely tradition suitable for large-scale horse stealing locates the Prather house around a quarter-mile from the river in a more secluded site; today a large pile of stones is said to mark the location. The house is reputed to have been of the southern style with a separate summer kitchen joined with a roofed breezeway. Prather's Spring still flows a few hundred feet farther from the river.

If Robert Prather had been involved in transacting in horses near Rome in the early 1830s, he learned of the hazard attendant upon stealing the neighbor's horses. The modus operandi of the 1850s reduced this hazard by dealing with horses stolen in neighboring counties and sold in locales several states distant from Perry County. This system enable him to avoid direct confrontation with Perry County law for around a half-dozen years before 1858.

By the 1850s Robert Prather was severely afflicted with rheumatism so as to be confined to a chair and bed. He would sit in the breezeway while the stolen horses were led past him for his appraisal. Payment in gold for the price he set was to be obtained by his sons at the distant sales. These gold receipts were said to have been buried somewhere near the Prather homestead. They have been the object of many excavations in the years after 1860.

According to 1858-1859 indictments in Perry and Crawford Counties just 7 of Prather's sons participated in the business, at least in Indiana: Jonathan, William, Rensalear, Thomas, Jackson, Pleasant and Richard. Only Rueben was omitted from these proceedings; in 1860 he was head of a household in Meade County, KY. An oral tradition related in the 1960s said that the Prathers worked "with some Bramlet boys in Breckinridge County, KY." who escaped to Illinois. These would have been grandsons of James Bramlet, a Revolutionary War veteran. Rueben Prather might have been the family agent in dealing with them.

Cannelton Reporter, Saturday, June 5, 1858 -- "We learn that a den of horse thieves, living in this county near Oil Creek, was, quite recently broken up. These thieves have been engaged for several years in stealing horses from farmers of the surrounding counties. The citizens of Crawford and Harrison counties, determined not to submit to these outrages, made a descent upon their camp last Monday, and arrested six of the gang. They are now in the Leavenworth jail and will probably find quarters at Jeffersonville" (the state prison).

The 6 gang members captured by this ad hoc vigilante posse included 5 Prathers: Thomas, Jackson, Pleasant, Rensalear and William. Samuel Scott, background unknown, was the 6th to be taken. Jonathan Prather apparently was away, possibly at his farm more than a mile away. Possibly, the posse figured that the crippled Robert Prather was no longer a threat without his sons and he would have been a troublesome burden to transport to Leavenworth. Seventeen-year-old Richard may have been away, or the posse could have left him to care for his father.

Without the assistance from vigilantes the wheels of justice turned more slowly in Perry County. On 17 November 1858 a Grand Jury called by Prosecutor Harmon G. Barkwell charged that before 1 May 1858 Samuel Scott had stolen a horse valued at $150 belonging to Charles Smith of Harrison County. On 1 May 1858 Thomas Prather had received the horse from Scott and the indictment was against Thomas. Of course, both he and Scott were in custody in Crawford County at the time. Thomas Prather died before April 1859.

On the same 17 November 1858 the same Grand Jury charged that Robert, Richard, Renslear, Jack, Jonathan and Pleasant Prather on 1 June 1858 had received stolen goods to wit: Two horses -- $250, 1 coat -- $10.00, 1 vest -- $3.00, 1 pocket book -- $.50.

On 26 November 1858 the Circuit Court ordered Sheriff George W. Patterson to arrest Robert, Richard and Jonathan Prather and hold them for the first day of the next term of Court -- 23 May 1859. Sheriff Patterson reported on 20 May 1859 that he had arrested Robert and Richard Prather on 15 December 1858. Jonathan Prather was found but escaped from custody.

Also on 26 November 1858 the Perry Circuit Court order Sheriff W. W. Cummins of Crawford County to arrest and hold Richard, Robert, Rensler, Jack, Jonathan and Pleasant Prather for the May 1859 term. By waiting until 8 April 1859 to reply, Sheriff Cummins could truthfully report that "the within named defendants not found in my county." At a term of Crawford Circuit Court just complete, Jacky, Pleasant, Ransellar and William Prather had been convicted of receiving stolen property and were sentenced to two years at Jeffersonville. The case against Samuel Scott for Larceny was continued.

Between 20 December 1858 and 18 May 1859 the Perry Court summoned witnesses from Perry, Crawford and Harrison Counties. Defense attorney Lemuel Q. DeBruler from Jasper and Rockport submitted on 6 April 1859 a list of 45 witnesses for the defense. When the Court sat at Rome on 23 May 1859, the Hon. M. F. Burke just appointed in February 1859 presiding, a regular prosecuting attorney was not present. Judge Burke appointed Ballard Smith "as there is no prosecuting attorney in this (third) judicial circuit."

The indictment for Larceny against the Prathers was quashed, apparently due to lack of evidence. The indictment against the deceased Thomas Prather for receiving stolen goods was abated. To replace the quashed indictment Ballard Smith filed a Grand Jury charge against Robert, Richard, Ransler, Jacky, Jonathan and Pleasant Prather than on 1 June 1858 they had feloniously received a horse valued at $120.00 stolen "by some evil disposed person" from Isaac P. Sibert of Crawford County.

James M. Shanklin from Evansville, the regularly appointed prosecuting attorney, appeared on Tuesday the 24th of May. He filed a Grand Larceny indictment against the same 6 Prathers and Samuel Scott for stealing the same $120.00 horse of Isaac P. Sibert. He also refiled the same indictment from the previous day by Ballard Smith except that $500 bail for each was added.

The difficulty in developing hard evidence in such a far-flung operation led to conviction on the lesser charge of receiving stolen goods. Only Robert and Richard Prather were present to receive the verdict and sentence.

"We, the jury, find the deft Robert Prather Guilty as charge, that he be fined in the Sum of two hundred dollars, that he be imprisoned in the States prison for the term of five years and that he be disfranchised and rendered incapable of holding any office of trust or profit for the term of three years, and that the deft Richard Prather is Guilty as charged and that he be fined in the Sum of one dollar and be imprisoned in the States prison for the term of four years and be disfranchised and rendered incapable of holding any office of trust or profit for the term of three years."

Cannelton Reporter, 28 May 1859 -- Circuit Court
"The important case of the term was the trial of Robert Prather and Richard Prather -- father and son -- for receiving stolen horses. The old man has been bed-ridden for several years, and was brought into the court on his bed. The son was a boy of 18 years of age....they were ably defended but the first was sent to the penitentiary for five and the son four years. Four brothers were sent up from Crawford County at the last term for two years for the same offense."

Goodspeed, pages 625 - 626 (1885) -- "In these cases the eloquent young James Shanklin prosecuted, and L. Q. DeBruler and John Pitcher defended. The arguments made by these attorneys are yet remembered with admiration and surprise. Shanklin was a young man, but was very brilliant, while DeBruler and Pitcher were not surpassed by any lawyers in the southern part of the State."

In addition to the problems arising from the wide-spread trans-county operations of the Prathers, keeping Robert Prather in confinement presented special problems. A document filed by County Auditor Daniel L. Armstrong on 8 June 1859 itemizes the expenses incurred during the 4 1/2-month incarceration of Prather. (This document was cited with some inaccuracies in an article in the Cannelton News on 22 July 1958.)

Robert Prather -- To Perry County  
To boarding him in Jail from December 15th 1858
to May 29th 1859
 
166 days @ 40¢ 66.40
To Wood furnished for him while in jail 19.95
To Washing for him while in jail 5.50
To Opium furnished him 1.00
To Lounge furnished him 2.50
To Receiving him in jail Dec 15/58 .50
To Discharging him from jail May 29/59 ____.40
  96.25
Auditors Certificate and seal .50
Issuing the Bill of Costs ____.25
  $97.00

At the 24 May 1859 trail judgement against Robert Prather was assessed as the $200 fine and $329.30 court costs. Pursuant to a court order of 15 June 1859 Sheriff Patterson auctioned the 3 tracts owned by Robert Prather totaling around 210 acres on 16 August 1859. A partnership of James C. Galey, Job Hatfield and William Hatfield obtained the real estate with a bid of $453.00, less than 2/3 of the appraised value and $76.30 less than the fine and costs.

After the convictions of the 6 Prathers in Crawford and Perry Counties in March and May 1859, still more court actions against them were brought. On 4 July 1859 in the court of Common Please 3 citizens from Harrison County -- Marcus Clark, Horatio Woodbury and Samuel Pepper -- brought suit against Rensler, Pleasant, Jack, Jonathan and William Prather. This may have been redress through the civil court for a criminal matter, i.e., theft of horses from these 3 men. The Hon. Lemuel Q. DeBruler served as the first judge of this court from January 1853 to January 1861. On 4 October 1859 judgement of $182.80 was awarded them. Jonathan H. Prather could not be found and the sheriff was ordered to sell the lands of Prather to satisfy the judgement.

On 12 November 1859 Sheriff Patterson auctioned the real estate of Jonathan Prather. George T. Gordon made the highest and best bid of $223.74. and received a Sheriff's Deed to Prather's 200 acres.

The Circuit court of Judge M. F. Burke did not overlook Jonathan Prather. An arrest warrant for him was issued on 6 June 1859, less than 2 weeks after the Prather trial. A warrant was also issued around this time for Elizabeth Prather, the charge being Larceny. This was his mother, Mrs. Robert Prather. However, her importance to the the law was based upon her recent acquisition of Pleasant Prather's 158-acre farm in Leopold Township. While he was awaiting trial in the Crawford county jail, Pleasant sold the farm to Elizabeth Prather on 11 February 1859 for the $210 he had paid for it in 1857. Pleasant and Jonathan were the only Prather sons who had any property to seize for payment to Clark, Woodbury and Pepper.

Neither Jonathan nor Elizabeth could be found and the charges were continued on 15 August 1859, 22 February 1860 and 20 August 1860. Finally, on 19 August 1861 Prosecutor Shanklin dismissed the indictments against both Jonathan and Elizabeth Prather. Elizabeth and Robert Prather were then legally free to sell Pleasant's farm to Grason Frakes on 7 April 1866 for $300.00.

The final disposition of Robert Prather and his 7 sons originally accused in Horse Larceny operation is not wholly clear. The death of Thomas was recorded on 23 May 1859 when the indictment was abated. In the census taken at the Jeffersonville prison on 16 July 1860, Jackson, Pleasant and Renslear were counted. Over in Meade County, KY, on 16 August 1860, in the household of Rueben Prather, Robert, Elizabeth and Jonathan are present. Two children -- Thomas R., aged 2, and a daughter, E. A., Aged 4 months -- are also in the household; no mother for the children is listed. This leaves William and Richard unaccounted for. There had to have been some suspension of sentence in order that Robert could be in Meade County a year after receiving a 5-year sentence.

In Perry County on 23 February 1900 Noah Prather, aged 23, and Maggie Finch, aged 18, were married. He was a resident of Meade County, son of Pleasant and Elizabeth West Prather; Maggie was a resident of Hart County, KY., daughter of J. and ___ Miller Finch.

As mentioned before, the disposition of the buried Prather gold is not wholly clear. The Cannelton Enquirer & Reporter of 3 September 1887 made the last contribution:

Rono -- Buzzard Roost has been asleep and allowed a couple of enterprising gentlemen from Meade county, KY., to walk into our quiet little place near Galey's Landing, and with grubbing how (hoe) and spade on the old Prater place dig up and carry away in broad daylight about $1700 in gold. There is no doubt as to the truth of this statement except perhaps as to the exact amount of money which will approximate the above figures. As to how Dr. Bryant and Mr. Richardson of Brandenburg obtained knowledge of where the money was buried was that one of the Praters who died in the penitentiary had, before his death, told some friend where the precious little box was hidden.

Well now we all in this neighborhood know that these men came here, went to the Prater field, commonly called the old tanyard field, and there dug out a walnut box, left part of the box with plain prints of coins impressed so that all of us have seen it. As to the Praters, their history is too well know to need description.

A. J.

Michael F. Rutherford
21 May 1989