The following article was published recently in the Lexington, Kentucky Leader, and is self explanatory.
I saw Judge Edward Clay O’Rear only one time, but I have number of letters which he wrote and in which he recorded much Eastern Kentucky history. After a cold frigid swim into a small pond on a snowy march da that fortunately turned out to be unnecessary, I remembered a communication of Judge O’Rear telling about the time he encountered Licking River on a bitter-cold March day when at age 20 he was scouting the hill country in the campaign of J. Proctor Knott for governor. He had been a resident of West Liberty two years, a printing apprentice wand law student under John Tom Hazelrigg.
The young man had made his campaign for Knot and at Salyersville in Magoffin County on his return to West Liberty, he found that an all night rain had sent the Licking from its banks. W. Press Taulbee of Salyersville warned him of the danger and told him to bypass the usual route and skirt around Turkey Creek Ridge.
O’Rear forded the Lick Fork three times and reached the home of John Franklin at Bloomington, where there usually was a ferry, but this time the ferry and Franklin both were gone and O’Rear decided to take a chance. With his horse he swam the wide, turbulent stream. About a mile downstream he stopped at Herod Patrick’s to warm and dry his clothes. Patrick tried to kept him from going on.
"But I was homesick and headstrong," related the Judge, "and would not be detained. Next was crossing White Oak Creek at Alen’s Store which meant nothing more than getting wet again. But the snow had started, bitter cold and biting."
He left the valley at W.A. Lacy’s and came to the Gordon Ford of Licking where he expected to find another ferry, but old Uncle Shack Easterling had the boat out on the bank and was trying to calk the bottom. Uncle Shack extended the mountain gesture "to stay the night till the water runs down," but the young man was determined. He told Uncle Shack his plan to cross the river "upstream a ways" where it was more likely the current would carry him directly across. The elderly man shook his head and repeated his warning.
Said O’Rear, "I felt that I would not be liked by just a little old river even if it was the Licking. First step into the water my horse went under head and ears and I to my waist. I decided to swim alongside. The current picked us up ... carried us past the getting out spot ... on past the next likely spot ... I remember going by enough to see Uncle Shack, his face a frozen look of amazement and horror as he watched helplessly. Some distance down we were finally carried to the other side..."
The Scotsman Marion Gordon’s house was next and Young O’Rear said he should have stopped there to warm and rest, or on some distance at the home of Squire James Fugate or Bob Elam’s ... but he knew home and West Liberty were next and freezing and exhausted he traveled on.
At home, loving ones stripped him, wrapped him in warm blankets and placed him before a roaring fireplace. "My brother-in-law, Claude Hazelrigg gave me a big swig of apple brandy. Dr. Claude Carter was called in." When it looked as if the frozen O’Rear might be in for it, the doctor’s father, Dr. Willis G. Carter was called.
Recalled the venerable Judge who later distinguished himself as a statesman and barrister, "I was ill for a week. Pneumonia. I ha learned a wholesome respect for old Licking when it was on one of its many rampages. Providence had evidently designed I should carry on for many more years."
Judge Edward Clay O’Rear lived 78 more years before he made his final crossing.