I recently found a story about one of the first schoolmasters in Kentucky. It can be found in various renditions online. The story, published by Peck and Bliss in 1853, is titled “Wildcat McKinney”. The story as it is given:

Though the pioneers of Kentucky endured many murderous attacks from the Indians, there were other dangers which were not trifling. One of the most exciting of these incidents was the experience of a man named John McKinney, who was employed at an early day by the people of Lexington, as their first teacher.

At that time Kentucky had no newspaper, and items of interest from the states beyond the mountains were eagerly greeted by all. In May, 1783, a traveler passing through the embryo city, brought with him a newspaper containing the Articles of Peace with Great Britain. All were anxious to read them.

The fact that the Articles had not yet been ratified did not lessen the interest of the citizens. A copy of any paper was a treat, and such news as the Articles meant great hope for the struggling settlers. As the gentleman would resume his journey the following day and take with him the much-prized paper, some of the citizens appealed to McKinney to copy the Articles of Peace.

At that time Lexington was only a cluster of about thirty cabins, and one which stood just outside the fort, near the present site of the courthouse, was used as a schoolroom. Thither, the next morning, the teacher went to copy the precious news of peace. While busily writing, he heard a noise and glancing up saw a very unusual and unwelcome guest. A ferocious wildcat with bristles erect, tail curled, and eyes flashing, had paused on the threshold and was peering around the room.



At first she did not see McKinney, but by some involuntary movement he attracted her attention, and she soon exhibited other than friendly emotions. Having been accustomed to subdue the backwoods boys and girls by the awfulness of his frown, the teacher tried the same tactics now; but the cat was not to be frowned down.

As the teacher reached for a rule she, with the ferocity of a lion, sprang upon him, fastened her claws in his side, and began tearing his clothes, mangling his flesh, and inflicting such serious wounds that the blood flowed copiously.

Knowing he could not long withstand her power and despairing of aught else to do, he threw his weight upon her and pressed her against the sharp corner of the table. Soon her weird cries were mingled with his calls of distress, and erelong the citizens knew something unusual was happening in the little schoolhouse.

The women were first to answer the cry of alarm. Reaching the door, they paused to discover the cause of the commotion and seeing Mr. McKinney bending over the table, writhing and groaning, they at first glance thought that he had a severe attack of cramp, but quickly seeing the cat, one lady exclaimed, “Why, Mr. McKinney, what is the matter?”

He very gravely replied, “Madam, I have caught a cat”. By this time the cat was lifeless; but her teeth were so deeply embedded in his side that the neighbors, many of whom had gathered by this time, had great difficulty in disengaging her. The shock, the wound, and the loss of blood made McKinney very sick and weak, and for several days he was confined to his bed while the boys and girls enjoyed a holiday.

McKinney lived to a ripe old age and was often heard to say he would rather fight two Indians than one wildcat.


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Meet Timothy A. Mann, a passionate historian born and raised in the heart of Shelby County, Ohio where Tim’s roots run deep in the rich soil of American history. As the author of articles and books, including “Frontier Miscellany Concerning the Miami County Ohio Militia,” “Colonel John Mann, His Kith and Kin,” and “Frontier Militia – The War of 1812,” Tim’s literary contributions have enlightened and inspired countless history enthusiasts.

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