In honor of Batavia’s bicentennial last week I wrote about the community’s founding father, Ezekiel Dimmitt. He was indeed an honorable man. Although no citizens remain to carry on his family name, his legacy as the first settler of this community has not been forgotten.
While doing research for last week’s column I happened onto a story about Zeke Dimmitt that I’d never heard before. The website I was on (the name of which now escapes me) said this story was in Zeke’s own words, as told to his grandson, little Timmy Dimmitt, and which Timmy later recorded in his diary. The story was too long to include in last week’s column so I saved it for this week. Zeke began his story with an extended description of the land and habitat he found when he arrived at this place we now call Batavia. Although lengthy, this description is too interesting not to include here.
“When I began felling trees in the spring of 1797 to build my cabin, this region was as wild as a peach orchard boar. Your Grandma, God rest her soul, had not yet arrived, and it’s a good thing because Indians still roamed this area and didn’t take kindly to me and the other young men settling on what the Indians considered their land. But we meant no harm, and through kind gestures we soon made friends with most of them.
“Except for the half acre plot I cleared to plant a garden, the land was covered with giant timber, ‘virgin’ they called it. But those trees are all gone now, cut to the ground for buildings and to heat our homes. The canopy of those trees was so dense the midday sun barely shone through, and the air was as cool in the month of July as it is in May today.
“The waters of the East Fork and other rivers were down right cold and flowed deep and wide, especially in spring. No flumes or mill dams obstructed their flow but there were plenty of beaver dams on the smaller streams. The ponds those beavers created were full of fish, as large as you might find in the ocean, if you ever get to see it. There were so many fish I could wade into one of those ponds and catch them with my bare hands.
“In those days herds of elk roamed the countryside and white tailed deer were nearly twice the size we see today. And Turkeys? My goodness did we have turkeys, and pheasant and grouse too; but nothing like them danged passenger pigeons. You know, Timmy, you and your Pa can shoot as many of those pigeons as you want to; they’re no good for our wheat and corn crops.
“Most of the dangerous animals are all gone now – the wolves, mountain lions, and bears. I guess that’s a good thing. One time when me and your Uncle Horace went down to the bottoms for a couple of days to tend to the corn a pack of wolves surrounded the cabin and scared your Grandma nearly to death. After that I made it a point never to leave her alone at night.
“Timmy, I don’t believe I’ve ever told you about the time I came near being eaten by a grizzly bear. Whether it truly was a grizzly or just a large black bear I do not know, but he was more brown than black and stood every bit of seven feet tall. It happened on a Sunday not a month after I arrived here. Early that morning I’d walked all the way down the East Fork to where it empties into the Little Miami. My friend, the Reverend Francis McCormick, God rest his soul too, had built a church there and people came from miles around every Sunday to worship.
“Well, after some six hours of preaching and eating it was time for me to head home, if I wanted to make it before dark. About halfway home I paused to have a drink at the mouth of Stonelick Creek. I had no more than stooped over to scoop up some water when I heard something come crashing through the trees behind me. Before I had time to turnaround the critter had grabbed me by the seat of the pants and commenced to shaking me like a dog that’s got hold of a rabbit.
“I feared it was a bear but I wasn’t waiting to find out. I managed to pull myself out of my trousers and leaped into the water – buck naked. In the struggle I’d also lost my moccasins, and my shirt was half torn from my body, but I still had my knapsack secured to my wrist by a long leather strap. Finally reaching deep water, I turned to see what had attacked me. It was a bear alright, and not just any bear. It was the biggest, meanest, fiercest looking bear I’d even seen – a grizzly, I do believe.
“When the bear realized all he had was my trousers, he dropped them and came charging into the river after me. I knew I couldn’t out swim him but the river was deep at this spot so I dove under water and started swimming downstream as hard and as fast as I could. I could hear the bear splashing around in the water looking for me, and when I surfaced for air there he stood chest deep in the water not ten feet away, growling and swinging his paws like a madman. Luckily, he was looking upstream and hadn’t spotted me so I glanced around trying to figure out my next move.
“I spotted a sycamore limb hanging low over the water a little further downstream and figured getting to it might be my only chance. Just as I dove back under water to swim toward the tree limb I heard the bear hit the water, swimming after me. I reached the tree limb, and all in one motion popped up out of the water, flung the leather strap of my knapsack around the sycamore limb, and hoisted myself to safety.
“I had no more than cleared the limb when the bear arrived. He was treading water and I could see he was now more concerned about staying afloat than catching me. I watched as he swam ashore, with my shirt now wrapped around one of his paws. I thought he would climb the tree and come after me, but apparently he’d had enough. Without so much as a glance in my direction, he shook himself off then huffed and coughed a few times before shuffling off into the forest.
“I waited a short while, and then, like Zacchaeus, climbed down out of the sycamore tree. I was now totally naked except for my knapsack, which brought to mind the story of Adam covering himself with a fig leaf, and I couldn’t help but laugh at the thought of it.
“But my laughter was abruptly interrupted, as I heard someone coming up the trail behind me. It was two young Indian boys and it was now they who were doing the laughing. I didn’t need to but I broke into a run and didn’t stop until I reached my cabin door. It was two weeks later before I heard from a friendly Indian that I’d been given the nickname, “Running Bear”, or maybe they meant, “Running Bare”, I never knew for sure.
Well, as I said, this is the story Ezekiel Dimmitt told his grandson, Timmy, and which the boy later recorded in his diary. It’s a good one, I think, and no doubt as true as many of those tales our county historian, Rick Crawford, tells about the early days of Clermont County.
George Brown is a freelance writer. He lives in Jackson Township with his wife Yvonne.