THE OLDEST MAN
The Kentuckian Who Lived to be 125 Years Old
He married His Fourth Wife at the Age of 110 Years, and Lived Fifteen Years Afterward - The Blue Grass Region Favorable to Longevity.
[Harlan County (KY) Letter.]
I have just learned from a resident of Harlan County, Kentucky, the history of a man whose longevity reminds one of the great Thomas Parr, whose remains lie buried in England's famous Charrel-house, Westminster Alley, For no other reason than he was the oldest man Great Britain had ever produced and there was no cause to think the "old world" would ever look upon his like again.
The aged Kentuckian in question was George Burkhart, and one of the most remarkable things in connection with his history is that it has never been published. But Harlan County is in the mountains, and does not possess one of those professional new gathers, a newspaper. Burkhart was born in Germany in the year 1725. Soon thereafter he proceeded to Virginia, where he married. The Union produced five children, and his wife died. He married again, and in the year 1800 removed to Kentucky. He settled on Crank's Fork of Cumberland River, fourteen miles south of Harlan Court-house, and with his family took shelter in an enormous hollow sycamore tree. By the way, Harlan County is not wholly unlike the big-tree district of California. This tree was forty-five feet in circumference, and necessarily fifteen feet in diameter. In this romantic abide he and his wife and the five children had beds, tables, chests and such other furniture and things as a wild mountain house usually contains. Although the frosts of seventy-five winters rested on his ample brow, he did not neglect that part of the divine in junction which says: "Be ye fruitful, multiply and replenish the earth," for when the requisite years had flown he was found to possess by the second wife eight children. In the meantime he had built a cabin and acquired 1,400 acres of good land, and was one of the solid men of the country.
His second wife died, and after a short period of mourning he went to Virginia, that generous old State that had already furnished him two ???, and he married a third time. Her name was Elizabeth Grabill, and she resided in Lee County. Mr. Burkhart was now a centenarian. He repaired to his cabin beside the faithful old tree, where he lived happily for five years, and, it is said a child or two where born. This third "better half" of the old man died at the good age of seventy. The grief-stricken husband bewailed her loss even more bitterly than those who had gone before her. But his days of sorrow were not many. He soon turned out to the "log-rolling" and quilting, which fashionable pastimes were frequent in their occurrence, and danced with the girls, entertained them with his comic songs, and was a regular gay old deceiver, as giddy as a girl of fifteen.
In the year 1835, at the great age of 110 years, hew married a fourth time. The name of this last wife was Lavenia Morris, and her age was thirty-five. The immense disparity of age, seventy-five years, worked harm. Dissensions arose, and separation followed. No children blessed this union, and as all his others had become grown or died, the patriarch was left alone in the cold, cold world. His days of triviality he now considered over. He was to old to trudge about his vast mountain farm, so he applied more closely than ever to his favorite pursuit, that of sorcerer. For miles and miles around his power were recognized. Even in far-away Tennessee and Virginia people who were troubled with witches and other unseen and direful enemies applied to him for relief. His magic wand was invincible, Bewitched stock and dogs and cats, as well as human beings, were made whole through his influence. Diagnosis was a matter of but a moment's glance with him. Occasionally a case was so stubborn that heroic treatment became necessarily. This treatment consisted in drawing a picture of the particular witch that was ruling over the patient. This picture was pasted on a tree at ten paces, and with an old-fashioned long squirrel rifle he would send a bullet crashing through it. The shot destroyed the witch, and the patient was free. Sorcers was a considerable source of income to the old man.
The wonderful old man died in the year 1850 at the great age of 125 years. He had a son who lived to be ninety. Judge Noble Smith, Mr. G. B. Turner, and other good citizens of Harlan, knew Burkhart, and testify to the facts in the statement.
Two persons recently died in that county aged niny-eight and 100 years respectively. Several more reside there who are equally as old. It is thus seen that the late Dr. Graham, of Louisville, who celebrated the anniversary of his 100th birthday, was not the only centenan in Kentucky.
The Atchison Globe (Atchison, Kansas)
22 May 1885