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Kasper Mansker, American Legend


Flintlock Musket
Kasper Mansker: long hunter, frontiersman, pioneer, Indian fighter, soldier -- the list of his accomplishments reads like a description of several men rather than just one.

Kasper was one of the first white men into the Cumberland area in Tennessee, and his name is famous in the area. He was a signer of the Cumberland Compact in 1780, which established the first government in the Cumberland Valley (for the complete text of the compact, see the link on the On the Web Page). The city of Goodlettsville, Tennessee, considers him to be its First Citizen, and were it not for Postmaster Goodlett, who gave his own name to the town in the middle 1800s, the town most likely would have been named after Kasper Mansker.

Historic Mansker Station, a reconstruction of Kasper's first fort near the site of its original location is a "living history museum" in Goodlettsville.

Kasper Mansker was legendary in Middle Tennessee, and, as with any legendary figure, many stories are told about Kasper that, under inspection, just don't hold up. An article on Tennessee cemeteries in the Ansearchin' News (Vol X #4, 1963) describes the Walton Cemetery in Goodlettsville, and states that among those buried there is "Capt. Casper Mansker who led the long hunters through the Cumberland country in 1770. Capt. Mansker was the first white man in this section. He lived in a hollow of a sycamore tree, had big feet, went barefoot and caused the Indians to flee when they saw the size of his large foottracks. Capt. Mansker married the widow of Walton."

The story has such obvious appeal that it is bound to be repeated again and again. Unfortunately, nearly every point is wrong: Kasper's first foray into Middle Tennessee took place in 1769; at the age of 20 or 21, he probably was not the "leader" of the group; a longhunter named Thomas Sharp Spencer, who is considered the first white man to settle in the area, lived in the hollow sycamore at Bledsoe's Lick during the winter of 1778-79, while Kasper didn't return to the Cumberland to live until 1779, when he built his first fort; Walton married Kasper's widow instead of the other way around; and in 1956 Kasper's remains were disinterred and moved to Peay Park in Goodlettsville.

The Sumner County, Tennessee, Archives has on record the following stock identification mark registered to Kasper Mansker in 1787: "Stock mark a crop off the right ear & the dewlap cut forward." A cattle brand consisting of the initials KM inside a circle was also registed for Kasper.

Kasper was sufficiently famous in Middle Tennessee to warrant a fairly long entry in the WPA Writer's Guide to Tennessee, published in 1939:

Left from Goodlettsville on Long Hollow Pike: just beyond Mansker creek is the junction with a dirt road, 0.5 m.; R. 0.5 m. on this road to the site of the Home of Kasper Mansker, who came into this country in 1769 with a party of Long Hunters that included Uriah Stone and Isaac Bledsoe. The party remained a year. (It was their long absences from home that caused them to be called Long Hunters.) Mansker was typical. He had his trusted rifle, as did Crockett and the others; he called his "Nancy." He was familiar with the sights and sounds of the forests and knew the calls of birds and beasts, calls which the Indians often imitated to lure hunters out of their camps.

Mansker became known for his Indian-fighting ability and later was made a major in the State militia. That Mansker was an effective fighter is shown by a letter Andrew Jackson wrote to the Chickasaw in 1812 when he was seeking their aid. "Do you remember," Jackson asked, "when the whole Creek nation came to destroy your towns that a few hundred Chickasaws aided by a few whites chased them back to their nation, killing the best of their warriors, and covering the rest with shame?" The "few whites" Jackson referred to were led by Mansker.

Toward the end of his life Mansker became a devout Methodist, and Bishop Francis Asbury often stopped at "Mansco's Lick." The confusion about his name was the result of his German accent.

It was to Mansker's small, stoutly built house here that John Donelson brought his family after his epic water trip on the Adventure from the Watauga settlement to Nashville. Mansker took the whole family in. It was here, too, that Jackson decided to accompany Rachel Donelson, John's daughter -- who was at that time married to Robards -- on a trip down the river to Natchez.

The accompanying article by Walter T. Durham, Kasper Mansker: Cumberland Frontiersman fleshes out the small portrait of Kasper in the Writer's Guide. Although it is fairly long (it takes up over 50 KB), it is of such importance to the Mansker family history as well as the history of the Cumberland area that it is reproduced here in its entirety by permission of the Tennessee Historical Society.

As you read it, you have to recall that it originally appeared in print in 1971, based on research that had been done in the sixties. Many new facts have come to light in the intervening years, such as the identity of Kasper's parents, that were unknown or shrouded in mystery when the original research was done. The amount of original research that went into the preparation of this article is obvious, and not much of it could have been easy. For example, I have copies of the Draper Manuscripts cited by Durham, and some of them are next to impossible to decipher.

Irving Stone's The President's Lady, a biographical novel about Rachel Donelson Robards and Andrew Jackson, features Kasper Mansker as a minor character. Although the book is a novel, Stone did much primary research prior to writing it, and the times are portrayed with seeming accuracy. (See the Mansker Chronicles Bookstore Page.)

One more historical footnote: The use of the word "OK" in American English first appears in a 1790 Sumner County court record signed by Andrew Jackson concerning a bill of sale of a slave to "Gasper" Mansker. However, researchers have concluded that this was only an incident of poor penmanship and the initials were actually "OR", for Order Recorded.

For a complete analysis of the history of "OK", follow the link to Dave Wilton's Etymology Page on the On the Web: Links to Other Web Sites Page.