John McKinney got involved in many things during his life, including soldiering, farming, land surveying and politics, but it was during a stint as a young teacher in Lexington, Kentucky that he earned his nickname. Looking up from his desk one spring morning in 1783, he locked eyes with an ill-humored wildcat that had wandered into the schoolroom. Even though the animal sank its teeth into his ribs, McKinney managed to subdue it until help arrived.
Five letters written by John “Wildcat” McKinney have recently been added to the collections of WKU’s Special Collections Library. Written to Captain (later Colonel) John Brown in Bath County, Virginia, and to his son Joseph, the letters report on various land dealings carried out by McKinney on Captain Brown’s behalf. But McKinney also shared some thoughts about his family and the much bigger land story taking place out west. In an 1804 letter, he asked Brown “what Congress is doing about the Louisiana Country.” Hoping to hear of a plan for settlement, and discouraged by the legal battles surrounding land claims in Kentucky, McKinney observed that “no man is sure of his lands in this country.” In another letter, he expressed his joy in his children. “I have five children (4 girls & one boy),” he proudly reported, “& am threatened with another one every day, & if I had thousands & thousands of them, I could not be as happy as I am now.”
A finding aid and excerpts from John “Wildcat” McKinney’s letters can be downloaded here.