A Native History Of Kentucky

Contributed by:
This booklet depicts the native History Of Kentucky and also tells about the history which shows conclusively that the Myth of the “Dark and Bloody Ground,” which states that American Indians never lived permanently within Kentucky’s borders (see Cultural Contributions), is not valid with respect to either the entirety of the Commonwealth or to the complete expanse of its ancient past.
1. A Native History Of Kentucky
A. Gwynn Henderson and David Pollack
Selections from
Chapter 17: Kentucky
Native America: A State-by-State Historical Encyclopedia
edited by Daniel S. Murphree
Volume 1, pages 393-440
Greenwood Press, Santa Barbara, CA.
As currently understood, American Indian history in Kentucky is over eleven thousand
years long. Events that took place before recorded history are lost to time. With the advent of
recorded history, some events played out on an international stage, as in the mid-1700s during
the war between the French and English for control of the Ohio Valley region. Others took place
on a national stage, as during the Removal years of the early 1800s, or during the events
surrounding the looting and grave desecration at Slack Farm in Union County in the late 1980s.
Over these millennia, a variety of American Indian groups have contributed their stories
to Kentucky’s historical narrative. Some names are familiar ones; others are not. Some groups
have deep historical roots in the state; others are relative newcomers. All have contributed and
are contributing to Kentucky's American Indian history.
The bulk of Kentucky’s American Indian history is written within the Commonwealth’s
rich archaeological record: thousands of camps, villages, and town sites; caves and rockshelters;
and earthen and stone mounds and geometric earthworks. After the mid-eighteenth century
arrival of Europeans in the state, part of Kentucky’s American Indian history can be found in the
newcomers’ journals, diaries, letters, and maps, although the native voices are more difficult to
hear. Later history is recorded in newspapers, books, histories, and encyclopedias. It also is
found in the oral traditions, spiritual beliefs, art, music, and cultural events native peoples have
passed down through generations. From this complex mix of sources, an American Indian
history emerges that reflects cultural, religious, and ethnic diversity; chronicles challenges,
triumphs, and losses; and paints a picture of human endurance. It can be considered in five broad
periods: First Peoples (9,500 BCE – CE 1539), Foreign Influences (1539-1730), Intersection of
Two Worlds (1730-1825), Removal and Its Aftermath (1825-1980), and Greater Visibility and
Action (1980-PRESENT).
First Peoples (9,500 BCE - CE 1539)
Kentucky’s ancient American Indian history belongs to the broad Eastern Woodlands
Tradition of North American Indian heritage. It shares many characteristics with the indigenous
histories of the states that surround it.
This period is the longest in Kentucky's American Indian history. It spans the time from
the earliest migratory hunters late in the Ice Age, through the time of mound-building small-scale
gardeners who traded with distant peoples for copper and marine shell, to the time just before
European exploration of North America when farming groups lived in permanent villages
inhabited by hundreds of people.
This history shows conclusively that the Myth of the “Dark and Bloody Ground,” which
states that American Indians never lived permanently within Kentucky’s borders (see Cultural
Contributions), is not valid with respect to either the entirety of the Commonwealth or to the
complete expanse of its ancient past. Places across the state where thousands of chipped stone
arrowheads and groundstone axes have been recovered were not the scenes of combat, as early
historians, like John Filson, claimed.1 These are the locations of Indian camps and villages built
3. in the same places for hundreds or even thousands of years.
A diversity of unique cultural expressions developed during this long time period. And
despite the fact that names, languages, and particular histories are lost to us, in each case, these
expressions reflect the specific natural and cultural environments and historical events of the
areas within which they developed.
Rooted in a stable foundation of hunting and gathering subsistence practices, over the
millennia, groups added the cultivation of plants to this mix. The first were squash and weedy
plants like sunflower and goosefoot, the latter two were among several local plants domesticated
by native gardening groups. Later, the plants native farming groups grew, like corn and beans,
were mainly cultigens that had been domesticated in the tropics earlier. Throughout much of this
period, native groups were organized tribally. But for a brief period in a few places in Kentucky,
hunter-gatherer-farmers created chiefdom societies with more complex social and political
Archaeological research is the source of information for much of this initial period of
Kentucky’s American Indian history. Because of issues of preservation (larger sites that are
easier to find and study), recent groups are better understood. Archaeologists divide this period
into five subperiods, based largely on technological developments identified at sites documented
in Kentucky: Paleoindian, Archaic, Woodland, Late Prehistoric, and Historic Indian. However,
since lifeways served as the underlying organizing principle of this narrative, this “First Peoples”
period is divided, instead, into three subperiods: Hunter-Gatherers, Hunter-Gatherer-Gardeners,
and Hunter-Gatherer-Farmers. Years used for this period are approximate.
Hunter-Gatherers: 9,500 BCE - 1,000 BCE
Archaeological research shows that the ancestors of Kentucky’s indigenous American
Indian peoples were living in what is now Kentucky by at least 9,500 BCE, although they may
have arrived much earlier. Over this long time period, population growth was gradual, but
changes in climate and culture were dramatic.
The first hunter-gatherers lived in small, mobile groups that ranged within large
territories. With spears, they hunted now-extinct Ice Age animals, like wooly mammoths and
mastodons, as well as other smaller mammals, and foraged for plant foods. Though never
glaciated, the southern edge of the ice sheet extended near Kentucky’s northern border, and so
Kentucky’s climate at this time resembled Canada’s.
By 7,000 BCE, Kentucky's climate had warmed up. It rained and snowed less in the
winter, and each year had long, dry spells. Animal, plant, and human communities adapted to
these climatic changes.
People continued to hunt and gather in small bands as before, but beginning around 6,000
BCE, hunters started to use the atlatl (or spear thrower) to hunt animals like deer, elk, and bear
(but not buffalo; these animals would not return to the Ohio Valley until the mid-CE 1600s).
They also used snares, traps, and possibly hunting dogs for animals like raccoon, squirrel, and
4. rabbit. These peoples exploited aquatic resources (fish and freshwater mussels) using bone
fishhooks or nets they made from plant or animal fibers. They also collected nuts (mainly
hickory nuts) as well as many different kinds of wild fruits and plants, which they prepared and
processed using stone pestles, grinding stones, and nutting stones. The appearance of plant food
processing tools and woodworking tools in hunter-gatherer tool inventories implies that reliance
on plants was increasing.
Through the centuries, as groups became more familiar with the resources of their area,
hunter-gatherer lifeways became more complex and diversified across Kentucky’s multiple
environmental zones, as evidenced by, among other things, an increase in the diversity of spear
point styles.
By about 1,000 BCE, rainfall became more evenly distributed throughout the year.
Temperatures became slightly cooler and more like today’s. People gradually developed new
ways to live. Group size increased, as did Kentucky’s overall population. Though they still
moved with the seasons, these hunter-gatherers moved less often and their homelands were
smaller. Distinct hunter-gatherer cultures began to emerge.
Some groups began to experiment with gardening. They encouraged squash and small-
seeded plants like goosefoot to grow on the trash heaps near their base camps. Before long, they
began to plant seeds from these plants in areas they cleared especially for that purpose.
Food was cooked using hot rocks and was likely served in baskets, gourds, or turtle shells
and stored in baskets or skin or net bags. Bone and antler served as the raw material for tools
(awls and needles) and ornaments (pins and beads). Beads and pendants also were made from
shell. The diversity of stone tool types increased.
These hunter-gatherers lived in semi-permanent base camps and in seasonal hunting and
fishing camps. These camps were scattered along rivers and creeks, on ridgetops, and in
rockshelters. Houses likely were small, temporary structures built of a pole framework covered
with hides, mats, or brush. Families might stay at a camp for as long as a month or two before
moving on, and groups would return year after year to favored, resource-rich places. These
larger campsites, often located near particularly rich natural resources, became the focal points
for gatherings of several families. Here they held feasts and ceremonies, exchanged information,
and met future spouses. Ceremonies and rituals helped maintain good relationships among
families and between neighboring groups. But sometimes, peaceful relations broke down and
interpersonal and intergroup conflicts resulted.
Life revolved around “family,” which at that time was made up of between 15 and 20
people. It is likely that men were the hunters, while women collected plants and took care of
children. Older men and women probably served as religious leaders. Political leaders likely
were men who were the most successful hunters or whom others respected for their common
sense or intelligence.
Lacking the benefits of modern medicine, infant mortality was high in hunter-gatherer
communities. Those fortunate enough to reach the age of 15 could expect to live only into their
5. mid-30s. Broken bones were common, as were cavities and abscesses in teeth. Many people
suffered from both osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.
Kentucky’s hunter-gathers believed in an afterlife, and certain campsites also served as
burial grounds. They placed the dead in simple pits dug into the ground, or they laid the dead on
the ground surface and then covered the body with soil. Sometimes the dead were buried with
objects that held some personal, religious, or social meaning for the deceased, or for their family
and kin. These included spears, atlatls, ornaments, turtle shell rattles, or lumps of red ochre
In the hunter-gatherer shell mound campsites along the Green River in western Kentucky,
personal accomplishments set some people or families apart. These people were buried with
their dogs or with rare and very valuable items made from marine shell, non-local stone, or
copper, like pendants, necklaces, and hairpins. The value of these items stemmed from the
important symbolic or ritual meanings they held and because they were made from non-local
materials traded over hundreds of miles from their sources (the Great Lakes and the Appalachian
Hunter-Gatherer-Gardeners: 1,000 BCE - CE 1,000
By around 1,000 BCE, most indigenous peoples in Kentucky had grafted gardening onto
their mobile hunting and gathering way of life. They came to depend on the plants they grew for
food, and over time, this dependence increased.
They maintained their gardens using small, targeted and controlled fires to burn off
weeds and brush and to enrich the soil. They grew domesticated varieties of gourds and squash.
They also grew two different kinds of locally domesticated native plants that produced edible
greens in the spring and, in late summer/early fall, nutritious seeds high in carbohydrates or
starches (goosefoot, knotweed, and maygrass) or high in fat and protein (sumpweed and
sunflower). These plants were reliable producers, were disease resistant, and their seeds could be
easily stored. The earliest evidence for the domestication of sunflower and goosefoot anywhere
in the world comes from Eastern Kentucky rockshelter sites, making this area a world hearth of
plant domestication, comparable to Mexico, the Levant, and China.
Intensive gardening required different lifestyles from those of their immediate ancestors
in several very important ways. The gardens they planted may have encouraged them to live in
their camps for longer periods during certain times of the year, particularly in the late summer
and early fall, when the seeds were ready to harvest.
With the increased importance of garden plants in their diet, Kentucky’s hunter-gatherer-
gardeners may have developed ways to prepare food that differed from those of their ancestors,
requiring them to begin to make ceramic containers. Initially, these containers, made from
locally available clays, were crude, deep, cauldron-like basins. But over time, the potters’
ceramic-making skills improved. Eventually, they made a variety of vessels, some of which they
decorated. Ceramic vessels also may have been better storage containers than ones made from
gourds, wood, or skin.
6. During most of this period, hunters continued to use the atlatl. But after about CE 700,
hunters quickly turned to a new weapon: the bow and arrow. This greatly improved hunting
effectiveness and changed hunting methods.
Other aspects of their lives were firmly rooted in those of their immediate ancestors.
They hunted the same modern animal species, and they collected the same kinds of wild plants.
Houses were small temporary rectangular structures built of a pole framework likely covered
with hides, mats, or brush. As in the past, life revolved around family, and kinship ties of birth
and marriage knitted groups together. Leadership was based in personal achievement, religious
leaders were likely older men and women, and elders served as tradition bearers. These hunter-
gather-gardener groups likely were organized politically and socially as tribes.
The health of hunter-gatherer-gardeners was similar to that of their immediate ancestors.
Like them, they did not live very long: infant mortality was high, 45 was as old as most people
got, and few lived beyond 65. Most people had cavities in their teeth, which led to abscesses and
tooth loss. Unlike our teeth today, the chewing surfaces of their teeth were heavily worn from the
grit in their food. As children, hunter-gatherer-gardeners experienced times of malnutrition and
infection. Because most broken bones healed, archaeologists infer that injured people were well-
taken care of. These people suffered from arthritis, anemia, and infections.
Archaeological research has documented that distinct hunting-gathering-gardening
cultures, broadly contrasted temporally as well as geographically, lived in Kentucky after 1,000
BCE. Some groups, for a time, built mounds and earthworks; others explored Kentucky’s caves.
Some groups continued to live mobile lives, while others lived in more permanent villages.
To best describe the cultural developments that occurred during these two thousand
years, the Commonwealth can be divided roughly in half at the Falls of the Ohio (adjacent to
Louisville, Kentucky). This is the only place along the entire length of the Ohio River where
rapids interrupt river traffic. Developments that occurred downstream and west of the Falls are
discussed separately from those that occurred upstream and east of the Falls. This distinction
continues for much of the remainder of Kentucky’s American Indian history.
Kentucky West of the Falls
Around 1,000 BCE, and probably earlier, groups living near Mammoth and Salts caves
were exploring them intensively, mining crystalline cave salts such as gypsum from the cave
walls for ceremonial or medicinal use and for trade. They also used some caves at this time as
specialized places of burial and ritual. The cool dry cave environment preserved the textiles these
peoples made.
Hunter-gatherer-gardeners of what archaeologists refer to as the “Crab Orchard
Complex” lived in this region from around 600 BCE to CE 250. These groups lived in
intensively occupied sedentary villages and base camps. Their lives were oriented toward
floodplain resources.
7. Groups living in this part of Kentucky did not begin to build burial mounds or earthworks
around 500 BCE like their contemporaries who lived in central Kentucky. However, they may
have been involved in some way with the later Hopewell Culture and Interaction Sphere: a
ceremonial complex and exchange network that extended across the Midwestern and
Southeastern United States from 200 BCE to CE 500. A few scattered burial mounds and
geometric earthworks in this part of Kentucky may be linked to this cultural expression.
With the arrival of corn from outside Kentucky around CE 800/900, groups living in
large, planned villages and base camps oriented to the region’s wide floodplains turned to a
hunting-gathering-farming lifestyle. Despite this development, socially stratified societies did
not emerge until after CE 1,000.
At about this same time, groups like those referred to as the “Lewis Culture” by
archaeologists, continued to live in small, dispersed communities in the uplands. They built
specialized ceremonial sites, in the form of stone enclosures on hilltops and small stone burial
mounds, and continued a hunting-gathering-gardening way of life.
Kentucky East of the Falls
Native hunter-gatherer-gardener settlements after 1,000 BCE in this region remained
small and dispersed. As regional population size increased, home territories may have become
smaller. In the mountains, groups lived in rockshelters, possibly year-round, abandoning the
substantial creek bottom settlements of their ancestors. Like the caves, the dry rockshelters
preserved these people’s textiles, the oldest recovered in the state.
In the Bluegrass region of central and northern Kentucky and along some of the major
rivers in the mountains around 500 BCE, religious and mortuary customs became more
elaborate. Hunter-gatherer-gardener groups became involved in the long-distance exchange of
ritual items made from exotic materials for use in their ceremonies. Archaeologists refer to these
groups as “Adena.” Even though they built earthworks and mounds, Adena peoples remained
hunter-gatherer-gardeners. For unknown reasons, they did not live near their ritual sites. In this
they differed from their ancestors, who held mortuary rituals at their seasonal camps.
Adena ritual sites were diverse: circular, paired-post enclosures; burial mounds of various
sizes; and geometric earthworks. Building large burial mounds and a variety of kinds of
earthworks reflects a complex ceremonial life and a belief in an afterlife. Ritual pipe smoking
likely was an important ceremonial activity.
Adena burial customs involved many steps before a person’s remains were finally laid to
rest. Some people were buried in log-lined tombs; others were cremated. The fact that Adena
people buried some men and women in mounds, some with valuable burial offerings, indicates
emerging differences in social standing. The exchange of ritual items made from non-local,
exotic, raw materials (copper, marine shell, or mica), like beads, ornaments, and other
paraphernalia, with groups outside the Ohio Valley points to these peoples' participation in
extraregional religious movements and in long-distance trade networks.
8. Around CE 200, people stopped building mounds and trading for non-local raw materials
and ritual items. Rituals and ceremonies were no longer conducted in communal areas. A
hunting-gathering-gardening way of life, however, continued and rituals were carried out within
Between around CE 300 to 500, hunter-gatherer-gardeners in central and northern
Kentucky lived in sedentary villages. Some were circular, with the houses arranged around a
central plaza (hunter-gatherer-farmers in this region would reprise this village plan 700 years
later). These people buried their dead in small stone mounds. In the mountains at this same time,
people continued to live in rockshelters. After about CE 700, people throughout this region lived
in small dispersed settlements. They continued to live in this manner even as a farming way of
life began to appear around CE 1,000.
Hunter-Gatherer-Farmers: CE 1,000 - 1539
Two different farming cultures lived in Kentucky after CE 1,000. Archaeologists call
those groups who lived west of the Falls “Mississippians,” and those groups who lived east of
the Falls “Fort Ancient. These people were the immediate ancestors of the Indian groups living
in Kentucky when the first European explorers appeared in eastern Tennessee/western North
Carolina in the early 1500s.
Kentucky West of the Falls
Mississippian farming cultures emerged along the floodplains and backwater sloughs of
extreme western Kentucky around CE 900. A century later, Mississippians lived throughout
south-central and southeastern Kentucky as well, and all the way up the Ohio River to the Falls.
Their farming way of life flourished for 500 years.
Although they collected and ate wild plants, the crops they cultivated, corn and squash,
goosefoot, maygrass, and marshelder, made up most of their diet. They used fire to clear their
floodplain fields and maintained the fields using chipped stone hoes. They traded with western
Tennessee and southern Illinois groups who lived near the stone sources for the stone or finished
hoes. They hunted the same modern animal species that their immediate ancestors hunted.
Mississippian peoples used the bow and arrow, and variety of containers including
baskets and pottery of many different sizes. Ornaments were made from shell and bone. They
wore clothing made from animal skins (leather ) and from plant and animal fibers (cloth).
Town-and-mound centers formed the nucleus of Mississippian civic and ceremonial life.
This was where important ceremonies and social events were held for all the people, including
those who lived in nearby villages, hamlets, and farmsteads. The lives of the people who lived in
these settlements were linked socially, economically, and politically to the centers.
Upwards of 600 people could live at the largest town-and-mound centers in Kentucky.
Here, large, flat-topped platform mounds were arranged around an open space or plaza. A large
rectangular structure on top of a platform mound served as a civic building, a temple/shrine, and
9. the chief’s house. Houses were smaller, but still just as substantial. They were rectangular
buildings often constructed in a shallow basin, with walls made from posts set in trenches and
covered with a lattice of sticks plastered over with mud. Some houses had central hearths. That
palisades enclosed some of these centers and that regularly spaced bastions were features of
some testifies to the need for fortifications and the occurrence of some form of intergroup
Large, multiple-mound centers, however, were the exception in what is now Kentucky.
Most town-and-mound centers consisted of one or at most two mounds, a plaza, and no palisade.
Between 250 to 300 people might have lived at these centers. Fewer villages, hamlets, and
farmsteads were linked to these centers.
The overall health of the Mississippian farmers (and the health of the Fort Ancient
farmers, too) was similar to that of people anywhere in the world who depend on a diet of corn,
which in the case of these Kentucky farmers, made up over 60 percent of their diet. They did not
live very long. Infant mortality was high, particularly at weaning. Forty-five was as old as most
people got, and few lived beyond 65. Health stress was life-long. Most people had cavities in
their teeth, which led to abscesses and tooth loss, and gum disease among adults was common.
Everyone had vitamin deficiencies, like anemia, and most experienced chronic infections and
arthritis. Some people suffered from tuberculosis.
Mississippians buried their dead in cemeteries generally located at or near their
communities, which indicates the importance of group ceremonialism and ritual. Most graves
were stone boxes set into the ground. Burial offerings sometimes accompanied the dead.
Religious beliefs, as illustrated in Mississippian art and symbolism, focused on ancestors,
a chief/warrior elite, and on fertility. Important symbols included the cross-in-circle, birdman,
winged rattlesnakes, and chunkey players (men holding in one hand a stone disk called a
chunkey stone. During the game of chunkey, the stone was rolled on a flat section of ground and
players threw spears or sticks at it).
The social, economic, and political influence of town-and-mound centers waxed and
waned over time. This kind of cultural dynamic has been described worldwide for societies
called “chiefdoms.” Mississippian chiefdoms were socially stratified. Heredity defined a
person’s social importance and the political roles available to them. Some leaders lived in the
villages, but a chiefdom’s most important leaders lived at the town-and-mound centers.
There was no separation of religion and politics within Mississippian chiefdoms: the two
institutions were combined in their chiefs. They were the ones who resolved conflicts, and they
possessed the ritual knowledge needed to direct their people’s important ceremonies.
Chiefdoms in what is now Kentucky were part of an extensive network of chiefdoms that
extended throughout what is now the Midwestern and Southeastern United States, and thus, they
were not politically or economically independent. Part of a chief's religious and political power
came from interacting with other leaders, and by exchanging with them rare, ritually significant
10. For reasons that are still not known, some Mississippian chiefdoms in extreme western
Kentucky and surrounding states collapsed around 1400-1450. This region where farming
groups abandoned most of their settlements is known as the “Vacant Quarter.” One explanation
for this collapse is that changes in agricultural yields undermined Mississippian leaders’ power
and influence. These changes in yields could have been brought about by changes in climate
(prolonged drought or cold), changes in the local environment (degradation, drought, resource
depletion, soil exhaustion), or by the appearance of new varieties of corn or beans (with more
reliable yields) that put stress on the Mississippian political system and led to political instability.
Another explanation is that the Mississippian prestige goods economy/interaction sphere was
disrupted for some reason (conflict, earthquakes).
Mississippian groups did not abandon the Wabash-Ohio River confluence region,
however. A somewhat different Mississippian way of life, referred to by archaeologists as
“Caborn-Welborn,” emerged there and continued for another 250-300 years, until about 1700.
Other groups may have lived in western Kentucky at this time, but their dispersed settlement
pattern has made their discovery difficult. Mississippian groups did not abandon their centers in
south-central and southeastern Kentucky.
The lifeways of Caborn-Welborn Mississippian groups were similar in many ways to
those of their Mississippian predecessors and contemporaries, but there were some important
differences. Along with corn and other grains, they grew beans. They lived in a variety of
settlements (a large village in Union County, Kentucky now called Slack Farm, other large
villages, small villages, hamlets, and farmsteads), but they built no platform mounds. Caborn-
Welborn Mississippians continued the tradition of burying their dead in village cemeteries, but
also placed some of their cemeteries on blufftops away from their villages. Although their
society was stratified, their social, political, and economic system was not as complex as that of
previous Mississippians.
Kentucky East of the Falls
Fort Ancient farming cultures developed in the central Kentucky uplands and in eastern
Kentucky’s mountain valleys around CE 1000. For over 650 years, Fort Ancient was a vital,
vibrant cultural expression of several different tribal societies.
The crops Fort Ancient farmers grew, corn, beans, squash, and gourd, made up most of
their diet. They retained only vestiges of their gardening heritage, with starchy goosefoot, oily
sunflower, and nut resources serving only as supplements. They continued to collect wild plants
for food and medicine, however. They hunted the same animals their ancestors had, only they
used the bow and arrow.
Fort Ancient peoples used fire to clear the land, and mussel shell or deer/elk scapula hoes
to work the soil. As slash-and-burn upland farmers, they moved their villages within their home
regions every 10 to 50 years as crop production waned. Fort Ancient peoples made and used a
variety of shell and bone tools and ornaments. Containers included baskets and ceramic vessels
of different sizes.
11. The focus of Fort Ancient life was the village. Through time, village organization
changed and village size increased. The earliest Fort Ancient peoples lived in small settlements
of scattered houses. Houses were small rectangular structures set in shallow basins surrounded
by single-set posts. The framework was likely covered with bark or mats. These communities
may have ranged in size from 25 to 40-50 people.
By around 1150 or 1200, villages became larger, holding perhaps 90 to 180 people, and
became a circular arrangement of houses around a central plaza. Houses became larger and posts
were set in trenches, but the structures retained their rectangular shape and other earlier features.
Cemeteries often encircled the plaza. For a short period, perhaps only between about 1250 and
1350, some Fort Ancient people also buried their dead in a low earthen mound situated on the
plaza edge. This suggests strong links between the living and the dead, and the importance of
group ceremonialism and ritual. Burial offerings sometimes accompanied the dead. In the
mountains, burial occurred in stone boxes associated with stone mounds or within rockshelters.
A watershed moment in Fort Ancient history came around 1400-1450. After this time,
there are fewer Fort Ancient villages and most are situated along major waterways. These
villages are larger, perhaps representing an amalgamation of several smaller villages, and are
made up of clusters of houses and associated cemeteries. Between 250 to 500 people may have
lived in these villages. Houses are long, rectangular structures that resemble small longhouses.
They were bark covered and were shared by multiple families, as indicated by the several central
hearths and interior partitions. These changes may have occurred in response to climate change
at the start of the “Little Ice Age” (ca.1450-1900), when the climate in the Ohio Valley became
cooler or moister.
Throughout most of Fort Ancient history, burial customs involved many steps before the
deceased was finally laid to rest. These steps included insitu defleshing and the manipulation,
and possibly curation, of selected bones before final burial; cremation; bundle burial; and the
reuse of graves. Fort Ancient pipes, ornaments, and vessels depict images of birds, reptiles and
insects, and other animals. After 1400, graveside ritual feasting and the use of offerings (corn
and beans) begins.
The Fort Ancient world also expanded after 1400. Communication between Fort Ancient
villages increased all across the Ohio Valley. Long-distance trade and interaction with groups
living outside the Ohio Valley also increased. Fort Ancient groups traded with Mississippian
farming peoples living in eastern Tennessee and with northerly tribal societies for items like
catlinite disk smoking pipes and marine shell beads, pendants, and gorgets.
Fort Ancient peoples became involved in the "broader" Mississippian religious system of
the period, too. The use of ornaments and pipes with Mississippian hawk or thunderbird
symbolism, reflecting a warfare theme, and rattlesnake symbols, linked to Mississippian
supernatural beasts and otherworld guardians, suggests that Fort Ancient peoples either
participated in new ceremonies or reinterpreted these new symbols in a uniquely Fort Ancient
way. Individuals who knew how to perform rituals and ceremonies served as religious leaders or
12. Archaeologists have documented the presence of palisades at some Fort Ancient villages
before 1400, and a few examples of an arrowhead imbedded in a human bone or of scalping after
that date. These suggest that intervillage conflict may have been an aspect of Fort Ancient life.
Fort Ancient peoples were tribal peoples, and Fort Ancient society at-large was made up
of many autonomous, loosely interlinked, tribes that lived in home territories. Tribal societies
have a consensus-style of government and tribal leaders do not hold extensive political power. A
Fort Ancient leader’s authority was determined by character and achievement, not by heredity.
Social standing in tribal societies is rooted in a person’s age, gender, and personal achievements,
although social differences in Fort Ancient society may have become more formalized over time.
All tribal societies have tendencies toward factionalism and fragmentation. As the size of
Fort Ancient communities grew over time, those tendencies increased. Conflicts could be
resolved by some community members breaking away and starting a new village, or through
discussion, and thus the role village leaders played as conflict mediators became more important.
As Fort Ancient involvement in non-local exchange increased, village leaders also became more
responsible for maintaining good relations with groups outside their village.
On the eve of the appearance of Europeans in the Southeast, in 1539, archaeological
research has documented American Indian farming villages scattered along the major drainages
in the eastern half of Kentucky. In the western half of the state, this research shows that villages
were clustered at the mouth of the Wabash River, but elsewhere in that region, native occupation
was more dispersed, if it occurred at all.
Foreign Influences (1539 - 1730)
This period marks the end of an exclusively native history for Kentucky and the
beginning of one shared with Europeans. During the mid-1500s, Spaniards appear in the form of
de Soto’s Expedition, which traveled through the Southeast. Then, over a century later, during
the mid- to late 1600s, the French and the English appeared sporadically along Kentucky’s
extreme western and eastern borders. But there is no record of Europeans visiting or exploring
inside Kentucky’s borders until after the 1730s. As time passed, however, the European
exploration and settlement zone that encircled the state drew closer to native communities.
For about the first 150 years of this period, native peoples living in Kentucky were spared
the effects of direct contact with Europeans that their northern, southern, and eastern
contemporaries had already experienced. Nevertheless, Kentucky’s native groups had to contend
with the indirect impacts of the foreigners and the challenges those impacts posed to their native
ways of life. These appear to have been experienced first within the realm of economics, then, in
the later decades of this period, through disease and cultural disruption.
Native Cultures on the Eve of Recorded History
From the mid-1500s to the mid- to late 1600s, Kentucky’s native groups continued to
pursue their respective hunting-gathering-farming lifestyles very much like their immediate
13. ancestors had done. West of the Falls lived the Caborn-Welborn peoples, and east of the Falls,
the Fort Ancient groups.
A summer village/winter hunting camp settlement pattern may have deep historical roots
for Fort Ancient peoples. However, the clearest evidence for Fort Ancient winter hunting camps
comes from archaeological research at campsites that date to this period. Families lived in the
villages for most of the year, but from the late fall to early spring, family groups moved to small
hunting camps located at the headwaters of small streams or in rockshelters. Probably fewer than
thirty people, representing extended family or kin-related groups, lived in the winter camps.
Subsistence activities focused mainly on hunting, meat and hide processing, and collecting and
processing wild plants.
Changes did take place within the economic realm, however. Exchange with outside
groups appears to have increased. This drew Kentucky’s native inhabitants into the wider
indigenous (and eventually European) world beyond their homelands. This increased exchange
may reflect the initiation of Fort Ancient groups’ participation in the European deerskin trade.
In the Caborn-Welborn region of western Kentucky, exchange with Oneota groups
(archaeologically documented tribal peoples living to the north on the eastern Plains and western
Great Lakes area) intensified, while in the Fort Ancient area of central and eastern Kentucky,
exchange increased with east Tennessee Mississippian peoples for marine shell ornaments
engraved with Mississippian religious symbols. Platform pipes, possibly related to Calumet
ceremonialism, also appear in the region’s farming villages and towns. Calumet ceremonialism
involved ritualized pipe smoking, feasting, dancing, speechmaking, and the presentation or
exchange of sacred pipe bowls that validated inter-group alliances and exchange. The appearance
of these pipes may signify that Kentucky’s native peoples grafted these ceremonial elements
onto existing traditions at this time.
What the Kentucky groups exchanged in return is not known. They may have provided
certain foods, medicinal plants, or feathers. Given central Kentucky’s many weak saline springs,
Fort Ancient groups could have exchanged salt. It would be difficult to identify the exchange of
these materials from the archaeological record, however, since they are perishable. The large
numbers of bone beamers recovered from Fort Ancient village sites of this period and the many
thumbnail endscrapers from Caborn-Welbon village sites suggests that they may have traded
animal hides, too.
Kentucky’s native peoples undoubtedly would have heard about Europeans long before
they ever saw them, but before the early 1700s, Europeans were mainly the stuff of rumor. At
this time, Kentucky’s native farming peoples were linked indirectly by long-distance native
exchange networks to groups in the Northeast, Middle Atlantic, and Southeast. News and
objects signaling the appearance of Europeans could have come from any one of these places.
Until the first documented Europeans physically set foot in Kentucky, word of these foreigners,
their trading posts, and their growing settlements would have become increasingly
14. The European presence in native lives at this time was represented by the items
Kentucky’s native peoples obtained through established trade routes. Native groups incorporated
European trade objects, like metal ornaments (beads, pendants) and very rarely, glass beads,
apparently seamlessly into their lives, just as they did non-local objects of purely native
manufacture. Direct contact with Europeans was not necessary to acquire these ornaments; they
were passed along the same exchange routes as the native-made objects. These objects of
European origin also functioned in much the same way as their native counterparts: worn or used
by individuals to signify their social standing, either political or religious, then buried with the
individual upon his or her death.
Kentucky West of the Falls
In the mid-1600s to early 1700s, the French explored the Mississippi River Valley. They
built missions and forts and, after 1710, established French farming communities.
In 1673, Father Jacques Marquette and Louis Joliet were the first to travel down the
Mississippi River to its confluence with the Arkansas River, exploring the valley for the French.
They described a host of tribes in the area north of the Mississippi-Ohio river confluence, such as
the Illinois, Kaskaskias, Peoria, and Wea. The Mississippi River (along the western Kentucky
border) formed the southeastern edge of the Illinois Confederacy in the late 1600s.
Marquette and Joliet learned from the people they met about groups living up the Ohio
River in the interior – “where dwell the people called the Chaouanons [Shawnee] in so great
numbers that in one district there are as many as 23 villages and 15 in another, quite near one
another,” noting that the Iroquois were at war with them at that time.2 Henri Joutel’s diary of his
journey up the Mississippi River in 1687 mentions native peoples living in the Vacant Quarter
area, though it does not specifically mention Kentucky.
In Montreal, Rene-Robert Cavelier de La Salle had been told in 1668 of the Ohio Valley
inhabitants living upstream and downstream of the Falls – the Honniasontkeronons (?) and
Chiouanons (Shawnee) upstream, and the Outagame (Fox) and the Iskoussogos (the general
Iroquoian name for western Algonquians) downstream. Also living on the Ohio were the
Touguenhas (?).3 Whether any of these groups lived, hunted, or claimed western Kentucky lands
at this time is not known, as historians have yet to examine native history in detail in this region.
It is also not known which, if any, of these named tribes might be linked to the groups known
archaeologically as Caborn-Welborn and Fort Ancient.
In the mid- to late 1600s, Caborn-Welborn groups may still have occupied a few villages
in this region. Shawnee living along the Cumberland River in Tennessee, joined by their
Chickasaw and Koasati neighbors, staged frequent raids against the Illinois and doubtless
traveled through western Kentucky on their way to and from these raids.
French trading posts and forts, and later, French settlements of this period, were situated
close to western Kentucky. The French traded with many Illinois and western Indiana tribes, but
were unsuccessful in extending their trade into Kentucky. However, if Caborn-Welborn groups
and others occupied this part of Kentucky, the potential for European impact on these native
15. groups likely would have been more sustained than any European impact that could have been
experienced by contemporary groups living more deeply in the Kentucky interior to the east, for
no trading posts or settlements were situated as close to that part of Kentucky.
Kentucky East of the Falls
The closest and earliest face-to-face contact between native peoples and Europeans,
relative to Kentucky, was Hernando de Soto’s expedition of 1539-1543. The expedition reached
as far north as eastern Tennessee/western North Carolina. A later foray by a member of the Juan
Pardo Expedition in 1567 came closer, into extreme southwestern Virginia. But neither of these
expeditions entered Kentucky.
A 1646 treaty that led to the creation of a series of forts and trading posts on the western
edge of the Virginia coastal plain set off a “wave of people” who began to penetrate the interior
in search of trade. Not long afterwards, the Virginia government began encouraging exploration
even further afield. Thus in 1671, Thomas Batts and Robert Fallam, guided by Appomattox
Indians, entered the area east of what is now Kentucky and traveled along the New River Valley
Path with the intent to expand Virginia trade to the native inhabitants. Some historians believe
they went no further than the gap where the New River breaks through the mountains. Others
have suggested that they ended their journey further west in the Guyandotte River drainage or in
the Big Sandy River drainage in extreme eastern Kentucky.
About three years later, in 1674, a Tomahittan war party captured Gabriel Arthur, an
illiterate trader, somewhere in the upper New River Valley and took him to a Moneton town.
Arthur later accompanied the Moneton on a raid to another village three-days’ journey away.
There appears to be no consensus about the exact location of Arthur’s capture, detention, or
where he went with his captors: the New River and Kanawha river valleys, and the Ohio River;
or the upper reaches of the Big Sandy River valley and the Ohio River. Despite the lack of
agreement, Arthur’s account describes a well-populated region in 1674, suggesting that
European diseases may not have yet reached the region.
In the mid- to late 1600s, Fort Ancient peoples occupied villages along the Ohio River.
By the 1680s or 1690s, the Shawnee had one or more villages on the upper Cumberland River
(known as the Chauouanon or Shawnee River until the late eighteenth century), although the
exact locations are unknown. The Cherokee claimed the upper Cumberland River as their
hunting grounds, and so viewed the Shawnee as trespassers. The Cherokee forced the Shawnee
out of the area around 1714.
Native Disappearance and European Disease
From the late 1680s to the 1730s, both documentary and archaeological information is
meager. There are no eyewitness accounts, few second-hand descriptions, and no archaeological
sites. Kentucky’s American Indian population seemingly fades away.
Many different factors may have contributed to this phenomenon. Conventional wisdom
holds that between 1669 and 1672, a series of attacks by the Five Nations Iroquois of New York,
16. similar to those that had previously decimated groups living around and west of the lower Great
Lakes as part of the “Mourning War” complex, depopulated the Ohio Valley (including all of
The Iroquois were raiding westward into what is now Illinois in 1655 and by the late
1660s/early 1670s, they had turned their attentions southward toward Virginia. This raiding
continued until 1735. It was spurred by the Iroquois’ participation in the fur trade; their need to
avenge earlier intertribal hostilities; individuals’ desire for status; their search for captives they
could adopt as replacements for relatives lost to European diseases in their own villages during
the 1630s and 1640s (which historians refer to as the “Mourning War” complex); and
encouragement from their Dutch (and later) British allies, the latter who would claim the Ohio
Valley region because of their alliances with the Iroquois.
The devastation and forced expulsion of Kentucky’s native groups attributed to the
actions of the Iroquois likely is overstated in the documents. It is true that a few references to
Iroquois raids into the Ohio Valley and/or the country of the Chaouanons/Shawnee are recorded
in French documents of this period. Similarly, captives from the general area of the Ohio Valley,
including Shawnee, are known to have been brought back to Iroquoia during the 1670s. But the
wholesale devastation and forcible expulsion of the region’s inhabitants claimed by the Iroquois’
English allies was never backed-up by eyewitness accounts. There are no reports of massacres
or large numbers of captives taken from the Ohio Valley area, as are reported for Iroquois raids
in the Illinois Country at this time. Escalated conflict is not confirmed by the archaeological
Nevertheless, fear of Iroquois raiding parties could have contributed to population
movement. Groups could have moved away to join old native allies or new European ones due to
the perceived threat of Iroquois attack. It is also possible that newly established European
trading opportunities developing around the edges of the Kentucky region at this time, in Illinois,
South Carolina, and eastern Pennsylvania, could have drawn people out of the region in the late
1600s-early 1700s.
Decimation by the first smallpox pandemic also could have played a part. Like all the
native peoples of North America, groups living in Kentucky possessed no immunity to foreign
diseases that had originated in European cities. Disease introduction depends on native
population densities and communication routes, and the periods during which pathogens are
Native groups living along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts began to experience the
devastating effects of introduced diseases in the 1500s and early 1600s. Researchers infer that
smallpox arrived in the greater Southeast sometime around 1696-1700, generally agreeing that
de Soto’s expedition probably was not the source.
Historians are not sure, however, exactly when and how smallpox first arrived in
Kentucky. American Indian groups living farther inland, like those in Kentucky, might have
experienced the effects of these diseases later than surrounding groups. The Appalachian
Mountains could have served as a natural barrier to disease coming into Kentucky from the east,
17. and the orientation of the major river drainages and waterways directed Europeans, and perhaps
their diseases, along the Mississippi River.
French documents mention groups living in the Ohio Valley, upstream from the Falls of
the Ohio, in the late 1660s and early 1670s, and maps of the same period, though not based on
any direct evidence, also locate indigenous groups like the Chaouanons (Shawnee) in the middle
Ohio Valley at this time. So it seems likely that the disease arrived in Kentucky after this time. It
is possible that smallpox appeared in western Kentucky first, given the main travel artery the
Mississippi River represented and given the proximity of French settlements and trading posts of
the period to that part of Kentucky.
Irrespective of how and when the pathogens arrived, Kentucky’s inhabitants would have
died in numbers similar to those recorded for groups to the east: between 50 and 90 percent of
the native inhabitants. And the effect these diseases would have had on Kentucky groups would
have been just as devastating, too. These sicknesses afflicted entire villages. The most vulnerable
individuals were the young (the future) and the old (the collective memory of the people and
tradition bearers). Lacking a system of writing, these people had passed down information by
word of mouth about their ceremonies and traditions from generation to generation. With the
deaths of so many people who possessed this knowledge, much of these peoples' culture, their
shared beliefs and ideas, disappeared forever.
Native responses to these devastating diseases would have been as diverse as the groups
who lived in Kentucky and would have depended on a host of factors: traditions, cultural
practices, history, relationships with outside groups, opportunities, and geographic location.
Some groups may have completely disappeared, absorbed into other bands before Europeans
actually visited Kentucky. Remnants could have left the region completely, or stayed and
worked to rebuild their lives and continue their traditions. In other cases, survivors from
different ethnic groups may have joined together to build new traditions.
Because of the lack of first-hand knowledge of Kentucky at this time, and because of the
devastating effects of European diseases on native cultures, it is difficult to identify the
ethnic/linguistic affiliations of the village farming peoples who lived in Kentucky on the eve of
the appearance of Europeans. These factors also make it difficult to push back these ethnic
affiliations into prehistory.
The ethnic/linguistic affiliation of the Caborn-Welborn peoples who lived west of the
Falls is unknown. Sources suggest that Dhegiha Siouan groups lived in southern Illinois at this
time, but whether these groups are linked in any way to archaeological cultural expressions in
western Kentucky is unknown.
East of the Falls, the Fort Ancient archaeological culture probably embraces several
different ethnic groups. Algonquian-speaking peoples may have made up the greatest proportion,
and may have been represented by the historically documented Shawnee (or affiliated groups). In
extreme eastern Kentucky, the poorly-known Siouan language speaking groups, like the Tutelo,
and Yuchi-language speakers may have been affiliated. Researchers generally agree that the
archaeologically documented Fort Ancient cultures of the seventeenth century in Kentucky are
18. related in some way to the historically documented people who in the mid-l700s were called
Chaouanon by the French or Shawanese by the English. Today they are referred to as the
Irrespective of which factors were involved, there can be no denying that as a result of
the indirect effects of the European presence, native economies changed and significant numbers
of American Indian people died all across Kentucky. The various groups responded in ways that
made sense to them.
Then, around the late 1720s to early 1730s, new groups of native peoples began to move
into the Ohio River valley to establish villages. Some groups were new to the region and were
coming in order to put distance between themselves and the American colonists. Others were
joining kinsmen that may have never left. The Miami and Wyandott moved in from the north.
The Shawnee, Delaware, and Iroquois, primarily Seneca (called Mingo), moved in from the East.
Intersection of Two Worlds (1730 - 1825)
This is the best known chapter in Kentucky’s American Indian history. Events that take
place in Kentucky intersect with historical events of national (the exploration and settling of the
Trans-Alleghany West, American’s first frontier; and the American Revolution) and
international (known as the Seven Years War in Europe, it was referred to as the French and
Indian War in North America) scope. The names of American Indian peoples (Shawnee,
Iroquois, Delaware, Cherokee, and Chickasaw) and individuals (Misemeathaquatha or Big
Hominy; Hokolesqua or Cornstalk; Cathahecassa or Black Hoof; and Tecumseh) begin to appear
in the historical record.
This period opens with resident native groups and new native arrivals from the East
living in Indian Country as autonomous peoples, and with Virginia’s western lands still largely
unexplored by Europeans (it is important to note that Kentucky became Virginia’s westernmost
county in 1776 and remained a Virginia county until it became a state in 1792). Imperial agents
seeking to claim territory for European nations also arrive, followed closely by traders looking to
exchange European goods for valuable skins and furs. Next the land speculators appear, taking a
measure of the land’s fitness for settlement, and finally come the Virginia colonists/Kentucky
pioneers, intent on building new lives for themselves and agitating for the removal of native
people. Thus, by the end of this period, barely a century later, native groups no longer live in
Kentucky, the last Indian land cessions have been negotiated, and Kentucky has become a state
and attained its current size.
The center of Indian history during this period is east of the Falls, in the Bluegrass
Region of central Kentucky. Little is known about Indian history west of the Falls and elsewhere
in the state.
Early European Explorers to the Battle of Fallen Timbers
This period brought enormous change and overwhelming challenges to native peoples.
Native children born at the beginning of this period arrived as their elders were struggling with
19. the social and emotional legacy of the smallpox pandemic, and their grandchildren arrived as
native nations were ceding land to a newly created sovereign nation.
Socially, native groups worked to create viable native institutions from the remnants of
the old ones, left after the deaths of so many tradition-bearers. The challenge was to preserve the
traditions, customs, and beliefs that defined native identity. Economically, native peoples were
drawn further into a world mercantile economy, as suppliers of the skins and furs that fed it. The
challenge here was to negotiate fair exchange for the goods they received for the products of
their labor.
Politically, native peoples had their own objectives and goals, different from those of
France, Britain, Spain, and later, the United States, and native leaders actively worked to realize
them in the interests of their people. Initially, native leaders negotiated from a position of
autonomy, but as time passed, the events that took place and the concessions they made slowly
eroded native political power. Encroaching white settlement on tribal lands required a response,
and the challenge for native leaders was to determine what that response should be:
accommodate and stay; resist by removing beyond the frontier; or resist and fight to drive the
settlers out. Leaders were hobbled by the political factionalism that is a characteristic feature of
tribal political organization anywhere in the world.
The end was the same, regardless of the response: land cession and removal. But at the
time, the eventual resolution was not a forgone conclusion, and Kentucky native history during
this period is a record of the multiple and varied responses to the challenges the European
presence represented.
It appears that native people had abandoned most, if not all, of the villages they occupied
east of the Falls by the end of the French and Indian War (1763). Unlike the movements during
the previous century, the reasons for this abandonment are known – numerous attacks on
Shawnee villages by the Catawba and other southern Indian tribes, and the threat of an attack by
the English and their Indian allies. Historical developments in western Kentucky at this time are
It is ironic, then, that for most of this period (i.e., after around 1760), native peoples
apparently did not occupy any villages in the state. Kentucky served as the stage on which events
in American Indian history played out, but the native villages, for the most part, were located
beyond Kentucky’s borders: to the north in what would become Ohio (Shawnee, Delaware, and
Miami), to the south in what would become Tennessee, Mississippi, and Alabama (Cherokee and
Chickasaw), or even in New York and around the Great Lakes. It is also during this period (i.e.,
after 1775) that the Myth of the “Dark and Bloody Ground” begins (see Cultural Contributions).
However, the lack of villages should not be interpreted to mean that Indian peoples did
not consider the land and resources south of the Ohio River, between the mouth of the Big Sandy
River and the mouth of the Ohio River, theirs. Kentucky was still the economic base from which
they took the furs and deerskins they needed to trade. From an Indian perspective, the moves
they made at this time were like the moves they had made for centuries: they were simply
20. relocating their domestic centers to another part of their homeland, and were not relinquishing
claim or control over the land.
The native perspective regarding land ownership and use contrasted sharply with that of
the English. The former considered English settlement in their hunting grounds/their homelands
a violation of their territorial rights. The latter viewed Kentucky as empty land that was ripe for
settlement. This difference was at the heart of the conflict that developed between native peoples
and the colonial pioneers during this period.
As colonial settlement exploded in central Kentucky in the 1770s, the Indian “presence”
consisted of multi-tribal raiding parties of native men. Native settlements, however, were located
outside Kentucky’s borders. These parties were joined or led by foreign nationals representing
foreign powers hoping to capitalize on native successes that those powers could then parlay into
territorial control.
By the end of the Revolutionary War in the early 1780s, defining historical events had
shifted north of the Ohio River, and to the south. However, multi-tribal raids into Kentucky
continued, lasting until nearly 1800.
The Battle of Fallen Timbers in 1794 and the signing of the Treaty of Greenville in 1795
brought to an end decades of more or less continual warfare with the French, the English, and the
Americans. Indian leaders of the nations who now lived north of Kentucky, but who claimed the
Ohio Valley lands including Kentucky, ceded the lands and gave up any Indian claim to
Permanent colonial settlement moved westward through Kentucky during this period,
although the details of American Indian history are not as clear for western Kentucky as they are
for the Bluegrass Region in central Kentucky. Aside from the short-lived (1780-1781) Fort
Jefferson and adjacent town of Clarksville in extreme western Kentucky, European settlement
west of the Falls during this period lagged behind that of the Bluegrass, occurring two decades
later. Settlement was not as swift and the initial numbers of new arrivals were not as large. It is
unclear whether native villages were present in this area at this time. Most reports are of hunting
parties and groups passing through, like the Shawnee and the Chickasaw. Indians did not cede
lands in what is now extreme western Kentucky until the early 1800s.
Kentucky East of the Falls
Much of recorded Indian history of this period focuses on people, events, and places in
this part of Kentucky, particularly in the Bluegrass Region of central Kentucky. The first
European settlements were founded here, along the rivers and trails that served as arteries for the
settlers’ arrival. This is because documents produced by the Europeans who first physically
entered Kentucky and through which indigenous history is chronicled, describe the people living
in the places they traveled through and to: the Ohio River corridor, the Cumberland
Gap/Wilderness Road area, and the central Kentucky Bluegrass Region.
21. In the years immediately preceding the outbreak of the French and Indian War (the late
1730s to 1754), when European imperial powers wanted to control the Ohio Valley, both French
and English traders, land speculators, and governmental emissaries (identities oftentimes fused
together in a single individual) came to Kentucky and encountered native groups along the Ohio
River. The first available eyewitness account is that of the French explorer Charles le Moyne,
Second Baron de Longueil, who, in 1739, was looking to secure France’s claim to the Ohio
Valley, as was Pierre Joseph Celeron de Blainville ten years later.
In 1744, the Iroquois and the British negotiated the Treaty of Lancaster. Many British
and American land speculators interpreted the treaty to mean that the Iroquois had ceded their
claim to the land south of the Ohio River. Two land speculation companies, the Loyal Land
Company and the Ohio Land Company, received grants to conduct land surveys soon afterwards,
and both sent agents to explore Kentucky. The Loyal Land Company explorations were led by
Thomas Walker in 1749, who traveled through the Cumberland Gap and took a route known as
the Warrior’s Path into Kentucky. He encountered few native groups. The Ohio Land Company
sent Christopher Gist in 1750-51 to explore the Ohio Valley, and he visited Indian villages along
the Ohio River. Other contemporary English visitors of note included William Trent and George
Croghan, who were involved, among other ventures, in the Pennsylvania deerskin trade.
When the French and Indian War began in 1754, Kentucky was still Indian Country and
the names of some of the groups that lived east of the Falls are known: the Shawnee, the Mingo
(Seneca-Iroquois), the Cherokee, and the Tutelo. Interaction with Europeans was direct and
face-to-face, but was mainly within the sphere of the deerskin trade. Land speculators were
sizing up Indian lands, but settlers had not yet crossed the mountains.
Archaeological evidence for native villages and camps dating sometime between 1730
and 1795 is meager. Written sources mention a few villages; a handful of isolated cabins, winter
hunting camps and other temporary camps; salt processing locales; and a couple of places where
native people had stripped off sections of bark from trees and painted red and black symbols on
the exposed trunks.
Native lifeways, customs, and beliefs in the mid-1700s continued as they had before, with
some important changes. Groups were still hunter-gatherer-farmers. This reflects the persistence
of seventeenth-century native subsistence practices. In this regard, a native way of life was
similar in many ways to the European hunting and subsistence farming way of life. One
significant difference, however, and one that figured prominently in later attempts to “civilize”
the Indians, was that native women were the farmers, not the men. Dispersal into winter camps
in the mid-eighteenth century is described in the documents, but sources mention that game was
scarce and that hunters had to range considerable distances for wild foods.
Native groups in the mid-1700s, like those of the 1600s, lived in large, permanently
occupied villages made up of house clusters arranged along large rivers or streams. Some houses
resembled those of the 1600s, but others, described by European observers as huts, cabins, or
houses, were built of squared logs, and were covered in bark or clapboard. Some even had
22. Unlike seventeenth-century villages, mid-eighteenth century Indian villages were
multitribal, created by the amalgamation of the survivors of the epidemics and the new Indian
groups moving into the area. Nevertheless, villages were still referred to as Shawnee, Miami, or
Delaware towns because one group predominated. It is unclear how society was organized in
these villages. Leaders undoubtedly fulfilled roles in mid-eighteenth-century Indian society
similar to those of their seventeenth-century counterparts, with one important difference: they
had to contend face-to-face with the European newcomers.
Native peoples continued the practice of burying their dead in shallow pits in the ground
near their houses. They erected burial structures over some of the deceased. The rich religious
symbolism reflected by the engraved marine shell gorgets of the 1600s was no longer important
or was expressed in other ways. However, mourners continued to place ceramic vessels and other
items of native manufacture in the graves of their loved ones. They also included a few items of
European manufacture, like silver earrings and broaches or glass beads, but these were different
from the metal ornaments placed with the dead in the l600s. This difference is undoubtedly a
reflection of the common presence of Europeans in native lives at this time. However, since no
wholesale replacement of aboriginal burial goods by European counterparts had occurred in the
mid-1700s, it appears that native peoples at this time still held to their indigenous religious
beliefs and burial practices.
A very important difference between seventeenth- and mid-eighteenth-century Indian life
lies within the realm of economics. Trade with the Europeans drew the Indians into a
dependency on foreign goods. By the mid-1700s, native peoples had incorporated items of
European manufacture into most aspects of their daily lives, and some of these items had
replaced their indigenous counterparts. Once native peoples became dependent on firearms and
other functional items, they were bound even more tightly into close economic relationships with
Europeans, a dependency that undermined their self-sufficiency.
But the very nature of trade had changed as well. Exchange was no longer carried out
between aboriginal groups over long distances, nor was it integrated into the social fabric of the
culture and managed by village leaders. English or French traders brought goods directly to the
native inhabitants and built trading houses in their midst. Each person could trade individually.
And the goods exchanged - deerskins for metal pots, cloth, firearms and accoutrements, powder,
and silver jewelry - were mainly functional items. One commodity, alcohol, had a seriously
disruptive influence on Indian life.
Many more changes within Indian culture would occur after the mid-eighteenth century,
but this is where the story of permanent Indian occupancy of Kentucky, the Bluegrass Region,
and the lands along the Ohio River ends. A consideration of the major Shawnee settlement
known as “the lower Shawnee Town,” situated on both sides (Ohio and Kentucky) of the Ohio
River at the mouth of the Scioto River, and of Eskippikithiki, in the central Kentucky interior,
provides a perspective on Kentucky’s American Indian history on the eve of the French and
Indian War.
Shawnee and Six Nations Iroquois established an Indian “republic” at the lower Shawnee
Town in the late 1730s and abandoned it in 1758. For about 20 years, it was the primary village
23. for the Shawnee. It also served as an international native diplomatic center, a regional diplomatic
center with Europeans, and a trading center at the western end of the Pennsylvania traders’
southern trade route.
The lower Shawnee Town was at least twice as big as its predecessors and larger than
most contemporary Indian settlements “on Ohio.” An array of nations, divisions, factions, and
bands lived there, its inhabitants a mixture of indigenous peoples, Europeans, Africans, and the
offspring of their unions. By January 1751, this multi-ethnic population is estimated to have been
somewhere between twelve hundred and fifteen hundred people. Given this diversity, it is not
surprising that the French characterized it as a "republic."
The Shawnee were the settlement's largest ethnic contingent. Undoubtedly at its height,
members of most, if not all, of the nation’s five separate and autonomous political units, or
divisions lived there. Six Nations Iroquois, mostly Seneca (or “Mingo” as they became known
in the Ohio Valley at this time) also lived there, as did men from other towns who traded at the
lower Shawnee Town and may have lived there temporarily during regional crises or diplomatic
meetings: Delaware from their towns upstream on the Scioto River; missionized Indians from
communities near Montreal including Iroquois from Lake of the Two Mountains, and Oneida or
Mohawk from Sault St. Louis; and others from nearly all the Indian nations of upper Canada.
In the realm of purely Indian affairs, the diversity of the settlement's ethnic groups
created a truly “international” atmosphere in town councils. As the main Shawnee settlement,
representatives of the Cherokee, Miami, and Delaware traveled there to meet and negotiate
diplomatic issues. Because the town was located deep in Indian Country, too far from English
and French political centers, relative to the Europeans, the lower Shawnee Town functioned as a
second-level or regional diplomatic center.
The people living at the lower Shawnee Town were important participants in the
Pennsylvania deerskin trade, and the town served as an English trading post. A number of
factors combined to make it an international trading hub. Five trading routes in the Ohio
Country extended from bases near the Forks of the Ohio like "sticks of a fan." The trading house
at the lower Shawnee Town sat all alone at the southern route's western end. From the town,
traders could penetrate into Indian Country north of the lower Shawnee Town or south of it into
the Kentucky interior. By 1749, English traders had built a store house in the town, and a small
contingent of colonials may have become year-round residents.
How much impact European imperial concerns had on the day-to-day lives of inhabitants
at the lower Shawnee Town is hard to measure. Certainly native concerns about controlling the
liquor trade, negotiating fair prices for their deerskins, and keeping good diplomatic relationships
with the English suggest that their daily lives were affected to a certain degree. Many statements
in period documents, however, make it clear that European imperial concerns were just some of
the issues confronting the town’s residents. Parties raided the Cherokee and Catawba to the
south, and harassed the Piankashaws, Wea, and other tribes to the west.
A contemporary Indian village to the lower Shawnee Town, called Eskippakithiki, was
purportedly occupied at Indian Old Fields in southeastern Clark County in the mid-eighteenth-
24. century, but its identity is one of the most pervasive legends in Kentucky American Indian
history. Actual historical documents referring to a village in the area are rare, and when a village
is mentioned at all, its location is noted only in general terms. Purported residents of the town
included Peter Chartier (not true), John Finley (maybe), and Catahecassa (Black Hoof)
Detailed and critical historical documents research has determined that an Indian village
called Eskippakithiki probably was located in or within nine miles of Indian Old Fields in 1753.
It is likely that Eskippikithiki and another possible town, Little Pict Town, are two different
places. Also referred to as Blue Lick Town by English traders, Eskippikithiki is mentioned in
passing in an account of the capture of six English traders near the village: a group of Ottawas,
Iroquois, and Conawagoes robbed them of goods, skins, and furs while they were returning from
trading among the Cherokee in the Carolina territory. The town also is depicted on Lewis Evans’
1755 map, which places it 25 miles north of the Kentucky River on the Warriors Path. A band of
Shawnee may have established the village in 1750 or 1751 and it may have been abandoned in
1754 due to attacks by the Catawbas, a North Carolina tribe that had been a major enemy of the
Shawnee for a long time. This group established another village in the Big Sandy River drainage
in 1754.
A trader, John Finley, likely came to Indian Old Fields to trade with Shawnee who lived
in the vicinity, but this probably occurred in 1767, not in 1752-1753 as has been suggested. The
native occupation at that time may have been a winter encampment and not a major village. An
elderly Shawnee chief, Catahecassa (Black Hoof), who visited Indian Old Fields in 1815 or
1816, claimed that a Shawnee village was located there until 1754. Archaeological survey in the
early 1980s for an Indian village of this age in one section of Indian Old Fields failed to identify
With the beginning of the French and Indian War, the Ohio Valley Indians became allies
of the French, but they fought for their own reasons: to defeat the British who wanted Indian
land, to end Iroquois control over native political affairs “on Ohio,” and to stem the flow of
liquor into Indian Country. No battles or skirmishes during the war took place on Kentucky soil,
but if the actions of the inhabitants of the lower Shawnee Town can be used to gauge the actions
of other groups, it would be safe to say that near the end of it, many moved north for fear of
reprisals, abandoning large villages south of the Ohio River and moving their domestic centers to
another part of their homeland, though they may have held onto smaller communities and winter
camps in the region.
The British negotiated peace with the Indians “on Ohio” in 1762. The Indians wanted a
dual British-French withdrawal from the region, but the British stayed. Native peoples expected
a restoration of abundant trade, but a scarcity of goods, high prices, and an abundance of liquor
made trade with the British a disappointment.
With the war over, land speculators moved into the Trans-Appalachian West. In response
to violence in the Great Lakes region in the spring and summer of 1763, the British unilaterally
established the Proclamation Line of 1763 along the crest of the Appalachians separating Indian
25. lands (to the west) from British colonial lands (to the east). Encroaching colonial settlement
ignored the line.
Between 1763, when the peace treaty was signed that formally brought an end to the war,
and 1775, when the American Revolution started, a series of treaties drew various boundary lines
beyond which colonial settlement could not go. Encroaching colonial settlement ignored these
lines, too, which provided the impetus for Indian raiding parties and larger native expeditions
that targeted the central Kentucky settlements during the American Revolution.
In 1768, as part of the Treaty of Fort Stanwix, the Iroquois ceded all the lands they
claimed south of the Ohio River through prior purported “conquest.” This treaty set the Ohio
River as the new boundary between Indian lands to the north and English lands to the south. The
result was that resident Indian peoples were blocked from lawfully hunting in their home
territory and it effectively opened up Indian Country in Kentucky for settlement.
The late 1760s also were the years of the “Long Hunters.” Men from Virginia,
Pennsylvania, and North Carolina entered Kentucky through Cumberland Gap or from the Ohio
River and explored, hunted, and trail blazed for fairly long periods of time. During their stays,
they examined land conditions for themselves and others in anticipation of future settlement.
Native and white hunting parties, both made of small groups of men, occasionally crossed paths.
In 1772, the Cherokee surrendered to Virginia their claim to land east of the Kentucky
River. In 1773, colonial surveyors moved beyond the boundary between Indian-colonial
settlements to survey Virginia land grants (this included Kentucky, since it was still part of
Virginia at this time). Skirmishes took place between Shawnee and colonial surveyors around
Louisville in the Spring of 1774. Outrages committed by colonial frontiersmen at this same time,
particularly the murder of Chief Logan’s relatives, brought on the a short war between Virginia
and the Ohio Indians, known as Lord Dunmore’s War. It was the prelude to the Indian-settler
fighting on the Kentucky frontier that coincided with the start of the American Revolution.
Lord Dunmore’s War came to a close after the Battle of Point Pleasant in October 1774.
It was a defeat for the Shawnee. As part of the Treaty of Camp Charlotte, which negotiated the
war’s end, Indian leaders ceded their prime hunting lands south of the Ohio River and agreed to
remain north of the Ohio River. However, not all the native factions recognized the treaty as
binding. Some native groups left the Ohio Valley afterwards, settling on lands west of the
Mississippi River, well away from the conflict. With their withdrawal, Indian westward removal
had begun.
The Treaty of Camp Charlotte opened up central Kentucky for settlement, and colonial
settlers wasted no time. They established Harrodsburg in 1774 and Boonesborough in 1775
within months of each other in the Bluegrass Region as the Revolutionary War broke out in the
That same year, through the Treaty of Sycamore Shoals, the Cherokee sold their land
within central and western Kentucky to the Transylvania Land Company (except for land in what
is now six counties in extreme south-central Kentucky). This treaty (as well as the treaties of Fort
26. Stanwix, Hard Labor, and Camp Charlotte) violated the Proclamation of 1763. Because the
transaction was not sanctioned by a Crown official, it was denounced by both Cherokee and
imperial officials alike and voided in 1778 by Virginia and North Carolina. Dragging Canoe led
the Cherokee opposition to the treaty, and would later move with his followers to Chickamauga
Creek in southern Tennessee/northwest Georgia and lead what became known as the
Chickamauga Cherokee resistance during the Revolutionary War.
Over the next few years, what began as a trickle of settlers into central Kentucky quickly
turned to a flood. Europeans were no longer deerskin traders, explorers, and diplomats: families
came with children and slaves, carrying their belongings, and bringing livestock and seeds to
transplant their colonial way of life west of the mountains. These people also were hunter-
farmers, but their notion of a farming way of life was very different from the Indians’ way – land
was owned, fields were fenced, livestock was kept, homes were built to stay put. Men planted the
fields and women tended only the kitchen gardens. Most settlers were Christians, a monotheistic
religion that contrasted sharply with the animistic beliefs of native peoples. The settlers valued
missionaries and sought to convert those who did not believe. The situation was ripe for conflict
to develop between settler/pioneers and native peoples.
As the first wave of settlers reached the Bluegrass and the middle Ohio Valley, the new
arrivals encountered small groups of Shawnee, Mingo, Delaware, Miami, and Wyandot (Huron)
men who were hunting in the region. The Indians' primary summer villages were located north of
the Ohio River.
Soon the hunting parties transformed into raiding parties that harassed the settlers. This
conflict increased in 1776 after Kentucky became a Virginia county. In 1777, the “Year of the
Terrible Sevens,” Indian raiding parties and expeditions became so much more intense, frequent,
and larger, that the colonists nearly abandoned Kentucky.
Between 1777 and the end of the Revolutionary War in 1783, many incidents of Indian-
colonist conflict took place in central Kentucky. Among the most famous and noteworthy are the
siege of Boonesborough in 1778; attacks on Martin’s and Ruddle’s stations in 1780; and the
attack on Bryan’s Station and the Battle of Blue Licks in 1782. The latter was one of the worst
military disasters for the settlers on the Kentucky frontier. The Kentucky force’s defeat was so
complete, most settlers left Kentucky.
The Indian raiding parties and expeditions were multitribal – they included men from a
variety of groups living north of the Ohio River. Shawnee, Mingo, Delaware, Wyandot, and
Miami were the groups most often represented. Others mentioned less frequently include
Ottawa, Ojibwa, Potawatomi, and Cherokee. Though allied with the British, the Indians who
fought the Kentucky settlers or “Big Knives” did so to deny Kentucky to the Americans rather
than out of any particular loyalty to the British.
They also used their own methods of warfare – for the Indians were warriors, not
soldiers. They did not remain long on campaigns, nor did they submit to discipline unless
involved in a major engagement. They fought to defeat the Americans, defend their homes, and
to prove their courage and fighting ability, but not to take and hold territory. And while they
27. committed murders and atrocities, they also integrated some prisoners into Indian society, a
tradition that set them apart from the settlers, who lumped all Indians together – of any nation,
male or female, young or old, converted or not, scouts and those who warned of raids – and
sought to kill them.
In response to the Indian raids, George Rogers Clark led expeditions north of the Ohio
River to retaliate – to the Shawnee at Chillicothe on the Scioto River in 1778 and 1779; and to
the Shawnee town of Piqua in 1780. In 1782, Clark led another attack on Chillicothe, destroying
homes and crops.
But by the end of the Revolutionary War in 1783, there were too many settlers, an
estimated 12,000, and too many settlements, 72 in the Lexington area alone, for native raiding
parties to drive the colonists from Kentucky. In the treaty negotiations that ended the conflict,
Indian states were discussed, but were left out of the final document.
And still the conflict between Indians and the Kentucky settlers continued. Kentuckians
encroached on Indian lands and attack Indians, and Indians retaliated – chronic murders, horse
thefts, and raids resumed. It was within this context of continuing conflict that, in 1784, John
Filson published his book, The Discovery, Settlement, and present state of Kentucke. Widely
read, and credited with encouraging settlers to come to Kentucky, in it he refers to Kentucky as
the “Dark and Bloody Ground” and an “object of contention, a theatre of war, from which it was
properly denominated the Bloody-Grounds.”4 In 1785, about 100 travelers on the Wilderness
Road, which more or less followed the Warriors Path through Cumberland Gap to central
Kentucky, were killed as a result of the continuing conflict. In 1789, a Shawnee raiding party
attacks Richard Chenoweth’s fort near what is now Louisville. Even as late as 1792, the year
Kentucky was admitted as the 15th state in the Union, ambushes, captures, and killing continued.
The Battle of Fallen Timbers in 1794, and the Treaty of Greenville that spelled out the
terms of peace in 1795, brought to a close the long period of conflict between native peoples and
Colonial/American settlers on central Kentucky soil, although the hatred and resentment
remained long afterwards, flaring up as sporadic hostilities (e.g., the 1796 murder in eastern
Kentucky of a Cherokee by the name of Red Bird). At the treaty conference, more than 1000
Indians attended from the many tribes whose men had participated in the Kentucky conflict and
whose families had experienced the Kentucky militia’s impacts. They now lived mainly in
villages in northern Ohio, northern Indiana, and southern Michigan, west and south of Lake Erie.
Many of the Indians believed that the treaty gave them the land where they lived for as long as
they wished to stay, but for the U.S. government, the treaty was just a step in the process of
acquiring all the lands east of the Mississippi River.
For the first time, an annuity system (yearly payments made to the tribes, in cash and/or
livestock and equipment, by the federal government) was put into place. It institutionalized U.S.
federal influence within tribal governments. The annuities were given to Indian leaders to
distribute among their people. The treaty also declared that the American government was
committed to “civilizing” the Indians. This was a presage of things to come.
28. Kentucky West of the Falls
Unlike the section of Kentucky located east of the Falls, American Indian history of this
period for this part of Kentucky is poorly documented. There are vague references to scattered
groups of various tribes, but it is not clear if they lived in this region for long periods of time.
Shawnee groups are mentioned traveling between the Great Lakes and the Southeast or
living for a time in the lower Ohio/Cumberland River Valley region. These date to the late
1740s and again to around 1760. It is possible that these Shawnee groups established villages in
western Kentucky, but the exact locations are unknown.
The former date refers to a Shawnee band led by Peter Chartier, a trader of European and
Shawnee heritage who settled for a time on a “large river” in the Cumberland River area in 1746.
The Chickasaw planned to attack his band in 1747, but hearing of their plans, the group moved
south to join the Cherokee.
The latter date refers to a band of Shawnee (that had settled in Tennessee around 1752)
who were reportedly driven from Tennessee by the Chickasaw and who moved to the lower Ohio
Valley. This group remained in the lower Ohio Valley until a few years after the fall of Fort
Duquesne in 1758, after which they joined the main body of the Shawnee living on the Scioto
River in southern Ohio.
During the American Revolution, Chickasaw villages were situated south of what is now
Kentucky and far from colonial settlements, so unlike native groups living in what is now Ohio,
they experienced few attacks in the war. But they supported the British, and that support
threatened American and Spanish traffic on the Mississippi River.
In 1780, the same year Indian groups from north of the Ohio River attacked settlers at
Martin’s and Ruddle’s stations in central Kentucky, Americans under George Rogers Clark
established Fort Jefferson/Clarksville in western Kentucky on the Kentucky side of the
Mississippi River below its junction with the Ohio. Fort Jefferson was established to serve as a
base of operations to launch a campaign in the British Southwest and as an Indian depot for
arming northern Indians. Forty families and their slaves settled around the fort, and over 60
American Indians, acting as hunters for the garrison, also were residents of Fort Jefferson. Tribal
groups represented included the Kaskaskia, Peoria, Kickapoo, Sauk, Ottawa and Piankashaw.
Not long after the fort’s construction was completed, however, the Chickasaw attacked
Fort Jefferson. They ran the settlers inside the fort, burned their homes and corn crop, and killed
much of the livestock. They set up a siege, cutting off the fort’s supplies and killing and
capturing stragglers. The Chickasaw’s July offensive was led by James Colbert, a mixed-blood
son of James Logan Colbert, and the August battle was led by James Whitehead from the British
Southern Indian Department. In 1781, after only a year, the Americans withdrew and closed the
fort. The actions of the Chickasaw checked the American plans to invade the British Southwest
and stabilized the American conquest line on the Ohio River for the rest of the war.
29. By the mid-1790s, the Kentucky frontier had moved west. It now extended roughly from
Smithland, Kentucky on the Ohio River in Livingston County south to Canton, Kentucky in
Trigg County. A few roving bands of Chickasaw were active in the region at-large at this time,
raiding, harassing, and killing the small numbers of American settlers who had moved there.
In 1803, Lewis and Clark mention a Shawnee presence along the Mississippi River.
These Indians may have ranged into what is now western Kentucky at this time.
After Fallen Timbers
The last Indian land cessions in Kentucky occurred after the confederated tribes were
defeated at Fallen Timbers in 1794. Also at this time, the U.S. government embarked on a policy
of assimilating native peoples into American society, affected through the Civilization Fund Act
of 1819.
The Indian response to the Treaty of Greenville reflected the factionalism of their tribal
societies and the tribes’ and factions’ contrasting responses to Europeans – accommodate or
resist. For some tribal factions, accommodation, rather than confrontation, now offered the best
chance for remaining native.
The Shawnee provide a good case in point. The Shawnee group led by Catahecassa
(Black Hoof), once a resister, decided to follow an accommodationist strategy in order to hold
onto native lands in what is now Ohio. Though this group made adjustments to American
culture, they retained their traditions and beliefs. Others Shawnee factions, like those who
followed Tecumseh, chose resistance.
For a short time before and during the War of 1812, Tecumseh led an intertribal alliance
composed of members of both northern and southern tribes who opposed American expansion,
while his brother, Tenskwatawa, led a nativistic religious movement that required followers to
return to the old ways. The alliance collapsed upon Tecumseh’s death at the Battle of the
Thames, marking the end of Indian resistance between the Ohio and the Mississippi rivers.
As an outcome of the Third Treaty of Tellico, the Cherokee in 1805 ceded the last of their
northern “hunting” lands in Kentucky (what is now six counties in the extreme south-central
portion of the state) to the U.S. government. Controversial provisions in this treaty gave
Doublehead and other influential Cherokee chiefs individual reserves of land, and Doublehead
received a cash bonus for helping with the negotiations.
After the War of 1812, the demand for Indian removal to lands west of the Mississippi
River intensified, as the pressure from white settlement increased. The U.S. government forced
native groups into ceding their land to the government.
Forced land cessions relative to the Southeastern tribes began in 1814 with the Creek.
One by one, throughout the early 1800s, Indian nations split into factions over the issue of
removal, and one by one, they moved west.
30. Under Presidents Monroe and Adams, U.S. Indian removal policy was voluntary, and
Indian peoples in the Ohio Valley emigrated without the direct application of force. It seems
likely that native people living in Kentucky who had decided to move out of the state of their
own accord had done so by this time. Remnants of these groups (individuals or families who had
social connections by virtue of marriage, or who simply chose to stay behind) doubtless
remained. In instances of intermarriage, especially between native women and Euro-American
men, some chose to blend-in with local American populations rather than remove west, and lived
much like their non-native neighbors.
Prior to 1818, the land between the Tennessee and Mississippi rivers was still considered
Indian Country. Although most Chickasaw lived in northern Mississippi and northwestern
Alabama, the Chickasaw claimed and controlled this area, which they used as hunting grounds.
This claim was based on the fact that in the 1700s, detached bands of Chickasaw occupied these
areas, and towns were said to have been located on the Ohio River and/or on the lower course of
the Tennessee River in either Tennessee or Kentucky. In 1805, the Chickasaw ceded to the U.S.
government a thin strip of land adjacent to the eastern bank of the Tennessee River to its mouth.
The lands the Chickasaw controlled in this area served as a strategic land bridge during
the War of 1812, connecting the Cumberland River and Ohio River settlements with the lower
Mississippi Valley and Gulf of Mexico. After the war, the U.S. government wanted to open it to
white settlement.
The Chickasaw’s main, and last, federal land cession occurred in 1818. In it, the tribe
sold their land to the United States for $20,000 a year for 15 years and extinguished their claim
to all land north of the southern boundary of Tennessee. Levi and George Colbert, Chinnubby,
and Tishomingo were among the Chickasaw chiefs, headmen, and warriors who signed; Andrew
Jackson and Isaac Shelby signed for the United States. This land cession was the last of an
extended series of actions by the federal government to open lands east of the Mississippi River
to white settlement. It extended the borders of the Commonwealth of Kentucky west to the
Mississippi River and encompassed approximately 2,000 square miles. Today, Kentuckians
refer to this area as the Jackson Purchase Region.
In March 1819, only a few months after the Chickasaw ceded their land, Congress
created the Civilization Fund, which provided an annual appropriation of $10,000 to “civilize”
native peoples living in the United States under its auspices. Richard M. Johnson, a U.S.
Congressman from Kentucky (who was rumored to be the man who killed Tecumseh and who
later would become U.S. Vice President under Martin Van Buren), used his political connections
to secure funding for an Indian school on his Scott County farm in central Kentucky. Known
simply as “Johnson’s Indian School,” it was operated by the Kentucky Baptist Society for
Propagating the Gospel Among the Heathen, of which Johnson was a member. Eight Indians
from Missouri, both adults and children, were its first students. The school closed in 1821 due to
a lack of funding.
Events outside Kentucky impacted people of native descent who resided in the new,
larger, Commonwealth of Kentucky. Given the violent encounters between Indians and
Europeans during the preceding decades and the resentment that remained, it is unlikely that they