The following article by Charles Hartley originally appeared in The Courier-Journal on 27 Jul 2014. It is archived here with additional information for your reading enjoyment.
Poor Adam Cahill. More than a hundred years ago, J. W. Croan wrote that Cahill was so ugly the Indians wouldn't take his scalp, and that's the nicest thing I can find that anyone said about him.
Truthfully, there is very little said about this Adam Cahill anywhere. In 1936, Hewitt Taylor wrote an article about Shepherdsville for The Louisville Herald, and mentioned that Cahill was one of a group of men who arrived in the Bullitt's Lick area in 1775, so it is likely that he worked in the early saltworks there. Beyond that, we have Croan's description and a mention in Collins' History of Kentucky. Plus we have a pretty little knob that bears his name standing watch over the former saltworks site.
Writing for The Bullitt Pioneer newspaper in 1897, Croan described Cahill as a wood hauler for the fires that kept the kettles of salt water boiling. It hadn't taken long for the trees close by the salt wells to be chopped down for fuel, and in the early days men with axes would venture to the closest forest for more. In this case, it was the hillside of the nearby knob. Apparently Cahill was part of the "grunt labor" paid to haul the wood down the hillside.
According to Croan, a band of Indians managed to creep around the hillside and capture Cahill, likely on his last trip up the hill, after the wood cutters had quit for the day. It seems that, again according to Croan, the Indians used withes, which are flexible twigs like willows, to lash Cahill to a tree where they proceeded to torment him, and as Croan put it, he was "whipped nearly to death." Perhaps they gagged him to prevent him from crying out for help; Croan doesn't say.
Still following Croan's tale, we learn that the Indians left Cahill for dead, but that friends from the saltworks found him still alive and rescued him. Croan explains that this is how the knob got its name.
Well, that's one version of what happened to Cahill, but in his first edition of Kentucky History, published in 1848, Lewis Collins stated that Indians "whipped to death an old man" on that knob. Then thirty years later Collin's son Richard republished his father's work with additions, and included the contents of a letter in which an unnamed correspondent described his version of how the knob got its name. It goes like this:
"If I could have taken the time, I might have given you many other interesting particulars of the early times about Bullitt's Lick - when the fires of an hundred salt furnaces gleamed through the forest, and the Wyandot sat on Cahill's knob and looked down on five hundred men on the plain below.
"I have sat in the fork of the chestnut-oak to which Cahill was bound by the Indians, while they procured his funeral pyre out of the dead limbs of the pitch-pine that grows on the mountain's side - (they intended to burn him in sight of Bullitt's Lick). Some oxen had been turned out to graze, and were straggling up the hill side. The Indians heard the cracking of the brush, and supposing it to be their enemies (the whites) coming in search of their lost companion, darted into the thicket on the opposite side of the hill.
"Cahill improved their temporary absence, slipped his bonds, and escaped in the darkness, and in a half hour arrived safe at the licks. A company was immediately raised, and made pursuit. They followed the trail of about twenty Indians to the bank of the Ohio river, and saw the Indians crossing on dead timber they had rolled into the river. Some shots were exchanged, but no damage was known to be done on either side."
So there you have it, Cahill was either whipped nearly to death, but was too ugly to be scalped; or he was set to be burned alive, but was rescued by munching oxen. Or perhaps there is more to the story than we will ever know. At any rate, the next time you pass by the Bullitt Lick Baptist Church, look up behind it at the lonely knob and remember poor Adam Cahill.
Copyright 2014 by Charles Hartley, Shepherdsville KY. All rights are reserved. No part of the content of this page may be included in any format in any place without the written permission of the copyright holder.