Indians (we will use that generic term since most refer to themselves that way today) were frequently in this area during the early years of settlement and salt making by the pioneers from beyond the eastern mountains.
From early records and journals we know that Indians killed a man and a boy, and took two boys prisoners at the mouth of Floyd's Fork, near Brashear's Station in the Winter of 1779.1 In 1781, a group traveling the Wilderness Road was attacked somewhere in the vicinity of Clear's Station and many were killed.2 Then Colonel John Floyd was ambushed by Indians near Clear's Station on 8 Apr 1783. Also, Walker Daniel, Kentucky's first Attorney General, and George Keightly, a merchant from Ireland, were both killed by Indians in 1784 where the Wilderness Road crosses Brooks Run, near the cabin of Joseph Brooks.3
Shortly after he arrived in the area, Colonel William Christian, the proprietor of Bullitt's Lick, was killed by Indians in 1786.4 Then in May 1788, a party of saltmakers, led by Henry Crist, were making their way up Salt River when they were ambushed by Indians, and at least eight of them were killed.5
In the last recorded battle with Indians in Bullitt County, in 1794, an Indian party raided Severns Valley (Elizabethtown today) on their way to Indiana. A party of men led by Colonel Patrick Brown pursued them and caught up with them where Indian Run flows into the Rolling Fork River, right on the edge of what would become Bullitt County. Most of the Indians were killed.6
Clearly the Indians had a vested interest in this area, and in keeping others out. Yet there is no conclusive evidence that this area held any permanent or even semi-permanent Indian villages at any time following the arrival of Columbus in 1492.
To understand this, we need to briefly look at what we do know about the presence of Indians in this part of America.
Prior to 1492, there were extensive Indian settlements along the Mississippi River and its tributaries, including the Ohio River Valley. The most significant evidence of this is the collection of Indian mounds that may still be found today. From the Cahokia Mounds7 near Collinsville, Illinois (near St. Louis) past the mounds called Angel Mounds8 today which are near Evansville, Indiana, to the mounds built by the Hopewell Culture9 in Ohio we have a clear record of Indian presence in the Ohio River Valley dating back thousands of years.
The mounds were built by cultures that had adopted maize, beans, and squash in place of their earlier, less productive crops of maygrass, little barley, and chenopods. These earlier crops had been mainly a supplement to their hunting and gathering lifestyle. The newer crops, slowly adapted from versions grown in what is now Mexico, provided such a significant portion of their food supply that they were able to settle permanently and embark on projects like the mounds.10
While these new crops provided significant food, the Indians were still hunters and, to a lesser degree, gathers of wild plant foods. Nearly all of their meat protein was obtained by hunting. One valuable source was the bison.11 Because of its unpredictable behavior, and belligerence during breeding season, bison were never domesticated by Indians, requiring that they be hunted.
Maize had a low sodium content which required the Indians to consume small quantities of salt during that part of the year when this was their main food supply. After the maize supply ran low in the autumn, the Indians relied more on their hunting skills. The meat they obtained this way provided the salt they needed.12
The large Indian populations that existed in villages up and down the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers at the time of Columbus, and were described in journals kept by members of Hernando de Soto's expedition in 1539-1543, had largely disappeared by the time pioneers crossed the mountains into Kentucky. They had been decimated by European diseases like smallpox and measles, so called "crowd diseases" because they spread best in places where people are brought in close contact such as villages.
These diseases had been prevalent in Europe for centuries. They first developed in animals that lived in herds, such as cattle and pigs, animals that were domesticated in the Old World but were missing from the New World until brought here by Europeans. They mutated into forms that attacked humans, but to a degree Europeans had developed a resistance to them. Indians had no immunity and these diseases swept through villages, killing large numbers of Indians and causing others to flee and carry the germs to still more places.13
Between 1669-1682 a Frenchman, Robert de LaSalle, explored the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers. While he found Indians along each river, the large villages that had supported mound-building were gone. The maize fields had mostly disappeared, and most Indians had returned to a hunting-gathering lifestyle.
While Indians had almost certainly come to this area for the available salt during the time before Columbus, by the time pioneers crossed the mountains into Kentucky it is likely that they valued the area for the wildlife, particular the bison, that congregated here.
Numerous projectile points have been found in Bullitt County included a group found on a ridge top above Floyd's Fork, suggesting that Indians may have used the spot for a campsite.14 These are examples of a variety of artifacts that have been found in the county.
The presence of such artifacts as well as the fierceness with which the Indians fought to drive the pioneers from this area are clear indications that the Indians valued it.
1 Bullitt's Lick: The Related Saltworks and Settlements by Robert E. McDowell. [link]
2 The Westerfield Massacre [link]
3 The Wilderness Road in Jefferson County by Robert E. McDowell [link]
4 Bullitt's Lick: The Related Saltworks and Settlements by Robert E. McDowell. [link]
5 Henry Crist web page [link]
6 The Last Indian Fight in Bullitt by J. R. Zimmerman. [link]
7 Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site web page [link]
8 Angel Mounds State Historic Site web page [link]
9 Hopewell Culture - National Park Service web page [link]
10 Ancient Gardening in South Carolina web site [link]
11 American Bison - Wind Cave National Park web site [link]
12 American Indian Food by Linda Murray Berzok; published by Greenwood Publishing Group, 2005; see pages 189-190.
13 For reference see Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond, and 1491: New Revelations of the America's Before Columbus by Charles C. Mann.
14 Projectile Points web page [link]
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