Native Americans of Christian County

The Indians beheld, with alarm, the growing strength and increasing numbers of the Anglo-Saxons on the Atlantic border. King Philip well understood the nature of things and the ultimate result, when he struck the blow which he hoped would forever crush the power of the whites. Pontiac foresaw the coming storm when he beheld the French flag and French supremacy stricken down on the Plains of Abraham. To the assembled chiefs of the nations in council, he unfolded his schemes of opposition and depicted the disasters which would attend the coming rush of the pale-faced invaders. Fifty years after the defeat of Pontiac, Tecumseh organized the tribes of the West for a desperate effort to hold their own against the advancing tide of civilization. He fell a martyr to his cause, and his attempt to check the ” star of empire ” was a failure. The next great effort in the red man’s ” irrepressible conflict,” was when the southern tribes arrayed themselves under the leadership of Tuscaloosa, and challenged their white foes to mortal combat. It required the genius of a Jackson, and soldiers worthy of such a chief, to avert a direful calamity, and the victories of Talladega, Emuckfau and Tohopeka, tell the story of this, the last grand attempt of the Indians to exterminate the whites. Since the battle of Tohopeka, March 27, 1814, there has been no Indian war of any considerable magnitude, none certainly which threatened the supremacy of the whites upon the continent, or even seriously jeopardized the safety of the States or Territories where they occurred. The Black Hawk war in Illinois, about the last organized effort, required but a few weeks’ service of raw militia to quell. Since then campaigns have dwindled into mere raids, battles into mere skirmishes, and the massacre of Dade’s Command in Florida and Custer’s in Montana were properly regarded as accidents of no permanent importance, except the sad story they carry with them of men cut off in the prime and vigor of life, and a dozen such would not in the least alarm the country.


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Extermination of the Indians

As a race, the Indians are doomed by the inexorable laws of humanity to speedy and everlasting extinguishment. But 200 years ago, the white man lived in America only by the red man’s consent, and less than 100 years ago the combined strength of the red man might have driven the white into the sea. Along our Atlantic coast are still to be seen the remains of the rude fortifications which the early settlers built to protect themselves from the host of enemies around; but to find the need of such protection now, one must go beyond the Mississippi, beyond the Rocky Mountains, to a few widely scattered points in Arizona, New Mexico and Oregon. The enemy that once en-camped in sight of the Atlantic, has retreated almost to the shores of the Pacific, and from that long retreat there can be no returning advance. East of the stream which he called the “Father of Waters,” nothing is left of the Indian except the names he gave and the graves of his dead, with here and there the degraded remnants of a once powerful tribe dragging out a miserable life by the sufferance of their conquerors. Fifty years hence, if not in a much shorter period, he will live only in the pages of history and the brighter immortality of romantic song and story. He will leave nothing behind him but a memory, for he has done nothing and been nothing; he has resisted and will continue to resist every at-tempt to civilize him-every attempt to inject the white man’s ideas into the red man’s brain; he does not want and will not have our manners, our morals or our religion, clinging to his own and perishing with them. The greatest redeeming feature in his career, so far as that career is known to us, is that he has always preferred the worst sort of freedom to the best sort of slavery. Had he consented to become a hewer of wood and drawer of water for the ” superior race,” he might, like our Americanized Africans, be enjoying the blessings of Bible and breeches, sharing the honors of citizenship and the delights of office, seeking and receiving the bids of rival political parties. Whether his choice was a wise one we leave the reader to determine; but it is impossible not to feel some admiration for the indomitable spirit that has never bowed its neck to the yoke, never called any man ” master.” The Indian is a savage, but he never was, never will be a slave.

On this subject of Indian decay and extermination, an eminent writer says: ” If the treatment of the Indian by the Anglo-Saxon had been uniformly, or even generally honest and honorable, the superior race might contemplate the decay and. disappearance of the inferior without remorse, if not without regret. But unfortunately that treatment has been, on the whole, dishonest and dishonorable. He has been deceived, he has been cheated, he has been robbed; and the deception, cheating and robbery has taught him that the red man has no rights which the white man feels bound to respect. We have treated the Indian like a dog, and are surprised that he has developed into a dog and not into a Christian citizen. There is no reason to suppose that the Indian is capable of a high degree of civilization, but that he is what he is, may be largely ascribed to white influence and examples, and to what he has suffered from the whites since the first European landed on American soil. Every spark of genuine manhood has been literally ground out of him by the heel of relentless oppression and outrage; he was always a barbarian, but we have made him a brute; we have made him a nuisance and a curse whose extermination the interests of society imperatively demand and are rapidly accomplishing. The crimes of the Indian have been blazoned in a hundred histories; his wrongs are written only in the records of that court of final appeal, before which oppressors and oppressed must stand for judgment.” This is all true. We have robbed and cheated the Indian, and then chastised him for resenting it. In a speech in New York City, not long before his death, Gen. Sam Houston, an indisputable authority in such matters, declared with solemn emphasis that there never was an Indian war in which the white man was not the aggressor.” The facts sustain an assertion which carries its own comment.

But few people, however, and particularly the pioneers of the country, will agree with any defense, be it ever so feeble, of the Indian. Their hatred of him, often on general principles, is intense, and always was so, and the greatest wrongs have been heaped upon him merely because he was an Indian. When resenting the encroachments of the whites upon his hunting grounds, he has been characterized as a fiend, a savage and a barbarian, whom we might rob, mistreat, and even murder at will. This whole broad land was the Indian’s. How it became his is no business of ours, nor is it material to this subject. It is ours now, and whether we obtained it in a more honorable way thin did the Indians before us, is a question that may be discussed at great length.

The Dark and Bloody Ground

To the Indian, Kan-tuck-ee ” was a land of blood. The very name by which he knew it signifies dark and bloody ground, and the long and hard struggles for its possession by the white and red races, well sustained the crimson title. Some of the most sanguinary battles known in Indian warfare, occurred in Kentucky. The battle of Blue Licks, the siege of old Fort Jefferson (in the present county of Ballard), the struggles around Harrodsburg, Boonesborough, Lexington, Logan’s fort,” and Bryant’s, Ruddell’s and other stations, were severe and bitter, and in more instances than one fatal to the whites. There is no account of Indians ever having lived permanently in Kentucky, indeed their traditions warrant the fact that they did not. Says Dr. Pickett: The old battle fields of Bourbon, Pendleton and Bracken Counties, clearly indicating occurrences beyond the pale of the historic period, confirm in some measure the traditional theory or belief of a protracted struggle for the possession of this border land. Doubtless the familiar appellation of the ‘ Dark and Bloody Ground,’ originated in the gloom and horror with which the Indian imagination naturally invested the traditional scenes and events of that strange and troubled period. * * * * To the Indian, this land was a land of ill repute, and wherever a lodge fire blazed, ‘strange and unholy rumors’ were busy with the name of ‘ Kan-tuck-ee.’ An old Indian expressed to Col. Moore great astonishment that white people could live in a country which had been the scene of such conflicts. An old Sac warrior, whom Col. Joseph Hamilton Daviess met in St. Louis in 1800, gave utterance to similar expressions of surprise. Kentucky, he said, was filled with the ghosts of its slaughtered inhabitants; how could the white man make it his home ?” These superstitions doubtless kept them from ever locating and building villages in the State, as in other portions of the country. They came here to hunt, but the ghosts of the ” unknown people ” deterred them from making it a permanent residence.

When first known to the whites, Kentucky was a favorite hunting-ground of different tribes of Indians. Annually, during the hunting sea-son, the Delawares, Wyandots, Shawnees, and other tribes from beyond the Ohio, and the Catawbas, Cherokees and Creeks from the southern country, came to hunt the deer, elk and buffalo, which, in great numbers roamed the forests, grazed upon the natural pastures and frequented the salt-impregnated springs so common in the State. Their visits were periodical, and, when the hunt ended, they returned with the trophies of the chase to their own towns. But intensely infuriated at the encroachments of the whites, and the formation of settlements in the midst of their old hunting-grounds, expedition after expedition was hurled against them, and every means the savages could devise, aided by renegade white men, was employed to utterly destroy them. From the first exploration of the country by Daniel Boone up to the year 1795 (the time of the treaty at Greenville, Ohio), it was an almost continuous struggle between the Indian and the pale-face for supremacy in Kentucky. But the contest ended as it always had before, and has always ended since, in the defeat of the inferior race. ” The anointed children of education have been too powerful for the tribes of the ignorant.” Their council fires paled in the opening dawn of the nineteenth century, and then went out forever in the dark and bloody ground.

There is no record, or even tradition, of any Indian atrocities or out-rages having been committed within the present limits of Christian County. The nearest approach to it is an incident given in connection with the settlement of Davis and Montgomery. But within the memory of many persons still living, there have been Indians in this county temporarily. A communication, the facts of which are vouched for by many citizens living here, and said to have been written by Hon. James F. Buckner, of Louisville, appeared recently in the Courier-Journal. It is as follows:

“In the fall of 1838, I resided at Hopkinsville, Ky. The Cherokees residing in Georgia, Tennessee and the Carolinas, through their head chiefs, at a place called New Achota, entered into a treaty with the United States Commissioners, by which they ceded to the United States all their lands east of the Mississippi and agreed to move west of that river. This treaty caused much dissatisfaction among the Indians. Many of them were far advanced in civilization and the arts, many were planters and farmers, had slaves and stock of various kinds, schools had been established among them, and churches of various denominations had been organized, and many young men prepared for the ministry at Eastern colleges. There was great dissatisfaction with the treaty. There were not wanting persons who encouraged it. The authority of many of the chiefs who signed the treaty was called in question. It had been ratified by the United States Senate by a close vote after a heated debate. Hostility to the treaty was spreading. The people of the contiguous States were anxious and impatient for the fulfillment of its provisions. Military companies in the States were being organized to execute the treaty by force of arms. President Jackson had issued his proclamation before re-retiring from office, setting forth the treaty and demanding its enforcement. The Indians, 30,000 in number, seemed unwilling to move. The influence of John Ross, the distinguished head chief of the nation, was not sufficient to induce them to assemble at the points designated preparatory to leaving for their new homes in the West. They were unwilling to leave their old homes and the graves of their kindred. At this time, a collision between the State authorities and the Cherokees seemed imminent, but wise counsels prevailed. Gen. Scott, in command of the United States cavalry, was sent into the nations to collect the scattered tribes, to inform them of the conditions of the treaty, the wishes of the Government, and to arrange for their removal. They were divided into detachments of about 1,200 souls, together with their stock, all going by land through Tennessee to Hopkinsville; thence west, crossing the Ohio at Golconda; thence west to the Mississippi. The old and infirm were carried in wagons and on horseback. The able-bodied, with their slaves, of which there were many hundreds, were on foot. Each detachment was controlled by one or more of these chiefs or head men. An occasional detachment of United States dragoons brought up the rear to prevent straggling and to preserve order. Stations were established about fifteen miles apart along the road, where provisions were supplied by con-tractors, where detachments passed about every forty-eight hours. The Indians occupied the camp on the east bank of Little River, where the road from Nashville crossed near Gibson’s Mill, less than one mile from Hopkinsville. The Indians were a source of great curiosity and interest to the citizens. The prominent ones, particularly the ministers and their families, were invited to the houses of citizens. The churches were thrown open to them and nearly every night when a detachment had encamped, services were held in some one of the churches in town.

“At the head of one of these detachments was Fly Smith, an old man, late a member of the Cherokee Council. He was accompanied by Stephen Forman, a Presbyterian Minister, who had been educated at And-over, Mass. On the morning, when the detachment was paraded to start on its journey, it was found that the old chief, Fly Smith, was sick and unable to resume his journey. His friends were compelled to proceed without him. Forman and his wife remained to take care of him. He was very old, broken in spirit and travel-worn; he died on that day. The next detachment came up in charge of Whitepath. His fame had preceded him, and there was great curiosity on the part of the citizens to see him. He was accompanied by Jesse Bushy-head and his family. He was a Baptist Minister, well educated, a celebrated orator, and one of the most influential men in the nation. When the detachment halted at the camping-ground in the grove, the fires lighted, and the provisions issued, many citizens, myself among the number, sought out the tent of Whitepath. We were met by Bushy-head, and told the Chief was ill, and, as he believed, would die. He was old, feeble and much exhausted by travel. Physicians of the town offered to administer to him, but he declined. Kindness offered was of no avail. He had run his course. He died the next morning. He had lately been President of the Cherokee Council, of which Fly Smith was a member. They were buried (He and Fly Smith) in the evening on the east bank of Little River, near the camp in a clump of cedars, and a simple monument placed over each grave. Addresses were delivered in the church by both Bushyhead and Forman to crowded audiences, in which sketches were given of the lives of these distinguished chiefs, with occasional allusions to the history and trials of the Cherokees; and while I have since heard many eloquent funeral sermons, yet none more impressive or eloquent than those spoken by these two Indian ministers over the graves of Fly Smith and Whitepath.”

Many persons, as we have said, remember the circumstance above noted, and many can point out the spot where these noble red men sleep their last, long sleep. It is not very far from the city cemetery, and it is not far out of the way to say that side by side the white and red man sleep, while six feet of earth make them all of one size.”

Maj. John P. Campbell furnished provisions to the Indians at their Hopkinsville camp under Government contract. Money had been struck by the Government for this special purpose, and to prevent any imposition, it had all been made payable to John Ross, the head chief mentioned. It was a considerable undertaking in those days to supply from 1,000 to 1,500 people with provisions at one time, but Maj. Campbell filled his contract to the letter. Many of the Indians were wealthy, and these traveled in their carriages, attended by their servants. At the stopping places, they would take up their quarters at the taverns or at private residences – W. H. Perrin.


Perrin, William Henry, ed., Counties of Christian and Trigg, Kentucky, Historical and Biographical, Chicago : F. A. Battey Publishing Co., 1884.

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