Before the white men came to Kentucky, the territory in the great bend of the Ohio River from the mouth of Otter Creek to the mouth of Sinking Creek was a veritable hunters’ paradise. Heavily wooded broken ground along the streams, dense forests on the knobs and thick timber in the groves furnished shelter for the abundant game. Thousands of acres of land bare of trees but covered with grasses and native clovers furnished grazing in summer for large herds of deer, elk and bison. Dense canebrakes provided abundant forage in winter Elk Grove, Doe Run, Elk Wallow, Sulphur Lick, Lap Land, Buck Run, Buck Grove, Bear Wallow, Turkey Heaven, Wolf Creek, Bee Knob, Hogback Grove, Big Clay Lick and Otter Creek were named by the early hunters.
Indian Hill, Jennie’s Knob, Bulger’s Grove, Indian Grove, Hill Grove, Jackey’s Grove and Flippen’s’ Run bear the names of the early hunters. Well-watered, fertile soil grew food for an unbelievable number of game. Each year the Indians would burn the dry grasses on the barrens.
In the groves and oil the knobs bear, wolves and wildcats remained after other big game had disappeared. Pioneers had many thrilling experiences with these wild animals. Often women would keep the wolves away from the sheep by throwing firebrands at them. Occasionally wildcats would come to the cabins at night. On these occasions women would burn handfuls of feathers in the open fireplace to make a thick acrid smoke, which kept the wildcats from coming down the low chimneys.
Deer runs and buffalo roads crossed the barrens in every direction. These served the pioneers as roads for many years. From the mouth of Salt River to Wolf Creek during the Indian troubles scouts patrolled the buffalo roads along the river. South of the barrens on the knobs the settlers in Severn’s Valley had several outposts for observation and defense. Also the settlers used a road from Hardin’s Settlement to Corydon, Indiana Territory, which crossed the river at King’s Landing.
After the first settlements buffaloes began to disappear. In the ‘early years of the last century a band of hunters followed a buffalo that swam the river at Big Bend. It was killed on Mill Creek in Hardin County. In 1847 a tame buffalo cow was found with a drove of cattle in the barrens.
Elk and deer remained much longer than the buffalo. Old settlers used to relate stories of great herds of deer, which frequented the thickets of hazelnuts in the swales on the barrens. In an old account book belonging to Hayden and Atwill, October 12, 1821, this item appears:
“There are in the hands of Benjamin Doorn several hundred deer skins to tan and sell for us. The one-half of what they amount to is for each of us.”
General Benjamin Shacklett, an early settler in the Hill Grove, leaves the following account of the great numbers of deer.
“As to deer we thought no more of going out to kill one, when wanting one, than we did of going out to wring the neck off a chicken.”
Hoard Withers was fond of telling about the abundance of game, especially of deer. He said, “No one planted more than three acres of ground because we didn’t need any more.”
The settlers had to guard their corn while in roasting ear to keep the deer from destroying the ears. General Shacklett often told of seeing deer tracks in patches of corn in the Hill Grove as thick as ever he had seen the tracks of hogs in a hog lot. In certain weather the deer would assemble in the Hill Grove in numbers that now seem incredible. Early settlers did not hunt them because powder and lead were too expensive. In the falls when there were heavy beech masts wild turkeys would get so fat that if they fell a great distance after being shot their breasts would burst upon striking the ground.
General Blancet Shacklett was a great bear hunter. His wife, Rachel Ashcraft Shacklett, was fond of telling about their finding a bear and her two cubs in a cave. General Shacklett persuaded his wife to hold a torch for him while he shot the bears. He assured her that she was in no danger as bears would always shun the light and squeeze themselves into the smallest places “Without,” she said, “they were wounded. And I depended on the old man to kill them and not let them kill me.”
In later years the old general’s fondness for bear was the cause of a painful accident to his little daughter, Sophia. He had captured a cub, which he kept chained to a post in the yard. After the bear was full-grown it broke loose one day and raided the springhouse. After causing much damage the bear returned to the yard. Sophia was playing about the house. The bear attacked the little girl. Nearly all the skin was torn from her head and she received other painful injuries before her father killed the bran. The child suffered for many weeks but she finally recovered. In later life she and her husband, William Saunders, lived near Brandenburg.
Small game was abundant. Squirrels in companies, troops and regiments abounded in the timber. On one occasion in the fall an early resident of Meade County said that he and other boys killed scores of red squirrels under the large beeches near his father’s cabin with no weapons other than stout beech cudgels.
When the pioneers came, great flocks of large white swans could be seen every spring and fall. Wild geese and ducks abounded on every watercourse. Songbirds were without number. Passenger pigeons came in great flocks. They would bend young timber to the ground with their great weight. Strong branches of great poplars in the bottoms would be broken by the passenger pigeons that have long since vanished from the earth.
In speaking of General Benjamin Shacklett the Honorable William G. Beall says:
“I remember seeing him but once, and stayed all night with him in 1832, and questioned him about the state of the country when he first settled it; especially about the abounding of game in the county. Seeing I had hunting on the brain, never having bagged anything larger than a squirrel, being then fresh from the city, .he took pleasure in, gratifying roe with a full detail. The number of deer and quantity of game in the county would almost seem incredible to persons of the present day. Indeed, Hill Grove and vicinity must have been a very paradise of hunters.”