Traces Of The Earliest Inhabitants

IT is an interesting suggestion of the archaeologist, that this land, which on the coming of the whites was too forbidding for the habitation of the Indian, centuries before was the home of a race of beings possessing some approach to civilization. The discovery of footprints upon his deserted island by Robinson Crusoe was not more startling than the discoveries of archaeologists to the followers of Petarius and Usher, who place the operations of creation and the whole evolution of civilization within the narrow limits of a few centuries. But science has multiplied its evidence until there is no room to doubt that these ancient people were a living reality in the indefinite past, and worked out their destinies where the whites pioneered their way a hundred years ago. Time has swallowed up their identity, and loosely characterized by the character of their re-mains, they are known only as Mound-Builders. Their footprints may be traced ” wherever the Mississippi and its tributaries flow, in the fertile valleys of the West, and along the rich savannas of the Gulf, upon the Ohio, the Kentucky, the Cumberland, the Licking; upon the streams of the far South, and as far north as the Genessee and the head waters of the Susquehanna, but rarely upon mountains or sterile tracts, and almost in-variably upon the fertile margins of navigable streams. Within these limits the population of that old American world corresponded almost perfectly in its distribution with that of the new. These ancient citizens enjoyed a wide range of communication. Antiquarian research has gathered from the same mound the mica of the Alleghenies, obsidian from Mexico, native copper from the northern lakes, and shells from the southern Gulf.” The mounds themselves are multitudinous in number, peculiar in structure, and varied in character. They are found scattered throughout the State, aggregating a large number which has never been estimated. The prevailing form of these structures is ellipsoidal or cone-like, many of them are pyramidal and of striking dimensions; they are always truncated, are sometimes terraced, and generally have graded and spiral ascents to the summits. These remains are variously classified according to the ingenuity of the writer, but all furnish abundant evidence of their artificial origin. The simplest classification is that which divides these structures into altar and temple and burial mounds, with others that do not readily fall into a distinct class. The first of this classification are supposed to have been places of sacrifice; are found within or near an enclosure; are stratified, and contain altars of stone, or of burned clay. Temple mounds are high places for ceremonial worship, and show no stratification, no evidence of human burial, no remains of altars, and stand in isolated positions. ” Mounds of sepulture ” are generally found isolated, unstratified in construction, and containing human remains. Other mounds have so little to mark the use to which they were devoted, that they have fallen into a fanciful classification, as mounds of observation, signal mounds, habitation mounds, etc. The temple, or terraced mounds, are said to be more numerous in Kentucky than in the States north of the Ohio River. The striking resemblance which these temple mounds bear to the teocallis of Mexico, has suggested the purposes to which they were devoted, as well as the name by which they are known. Some remarkable works of this class have been found in the counties of Adair, Trigg, Montgomery, Hickman, McCracken, Whitley, Christian, Woodford, Greenup and Mason. There are numerous mounds in Todd County, but to which of these classes they should be assigned it is difficult to determine from the meager accounts to be gained of them. But one or two have been examined, and these with insufficient care. Skeletons of extraordinary size were found, the skulls of which were passed over the head of a large man, and rested easily upon his shoulders. They were certainly not the remains of Indians, and are probably properly referred to the ancient builders of these mounds. Other works in the county are referred to the military structures of this people. The defensive or military character of an ancient work, seems to be indicated by its commanding position, its general strategic advantages, its contiguity to water, its exterior ditch, and its peculiar situation with reference to other works. There seems to have been a complete system of these defenses, extending from the sources of the Allegheny and the Susquehanna to the Wabash, as if designed by a peaceful and prosperous population to afford permanent protection against savage aggressions from the north and east. It has been suggested, however, that a tide of emigration flowing from the south, received its final check upon this line-these defenses marking the limit. Whatever be the correct theory, it seems certain that these defenses were not constructed by a migratory or nomadic people. They are the work of a vast population, well organized and permanently established on an agricultural basis. Within the limits of Kentucky the remains of ancient fortifications are numerous, but principally located in the northern part of the State. What was the final fate of these people is very obscure.

Indian traditions point to the suggestion that the enemy against whom the northern line of defenses were built, were the Aborigines. While these are vague and little trusted by scholars, there are so many independent partial confirmations, that this theory seems to be gaining ground of late. An old Delaware tradition says, that many centuries ago, the Lenni Lenape, a powerful race which swept in a flood of migration from the far West, found a barrier to its onward progress in a mighty civilization which was intrenched in river valleys east of the Mississippi. The people who occupied these fortified seats are traditionally denominated the Allegeni. The two nations thus confronting each other on the banks of the Mississippi, measured the situation with a civilized eye, the Lenni-Lenape diplomatically parleying for the right of passage, and the subtle Allegeni hypocritically affecting to hear. As a result of these negotiations, the Lenni-Lenape were treacherously assailed in an attempted passage, and driven back though not utterly destroyed by their perfidious foe. Ac-cording to this tradition there was a coincident migration of the warlike Iroquois from the far West on a higher line of latitude, and these people sought a passage of the same stream at another point. The Lenni-Lenape recovering from their repulse, formed a league with the Iroquois, and the united force declaring a war of extermination against the Allegeni, reduced their strongholds, desolated their lands, and drove them southward in disastrous retreat.

But this tradition of the Delawares does not stand alone. That the pre-historic inhabitants of Kentucky were at some indeterminate period overwhelmed by a tide of savage invasion from the north, is a point upon which Indian tradition is positive and explicit. It is related upon good authority that Col. James Moore, of Kentucky, was told by an old Indian, that the primitive inhabitants of this State had perished in a war of ex-termination waged against them by the Indians; that the last great battle was fought at the falls of the Ohio, and that the Indians succeeded in driving the Aborigines into a small island below the rapids, where the whole of them were cut to pieces.” This the Indian said was an undoubted fact handed down by tradition, and that the Colonel would have proofs of it under his eyes as soon as the waters of the Ohio became low. When the waters of the river had fallen, an examination of Sandy Island was made, and a multitude of human bones was discovered.” There is a similar confirmation by the Chief Tobacco, in a conversation with Gen. Clarke. It is said that the Indian Chief Cornstalk told substantially the same story to Col. McKee. The Chief said that Ohio and Kentucky had once been settled by a white people who were familiar with arts of which the Indians knew nothing; that these whites, after a series of bloody con-tests with the Indians, had been exterminated; that the old burial places were the graves of an unknown people, and that the old forts had not been built by Indians, but had come down from ” very long ago ” people, who were of a white complexion, and skilled in the arts. In addition to this traditional testimony, various and striking traces of a deadly conflict have been found all along the Ohio border. ” And doubtless,” says Dr. Pickett -from whose article the matter of this topic is largely drawn-” 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.” It is not improbable that the bloodiest battles were fought on the navigable streams, and, judging from the nature of the fortifications in northern Kentucky, this State was the scene of some of the sternest conflicts. Kentucke, in the Indian language meaning ” the river of blood,” was a land of ill repute, and wherever a lodge fire blazed, ” strange and unholy rumors ” were busy with its name. Indians could not fully understand how white people could live in a country where such conflicts had filled the land with the ghosts of its slaughtered inhabitants.


Battle, J. H., W. H. Perrin, Counties of Todd and Christian, Kentucky : historical and biographical, Chicago : F. A. Battey Publishing Co., 1884.

1 thought on “Traces Of The Earliest Inhabitants”

  1. Your reference an article from Dr. Pickett in the last paragraph:
    ” And doubtless,” says Dr. Pickett -from whose article the matter of this topic is largely drawn-”
    Can you send, or post, the article title and where we might find this article?
    Thank you.

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