Archaeology: A Native History of Kentucky
As currently understood, American Indian history in Kentucky is over eleven thousand years long. Events that took place before recorded history are lost to time. With the advent of recorded history, some events played out on an international stage, as in the mid-1700s during the war between the French and English for control of the Ohio Valley region. Others took place on a national stage, as during the Removal years of the early 1800s, or during the events surrounding the looting and grave desecration at Slack Farm in Union County in the late 1980s.
Over these millennia, a variety of American Indian groups have contributed their stories to Kentucky’s historical narrative. Some names are familiar ones; others are not. Some groups have deep historical roots in the state; others are relative newcomers. All have contributed and are contributing to Kentucky’s American Indian history.
The bulk of Kentucky’s American Indian history is written within the Commonwealth’s rich archaeological record: thousands of camps, villages, and town sites; caves and rockshelters; and earthen and stone mounds and geometric earthworks. After the mid-eighteenth century arrival of Europeans in the state, part of Kentucky’s American Indian history can be found in the newcomers’ journals, diaries, letters, and maps, although the native voices are more difficult to hear. Later history is recorded in newspapers, books, histories, and encyclopedias. It also is found in the oral traditions, spiritual beliefs, art, music, and cultural events native peoples have passed down through generations.
From this complex mix of sources, an American Indian history emerges that reflects cultural, religious, and ethnic diversity; chronicles challenges, triumphs, and losses; and paints a picture of human endurance. It can be considered in five broad periods: First Peoples (9,500 BCE – CE 1539), Foreign Influences (1539-1730), Intersection of Two Worlds (1730-1825), Removal and Its Aftermath (1825-1980), and Greater Visibility and Action (1980-PRESENT).