Archaeology: Dispelling the Myth: 17th and 18th Century Indian Life in Kentucky

A. Gwynn Henderson, PhD


Misconceptions about the people who lived in what is now the state of Kentucky before it was settled by Euro-Americans and Afro-Americans take many forms. These incorrect ideas range from the specific (how the native peoples dressed, how their houses appeared, how they made their living, what language they spoke) to the general (the diversity of their way of life, the length of their presence here, their place of origin, their spiritual beliefs, and the organization of their political and economic systems).


The most enduring fallacy about Kentucky’s indigenous inhabitants — the myth of the Dark and Bloody Ground — con cerns how these peoples used the land. This legend would have us believe that Indians never lived permanently anywhere in Ken tucky, but only hunted and fought over it. The myth has been and continues to be perpetuated in children’s books,1 in scholarly books and journals,2 in histories,3 and in magazines.4 It persists despite the continued use of many place names that refer to Indians,5 and despite the fact that no such notion exists for the surrounding “geo graphic constructs” of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, and Tennessee.6 It is a legacy of our pioneer past,7 handed down from generation to generation since the first Euro-American settlement of central Kentucky. Therefore, it seems only fitting, in a volume devoted to Kentucky images, that we reexamine the Dark and Bloody Ground myth. How did it evolve? How can we assess its ultimate validity? What can archaeological and archival research offer concerning Kentucky’s Indian inhabitants, especially those who lived in the Bluegrass and along the Ohio River?


Dispelling the Myth 17th & 18th Century Indian Life in KY