Farthest North for Kentucky

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Boone County Nestles in the “Horseshoe Bend” of the Ohio River

The northern tip of Boone county is nearer the North Pole than any other point in Kentucky. It is sixty miles farther north than Louisville and 170 miles distant from the Tennessee border. With its two sister counties, Kenton and Campbell, Boone occupies the interior of that horseshoe bend in the Ohio river that begins at the Bracken-Pendleton line and extends to Gallatin. This vagary of the Ohio has resulted in giving Kentucky about 600 square miles of territory that otherwise should have gone to Ohio and Indiana.

Boone is nearly twice as large as either Kenton or Campbell, and lacks fifty-seven miles of being as large as both together. Kenton and Campbell, on the other hand, have approximately fifteen times as many inhabitants as Boone. Kenton has 73,453, Campbell has 61,868, while Boone has only 9,572. This is explained by the fact that the northern edges of Kenton and Campbell are opposite Cincinnati and within a metropolitan area. Boone is just too far west to possess such teeming centers as Covington and Newport. Some day, perhaps, as the Cincinnati area expands, Boone’s Ohio shore will be cut into suburban home sections from which thousands will commute toward the mouth of the Licking.

At present Boone county’s largest town is Walton in the southern end of the county with a population of 642. Burlington, the county seat, has only 198. It may be deduced, therefore, that Boone is almost exclusively engaged in agriculture, and that deduction would be correct. Tobacco, 3,500,000 pounds of it, corn, beef cattle, sheep and hogs form the great bulk of the county’s production. Incidentally Boone county is the only life-size place in Kentucky which has been named for the great pioneer. (Daniel Boone’s death did not occur until 1820, twenty-two years after his namesake was formed.)

There is a Booneville in Owsley county, a Boone in Madison, a Boone in Rockcastle, Boone Camp in Johnson, and, of course, Boonesboro in Madison; but most of these are infinitesimal villages. Booneville, county seat of Owsley, is largest of all with 243 inhabitants. When Daniel and Christopher Columbus fore-gather on the deck of the Houseboat on the Styx, Christopher probably airs his grievance against those who named the land he discovered after Vespucci, while Daniel consoles himself that at least the name of a Kentucky county commemorates his labors.

While Boone is not a very exciting county, being concerned largely with the price of tobacco and the market quotations on beeves and hogs, it has within its borders many interesting sights. Under the town of Petersburg, for instance, is an aboriginal burying ground, from which have been excavated curious pieces of earthenware and stone utensils, probably placed with the bodies to insure them of being able to prepare their meals in the Happy Hunting Ground. Near Petersburg is the site of an ancient fortification, although who it defended and who it repulsed will never be known.

Big Bone Lick

Of even more interest is Big Bone Lick. This is found about twelve miles south of Burlington and a mile and a half east of Hamilton, a town on the Ohio. This for many years was a source of salt for both Indians and whites. As late as 1812 it was employed by the latter as a means of obtaining the essential article of diet. Later it became a popular watering place. But aeons before either Indians or whites set foot upon the ground, Big Bone Lick was the gathering place for prehistoric animals. Here they “salted up,” feasted and loved and fought and died. There is no doubt of it. Except for the wholesale carnage, the habits of animals and men regarding mineral springs are remarkably the same.

“The lick,” says Collins in his admirable account of the discoveries there, “is situated in a valley which contains about one hundred acres, through which flows Big Bone creek. There are two principal springs, one of which is almost on the northern margin of the creek; the other is south of the creek, and at the base of the hills which bound the valley. There is a third spring of smaller size some considerable distance north of the creek, which flows from a well sunk many years ago, when salt was manufactured at this lick.

“The valley is fertile, and surrounded by irregular hills of unequal elevation, the highest being on the west, and attaining an altitude of five hundred feet. The back water from the river, at times, ascends the creek as far as the lick, which, by the course of the stream, is more than three miles from its mouth. At a very early day the surrounding forest had no undergrowth, the ground being covered with a smooth, grassy turf, and the lick spread over an area of about ten acres.

“The surface of the ground within this area was generally depressed three or four feet below the level of the surrounding valley. This depression was probably occasioned by the stamping of the countless number of wild animals, drawn thither by the salt contained in the water and impregnating the ground, as by their licking the earth to procure salt. There is no authentic account of this lick having been visited by white men before 1739.

Visited By Douglass

“In the year 1773, James Douglass, of Virginia, visited it, and found the ten acres constituting the lick bare of trees and herbage of every kind, and large numbers of the bones of the mastodon or mammoth, and the arctic elephant, scattered upon the surface of the ground. The last of these bones which thus lay upon the surface of the earth were removed more than sixty years ago, but since that time a considerable number have been exhumed from beneath the soil, which business has been prosecuted as zealously by some, as others are wont to dig for hidden treasures. Some of the teeth of these huge animals would weigh near ten pounds, and the surface on which the food was chewed was about seven inches long and four or five broad.

“A correspondent informs us that he had seen dug up in one mass several tusks and ribs, and thigh bones, and one skull, besides many other bones. Two of these tusks, which belonged to different animals, were about eleven feet in length, and at the largest end six or seven inches in diameter; two others were seven or eight feet long. The thigh bones were four or five feet in length, and a straight line drawn from one end of some of the ribs to the other would be five feet; the ribs were between three and four inches broad.

Used Ribs for Tent Poles

“These dimensions correspond with what Mr. Douglass has said of the ribs, which he used for tent poles when he visited the lick in 1773. Our correspondent thinks that the skull above mentioned certainly belonged to a young animal, and yet the distance across the forehead and between the eyes was two feet, and the sockets of the tusks eighteen inches deep. The tusks which have been stated to be seven or eight feet long exactly fitted these sockets.

“This lick is the only place in which these gigantic remains have been found in such large quantities, and deserves to be called the graveyard of the mammoth. The first collection of these fossil remains was made by Dr. Goforth in 1803, and in 1806 was intrusted by him to the English traveler, Thomas Ashe (the slanderer of our country) to be exhibited in Europe, who, when he arrived in England, sold the collection and pocketed the money.

“The purchaser afterward transferred parts of this collection to the Royal College of Surgeons in London, to Dr. Blake, of Dublin, and Professor Monroe, of Edinburgh, and a part was sold at auction. The next collection was made by order of Mr. Jefferson, while he was president of the American Philosophical Society, about the year 1805, and was divided between that society and M. Cuvier, the distinguished French naturalist. A third collection was made in 1819 by the Western Museum Society. In the year 1831 a fourth collection was made by Mr. Finnell. This was first sold to a Mr. Graves for $2,000 and taken by him to the Eastern States, and there sold for $5,000. In 1840 Mr. Cooper, of New York, estimated that the bones of a hundred mastodons, and of twenty

Big Bone Lick is said to have been the scene of the first visit by white man to Kentucky, at any point above the Wabash. A Frenchman, Longueil, is supposed to have discovered it is 1739 while descending the Ohio on his way from Canada. In 1756 a party of Indians took Mrs. Mary Ingles, a captive, to Big Bone and kept her there while they made salt. Mrs. Ingles was the first white woman ever to have set foot on the soil of Kentucky, and that was done unwillingly, for she had been kidnapped from her home in Old Virginia. Her maiden name was Draper. The story of Mrs. Ingles’ capture, her escape and the thrilling adventures which followed her before she could find her way back home constitutes one of the most colorful chapters of Kentucky frontier life.

Boone county’s 153,618 acres are valued at an average of $63.63 for purposes of taxation. Total value of land, timber and improvements if $9,774,545. Total value all property $14,547,737. State tax paid 1921 $53,661.99. Boone county was created in 1798, out of part of Campbell, and is Kentucky’s thirtieth county.


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by Ralph Coghlan, Louisville Post, February 23, 1923