Sunday, February 17, 2013

Eskippakithiki-Eden of the West

   by Kiowa Scott Muncie


 This is not your usual post concerning Swift, his mines or even his hidden silver, but better yet, about a treasure we all seem at some point take for granted. A certain tract of land here in Kentucky was called the Eden of the West by pioneers passing their stories around campfires describing the magnificent meadow lands of the Indians and the Blue Licks. It truly must have been a hunter's dream if one could brave both the Natives and hardships of the trip across the mountains. What an experience it must have been to explore and hunt the vast unknown wilderness. The history surrounding the old Shawnee village has always peaked my curiosity though I personally do not believe the area is related to the Swift legend. I do believe, however, more attention should be given to this area by state and local archaeological organizations. Doing so would help secure and preserve the history associated to this unique place. This is, after all, the place Kentucky gets is name from.

    Many Indians had their own interpretation of the word Kentucky. The Wyandotte who traveled the Warriors Path called the area "Ken-ten-tah-teh" meaning "land of tomorrow." The Delaware called it a place "among the meadows." The Shawnee who actually claimed the area and lived here called it "Eskippakithiki" meaning the "place of blue licks." This described the many salt licks that were found in the area. I believe this to be one of the main reasons the Shawnee settled here.  The springs sought out and much prized by the Shawnee. One spring named Oil Springs was believed to have healing and medicinal waters. These springs were used by the natives long before Columbus arrived and here within acre are located five mineral springs. It is said that these springs  produce different kinds of mineral waters in claimed to be the only place in the world where this kind of geological condition occurs. Nowadays people seem to easily mistake the name Kentucky to mean "the dark and bloody ground."  This can be attributed to the writings of Kentucky's first author and historian, John Filson. Filson mentions in this book that the place was known to all Indians by that term. Filson also informs the reader that this spot became an object of contention from which it was often called the bloody ground. The area Filson is referring to  may have well been the meadow lands at Eskippakithiki or now commonly referred to as Indian Old Fields.
    Cherokee chief Dragging Canoe told early pioneers at a council meeting at Sycamore Shoals in March of 1775 that a dark cloud hung over the land.The chief explained that there would be great opposition from the northern tribes. Another chief at this same counsel explained that the land they desired was a bloody country going back through the age-old disputes between different warring tribes that claimed hunting rights in the fame rich Red River valley.
    Eskippakithiki (pronounced S-kip-pa-key-tah-key) was located along the well-traveled ancient Indian road known to them as the "Athawominee" or path of the armed ones. In later years up to this day the trail was more commonly called the Warriors Path. The trail crosses the Ohio River near present day Maysville and continued south across the Licking River near Blue Licks. Eventually the trail passes by and through the levels around Eskippakithiki. According to early records the trail divided into two separate paths, one led to the Red River and the other continued south toward the Kentucky River at Irvine. Eventually the Warriors Path passed through the Cumberland Gap.
    The French had established a trading post at the Eskippakithiki site during the time the French claimed all lands west of the Blue Ridge mountains. Reports claim the trading center occupied a space of 200 yards in length by 180 yards wide.The entire trade center was surrounded by a stockade with gates at both ends. In the middle of the trade center stood a large post where criminals and captives were put to death. The Shawnee village houses were scatted and located northward for perhaps a mile to where present day Kidville is located. The Shawnee welcomed trade from both the French and English but would not permit any settlement on their hunting grounds. 
    In 1750 Christopher Gist passed through the village area on his way exploring Kentucky. In my Swift research it seems likely John Swift could have been linked to trade with the Shawnee around 1752-53. If that were the case then Swift would have certainly known of Eskippakithiki. Another famous pioneer/trader the Shawnee welcomed was John Finley. In the early fall 1752 Finley was met by the Shawnee on the Ohio River near Big Bone Lick. They invited him to come trade at their village. By canoe they traveled from the Ohio up the Kentucky River to upper Howard's Creek, then a small path overland to the village. Here Finley built a cabin and a store. He surrounded the store with an entrenchment of palisades for additional protection. 
    From my research I have come to believe that Finley most likely built his cabin and store away from the main trading center on the banks of upper Howard's Creek just below the scarp. During the winter of 1753 a large party of Iroquois and a few Frenchmen traveled down the Warrior's Path on what was commonly known as a war party. Three of Finley's friends who were at the village at the time of the attack were killed. Finley's property was plundered and destroyed. All of his valuable pelts and furs were taken. He fled back to Virginia. This battle fought at Eskippakithiki in 1753 marks the first battle on Kentucky soil between Indians and whites and is said to be the first battle of the French and Indian War.
    Another state treasure is a peculiar landmark that is associated with Eskippakithiki is Pilot Knob named by Daniel Boone to help pilot land grants during the early years of Kentucky settlement. Pilot Knob is a sandstone outcrop that towers nearly 1500 feet above the surrounding country overlooking the area of the old Shawnee village as well as the Warrior's Path. This landmark was called the pigeon roost by the Shawnee and viewed as a pleasant backdrop to the flat meadows against the foothills of Appalachia. I sometimes get lost in thought of what magic Boone must have felt standing on the same overlook taking in the same view that has always renders one breathless.  It was here that history records Boone standing and describing the breath taking view in great detail. John Filson quotes Boone as saying "we found ourselves on the Red River where John Finley had formerly been trading with the Indians and from the top of an eminence, saw with great pleasure the beautiful level of Kentucke,for here let me observe, that for some time we had experienced the most uncomfortable weather as a rehabilitation of our future sufferings, at this place we camped and made shelter to defend us from the harsh season and began to hunt and reconcile the country."  This camp Boone mentions can be found on the trail going up to the overlook. It's located on the uppermost knoll of the backside of the mountain, anyone who hikes up pretty well walks right through were Boon's camp was located. 
    The following day after reaching the knob Boone explored the area of the old Shawnee village finding that the trade center had been abandoned and burned to the ground. In the years since Boon's trip settlement has changed the area to a degree. The land has basically been combed over and over again by historians. 
    Resources have been found useful from the area of Pilot Knob.  Millstones played an important role in the lives of early settlers. A millstone quarry can be found along the mountain of Pilot Knob. A branch of the overlook trail leads to this old millstone quarry. Millstones are made from cutting conglomerate sandstones into circular form for use in the grinding of grains to make flour and various meal. Another important resource was timber. In the mid to late 1800's timber was a big industry in the red river valley. Clay City was home to the largest sawmill in the world at that time. Many of the trees from the Pilot Knob area were processed through the mill destroying the virgin woodlands of frontier Kentucky.
    Located on a ridge named Rotten Point just behind Pilot Knob stood an old lookout tower used in searching for smoke from wildfires. All that is left today of the old lookout tower is the concrete foundation. Two huge radio towers stand there today. 
    Although I do not believe these areas tie into the Swift legend one can hardly avoid studying the history of these places while researching the area. The history of this area is beautiful, colorful and fulfilling. I would encourage anyone who loves to hike to visit these enchanting places. Thanks for reading.




*This article was written by Kiowa Scott Muncie. Kiowa is an avid Swift treasure researcher and hunter. He has contributed articles to this blog before and offers a unique perspective to some of the places that we take for granted. Though we have covered Eskippakithiki before in this blog, Kiowa offers a more in-depth and personal conjecture on the subject. 

    

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