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The Delaware Indians called them the “Allegewa”and there is evidence of their presence in Owen County long ago. The remains of a stone tower, believed to have been built by these people, is perched atop a steep incline along Severn Creek.
From its lofty height a great stretch of the Kentucky River along with the adjoining bottom lands can be seen.
Not far from the tower an area encompassed by stone walls give credence to the stories of early stone forts constructed along the Mississippi, Ohio and Kentucky rivers by some of the ancient peoples who first settled America. Downhill from this stone fort is the remnants of two stone walls traveling a great distance and perhaps built to slow the progress of enemy attacks.
In a News-Herald article from the 1950s Charles Johnson described what happened to this mysterious tribe of people.
“These people were permanent residents, choosing as their village sites places easily defended against attack, always with natural barriers. Most often these were reinforced with stone wall. On a path leading to one of these villages was a stone axe set blade up in the ground which was a warning that trespassers were not welcome. The penalty to the one who ignored this warning was doubtless drastic.
The Delaware state that in a war that lasted many years between the Allegewa and a confederation of the Indian tribes, a war in which no quarter was granted to anyone on either side, the Allegewa were almost destroyed. Strange to say, some of the stories about the Allegewa describe them as a tribe of white people.”
The Allegewa were not the only early arrivals in what we know today as Owen County. In the 1830s during the construction of the first five locks and dams on the Kentucky River the report of an engineer described excavating the bones of pre-historic animals 30 feet underground and 50 feet from the water’s edge. The teeth of some of these animals weighed 8 pounds and many of their ribs measured 11 feet in length. In the early 1900s bones of a mammoth were uncovered in the bank near the mouth of Twin Creek, and in 1915, while clearing ground for a rock quarry on the river above Gratz, Army engineers discovered an animal tooth of immense size.
Early trails in the county followed ridges, but then would gradually wind down to the refreshing waters of the numerous creeks in the area. The Kentucky River was a barrier and the main crossings were at shallows. The buffalo were excellent swimmers, however, and they crossed wherever it suited their fancy.
An early traveler on the Kentucky whose party was making a journey down the river wrote in his diary that one night a buffalo jumped from a high bank and landed in the canoes. He ended his account with this sad commentary, “We are destitute of flour and salt because of this accident.”
One of these main traces, just below the mouth of Severn Creek, was known as Buffalo Crossing. Going through a gap in the hills it followed the lowland to Gratz, where a salt spring was located on Lowdenback, or Hog Through Branch. It wound on up Clay Lick and passed the sulphur spring near its mouth. This was perhaps the largest of these old Owen County roads and had numerous smaller trails branching from it.
According to Charlie Johnson, “Another crossing near Lead Mine Landing led up the long point from the river. The right fork of this road passed near the Andrew Witt home over into Clay Lick. The left fork followed a bench around the hill above Mussel Shoals, through the gap in the hill know as ‘The Narrows’ and down to Mill and the Twin Creeks.”
In the 1700s, Gen. George Rogers Clark led an expedition against the Ohio Indians and the route he took was known as “Clark’s War Road.”
This trail from Drennon to Big Bone entered Owen County nearly opposite the mouth of the Henry County creek, Cane Run, and crossed the hills to Eagle Creek near the mouth of Buck Run. The trail led through Big Bone to the mouth of the Licking River.
Though the names of many of these traces and roads have either vanished or taken on a new appellation several are mentioned in early records of Owen county. Steel’s Road was the main north and south route through the county and followed somewhat the same path as the present north and south road through Owenton. Names of other early roads included Porter’s Bark Road, Bell’s Trace, Bear Wollow Road, Cobb’s Station Road, John Glass’s to Herndon’s Mill, Williamsburg-New Liberty Road and Williamsburg-Frankfort Pike.
Early peoples and ancient animals both left indelible marks upon the landscape of Owen County. While their stories may still be shrouded in the mists of the past, their history remains as a intriguing mystery yet to be solved.
The historical society programs for 2014 will include those presented by Larry Ayres, John Harrod, Rebekka Siegel, Brian Forsee and James Alexander Thom.
Our History Day/Kentucky River Day will be held at the museum in June and the historical society and library are joining to present programs in the Kentucky History Room twice a month. “Black Cats and Spit In Your Hat: Kentucky Superstitions and Old Wives Tales” will be presented from noon-1 p.m., Saturday, Jan. 4 and again from noon-1 p.m., Tuesday, Jan. 14 at the same time.
The Owen County Historical Society would like to thank everyone for their support throughout 2013 and send our wishes to all for a blessed New Year.