Articles & Stories

In this 1932 Kentucky Progress Magazine photo can be seen the burial site of those settlers killed in the Battle of Blue Licks. Their bodies were unrecognizable, due to the degree of attrocities committed on them by the Indians.

The Battle Of Blue Licks Could Have Been Averted, But
Ill-Fated Settlers Ignored The Warning Of Daniel Boone

By George W. Stipp - 1827

The Blue Licks, remarkable for the sanguinary battle fought in its vicinity, is situated about 40 miles from Lexington and about 35 miles from Bryan's Station. The Licking, at this place, is about 300 feet wide, at common water, and forms a semi-ellipsis, which embraces on its northeast side, towards Limestone, a great ridge of rocks made bare by the stamping of the buffalo and other game drawn together, from time immemorial, to drink the water and lick the clay. Two deep ravines, heading in the ridge near each other and extending in opposite directions, form the longest diameter of this ellipsis.

This ridge had very little timber on it. What it had was very indifferent and exhibited a very dreary appearance, but the ravines were furnished not only plentifully with timber, but with thick brushwood, also.

Shortly after the Indians left Bryan's Station, the men at Lexington, Harrodsburg, and Boonesborough assembled at that place to the number of 160 and determined to pursue them immediately. On Sunday, August 18, 1782, Col. John Todd of Lexington and Col. Stephen Trigg took the command. These men, well-armed and accoutered, were skillful marksmen and animated with an ardent desire to chastise the insolence of these invaders of their settlements. Col. Boone encouraged the expedition by his presence.

This force was very small, compared with the number of the enemy; but so eager were they in pursuit that they could not be prevailed on to await the arrival of Col. Logan, who was known to be collecting all the force he could at his station to join them.

It requires no strong effort of the imagination to portray the affecting scene produced by the departure of these brave men. The forebodings of the mother, the misgivings of the wife, the sighs of the parents, and the solicitude and tears of conjugal affection strongly marked the feeling of almost every individual.

Every preparation having been made, the army commenced its march on the route the Indians had taken. It had not proceeded more than nine or ten miles before the lynx-eyed Boone discovered certain signs on their route indicating a willingness, on the part of the Indians, that they should be pursued, which was plainly evidenced by their leaving a trail. Notwithstanding, they evidently used every means in their power to conceal their number, for which purpose they marched in single file, treading in each other's footsteps.

After a very fatiguing march, this gallant band reached the southern banks of the Licking River at the lower Blue Licks, without having seen a single Indian. On arrival of the front of the party at the river, they discovered Indians on the ridge, on the opposite side; who, not manifesting any symptoms of fear, retired leisurely over the hills out of their sight.

The monument honoring those killed at the Battle of Blue Licks. (1932 photo courtesy of Kentucky Progress Magazine.)
Upon the discovery, a halt was ordered, and a council of the principal officers was held in order to determine the most prudent course to be pursued. In this critical moment, the age and great experience of Col. Daniel Boone in Indian warfare insensibly attracted the attention of everyone present to solicit his advice at this perilous moment. Col. Todd addressed Col. Boone, as follows:

"Skilled in Indian warfare and familiar with the ground in the vicinity of this place, we require your opinion on the expediency of attacking the enemy in their present position."

Col. Boone replied, "I am of the opinion and, indeed, fully persuaded that the enemy exceeds us in number by at least 300; that their main body is at no great distance and that they are lying in ambush. Their position is equal to a host, should we continue our march and be drawn in between the ravines they occupy.

"I therefore advise that we divide our gallant band; that one half march up the river on this side, crossing over at Elk Creek, to fall upon the upper side of the ravine; whilst the other half take up a position (to co-operate with them) in another quarter. By this means, the greater advantage of their position will be changed effectually in our favor.

"But, gentlemen," continued Boone, "whatever may be your ultimate decision, I caution you against crossing the river at any rate, before spies have reconnoitered the ground."

A deep silence ensued, and the superior officers seemed to acquiesce in the salutary advice of Col. Boone. Major Hugh McGary, remarkable for the impetuosity of his temper, exclaimed, "Delay is dastardly! Let all who are not cowards follow me, and I will show them the Indians."

So saying, he spurred his horse forward into the river.

The rashness of McGary was contagious. He was followed in quick succession by the whole party, who crossed the river in great disorder and confusion, whilst the officers were reluctantly bore along in the tumult.

After crossing the river, no authority was exercised, nor any order observed in the line of march. Everyone rushed forward, tumultuously pursuing the road over bare rocks to the end of the ridge of hills, where a forest of oaks and deep ravines with underwood concealed the enemy from view, who waited in their ambuscade to receive them.

McGary led the army, closely followed by Major Harlin and Capt. William McBride, supported by the men on horseback. Girty, with a chosen party of his tawny host, rushed forth from their covert, and with horrid shrieks and yells, attacked them with great impetuosity.

The ravine where Indians were hidden just before the attack at Blue Licks. (1932 Kentucky Progress Magazine photo.)
The conflict instantly became hot and sanguinary. The advantageous position, occupied by the Indians, enabled them to assail the whole of the whites at the same moment. From the confused manner in which the approach was made, the army soon turned its right wing, and a retreat was the inevitable consequence; that, too, under the immediate edge of the tomahawk. Colonels Todd and Trigg and Major Harlin fell early in the action, whilst many brave officers and men fell near them.

The survivors attempted to gain the river at the ford, some on foot and some on horseback; but the Indians so managed as to prevent the escape of a great part of them by getting between them and the ford and forcing them into the river below, where it could only be crossed by swimming.

As most of the fugitives aimed to gain the ford, the Indians pressed their principal force to that point, where the greatest carnage took place, and where many were tomahawked in the river. It was at this moment that Maj. Benjamin Netherland, now living in Nicholasville, whose personal bravery had been doubted, gave evidence to the contrary by assuming the office of a commander.

He called aloud to his flying companions, as they arrived on the south side of the river, to halt and fire on the enemy. Many obeyed the order, and they, thereby, arrested the pursuit for a few moments; which enabled many, who were almost exhausted, to escape from the hatchets suspended over their devoted heads.

Brave or benevolent actions should never be permitted to pass unnoticed by the historian. It is, therefore, with pleasure that this opportunity is embraced to perpetuate the conduct of the gallant Aaron Reynolds. He was a young, active man in the prime of life; and when the retreat took place, he was on horseback.

On his way to the ford, he overtook Col. Robert Patterson; who, though not an old man, was infirm, having suffered very much from wounds which he had received from the Indians on a former occasion. When Reynolds overtook him he was entirely exhausted, and the Indians were in close pursuit.

Reynolds, with a greatness of soul which will ever redound to his honor, dismounted from his horse and assisted Patterson into the saddle, rescuing his own safety on foot. He crossed the river by swimming some distance below the ford, when he discovered many Indians had also crossed. He had on a pair of buckskin overalls, which became so heavy from the water absorbed in crossing the river that, on getting ashore, he sat down to pull them off. While in the act of doing so, three Indians came to him and took him prisoner.

At that moment several white men passed in sight, and Reynolds was left in the possession of one of the captors, whilst the other two pursued the white men. One of the moccasins belonging to the Indian with whom Reynolds was left became untied. As the Indian stooped down to tie it, Reynolds sprang from him and, being an active man, was soon out of sight.

It is supposed that one fourth, at least, of the men who fought the Battle of the Blue Licks on Monday, August 19, 1782, were commissioned officers. The whole number was 176, out of which 61 were killed and eight were taken prisoner.

Among the most prominent who fell were Colonels John Todd and Stephen Trigg; Majors Silas Harlin and Edward Bulger; and Captains John Gordon and William McBride; together with Isaac Boone, a son of Col. Daniel Boone.

The loss on the part of the Indians was never rightly ascertained. By some it was said to be 90; but the calculation is very improbable, as the whites stood but a very few minutes before they were compelled to retreat.

Dispatches had been sent to Col. Benjamin Logan in Lincoln County, during the siege at Bryan's Station, which preceded the battle of the Blue Licks by only two days. Col. Logan hastily collected about 300 men and marched for the relief of that place; but when he reached Bryan's Station, the Indians had raised the siege and were gone.

Col. Logan followed as quickly as possible with the hope of coming up with those who marched from the neighborhood before they overtook the Indians, but he met them not far from Bryan's Station on their return.

Logan continued on to the battleground, with the view of at least burying the dead, if he could not chastise the enemy. He was joined by many of the friends of the dead and missing from Lexington and Bryan's Station, and arrived on the fatal ground on August 25th. A solemn silence pervaded the whole party as they approached the field of battle. No sound was uttered, but the cry of the gorged vulture hovering over their heads.

Those who were drawn by affection to the horrid spectacle, with the hope of saving some relic of their hair or garment from a lost father, brother, or friend, were denied this favor. The remains of the mangled bodies were so distended by the excessive heat of the weather, or so disfigured by the tomahawk, vultures, and wild beasts, that it was impossible to distinguish one individual from another.

The solemn rites of sepultures were performed in a very rude manner. The ground was so rocky that, without spades or shovels, it was with great difficulty that a quantity of earth could be collected sufficient to cover the mangled remains of the slain.

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