Little Salt River Flatboat Was Attacked By Indians In 1788

Recalling Colonel Henry Crist, A Brave Kentucky Pioneer

Author Unknown - Ca. 1906


Among the brave pioneers of Kentucky known to history none was braver than Henry Crist. The name of Crist is identified with the history of Nelson, Hardin, and Bullitt Counties.

Henry Crist was born in Virginia in 1774. During the Revolutionary War, his father, with a large family, emigrated to the western part of Pennsylvania, from whence young Henry and other ardent youths of the neighborhood made frequent and daring excursions into the western wilderness; sometimes into what is now the state of Ohio; sometimes to Limestone (now Maysville), and finally to the falls of the Ohio, which place he first visited in 1789.

The buffalo and deer had clearly indicated to the early settlers, those places where saltwater was to be found. The great difficulty of importing salt, the increasing demand, and high price of the article, encouraged the attempt to manufacture here at an early day. Salt was made at Bullitt's Lick, in Bullitt County over a century ago.

In Crist's excursions to the West, he had become acquainted and heard of the land of Kentucky. A pursuit of lands brought Crist, at a very early day, to Bullitt's Lick, where he took a prominent and active part in some of those scenes which have contributed to the notoriety of that renowned resort of all who lived within 50 miles around in the first settlement of this section. Here, the first salt was made in Kentucky, and here from 500 to 1,000 men were collected together in the various branches of salt making, as well as buying of, selling to, and guarding the saltmakers, when Louisville and Lexington could boast of but a few hovels; and when the buffalo slept in security around the base of Capital Hill.

In May 1788, a flatboat loaded with kettles intended for manufacture of salt at Bullitt's Lick left Louisville with 13 persons; 12 armed men and 1 woman. The boat and cargo were owned by Henry Crist and Solomon Spears. The intention of the party was to descend the Ohio River, which was then very high, to the mouth of Salt River, and then ascend the latter river, the current of which was entirely deadened by back water from the Ohio, to a place near the "licks," called "Mud Garrison;" which was a temporary fortification, constructed of two rows of slight stockades, and the space between filled with mud and gravel from the bank of the river near by. The works enclosed a space of about half an acre, and stood about midway between Bullitt's Lick and the Falls of Salt River, where Shepherdsville now stands. Those works were then occupied by the saltmakers and their families, and those who hunted to supply them with food, and acted as an advance guard to give notice of any considerable body of men.

The salt made at the "lick" supplied the whole country, and some of it was shipped to the Illinois country. The method of procuring it was by sinking wells from 30 to 40 feet deep; the water obtained was more strongly impregnated with salt than the water from the sea. The salt retailed at 20 shillings per bushel, Virginia currency ($3.33).

On the 25th of May, the boat entered Salt River, and the hands commenced working her up with sweep-oars. There was no current one way or the other; while in the Ohio the breadth of the river secured them against sudden attacks, but when they came to Salt River they were within reach of the Indian rifle from either shore. It became necessary, therefore, to send out scouts, to apprise them of any danger ahead. In the evening of the first day, Crist and a man named Floyd went ashore to reconnoitre the bank of the river ahead of the boat. They remained out all night, and returned to the boat the next morning. The boat continued on up the river until it arrived about eight miles below the mouth of the Rolling Fork. Here, they drew into shore on the north side of the river intending to land and cook their breakfast. When they drew into shore they heard the gobbling of turkeys (as they supposed) on the bank where they were going to land, and as the boat touched, two of the men sprang ashore, with their guns to shoot turkeys. Their companions in the boat had scarcely lost sight of them, when they heard a volley of rifles discharged all at once on the bank above them, succeeded by a yell of Indians so terrific as to induce a belief that the woods were filled with Indians. This sudden attack took the boat's company by surprise, and they had barely time to seize their rifles and place themselves in a posture of defense, when the two men came dashing down the bank hotly pursued by a large body of Indians.

Crist stood in the bow of the boat, with his rifle in his hand. At the first sight of the enemy, he brought his gun to his face, but instantly perceived that the object of his aim was a white man. A sudden thought flashed across his mind that the enemy was a company of surveyors that he knew to be in the woods, and that the attack was made in sport. He let his gun down, and at the same time, his white foeman sank out of sight behind the bank, but the firing had begun in good earnest on both sides. Crist again brought his rifle to his face, and as he did so the white man's head was rising over the bank with his gun also drawn up and presented. Crist got the fire on him and at the crack of his rifle; the white man fell forward dead. The Indians were so intent on capturing the white men who had been out hunting that they ran to the water's edge and shot and struck at them while they were getting into the boat. Some of the Indians seized the vessel and attempted to draw it nearer the shore.

In this attempt many of the Indians perished, some were shot dead as they approached the boat, others were killed in the river, and it required the most stubborn resistance and determined valor to keep them from carrying the boat by assault.

Repulsed in their efforts to board the boat the Indians then retired higher up the bank and taking their stations behind trees commenced as a regular and galling fire, which were returned by those on board. The boat had a log chain for a cable, and when she was brought to shore the chain was thrown around a small tree and the hook run through one of the links. This had been done before the first firing began.

The kettles were arranged along the sides of the boat leaving an open gangway from stem to stern, and as the bow was next to shore the guns of the Indians raked the whole length of the boat. After the battle began many efforts were made to unhook the boat, the hope being that if they loosened the cable the boat would drift out of reach of the enemy's guns, but any person who ventured to do it would meet certain death.

Several of the bravest men on the boat had fallen, either killed or mortally wounded. One of the men named Fossett, who had his right arm broken in the fight, secured a pole, and placing himself low down in the bow of the boat, commenced punching at the hook in the chain. He succeeded in unhooking the boat. The chain fell, and the boat drifted out into the stream, and by means of an oar worked overhead, the boat was brought into the middle of the river, with her side to the shore, which protected them from the fire of the Indians.

The battle had now lasted upwards of an hour. The odds against the crew were at least ten to one. The fire had been very destructive on both sides, and a great many of the Indians had been killed. Five of the boat's crew lay dead in the gangway, and four were wounded; Crist and two others remained unhurt. The boat was now gradually nearing the southern shore of the river. At this time about 50 of the Indians were seen crossing the river a few hundred yards distance. At length the boat touched the southern shore. Three of the wounded men, who still survived, were borne into the woods where they concealed themselves in a thicket. The woman now remained. They offered to assist her to shore, that she might take her chances of escape in the woods; but the danger of her position and the scenes of blood and death around her had overpowered her senses and nothing could prevail upon her to move. She sat with her face buried in her hands, and no effort could make her realize that there was any hope of escape.

The Indians had gained the south side of the river and were yelling like bloodhounds, as they ran towards the boat. Crist and his companions met them at the top of the hill and charged them, but Crist's gun had become wet and missed fired.

The other man named Moore, passed them and escaped. The Indians, after being fired upon by Crist's companion, fell back into a ravine, and the two men continued their flight. The Indians rose and fired a volley after them, one of the bullets striking Crist's heel completely crushing the bones of his foot. The group parted. The Indians, bent on plunder, did not pursue them, but rushed into the boat to share the spoils of a costly victory.

Crist was so disabled by the wound, that he could not walk. He crept into a thicket and laid down; his wound bled profusely. He could not remain here long. His feet were of no use to him. He bound his moccasins on his knees and commenced his journey. Piece by piece his hat, hunting shirt, and vest were consumed to shield his hands against the rugged rocks that lay in his way. He crawled all day up the river, and at night crossed over to the north side upon a log that he rolled down the bank. He concealed himself in a thicket and tried to sleep, but pain, exhaustion, and loss of blood had driven sleep from his eyes. Guided by the stars, he crept on, and after midnight he came in sight of a camp fire, and heard the barking of a dog; a number of Indians rose from around the fire and he crept softly away from the light. He remained quiet for some time, and when all was quiet again, he resumed his escape. At daylight, he ascended a high prominence to ascertain where he was and how to shape his future course; but all around was wilderness. He toiled on all day and the next, and on the evening of the third day, he was aware that he was near Bullitt's Lick. But, he could go no farther. When darkness came, he could see the hundreds of fires of the furnaces at the Licks all glowing not more than half a mile away. He had not tasted food for four days and the wounded leg had become stiff and swollen that he had to drag it after him.

Suddenly, he heard the sound of horses' feet approaching him. A path ran near the place where he lay; a man on horseback approached, within a few yards of him. Crist mustered his remaining strength and wailed, but to his surprise and dismay the man turned and galloped back towards the Licks. The man, a Negro, told his tale at the salt works and a number of men set out guided by the Negro to the place. Crist's hopes revived when he heard them approaching. They bore him home. The ball extracted, but his recovery was slow and doubtful. It was a year before he was himself again. The woman in the boat was carried a prisoner to Canada, where later she was redeemed by an Indian trader and restored to her friends.

Crist was afterwards a member of the Kentucky Legislature, and in 1848 was a member of Congress. He died at his residence in Bullitt County, in August 1854, aged 80 years.