Updated: Nov 3
Happy (almost) November! For me, fall is a time when nature herself seems to steal my focus with faint whispers on the wind, luring me away from responsibilities with a sense of urgency that makes me want to shrug off the daily grind, leave priorities to work themselves out and connect with everything the wilderness has to offer. Unfortunately, the closest I can get to that at present is nice long walks, outdoor meditation, and a look back at some of the narratives our ancestors left behind for us to discover.
The fall colors and the change in season always remind me of Native Americans. Perhaps it was the childhood Pilgram and Indian pages we were given to color in preschool or an innate sense of harvest and celebration that span the ages. Whatever the reason, I decided to look back to find what I could about the natives who lived in and around Pulaski County. Unfortunately, the winner always tells the story for the history books, which sometimes doesn't reflect an accurate account of what happened. Nevertheless, it is what we are left with until someone comes along daring enough to discover a new history for the world to contemplate.
This month's post has a few murders, and the legends at the end can count toward the mystery in Hometown, Murders, and Mysteries. As always, we hope you enjoy it and look forward to any comments, corrections, or suggestions you may have!
Mound Builder Theory: Native Americans or Unknown Ancient Civilizations in Pulaski County?
The history books tell us that Native Americans were in the region long before the Europeans began settling here. In 1824 a list of known ancient mounds found in Kentucky was published by Professor Rafinesque, a self-educated professor of natural science at Transylvania University. The estimated timeline for the mounds span from 500 B.C. to 1400 A.D., but frankly, no one can put a time stamp on these mounds. There were two sites found in Pulaski County, one having four mounds and one having three, both in the eastern part of the county. Estimation of the sites are known, but I chose to not disclose in order to deter anyone from going treasure hunting. If you want to find the location, do the leg work (pun intended). In addition to the mounds, many ancient burial grounds have been located but are largely considered to be dated much later than the mounds in eastern Pulaski County (Fitzpatrick, 1911).
Interestingly, Constantine Samuel Rafinesque-Schmaltz, or Professor Rafinesque as he became known, was born in 1783, in Galata, a suburb of Istanbul, which was part of the Ottoman Empire at the time. His father was a French merchant, and his mother was of German descent. Rafinesque spent his early years in Europe, where he was exposed to a variety of languages and cultures.
In 1802, Rafinesque immigrated to the United States and settled in Philadelphia. He pursued a wide range of interests, including botany, zoology, archaeology, and languages. Despite having no formal education, he became a self-taught naturalist and linguist. In 1805, he returned to Europe and lived in Palermo, Sicily, where his success allowed him to retire at 25 and return to explore more of North America, leaving his common law wife (Fitzpatrick, 1911; Wilson, Fiske, 1900).
Rafinesque was a controversial figure in the scientific community. His unorthodox methods and theories sometimes led to conflicts with other scientists of his time. He struggled to gain widespread recognition for his work during his lifetime. Even so, he continued his work in various scientific fields throughout his life.
After settling in Pennsylvania, Rafinesque was a prolific traveler and explorer, particularly in the Ohio Valley and the American Southeast. He documented the flora and fauna of these regions, often in meticulous detail. Important to this story, was the development he called the "Mound Builder" theory, suggesting that what we know as Native American mounds in the United States were built by a lost, ancient civilization. He believed that the mounds he documented were constructed by a people who predate the Native Americans and disappeared long before European contact (Rafinesque, 1826). This theory is in line with the more contemporary theories that the Egyptians, Jews, Vikings, or other groups were some of the first inhabitants. On the fringe, it may also have connections to the Ancient Alien theory and ideas. Rafinesque’s “Mound Builder” theory, however, was later discredited.
He died in Philadelphia in 1840 from stomach cancer, which some attribute to a homemade elixir (Fitzpatrick, 1911). Although his contributions were often overlooked during his lifetime, many of his findings and classifications have since been recognized and incorporated into scientific knowledge. His travels and observations contributed to a better understanding of the natural history of North America. His work laid the groundwork for future botanical research.
If you are interested in the history of Native American Moundbuilders, here is an excellent short video:
Pulaski County’s Native American History as Documented by the Settlers
In the mid-late 1700s Pulaski County was a prime hunting ground for the Cherokee, Creek, and Catawba Indians, however, no known Indian settlements are documented during that period. At the same time new settlers were arriving from the east and started claiming land and building homes.
In 1787, a period less than a decade before the formal establishment of Pulaski County, early settlers in the area found themselves in frequent, often deadly, encounters with Native American populations. One such tragic incident unfolded when a man named Luttrell lost his life at his residence, situated in what is now recognized as Fishing Creek.
In response to this loss and as an act of retaliation, Colonel John Logan, who held the position of second-in-command in the jurisdiction of Lincoln County at the time, organized a militia force to assemble near Luttrell's home. Soon after arriving at the Fishing Creek location, they discovered a trail leading away from Luttrell's residence. Colonel Logan and his men immediately began the pursuit of the Indians who were accused of Luttrell's death. Which likely meant any Native Americans found on or near the trail who had the unfortunate luck to encounter the colonel and his company. Guilty or not.
This pursuit ultimately led to a confrontation with a group of Indians found on the trail, resulting in the deaths of seven individuals from that group. Additionally, the militiamen confiscated skins, furs, and horses from the Native Americans. During their investigation, it was reported that after the men located the Indians they were tracking, they "stumbled upon stolen horses and a rifle that was recognized as belonging to a man who had been murdered on his journey to Kentucky in 1786" (Newell-Hicks, 1934).
In May of 1788, a group of southern Cherokee Indians “supposedly” committed horse theft near Crab Orchard. In response, Lieutenant Nathaniel McClure, leading a detachment from Colonel Whitley's company, pursued the Cherokee Indians to the ridge situated between Rockcastle and Buck Creek. At this point, an unexpected ambush happened when McClure unexpectedly encountered another group of Native Americans, resulting in a fierce skirmish.
During the intense clash, both parties sustained casualties, with McClure and several of his soldiers being wounded, including McClure himself, who suffered life-threatening injuries. Despite his dire condition, Lieutenant McClure insisted that his comrades prioritize the care of the other wounded soldiers and chose to remain in a cave near a water source while awaiting a rescue party.
Tragically, it is believed that McClure passed away during the night. When his fellow soldiers located him the following day, they discovered that his body had been tragically mutilated by wild animals. Subsequently, his remains were carefully laid to rest on a hillside adjacent to the Old Whitley Road, which served as a primary route for travel throughout southern Kentucky during that era. This site was close to the mouth of the Rockcastle River and situated near the land owned by Peter Goodin in the mid-1930s, as documented in historical accounts (Newell-Hicks, 1934).
Note: The Old Whitley Road is located in London, however I suspect that Hwy 192 used to connect into that road and the whole thing was referred to as the Old Whitley Road. It very well may be that McClure is buried somewhere around Bee Rock. It has been difficult to locate the exact area where the river and Buck Creek come together anywhere north of where Buck Creek runs into the Cumberland River. The two bodies of water seem to run parallel to each other. If anyone knows the history of this and the name of the cave, please let us know. We spent hours down this rabbit hole until we had to throw in the towel and move on to the rest of the story.
Native American Legends in, and around, Pulaski County
The Native American influence on the area is still evident today, with many legends and folklore passed down through generations. Tales of shape-shifting creatures, mysterious disappearances, and sacred burial grounds have become an integral part of history telling across the region. The legends and stories below are purely for entertainment purposes, but we hope these stories inspire you to take advantage of the many beautiful fall days Kentucky seems to offer us each October and November to get out on a trail and explore our beautiful region while maintaining respect for the land and the indigenous cultures who came before us. As tempting as it may be, NO digging!
Is Ranfisque’s Ghost at Transylvania University
Since he has ties to the Native American culture and early U.S. history, we decided to tell the professor’s ghost story here, too.
Legend has it that before Rafinesque's death in 1840, he made a promise that he would return from the afterlife to haunt the Transylvania University campus. He allegedly made this promise because he felt unappreciated and misunderstood during his time as a professor. As we mentioned in the earlier factual, historical piece of the story, Rafinesque was known for his eccentric personality and his numerous contributions to various fields, including botany and ichthyology, but his ideas were often considered unconventional and ahead of their time.
According to the ghost story, Rafinesque's spirit is said to wander the campus of Transylvania University, particularly around Old Morrison Hall, where he once taught. Some students and staff members claim to have experienced strange occurrences, such as unexplained noises, books moving on their own, and sightings of a shadowy figure resembling Rafinesque.
Despite the legend and the purported sightings, there is no concrete evidence to prove the existence of Rafinesque's ghost, and the story remains firmly in the realm of folklore and campus legend. Nonetheless, it adds an intriguing layer to the history and atmosphere of Transylvania University, and it continues to be a topic of interest and discussion among those associated with the institution (Barefoot, 2004; Spivey, 2018)
Is Short Creek Haunted?
If you live in Pulaski County, you have surely heard of the shortest creek in the world. If not, it is worth a trip to Shopville to see this wonderous, and beautiful site. As for ghosts, watch this YouTube video posted by Zack Bales and decide for yourself. We found this video very interesting! It isn’t about particularly about Native Americans, but who is to say the ghosts are not some of the Adena Moundbuilders, Southern Cherokee, Creek, or Catawba Indians. We will leave it to you to decide.
The Haunting of Cumberland Falls
Cumberland Falls, located near southeast Pulaski County, Kentucky, is known for its breathtaking beauty and natural wonders. However, beneath its picturesque facade lies a history steeped in mystery and paranormal activity. The haunting of Cumberland Falls has intrigued locals and visitors alike for generations.
Legend has it that the falls are haunted by the ghost of a Native American woman who tragically lost her life in the treacherous waters. According to the tale, she was deeply in love with a warrior from a rival tribe, and their forbidden love led to her untimely demise. It is said that on moonlit nights, her spirit can be seen wandering near the falls, searching for her lost love.
Numerous eyewitness accounts have been reported over the years, describing a ghostly figure dressed in Native American attire, standing near the edge of the falls. Some claim to have heard her mournful cries echoing through the night, while others have felt an eerie presence and a sudden drop in temperature when near the falls.
In addition to the ghostly apparition, there have been reports of other paranormal phenomena at Cumberland Falls. Visitors have claimed to witness strange lights and orbs floating above the water, as well as hearing disembodied voices and whispers. Some have even reported feeling a sense of unease and being watched while exploring the surrounding trails and picnic areas.
One of the most famous occurrences at Cumberland Falls is the phenomenon known as the “Moonbow.” While some attribute the occurrence to the paranormal, a moonbow is a rainbow that occurs at night, created by the light of the moon reflecting off the mist from the falls. While this natural phenomenon is awe-inspiring in itself, some believe that it also holds a supernatural significance. It is believed that the moonbow acts as a portal for spirits to cross over from the other side, explaining the increased paranormal activity in the area.
While the haunting of Cumberland Falls remains a popular topic of discussion, skeptics argue that the reported paranormal activity can be attributed to natural phenomena and the power of suggestion. They suggest that the moonlight reflecting off the water and the sound of rushing water can create an eerie atmosphere, leading people to believe they are experiencing something supernatural.
Regardless of one’s beliefs, there is no denying the allure and intrigue of Cumberland Falls. Whether it is the natural beauty of the falls or the possibility of encountering the paranormal, visitors continue to be drawn to this hauntingly beautiful location. So, if you find yourself in Pulaski County, be sure to head southeast and visit Cumberland Falls to experience the mystery and wonder for yourself. Who knows, you might just catch a glimpse of the ghostly figure that haunts these falls.
The Haunted Hiking Trails of Daniel Boone National Forest
The Sheltowee Trace
Nestled within the picturesque landscape of Pulaski County, Kentucky, lies the enchanting Daniel Boone National Forest. Spanning over 700,000 acres, this vast wilderness is not only a haven for outdoor enthusiasts but also a hotbed for paranormal activity. The forest’s numerous hiking trails, shrouded in mystery and folklore, have become infamous for their haunted reputation.
One of the most haunted trails within Daniel Boone National Forest is the Sheltowee Trace Trail, which you can access south of Pulaski County, in McCreary County in various places. The trail gets its name from Chief Sheltowee, who was a Native American leader from the Shawnee tribe. His name, "Sheltowee," means "Big Turtle" in the Shawnee language. He is particularly associated with the early history of Kentucky, and he is known for leading his people during conflicts and negotiations with American settlers during the late 18th century.
Hikers who venture along this trail have reported eerie encounters and unexplained phenomena. One chilling tale involves a group of hikers who set out on the Sheltowee Trace Trail during the twilight hours. As they made their way through the dense forest, they began to hear whispers carried on the wind. The whispers grew louder and more distinct, as if a group of unseen entities were conspiring in hushed tones. Terrified, the hikers quickened their pace, only to find themselves disoriented and lost. It was as if the forest itself was playing tricks on them, leading them deeper into its haunted depths.
The Rockcastle Narrows
Heading back toward the east end of Pulaski County, another haunted trail within Daniel Boone National Forest is the Rockcastle Narrows Trail. This trail winds through a narrow gorge, flanked by towering cliffs and the rushing waters of Rockcastle River. Legend has it that a ghostly figure, known as the “Rockcastle River Woman,” haunts this trail. Hikers have reported seeing a spectral woman dressed in white, her long hair flowing in the wind. She is said to appear suddenly, standing on the edge of the cliffs, before vanishing into thin air. Some believe she is the spirit of a woman who tragically lost her life in the treacherous waters of Rockcastle River, who may or may not have been Native American.
The haunted trails of Daniel Boone National Forest are not limited to ghostly apparitions. There have also been reports of strange lights and unexplained sounds echoing through the dense foliage. Hikers have described seeing orbs of light dancing among the trees, their colors shifting and changing. These mysterious lights have been attributed to the spirits of Native American tribes who once inhabited the land, watching over their sacred grounds.
The Devil’s Jump
In addition to the haunted trails, Daniel Boone National Forest is also home to the infamous “Devil’s Jump” rock formation. Located near the Rockcastle River, this towering cliff has long been associated with supernatural occurrences. According to local legends, the Devil himself would leap from this cliff, terrorizing the surrounding area. Hikers who have visited the Devil’s Jump have reported feeling an overwhelming sense of unease and dread, as if they were being watched by unseen eyes.
The Mysterious Lights of Yahoo Falls
Deep within the Big South Fork area, Yahoo Falls is the tallest waterfall in Kentucky and a popular destination for hikers and nature enthusiasts. However, it is also known for its mysterious lights that have puzzled visitors for years.
Witnesses have described seeing strange orbs of light dancing around the waterfall, illuminating the surrounding area with an otherworldly glow. Some believe that these lights are the spirits of Native Americans who once inhabited the land, while others attribute them to supernatural phenomena. Regardless of their origin, the lights of Yahoo Falls continue to captivate and intrigue those who witness them.
For those brave enough to explore the haunted hiking trails of Daniel Boone National Forest, it is essential to come prepared. Hikers are advised to bring a compass, map, and plenty of supplies, as the forest can be treacherous and disorienting. It is also recommended to hike in groups, as the paranormal activity within the forest can be unsettling for even the most seasoned adventurers. Personally, I have gotten turned around at night on the Sheltowee trail. While I didn’t see any ghostly aberrations, it was certainly nerve wracking until I found my sense of direction and safely hiked out.
Whether you believe in the supernatural or not, the haunted hiking trails of Daniel Boone National Forest offer a unique and spine-chilling experience. As you traverse the winding paths and immerse yourself in the beauty of nature, be prepared for the unexpected. The spirits of the past may be lurking just beyond the veil, waiting to reveal their secrets to those who dare to explore the unknown.
From the captivating legends of ghosts and orbs to the haunting tales of spirits who roam the sacred grounds, these stories serve as more than just entertainment. These stories remind us of the importance of preserving and respecting the traditions and lands of the Indigenous peoples who have called this continent home for generations.
As we conclude our exploration, it's clear that Native American history is an intricate mosaic, woven together by stories passed down through generations and deserve to be remembered and respected.
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Pulaski County’s Native American History as Documented by the Settlers
Newell-Hicks, A., 1934. Historical Facts About Somerset and Pulaski County Compiled by Members of Somerset Chapter, D.A.R.. The Somerset Journal, 19 July, p. 3.
Spivey, A., 2018. Here's why Transylvania is so haunted. The Rambler, 27 October.