Boone County Kentucky Historical Society

John Uri Lloyd - The Big Bone Country of Kentucky

The Big Bone Country of Kentucky
By John Uri Lloyd
Note: John Uri Lloyd was the founder and first president of the Big Bone Lick Association. He exercised significant influence in drawing attention to the Lick, and in getting it preserved as a park. The following paper is in the Lloyd Papers at the Lloyd Library in Cincinnati (LLM collection 1 Box 39 file 551). It is presented as written with some additional notes, which are kept separate from the text. The typescript, with handwritten annotations in Lloyd's hand is undated, but it appears to have been written in 1935.

"Big Bone," a valley hemmed in by high hills, is situated in the western side of Boone County, Kentucky, about three and a half miles from the Ohio River. To reach it from Covington, take the Lexington Pike to Florence, (9 miles,) thence the Union Pike to Union, (six miles,) thence the Big Bone road to the Springs, (six miles); or somewhat longer, but not so hilly, continue on the Lexington Pile through Florence to Richwood, thence branch off to Big Bone. Or take the Cincinnati Southern Railway to either Erlanger or Richwood, and by vehicle proceed to Big Bone. Or go by boat on the Ohio River to Hamilton, (a landing place), thence three and a half miles up the valley to the Springs. In all cases, transportation must be provided in advance. Probably the picturesque road via Florence and Union will be preferable.
Big Bone stands conspicuous as a Kentucky wonder. When the early settlers came into its precincts, great beaten roads, fifty feet wide, from all directions, led to its waters. These were "Buffalo Roads." The springs were sought by thousands of wild animals and numbers of their bones lie yet beneath its soil. Here the Mammoth and Mastodon struggled and perished, leaving their remains scattered over the surface of the earth, to amaze the pioneer, and it is a matter of record that the early settlers used the rib bones of these great beasts for tent poles, when visiting the springs to make salt.
In 1784, John Filson, a surveyor and student, the man who came from Lexington, Kentucky, to lay out the village of Losantiville, afterward changed to Cincinnati, issued a History of Kentucky, which, in the preface was certified by Daniel Boon, Levi Todd, and James Harrod, as "as accurate a description of our country as we think can possibly be given."
In this history, printed while Cincinnati was an untouched wilderness, reference is made to Big Bone as follows:
"The amazing herds of Buffaloes which resort thither, by their size and number, fill the traveller with amazement and terror, especially when he beholds the prodigious roads they have made from all quarters, as if leading to some populous city; the vast space of land around these springs defolated as if by a ravaging enemy, and hills reduced to plains; for the land near those springs are chiefly hilly. These are truly curiosities, and the eye can scarcely be satisfied with admiring them. A medicinal spring is found near the Big-bone Lick, which has perfectly cured the itch by once bathing ; and experience in time may discover in it other virtues." [Filson, p. 32-33]
Concerning the monstrous bones, one and a half pages are devoted thereto, beginning as follows:
"At a salt spring, near Ohio river, very large bones are found, far surpassing the size of any species of animals now in America. The head appears to have been about three feet long, the ribs seven, and the thigh bones about four; one of which is reposited in the library in Philadelphia, and said to weigh seventy-eight pounds. The tusks are above a foot in length, the grinders about five inches square, and eight inches long. These bones have equally excited the amazement of the ignorant, and attracted the attention of the philosopher. Specimens of them have been sent both to France and England, where they have been examined with the greatest diligence." [Filson, page 33-34]
In corrobation of this, the writer, who as a boy lived near Big Bone, affirms that teeth and monstrous fragments were then (1852-1860) common. His father-in-law, Mr. Thos. Rouse, born in 1816, near the Springs, whose parents came into this section among the earliest pioneers, verifies the recorded statements. Big Bone was then a great centre [sic], to which led wide beaten roads, on which thousands of buffalo tramped. And the springs were a centre for every beast known to this section. There they fought for water, as before had done the mastodon, the mammoth, and possibly other prehistoric animals, as next did the white man and the Indian.
The jelly ground of Big Bone is a muck of quagmire that surrounds each spring. Their depths are yet unexplored. In the early days, they covered acres of ground, but creeping shells of dry earth have covered them to near where now spring the monstrous saline sulphur waters. In these mud mires, preserved by the salt water, lie yet bones of the prehistoric mastodon and mammoth, and perhaps other forms of animal life unknown; the buffalo and bear of recent days having here a common tomb.
The Springs are known as "Big Bone Springs," "Big Bone Lick," or to the people of that section, as "The Lick." It was once a popular resort, especially before the day of the railroad. One hotel in the valley, built in the early part of the century, served its purpose and disappeared. Another, still standing, was built on the hillside overlooking one of the springs. The Springs, (excepting the quagmires), are unchanged. Great streams of rich saline sulphur water, cold, clear, blue-clear, rush from the earth, accompanied by volumes of free sulphuretted hydrogen gas.
They are a marvel now, as they ever have been. To one acquainted with this country, in its primative beauty, the loss of the great forest is painful. No such woods were elsewhere to be found as stood in and about this valley. But the deadly ax has kept pace with the deadly rifle; the herds of deer, the bear, the buffalo or bison, the great proud woods, all, all have gone down before the touch of so-called civilization, that withering, scorching thing, that leaves but the bones yet hidden in Big Bone's quagmire, and in the minds of a few men yet alive reminiscences of these things I have just touched upon.
John Uri Lloyd
LLM col 1 Box 39 file 551.

The following paper in the same file, dated 5 June 1935 is on the same subject and forms a fitting appendix to this paper.
Said Mr. Thomas Rouse to me, in his reminiscences concerning Big Bone: "It occurred to us at one time to try to find out how deep the jelly was in the bog at its center. We therefore had the blacksmith take iron rods, such as were used in making horses shoe nails, and attach them together in such a manner that we could run them down through the jelly to the bottom of the bog.
"One Sunday morning we laid planks down to the middle of the jelly ground, and from that point we lowered the rods, one after the other, all attached. When all the rods were used, we had not yet reached the bottom"
I did not mention this in my article on Big Bone because of the indefinite record. I neglected to ascertain the length of the rods and the number of them used. Now I comprehend that in one direction it is important that this record should be made.
To me this is evidence that if there had been mammoth bones in the middle of the jelly ground, the rods could not have been run that length. Consequently, I would argue that mammoth and mastodon and other animals were mired near the edge of this jelly ground and did not reach the center.
If this is true, probably the vast amount of bones discovered around the edges would not be found also in the center.
To the foregoing it must be added that practically the entire jelly ground has been drained of surplus water because the entire tract is now in cultivation with one small exception.
John Uri Lloyd, June 5, 1935
[Researched, typed and edited by James Duvall, M. A.]