Blue Licks State Park was the fifth state park in Kentucky, opening on January 25, 1927.(1) Judge Samuel Wilson of Fayette County was chairman of the Blue Licks Battlefield Monument Commission at the time, and had presented a deed for 32 acres to the Kentucky State Park Commission on behalf of local citizens who had donated the land for the park. The reserve was to be a monument to the Battle of Blue Licks, considered one of the worst military defeats in the American Revolution.
Although the barrage occurred after Lord Cornwallis had renounced British forces at Yorktown, Virginia on October 19, 1781, resulting in a close to major hostilities that sparked the American Revolution, isolated conflicts between the Americans, British, and the American Indians still occurred, especially on the western fringes.(1) Kentucky was one such state, a witness to many bloody conflicts and raids upon homesteads and settlements. After the surrender at Yorktown, many Kentuckians had hoped that the attacks would conclude.
Every mid-August, the Battle of Blue Licks is commemorated with two re-enactments of the conflict, supplemented with pioneer encampments, 18th century traders, Daniel Boone and Simon Kenton portrayals, special live music, demonstrations, paranormal investigations and educational opportunities. The 2008 re-enactment will occur between August 15th and the 17th. Just one month later on September 29, is the Short Goldenrod Festival, a celebration of one of the rarest plants in the United States. Featuring a 5K run and one mile walk, music, food, nature walks, and more, all proceeds will go towards efforts to preserve the Short Goldenrod.
A Pioneer Museum is located within Blue Licks. Dedicated on August 19, 1931,(1) it was fully restored for the 225th commemoration of the Blue Licks Battle and was unveiled to the public on August 18, 2007.(3) It features new exhibits, giving visitors a detailed view into the historically short battle and the terrain where it was fought at, and new displays that feature artifacts or replicas of weapons that the British used at the time of the battle. There are also informational displays about the historic mineral springs, as well as other aspects of the commonwealth’s history, and is open year-round. There is also a boat launch ramp to the Licking River accessed near the campgrounds.
Battle of Blue Licks
Captain Caldwell and Alexander McKee of the British, who had begun an attempt to lay siege to Wheeling with 150 British rangers and 1,100 American Indians in July 1782, had backed off upon hearing that George Rogers Clark was trying to advance into Ohio from Kentucky.(2) Caldwell’s army departed from their original mission of overtaking Wheeling and veered towards the Mad River at the confluence of the Ohio. But upon approach, Clark’s advance was nowhere to be found; instead, Clark was resting in a boat across the Ohio along the banks of Kentucky, and was not preparing for an expedition. Upon the realization of this, many Indians dispersed, frustrated with a lack of organization in the British military.(2)
Soon after, Caldwell and McKee crossed into Kentucky, hoping to surprise the settlement of Bryan’s Station. But the settlers had been forewarned of the advance and had fortified their camp. On August 15, the British and Indian forces began their assault but retreated only two days later when they learned that a band of Kentucky militia was on their way.(2) The militia arrived on August 18, and consisted of 182 men from Fayette and Lincoln counties. The highest ranking officer was Colonel John Todd, and under him were two lieutenant colonels, Stephen Trigg and Daniel Boone. Benjamin Logan was also a colonel but was gathering men and was not present. At Bryan’s Station, the officers discussed whether or not to pursue the enemies further north before they escaped across the Ohio River, or wait for Colonel Logan’s reinforcements. Major Hugh McGary recommended waiting for Logan, but was overruled by Colonel Todd, who chastised McGary for being too ambivalent. The pursuit was on for the British and the Indians, and the militia proceeded north along a historic buffalo trail.(2)(3)
On August 19, the Kentuckians reached a ford along Licking River, where the water was only waist deep. Across the river was a spring and salt lick, and nestled amongst the hillsides, a few Indian scouts could be seen. Colonel Todd called for a council and asked Daniel Boone, the most experienced woodsman of the state, for his opinion. Boone, who had grown increasingly nervous about the apparent trails the Indians were creating, advised that the Indians were attempting to lead them into an ambush. Major McGary, however, was eager to prove that he was not a coward as Todd had earlier suggested, and pushed for an immediate attack. He mounted upon his horse and forded the river, and his men began to follow, hoping to make an organized advance.
Once across the river, most of the men dismounted and formed a battle line consisting of four divisions. Unknown to them, Captain Caldwell of the British had concealed 50 British rangers and 300 American Indians army along the ravines leading from the hilltop.(2) As they began to advance up, the Indians began to open fire upon the Kentuckians, taking down the center and right of the division in a scant five minutes. Boone, who was trudging along on the left, managed to keep advancing, but it was soon apparent that the battle was lost. Todd’s troops began to flee for their lives down the hill; Boone was searching for any remaining men for a withdraw. He gathered a horse for his son Israel to take, but he refused the offer, refusing to leave his father behind. As Daniel was searching for another horse for himself, Israel was shot in the back of the neck with an arrow and died.(2)(3)
In what was called the last battle of the American Revolution, was a crushing blow to the Pioneers against the British forces and the American Indians.(1) Out of the 182 Kentucky militiaman that started up the hill, approximately 70 perished.(1)(2)
- “History of Blue Licks Battlefield State Resort Park.” Blue Licks Battlefield State Resort Park. Kentucky State Parks. August 20, 2007 Article.
- Hammon, Neal O. Daniel Boone and the Defeat at Blue Licks. Minneapolis: Boone Society, 2005.
- Musgrave, Beth. “Revolutionary War battle being restaged.” Herald-Leader , August 19, 2007. August 20, 2007 Article.