American Indians

American Indians of Owsley County & Kentucky

Contrary to popular myths, American Indians have lived in Kentucky since time immemorial.  When Kentucky was declared the fifteenth state on June 1, 1792, more than twenty tribes, including the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Chippewa, Delaware, Eel River, Haudenosaunee, Kaskaskia, Kickapoo, Miami, Ottawa, Piankeshaw, Potawatomi, Shawnee, Wea, and Wyandot, held legal claims to the land.  At that time, Kentucky was also considered home to the Mingo and Yamacraw, and Yuchi.  For more than 200 years following statehood, American Indians in Kentucky refusing to acknowledge land cession and forced removal were subjected to ecocide, genocide, ethnocide, assimilation, and deprivation.  However, they had the will to survive, and survive they did.  American Indians preserved their languages, arts, crafts, religions, and representative governments, generation after generation, in locations that have been closely guarded secrets, from mountain cabins and farms, to deep grottos inside caves, remote rock-shelters, and beyond.  American Indians in Kentucky concealed their identity in order to survive.  It did not stop them, however, from representing their home state in every American war, even when they lacked citizenship and human recognition.

Cultural Contributions of American Indians

American Indians domesticated a plethora of plants including the bottle gourd (Lagenaria siceraria), the gourd-like squash (Cucurbita pepo), the sunflower (Helianthus annuus), maize (Zea mays), beans (Phaseolus vulgaris), amaranth (Amaranthus hypochondriacus), cushaw squash (Cucurbita argyrosperma), and tobacco (Nicotiana species).  In addition to cultigens, American Indians practiced silvaculture of nut-bearing trees such as black walnut, pecan, and the chestnut.  Aside from the economic significance of these cultigens and masts, they are literally helping to feed people around the world today.

American Indians recycled of all of their natural resources including those obtained from plants, animals, and the earth.  Most important of these, they managed their water resources by creating and maintaining sustainable landscapes that provided irrigation to their crops and villages.  American Indians were the original environmental stewards.

The political system of the United States was modeled after the confederacies and leadership formed among
and between American Indian tribes during the eighteenth century.  Decisions were made of the people, by the
people, and for the people through consensus.  Power and prestige among American Indians came not from
the accumulation of personal material wealth, but from how much was given away.  In this vein, everyone was
cared for.  No one went hungry, unsheltered, or unclothed.  Each person had a purpose and role in society.  

Most of the major roads in Kentucky were built on American Indian trails.  For example, US 27 was known as the
Great Tellico Road and US 25 was known as the Warriors road, as was significant portions of US 421.  Much of Daniel Boone’s Wilderness Road was actually an American Indian trail used for seasonal migration and trade.

American Indians used a wide variety of therapeutic plants, many of which have been synthesized and are key ingredients in modern western medicine.

American Indians have served in the armed forces of the United States in every war including the American Revolution.  They have fought and died for their country even when they were not considered human beings or citizens.

American Indian Identity

American Indians living in Kentucky have intermarried outside their tribe since time immemorial.  Unfortunately, many people today 
still hold antiquated stereotypes about American Indian identity and use mixed-blood terms such as full-bloods, half-bloods, and quarter-bloods.  These modern misconceptions of biology and culture can be traced to the very beginning of the state.  In the complete absence of a single genetic laboratory, the Shawnee Treaty of 1831 was used to define and enforce who was a “real” American Indian and who was not.  The treaty gave Joseph Parks, a reported quarter-blooded Piqua Shawnee, entitlements including six hundred and forty acres of land.  Park’s blood quantum was assumed and assigned to him rather than reflecting his actual genetic background or cultural identity.  Unfortunately, the Shawnee Treaty of 1831 became the standard for identifying American Indians in Kentucky.  Today, rather than an understanding of American Indian people or their culture, most people have a stereotype about them.  For example, many people still believe that American Indians in Kentucky lived in cave or tipis.  At the time Kentucky was declared a state, American Indians were actually living in log cabins, multi-story wooden homes, and brick houses.  Failure to recognize American Indians and their tribal cultures has led to the destruction of many of Kentucky’s historic and cultural resources.

Historical Myths

For more than 200 years, American historians have argued that the American Indians never lived in Kentucky.  Instead, they portrayed Kentucky as either a middle ground used by all tribes for hunting or the center of many dark and bloody disputes.  John Filson, an opportunistic investor, land speculator, and entrepreneur, created this myth and many others in a book, The Discovery, Settlement, and Present State of Kentucke, published five years after his death in 1788.  The book included an account of American Indians inhabiting within the limits of the thirteen United States including their manners and customs, and reflections of their origin.  Filson’s book falsely explained that there were no American Indians living in Kentucky, but they were located in the adjacent states.  Filson further emphasized that American Indians had no valid claim to Kentucky because it was originally settled by an ancient white race that greatly predated the Indians.  Ironically, the very people Filson claimed did not live in Kentucky killed him.

Filson’s book was widely printed and circulated in England, France, and Germany as a way to entice Europeans to immigrate to the United States and settle in Kentucky.  To further allure them to this new land of opportunity, Filson created a story about an American Indian silver mine.  His fictitious story emphasized that Kentucky was a land filled with riches just waiting to be taken.  Unfortunately, all of Filson’s myths about American Indians were perpetuated and elaborated upon in subsequent books on the history of the state such as Lewis Collins’ 1847 Historical Sketches of Kentucky, Richard Collins’ and Lewis Collins’ 1874 History of Kentucky, Bennett Young’s 1910 The Prehistoric Men of Kentucky, and W. D. Funkhouser’s and W. S. Webb’s 1928 Ancient Life in Kentucky and are still being taught in some quarters of the state today.

European Contact

Prior to European contact, Kentucky was inhabited by Algonquian (e.g., Delaware, Miami, Shawnee), Iroquoian (e.g., Cherokee, Haudenosaunee, Mingo, Wyandot), Muskogean (e.g., Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek), and Siouan (e.g., Saponi) speaking peoples.  The Cherokee were the first people to come in contact with Europeans.  The earliest known contact with Europeans occurred in 1540, when a party of Cherokee warriors successfully defended their northwestern border against the advances of Hernando DeSoto and his Spanish soldiers.  They forced the Spanish to retreat from Kentucky to the north side of the Ohio River at present-day Fort Massac, Illinois.

Interestingly, the word Cherokee comes from the 1557 Portuguese narrative of DeSoto’s expedition, which was then written as chalaque.  It is derived from the Choctaw word, choluk, which means cave.  Mohawk call the Cherokee oyata’ge’ronoñ, which means people who live in caves or in the cave country.  In Catawba, the Cherokee are called mañterañ, which translates as the people who come out of the ground.  Kentucky is a land of caves and home to the longest cave in the world.  Kentucky caves are full of evidence of Cherokee people, from salt and crystal mines to exploration and habitation.  As the Cherokee explored and settled in Kentucky, they came across the entrances of great caves, some of which were filled with mineral resources that extended many miles underground.  They ventured into caves in search of protection from the elements, to mine minerals, to dispose of their dead, to conduct ceremonies, and to explore the unknown, as indicated by the footprints, pictographs, petroglyphs, mud glyphs, stone tools, and sculptures they left behind.  Wherever the Cherokee found a dry cave in Kentucky with a reasonably accessible opening, they entered and explored it systematically.

Before European colonization, Kentucky was a significant part of the Cherokee country, representing the northern quarter of the Cherokee Nation since time immemorial.  Its boundaries extended to the Ohio River in the north, the Cumberland River in the west, and the Great Kanawha River in the east.  By the end of the American Revolution, the northern boundary of the Cherokee country was moved southward to encompass the land below the Cumberland River.  Eventually, some 38,000 square miles of Cherokee land in Kentucky was ceded to Great Britain and the United States.

After the British arrived on the present site of Jamestown, Virginia in 1607, there was continuous contact with Cherokee in Kentucky as traders strengthened their alliances and worked their way into the Appalachian Mountains.  Perhaps the earliest evidence of an English trader with Cherokee in Kentucky is in Wolfe County, where a date of 1717 occurs with traditional symbols of Anitsisqua, the Cherokee Bird Clan, incised on a sandstone outcrop overlooking Panther Branch.

Changing Alliances

Cherokee claims to Kentucky were seriously challenged when the Tuscarawas joined the Haudenosaunee, a confederacy of Iroquoian speaking peoples that included the Mohawks, Oneidas, Onondagas, Cayugas, and Senecas in 1722.  Expanding by alliance and conquest, they penetrated deeply into the state.  The newly formed Six Nations took over control of all of the land north of the Cumberland River.

By 1729, the Shawnee were serving as guides into northern Kentucky for the French military who considered Kentucky part of New France.  At this time, the Cherokee were busy fighting the Choctaw, Creek, and Yamasee to the south for their British allies.  As a gesture of thanks, Sir Alexander Cuming took principal Cherokee Chiefs to England with him in 1730 including Attakullakulla, Clogoittah, Kollannah, Onancona, Oukah Ulah, Skalilosken Ketagustah, and Tathtowe.  Although this visit strengthened allegiance with the British, the Cherokee population in Kentucky and elsewhere was cut in half by smallpox just eight years later making it difficult to defend their northern borders.  To make matters worse, the Creek and Choctaw had allied themselves with the French.

At the onset of the French and Indian War in 1750, Cherokee, Delaware, Shawnee, and Wyandot leaders seeking inter-tribal peace traveled back and forth through Kentucky on the Great Warrior Road in route to council meetings with representatives of the Six Nations.  While the Cherokee were granted permission from the Six Nations to return to their land north of the Cumberland River, it was a political exchange for their partisan position against the French and all villages sympathetic to French traders.  As part of the peace agreement, Shawnee families began to spend winters with the Cherokee, and warriors began to spend time with the Shawnee.

During the French and Indian War, between 1754 and 1763, blockades cut off salt shipments from the West Indies.  Salt springs and licks in Kentucky became an important resource to the colonists.  Shawnee made salt at Big Bone Lick in Boone County and Blue Licks in Nicholas County in the north.  The Cherokee made salt and buried their dead along Goose Creek near the mouth of Collin’s Creek in Clay County.  The abundance of salt in Kentucky, north and south, did not escape the eyes of the Europeans and later became an issue of national security.

With the signing of the Treaty of Paris in 1763, France gave up all mineral resource and land claims to Kentucky.  In exchange for their help during the war, the British victors proclaimed that Kentucky was to be recognized as Indian Territory and no person could make a treaty with the Cherokee or buy land from them without their permission.  While the treaty of 1763 allowed the Cherokee to retain all of their land in Kentucky, their possession was short-lived.

In 1768, the British superintendent of Indian Affairs convinced the Cherokee to cede their holdings in what is today the state of Virginia to prevent conflicts with encroaching colonists.  British representatives insisted on the negotiation of a new treaty on October 18, 1770, which moved the northeastern boundary of Cherokee country from the New River of West Virginia to the land within the extreme western corner of Kentucky, today known as Pike County.  Two years later, Great Britain requested yet another treaty to purchase all of the land between the Ohio and Kentucky rivers.  

Entrepreneur and colonial judge Richard Henderson, his agent Daniel Boone, and other private citizens met with Cherokee Chiefs along the Watauga River on March 17, 1775.  Henderson and Boone illegally negotiated the cession of all of the land in between the Kentucky, Ohio, and Cumberland rivers to the privately owned Transylvania Company.  Although it has become known as the Treaty of Sycamore Shoals, the entire event was in direct violation of the Royal Proclamation of 1763.  On behalf of England, the colony of Virginia, which then included Kentucky, revoked the treaty.  However, it did not stop Boone and the Transylvania Company from creating the Wilderness Road, which opened the way for an unstoppable and unlimited flow of European immigrants into Kentucky and in direct conflict with the Cherokee.

The Treaty of Sycamore Shoals was negotiated just one month before the beginning of the American Revolution.  Many American Indians living in Kentucky supported the British through the war and beyond to 1794.  Following the example of the Delaware Chief, Coquetakeghton White Eyes, who served as a guide and lieutenant colonel in the American army, a number of mixed-blood Cherokee living in Kentucky, such as King David Benge and Jesse Brock, agreed to serve as scouts.  At the decisive Battle of Kings Mountain, October 7, 1780, there were Cherokee warriors from Kentucky fighting on both sides.

By 1782, individual Cherokee political alliances had become extremely complex.  Some traveled to St. Louis, Missouri to seek protection from the Spanish government, while others moved north and joined the Shawnee on the Scioto River getting supplies and council from the British military.  At the same time, representatives of the Chippewa, Ottawa, Potawatomi, and Wyandot traveled to the Cumberland River valley to council with the Cherokee about joining them in an all out war against the United States.

The American Revolution ended on September 3, 1783 with the signing of the Treaty of Paris.  The Cherokee were not consulted and many did not recognize England’s cession of Kentucky to the United States.  To make matters worse, a group of Tennessee colonists illegally created the State of Franklin with John Sevier as their Governor.  On May 31, 1785, Major Hugh Henry, Sevier, and other representatives of the self-declared state met with Cherokee Chiefs to negotiate the "Treaty of Dumplin Creek," which promised to redefine and extend the Cherokee boundary line.  Because the United States government did not recognize the State of Franklin, the Treaty of Dumplin Creek was deemed illegal.  Seiver and his Franklinites engendered a spirit of distrust between all subsequent treaty-makers and the Cherokee, which led to many bloody conflicts and, ultimately, genocide in Kentucky.

The first official treaty between the United States and Cherokee Nation was negotiated at Hopewell, South Carolina on November 28, 1785.  The Hopewell Treaty included the cession of all land in Kentucky north of the Cumberland River and west of the Little South Fork.  Although Cherokee Chief Corn Tassel, brother of Doublehead, signed the treaty, other clan chiefs did not.  The Hopewell Treaty began a war between the European settlers and the Cherokee living in the Cumberland valley.  They fiercely resented the intrusion of immigrants and were determined upon their expulsion or extermination.

Many Cherokee warriors from Kentucky joined into a confederacy with the Delaware, Miami, Shawnee, and Wyandot who continued to be supplied and encouraged by England to defeat the newly formed country.  For the next thirteen years, they waged war upon the settlements in their land.  Although most American history books do not include this war, it was the first to be declared by Congress in 1790.  It has been referred to as George Washington’s Indian War in the struggle for the old northwest.  In December of 1790, Kentucky settlers petitioned Congress to fight the Cherokee in whatever way they saw fit.  A Board of War was appointed, and on May 23, 1791, it authorized the destruction of Cherokee towns and food resources by burning their homes and crops.

In an attempt to make peace with the Cherokee, and redefine the new boundary lines in Kentucky, the United States negotiated the Treaty of Holston on July 2, 1791.  It restated that the Cherokee land in Kentucky was restricted to the area east of the Little South Fork and south of the Cumberland River.  The treaty was signed by Kentucky born Cherokee Chief Doublehead, his brother, Chief Standing Turkey, their nephew, John Watts, and witnessed by Thomas Kennedy, a representative of Kentucky in the Territory of the United States South of the Ohio River.  Unfortunately, the boundary line remained unclear and disputed by Cherokee not present at the treating signing, and the fighting continued for the next seven years.  One of the last skirmishes in Kentucky occurred at the salt works and Cherokee burial grounds on Goose Creek in Clay County, on March 28, 1795.

The Treaty of Greenville, negotiated in Ohio on August 3, 1795, ended the war between the United States and the confederacy.  The treaty was made between Major General Anthony Wayne, commander of the army of the United States, and the Chippewa, Delaware, Eel River, Kaskaskia, Kickapoo, Miami, Ottawa, Piankeshaw, Potawatomi, Shawnee, Wea, and Wyandot.  Although the treaty tried to settle controversies and to restore harmony and friendly intercourse between the United States and all American Indian Nations, Cherokee chiefs, shamans, and warriors were not permitted to attend.  All of the Cherokees who were living north of the Ohio River subsequently returned to their homes in southern Kentucky.

On October 2, 1798, the first Treaty of Tellico was negotiated with the Cherokee Nation.  It allowed for safe passage of settlers using the Kentucky road, running through Cherokee land between the Cumberland Mountain and the Cumberland River, in exchange for hunting rights on all relinquished lands, a further refinement of the Holston Treaty of 1791.  By 1803, the demand for salt on Cherokee land in Kentucky dramatically increased when England seized American ships involved the salt trade.  In 1805, the remaining Cherokee land in Kentucky was considered crucial to the national security of the United States.  Between October 25 and 27, 1805, Kentucky Cherokee Chief Doublehead singed the final Treaties of Tellico, ceding the land south of the Cumberland River.  Feeling that they had been betrayed and sold out, Doublehead was assassinated on August 9, 1807 in McIntosh Tavern, Hiwassee, Tennessee, by Charles Hicks, Alexander Saunders, and Major Ridge—his own people.

After the last tribal lands were ceded in 1818, Richard Mentor Johnson, a Kentucky born United States Vice President under Martin Van Buren, 1837-1841, acting on behalf of the state of Kentucky, opened the Johnson Indian Academy in Scott County, under the auspices of the Baptist Board of Foreign Missions.  Its purpose was to hasten the civilization process of American Indians by educating the sons of Chiefs of Tribes that had ceded land in Kentucky.  In 1825, the school received federal funding through the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit, and the name was changed to the Choctaw Academy.  The school closed in 1845 from the mismanagement of federal funds.  Many American Indian families that had moved to Scott County to be close to their children remained as a painful alternative to removal to Indian Territory in the West.  Many American Indians who remained in Kentucky acculturated into the existing communities throughout the state.

The Trail of Tears

In 1830, Congress passed the Indian Removal Act, which ordered the removal of all American Indian tribes living in the east to lands west of the Mississippi River.  Although it was successfully challenged by the Cherokee Nation and declared unconstitutional by the United States Supreme Court, then President Andrew Jackson refused to recognize the decision.  His refusal to enforce the court's verdict resulted in the expulsion of more than 16,000 Cherokee from their homes.  The paths of removal through Kentucky are known to the Cherokee as the Trails Where They Cried, also known as the Trail of Tears.  

The Cherokee were forced to move out of Kentucky on three routes, one by water and two by land.  About 3,000 Cherokee traveled out of Kentucky by river to the Indian Territory in Oklahoma.  On June 6, 1838, a steamboat and barge made its way from Ross's Landing on the Tennessee River, today known as Chattanooga, Tennessee, through western Kentucky to the Ohio River, on to the Mississippi and Arkansas rivers, and finally on into Oklahoma.  Extreme drought and disease resulted in many deaths, especially for the children and elderly.  The remaining Cherokees traveled out of Kentucky overland on dirt roads in multiple detachments, upwards of 1,600 each.  John Benge was one of the detachment conductors appointed by then Cherokee Principal Chief, John Ross.  A combination of insect filled flour and corn, tainted meat, lung ailments, and drought made travel through the state extremely difficult and resulted in the death of an untold number of Cherokee.  The exact death toll is impossible to calculate, but it clearly was in the thousands.

In 1987, President Ronald Reagan signed a bill creating the Trail of Tears National Historic Trail.  It includes a park in Hopkinsville, Kentucky, which is one of the few documented campsites used on the Trail of Tears.  In 1996, the National Park Service certified the campsites used between 1838 and 1839 as part of the National Historic Trail of Tears, the only non-federally owned property with this title.  Of particular significance, the Hopkinsville, Kentucky park includes the graves of Fly Smith and Whitepath, Cherokee Chiefs who died during the removal.

Piqua Shawnee Tribe

Historically, the Piqua, also spelled Pekowi and Pekowitha, was a division of the Shawnee.  The name Piqua literally translates into American English as “made of ashes.”  The word originates from a Shawnee phoenix creation story in which a man rises from the ashes.  Some Shawnee have also translated Piqua as the dusty feet people.  The Piqua were known as the second oldest brother of the five brothers or bands of the Shawnee.  They were also known as the talking band because they arranged for the speakers for the Principal Chief.  

In 1774, colonial troops fought the Piqua Shawnee under the leadership of Cornstalk in the battle known as Point Pleasant, West Virginia.  With the death of Cornstalk, they, like the Cherokee, became split in their support of the American Revolution.  By 1778, most of their towns in Kentucky such as Eskippakithiki, today known as Indian Old Fields in Clark County, had been repeatedly destroyed by the American army.  According to the Draper manuscript, many Piqua Shawnee moved from Lower Shawnee Town, in present-day Greenup and Lewis counties, Kentucky to a village near the mouth of the Little Miami River in present-day Hamilton County, Ohio.  Archaeologically, this site is known as the Fort Ancient Madisonville site.  In addition to European trade goods and French gunflints, radiocarbon dating demonstrate that the site was indeed occupied at that time by the Shawnee.  Interestingly, the Madisonville site also produced numerous copper pendants and engraved bone artifacts as well as what may be one of the largest serpentine-shaped earthworks ever discovered.  The importance of the snake symbol is illustrated by the fact it was often used as a tribal sign on eighteenth century Shawnee treaties.  It is quite possible that the earthwork represents a marker for Manato, the snake clan, and the Madisonville site may have been a Shawnee Snake Town.  

Fort Ancient livelihood combined farming, hunting, and gathering.  Domesticated plants such as beans, gourds, maize, squash, and sunflower were grown, and their diet was supplemented with small game hunting and wild plant gathering.  Fort Ancient agricultural land was well-planned and maintained with staggered planting to reduce the risk of crop failure.  They stored their agricultural produce in abundant voluminous bell-shaped storage pits, which allowed them to seasonally leave their villages to make salt and hunt game such as bear, bison, deer, elk, and turkey at places such as Big Bone Lick, Kentucky.  

Recent DNA studies suggest that the ancestry of the Piqua Shawnee may extend even further back in time.  Of the five mitochondrial DNA haplogroups found among all Native Americans (i.e., A, B, C, D, X), haplogroup A has been found in high frequency among living Shawnee and Woodland populations that date between 500 BC and AD 500.  This finding may be related to the initial movement of Shawnee into the North.  

Today, the Piqua Shawnee speak an Algonquian language related to that of the Chippewa, Fox, Kickapoo, Sauk, and other American Indians of the Ohio River valley.  Their kinship is patrilineal, which means that group descent and tribal affiliation is inherited through the father’s family.  Oral histories and traditional ways of life were passed down generation after generation from those who escaped the forced removal during the 1830s.  In 1991, the Governor of Kentucky recognized the Piqua Shawnee as an American Indian tribe indigenous to Kentucky, and the Alabama Indian Affairs Commission under the authority of the Davis-Strong Act recognized the Piqua Shawnee as an American Indian tribe in the state of Alabama.  The Piqua Shawnee have reserve land along the Warrior’s Trail in Jackson County, Kentucky.  Tribal members gather there four times a year for Winter and Summer Council meetings, Spring and Fall Bread Dances and Ceremonies, and the Green Corn Dance and Ceremony.  Today, the Piqua Shawnee are the only recognized tribe in Kentucky.

American Indian Legislation

American Indians in Kentucky were not considered human until 1879, when Standing Bear, a Ponca filed a Writ of Habeas Corpus in the District Court of the United States.  His case set precedence for American Indians living in Kentucky and elsewhere the United States.  However, most American Indians in Kentucky were not considered citizens until 1924.  Before then, some American Indians living in Kentucky acquired citizenship by marrying Euroamerican men or through military service.  Most American Indians living in Kentucky were barred from citizenship until the 1924 Indian Citizenship Act was passed.

Further steps toward the recognition of American Indians in Kentucky began with the passage of the National Historic Preservation Act (NRHPA) of 1966, signed into Public Law by President Lyndon Baines Johnson.  Through the NHPA, a National Register of Historic Places (NRHP) was created, which documents historically significant American Indian places, objects, and culture.  It also provided funding to establish a State Historic Preservation Officer (SHPO) and staff to conduct surveys, undertake comprehensive preservation planning, and establish standards for programs in each state.  The NHPA also required all states to establish a mechanism for certifying local governments to participate in the National Register nomination and funding programs.  In response to the NHPA, Governor Edward Breathitt created the Kentucky Heritage Council (KHC) in 1966 as an agency of the Commerce Cabinet.  One of the directives of the KHC is to identify, preserve, and protect all meaningful American Indian cultural resources in the state.  The KHC subsequently focused its efforts on the documentation and preservation of vestiges of American Indian artistic and cultural resources from hundreds and even thousands of years ago.  Contemporary American Indians, tribes, and organizations in the state were essentially ignored because they were not included in the original composition of the NHPA.  

Visibility of American Indians in Kentucky began to change with the passage of the American Indian Religious Freedom Act (AIRFA), which was signed into Public Law by President James Earl Carter Jr. on August 11, 1978.  Not only does the AIRFA protect and preserve the inherent right of all American Indians and tribes to believe, express, and exercise traditional religions and use items of artistic and material culture that are considered sacred, it also provides American Indians with unlimited access to sacred sites, including those in Kentucky that are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  Unfortunately, these sites also attracted the attention of grave robbers and plunderers for profit.  In 1987, the repugnantly large-scale pillaging of an American Indian cemetery near Uniontown, Kentucky brought international attention to the American Indian people, tribes, and organizations in the Commonwealth when they spoke out against the desecration.  The outcome was a positive change in laws concerning the protection, preservation, and conservation of these sacred places.  Most notably was the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) signed into federal law by President George Bush Sr. on November 16, 1990.  NAGPRA provides a process for the return of human remains, funerary objects, sacred objects, and objects of cultural patrimony to Indigenous lineal descendants and culturally affiliated tribes. 

By 1996, the NHPA had been amended many times to include American Indians, tribes, and organizations in partnership with State and Federal government to provide leadership in the preservation of cultural resources.  The amendments were specifically made to assist American Indians in the expansion and acceleration of historic preservation programs and activities.  The intention of the amendments was to foster communication, cooperation, and coordination between American Indians and the SHPOs in the planning and administration of the NHPA.  These activities include the identification, evaluation, protection, and interpretation of historic properties.  The new amendments to the NHPA allow cultural items and properties of traditional religious and cultural importance to American Indians, tribes, and organizations to be protected and eligible for inclusion on the NRHP.  The amendments to NHPA made it essential that all preservation-related activities, including planning, are carried out in consultation with Indigenous people, tribes, and organizations.  

In 1996, First Lady of Kentucky, Judi Conway Patton, a person of native heritage, felt strongly that American Indians, tribes, and organizations should be represented in the KHC and state government.  At her urging, Governor Paul Edward Patton established the Kentucky Native American Heritage Commission (KNAHC) as an advisory board attached to the Education, Arts, and Humanities Cabinet (EAHC), and authorized by Executive Order 96-272 on March 5, 1996.  Since the creation of the KNAHC, Kentucky has participated in the Governor’s Interstate Indian Council (GIIC), a national organization established in 1949 by the National Governors' Association to promote and enhance government relations between Tribal Nations and the states.  Its mission is to bring respect and recognition to the individual sovereignty of Tribal Nations and states.  The GIIC also supports the preservation of traditional American Indian culture, language, and values, and to encourage socioeconomic development aimed at tribal self-sufficiency. 

In an effort to acknowledge all American Indian people, tribes, and organizations in Kentucky, Governor Paul Edward Patton signed House Bill 801 on April 7, 1998, which designates November as Native American Indian Month.  House Bill 801 not only recognizes that American Indians are important to the state’s history, playing a vital role in enhancing the freedom, prosperity, and greatness of the state, it also reflects the Commonwealth's commitment to American Indians as an integral part of the social, political, and economic fabric of the state of Kentucky.  On April 2, 2004, Governor Ernie Fletcher, a person of native heritage, signed House Bill 167 into law.  House Bill 167 was written by Reginald Meeks and passed by both houses.  It ensures that the KNAHC is a permanent part of the Governor’s cabinet to promote awareness of Indigenous influences within the historical and cultural experiences of Kentucky. 

Notable Native Americans

  • Nonhelema (1720-1787) A female Piqua Shawnee Chief.
  • Red Bird (1721-1796) Also known as Dotsuwa, he inscribed traditional Cherokee symbols on the walls of rosckshelters in Spurlock, Kentucky.  He is the namesake of the Red Bird River and several towns in Kentucky.  He was murdered in Clay County, Kentucky by two men from Tennessee, Edward Miller and John Livingston, an incident of National significance. 
  • Blue Jacket (1737-1808) Last principal War Chief of the Shawnee, Piqua Division, Rabbit Clan, and given the name Sepettekenathe, Big Rabbit.  His chosen name was Waweyapiersenwaw, Whilpool.  He signed the Treaty of Greenville in 1795 and the Treaty of Fort Industry in 1805.
  • Black Hoof (1740-1831) Also known as Catahecassa, he was born near Winchester, Kentucky, and became principal Chief of the Shawnee.  He was present at Braddock’s defeat in 1755, and played a significant role in the battle of Point Pleasant.  He is best known as a Shawnee leader who emphasized peace.
  • Doublehead (1744-1807) Also known as Dsugweladegi and Taltsuska, was born in Sterns, Kentucky.  He served as Principal Chief of the Cherokee and signed multiple treaties with the United States, which ceded significant portions of tribal land and resulted in his blood oath murder on the Hiawasse River in Tennessee. 
  • Jesse Brock (1751-1843) Son of Dotsuwa, Red Bird, he was a Cherokee scout during the American Revolution and present at Yorktown when Cornwallis surrendered. He lived in Wallens Creek in Harlan County, Kentucky.
  • David Benge (1760-1854) Also known as King David Benge, he was the first cousin of Robert Benge and Sequoyah.  He served during the American Revolution and the War of 1812, fighting in the battles of Kings Mountain and Thames.
  • Robert Benge (1766-1794) Also known as the Bench, he was a red-headed Chickamauga War Cherokee Chief, half-brother of Sequoyah and son of John Benge and Red Paint Clan Mother, Wurteh Watts.  
  • Techumeh (1768-1813) Also known as Tikamthi and Tecumtha, Sky Panther, he was born in the Piqua Shawnee village on the Mad River, which was destroyed by Kentucky militia in 1780.  He called for a unification of all Indian people west of the Appalachians, denouncing alcohol, fighting between American Indian groups, and the ways of Europeans. Together with his brother the Prophet, they founded Prophetstown where the Wabash and Tippecanoe rivers meet in Indiana. But their movement to found a unified American Indian nation disbanded after their defeat in the Battle of Tippecanoe in 1811.
  • The Prophet (1775-1837) Also known as Tenskwatawa, brother of Tecumseh, he was a self proclaimed spiritual leader of the Shawnee whose influence spread as far south as the Southern Creek and Siksika.  He had more than 1,000 converts, and his teachings helped create a northern confederacy that held together until the Battle of Tippecanoe in 1811.
  • Sequoyah (1778-1844) Also known as George Guess and George Gist, the single most well-known Cherokee who standardized a system of writing that is still in use today.  He was the son of Nathaniel Gist and Red Paint Clan Mother, Wurteh Watts.  His earliest known writing can be found inscribed in stone at the grave site of Red Bird in Clay County, Kentucky.
  • John Benge (1788-1854) Chickamauga Cherokee Chief, he was the son of Robert Benge.  He served in Morgan’s Cherokee Regiment during the War of 1812.  He voted against removal and served as a wagon-master on the Trail of Tears.
  • Tassel Doublehead (1798-1807) Also known as Tukaho, he was the son of Chief Doublehead and Kateeyeah Wilson.  He was murdered and is buried on a mountain top in Wayne County, Kentucky, known today as Doublehead’s Gap.
  • William Benge (1799-after 1860) Also known as Booger Bill Benge, he was the son of King David Benge.  He performed the Cherokee Booger Stomp dance in Great Salt Petre Cave in Rockcastle County.