Established in 1927
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On January 25, 1927 Blue Licks State Park became Kentucky’s fifth state park. Judge Samuel Wilson of Fayette County, chairman of the Blue Licks Battlefield Monument Commission, presented a deed for thirty-two acres to the Kentucky State Park Commission on behalf of local citizens who had donated the land. Located north of the Lower Blue Licks Crossing in present day Robertson County, the site of the Battle of Blue Licks enshrines the memory of the men who died in one of the worst military defeats of the American Revolution.
The Battle of Blue Licks has the combined drama of frontier warfare and the Revolutionary War. On August 19, 1782, nearly seventy Kentuckians died in what some historians have called the “Last Battle of the American Revolution.” While that claim is debatable, the struggle at Blue Licks embodies the conflict between the American Indian, Kentucky settlers, and the British Crown.
Although Lord Charles Cornwallis had surrendered British forces at Yorktown, Va. on October 19, 1781, bringing to a close the major hostilities of the American Revolution, isolated conflicts between the Americans, British, and Indians still occurred. The Kentucky frontier experienced some of the bloodiest British and Indian raids of the war. With the surrender of Cornwallis, many Kentuckians hoped that the attacks on their homes and settlements had come to an end. Unknown to them, a large force of British and Indians had gathered at Old Chillicothe, Ohio, to prepare for a raid on the frontier settlements.
The British invasion force, made up of an estimated 1,100 men, included a number of Butler’s Rangers from Canada, along with Shawnee and Wyandot Indians. Their invasion plans had targeted Wheeling, West Virginia, but on their way there they received word that George Rogers Clark and the Americans had planned a possible attack on Shawnee territory. The majority of the Shawnee decided to return home to defend their homes. British commander William Caldwell and Captain Alexander McKee, along with sixty Canadians and 300 Indians, some Shawnee, Delaware, Chippewa, Mingo, Ottawa, and mostly Wyandot, changed their plans and decided to attack some of the Kentucky outposts. They chose Bryan’s Station, north of Lexington. On August 15, 1782, Caldwell’s force surrounded the fortified settlement. Seeing that Bryan’s Station had stronger defenses than anticipated, the British and Indians withdrew and began their journey home.
When word of the attack on Bryan’s Station reached other Kentucky settlements, groups of militiamen prepared to come to their neighbors’ defense. Col. John Todd, commander of the Fayette County militia, raised a force of 180 men comprised of about 130 men from Lincoln County under the command of Lt. Col. Stephen Trigg, and about 45 men from Fayette County under the command of Lt. Col. Daniel Boone, to help repulse the enemy. Col. Benjamin Logan and a large force of militia were also on their way to assist their beleaguered fellow Kentuckians. By the time Todd and his militiamen arrived at Bryan’s Station the enemy had gone. Instead of waiting for Logan and reinforcements, Todd decided to pursue and overtake the British and Indians. His decision would be disastrous.
The retreating invasion force left Todd and his men an excellent trail to follow. On August 19, the Kentucky militia caught up with the British and Indians at Blue Licks. The night before the battle Todd’s men had debated whether they should wait for Logan or engage the enemy at once. According to legend Major Hugh McGary insisted that the militia attack immediately. Boone warned of a possible ambush from surrounding ravines, but to no avail. On the day of the battle McGary supposedly rode his horse into the waters of the Licking River, waving his hat and calling out, “All those who are not cowards, follow me!” His fellow Kentuckians charged after him.
As they reached the north shore of the Licking, the Kentuckians began to ready for an attack. An advance column of Kentuckians then proceeded up a hill where some Indians had been spotted, followed by three groups of the main force. Todd commanded the center; Trigg led the right flank, and Boone the left. As the advance party reached within 50 yards of an area of ravines, the British and Indians who had been lying in wait launched their attack on the Kentuckians.
Within 15 minutes the Kentucky militiamen had been defeated. The British and Indians inflicted heavy casualties on the surprised Kentuckians, forcing them to flee for their lives. Both Todd and Trigg died in the battle, as did Daniel Boone’s youngest son, Israel. A few of the Kentucky militia stood their ground, trying to provide cover for their retreating comrades. The Indians pursued the routed Kentuckians for about two miles, and then came back to the battlefield to scalp and mutilate their victims. The Kentuckians had lost some 70 men. The British and Indians suffered about two dozen casualties with only 10 killed. Logan’s force of 500 men met some of the fleeing survivors about five miles from the battle site. Logan and his men arrived at Blue Licks and buried the grisly remains of their fallen comrades.
The Battle of Blue Licks did not have an effect on the Revolutionary War. It did, however, cause Gen. George Rogers Clark to lead another military expedition against the Indians in Ohio. He destroyed Chillicothe and five other Indian towns in his reprisal for Blue Licks. The power of the Indians in the Old Northwest had been weakened.
With the deaths of Todd, Trigg, and others, the Kentucky frontier lost some of its most prominent leaders. The Battle of Blue Licks had again proven the vulnerability of the Kentucky settlements to attack. Not until the end of the War of 1812 would Kentuckians feel secure from Indian raids from across the Ohio River.
On August 19, 1928, the 136th anniversary of the battle, Federal Judge A.M.J. Cochran of Maysville, chairman of the Blue Licks Battlefield Monument Commission, called to order an estimated audience of 10,000 people for the formal dedication ceremonies of the Blue Licks Battlefield State Park. Judge Cochran then introduced the secretary treasurer of the Commission, Judge Innes Ross of Carlisle. Ross related to the audience the efforts of those who had worked for over 42 years for the establishment of a state park to commemorate the men who died in the battle of Blue Licks.
In 1928 the Kentucky General Assembly appropriated money for the erection of a granite monument inscribed with the names of those who died on August 19, 1782. At the base of the monument would be the names of the Indian tribes that fought in the battle. That same year the Commission employed the famous landscape firm of Olmstead Brothers of Brookline, Mass. to design the entrance parking section and roadway of the new park. In 1930 the legislature appropriated another $20,000 for expansion of the park. The appropriation provided funds for the construction of a museum and more landscaping. On August 19, 1931 officials dedicated the museum and new road that accessed the park. The museum housed the T.W Hunter Collection of prehistoric animal bones and the W.J. Curtis Collection of guns, Indian artifacts, and other items.
The Kentucky General Assembly appropriated $22,500 in 1934 to build a new museum and continue with other park improvements. With the Great Depression causing economic havoc throughout the nation, the federal government set up a transient workers camp at Blue Licks. Under the oversight of the U.S. Army the transient workers supplied both skilled and unskilled labor for various projects within the park. Improvements to Blue Licks continued through 1938.
In 1950 the holdings of the Blue Licks State Park increased in size by 68 acres to a total of 100 acres. Efforts to add more land to the park had begun in 1943. The permanent acquisition of the W.J. Curtis Collection that had been on loan greatly enhanced the park’s artifacts holdings. Between 1960 and 1968, the state gave an additional $200,000 for renovations and improvements to the park.
Blue Licks now has 148 acres and over 50 campsites with water and electricity. Each August, the park hosts a reenactment of the Battle of Blue Licks. One unique feature of the park is the existence of a rare plant. The Short’s Goldenrod is the first plant in Kentucky placed on the endangered species list of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The plant is named after amateur botanist Dr. Charles W. Short.