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The ‘Dark and Bloody Ground’


This state historical marker for Chief Paduke is in Paducah, in far western Kentucky.

This state historical marker for Chief Paduke is in Paducah, in far western Kentucky.

Chief Paduke, clad in buckskin clothing and a blanket wrapped loosely about his shoulders, met with his council. His headdress was made of eagle and turkey feathers hanging down his back indicated his years and stature. Paduke, respected by the other chiefs and warriors for his great courage, cunning and wisdom, sat on a low throne draped with skins of different animals.

Although it was winter, bark and long grass covered the framed poles of the council house keeping the cold winds out while a bright fire warmed those within. The crackle of the fire and sweetness of the burning wood was comforting.

There were no Indian villages in Kentucky as different tribes clashed, fighting fierce battles over the fertile, abundant territory of Kentucky. It became known as “Dark and Bloody Ground.”

As the Indian council met another battle with an opposing tribe was imminent. Paduke sat with his head bowed for a long while before he began talking in a low, hoarse voice. The content of this talk was handed down among the Indians.

“My people, many snows have settled upon my hair and it is white. It will not be many moons before I must leave you and go to the happy hunting ground with the Great Spirit.

“You, my braves, have fought many battles to hold the hunting ground of our fathers. Sometimes you have won and sometimes the Great Spirit has not been pleased. It is a good land and many of our fathers and brave warriors are buried in its bosom. You must guard their graves and keep this land for our people.

“It is a beautiful land of mountains and meadows, woods and streams, that our enemies will take from us unless you are brave and please the Great Spirit. My brave chiefs and warriors must hold it.

“Many wars have made it the ‘Dark and Bloody Ground,’ but it is a land of plenty — a land of fruits and nuts, birds, animals and fish. Bear, buffalo, deer, elk, beaver and many other animals are good for food and their skins keep us warm and cover our wigwams.

“Clouds of birds swarm overhead and roost among the low trees in such numbers that they are easily taken. Plenty of pheasants, quail and turkeys roam the forests, meadows and canebrakes.

“Ducks, geese and swans swim on our streams. The creeks and rivers hold many fish that are easily caught and are good food for our people. These are our mountains and valleys, our woods and meadows. The streams, the sunshine, moonshine and starshine have been given to us by the Great Spirit.

“The beaver will give you power in the waters and the eagle will give you power to climb mountains. The deer will teach you to be swift of foot and the buffalo will teach you to be strong. The wild geese will tell you of the coming of winter.

“The thick moss and bark on the side of trees will show you the way. Go, my children, and learn from the wild creatures. Learn how to hold the land from your enemies. Learn from the old hunters how to hold the bow and aim your arrows.

“Many moons ago this land was held by another people who built mounds of earth for forts and for places where they might pray to the Great Spirit and bury their dead. They are gone and do not return and we claim this land for our people.

“Be brave, my people, and hold to this land of our fathers.

“When I am gone, bury my strong bow and straight arrows, my tomahawk, and faithful old hunting dog with me. I shall need them in the happier hunting ground beyond the dark river.”

Paduke then bowed his head in silence for a long time as the tribesmen muttered among themselves.

Unknown to all those present, the Indians would soon face an even greater threat to their existence as the westward migration of pioneers would soon begin.

The Indian fire burned low.

l Jadon Gibson is a widely read Appalachian writer. His stories are both historic and nostalgic in nature. Thanks to Lincoln Memorial University, Alice Lloyd College and the Museum of Appalachia for their assistance.

©2021 JADON GIBSON

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