Before the Settlers

Evidence of human activity in Kentucky extends back to around 13,000 BCE when Pre-Paleoindians first entered the region following the retreat of the last ice age. Many different Native American cultures co-existed in modern-day Kentucky over the millennia that followed, before they were destroyed or driven out out by the colonizationof the area by European settlers.

The name “Kentucky,” established by John Filson, likely originated from a Cherokee chief’s expression at the Treaty of Sycamore Shoals in 1775. Filson associated the phrase “Kentucky” with what he understood to mean “Dark and Bloody Ground”, referring to the Native American cultures seeking control over the rich hunting grounds in the area.

These hunting grounds were largely reliant on the buffalo traces that crossed the region, paths forged by herds of buffalo in search of salt licks, watering holes, and spots to graze on grass that grew from the fertile limestone soil of the region. Herds would leave the area for years at a time, allowing saplings of the region’s venerable trees to grow strong before the bison returned, creating woodland pastures around them. 

Upon European colonization, these trees were used by the settlers as timber to build encampments, stockades, and homes. These clusters of trees would also make the area attractive for wealthy landowners to build large estate homes on the outskirts of early Lexington, which now dot the North End. Some of these trees remain near the sites of these large estate homes, preserved by the creation of city parks like Duncan and Castlewood; because of this, the North End of today is one of the largest “hot spots” of ancient trees in Lexington.