Big Bone Timeline

Compiled by Don Clare


Charles Le Moyne, the second Baron de Longueuil, while commanding a French Canadian military expedition out of Canada against the Chickasaw Indians in the Mississippi River Valley ( who were hostile to the French and interfering with the communications between the French occupied Louisiana and Canada), is credited with the ‘discovery’ of Big Bone Lick by a white European.


The Englishman, Robert Smith, a British Indian trader living on the Big Miami River visits Big Bone in related to Christopher Gist in 1751. Jacques Nicolas Bellin’s map is published in Paris, which includes one of the first, if not the first, references to the French discovery of Big Bone Lick.


Pierre Joseph Celeron leads another expedition out of Canada and down the Ohio River, but does not make it as far as Big Bone Lick, turning around at the mouth of the Big Miami River.


Georges Louis LeClerc, Comte de Buffon, the distinguished leading naturalist of the 18 century, publishes his first volume of “Historie naturelle”. The number of volumes in this series would eventually reach 36 during his lifetime, and another eight would be completed and published posthumously after his death in 1788. It was Buffon who proposed and championed the theory of degeneracy in North American mammals.


Colonel Christopher Gist visits Big Bone Lick while employed as a land surveyor and scout for the Ohio Land Company. He records in his journal that he obtained two large teeth from 2 men employed by Robert Smith who were returning from Big Bone Lick.


The backwoods Indian trader, John Findley, visits Big Bone Lick on a trading expedition with the Ohio Indians.


Mary Draper Ingles initiates her daring escape from her Shawnee Indian captors who brought her there on a salt making expedition from their Scioto River village, after taking her captive in July of that year during a raid on the frontier settlement of Draper Meadows in Virginia. 

Lewis Evans publishes his ‘A General Map of the Middle English Colonies in America’ which is the first English map to note Big Bone Lick with the words “Elephant Bones found here”.


The French and Indian War (also called the Seven-Years War in Europe) ends with the signing of the Treaty of Paris.


Colonel George Croghan makes the first considerable collection of fossilized bones from Big Bone Lick during one of his extensive western territory explorations. Less than a week later, on his return, he and his men are captured and plundered by Indians near the mouth of the Wabash and he narrowly escapes death. His collection of bones is completely lost.


A year later, Captain Harry Gordon, a young army engineer and his associate geographer, Ensign Thomas Hutchins, accompanies Colonel George Croghan on another expedition down the Ohio, and makes a comprehensive collection of bones and teeth, some of which are sent to Lord Shelbourne and Benjamin Franklin in London, England to study.


Peter Collinson of London reports to the Royal Society of London on the fossils which George Croghan and Harry Gordon sent to Lord Shelbourne and Benjamin Franklin. Benjamin Franklin writes a letter from London to George Croghan discussing the “elephant’s tusks and grinders” which Croghan sent from Big Bone Lick. Franklin later presents these specimens to the Royal Society of London.


William Hunter presents to the Royal Society of London his observations on the mastodon fossils from Big Bone Lick sent to Lord Shelbourne and Dr. Franklin.


The first official survey of the land encompassing Big Bone Lick is made by John Floyd, deputy surveyor of Fincastle County, Virginia, under Colonel William Preston. This survey is recorded in 1774 as having been made for Colonel William Christian who was awarded land patents in Kentucky County, Virginia for his military service during the French and Indian War. Christian’s wife is Annie Henry, a sister of Patrick Henry.


On a mid-summer surveying trip down the Ohio River, Captain Thomas Bullitt and Hancock Taylor, along with their surveying crew of the brothers James, George, and Robert McAfee and James McCoun and Samuel Adams spend some time at Big Bone Lick and record what they see, reportedly using rib bones for tent poles and vertebrae for camp seats.


Another pioneer surveyor, James Douglass, visits the Lick in the fall of the year and records the fact that a large number of bones of huge animals are scattered about the place.


Thomas Hanson reports the same findings in his journal when he visits Big Bone with the surveyors John Floyd and James Douglas, who survey another 2000 acres for William Christian who already owns 1000 acres at the salt springs. William Christian is also an acquaintance and colleague of Thomas Jefferson. In 1785, Colonel Christian moves his family to land holdings he owns near Sturgis Station in the Beargrass region (present Jefferson County)… He is killed by Indians one year later.


Nicholas Cresswell describes what he sees and collects at Big Bone Lick in his travel journals of 1744-1777.


The Declaration of Independence is written by Thomas Jefferson and approved and adopted by the Continental Congress, severing all dependence on and ties with England. Yet the international science community continues to collaborate on the identification of Big Bone Lick fossil bones.


Thomas Hutchins’ map is published in London. He includes on it the location of Big Bone Lick which he visited with Captain Harry Gordon in 1766 by designating it simply “Big Bone”.


Thomas Jefferson, Governor of Virginia, delivers a military grant to Big Bone Lick and surrounds to Colonel Christian, based on Floyd’s 1000 acre survey of 1772.


Colonel Christian sells his 1000 acre grant, which includes Big Bone Lick, to David Ross. This transaction marks the first sale of the land encompassing Big Bone Lick ever recorded.


In a letter to his friend James Steptoe, Thomas Jefferson expresses his excitement after receiving the former’s letter “wherein you give me hopes of being able to procure for me some of the big bones…”.


John Filson writes the first description of Big Bone Lick to appear in an American book with his “The Discovery, Settlement, and Present State of Kentucke” Filson also publishes “This Map of Kentucky, etc.”, which marks the location of Big Bone with “the large bones are found here.”


The only book to be written by Thomas Jefferson is published in English for public consumption. As a response to a set of standard queries sent out in 1780 to various American dignitaries by Francois de Barbe, the Secretary of the French Legation to America, Jefferson begins writing his responses in 1781. In 1784 he has 200 copies privately printed in France for his friends. After a very inaccurate translation of the book is pirated and printed in the French language without his permission, he finally authorizes the publication of a revised and corrected American version. In his book he refutes Buffon’s North American Degeneracy theory, specifically citing fossilized evidence from Big Bone Lick.


Kentucky becomes the fifteenth state in the Union on June first


Captain Gilbert Imlay publishes his “Topographical Description of the Western Territory of North America” in London. In this publication he discusses the possible origin of the bones and identifies Big Bone as “Great Bone Lick”.


General William Henry Harrison (another future U.S. president) makes a massive collection of bones from Big Bone Lick, filling a total of 13 hogsheads, all of which are lost when the boat transporting them capsizes and sinks on the Ohio River just below Pittsburgh.


A fine collection of bones comes into the possession of Thomas Jefferson from a collection made by the French General Colland. As a token of his esteem, Jefferson sends a portion of these to Georges Cuvier, the noted French anatomist and paleontologist, who published on them in Paris.

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