Genealogy Trails


A question is often asked, “From whence and when did the first white settlers come into present day Harrison County?” A map prepared by Charles Nebeker Thompson for the 1932 Yearbook of the Society of Indiana Pioneers gives a date of 1792.

Credited among the first white men to come within the bounds of the present county was Squire Boone, the brother of Daniel Boone. On one of his early expeditions, Squire was being pursued by a band of hostile Indians, when he took refuge in a small cave along the hills of Buck Creek. The Indians passed nearby without discovering his hiding place. If we assume this date of 1792 to be correct, this deed could be credited to Squire Boone, who was living at this early date in the vicinity of Doe Run across the Ohio in Kentucky.

The Harbisons and Penningtons are said to have settled near a salt spring at present day Lanesville prior to 1800. They made a clearing and planted a crop of corn when Indians came and drove them off. Shortly after 1800, these two families returned from Kentucky and made a permanent settlement at Lanesville.

Kentucky became a state in 1792, and it is well to assume that, by 1800, pioneers residing across the Ohio in Hardin and Breckenridge counties ventured north across the Ohio to settle in the part of Indiana Territory that dipped deep into Kentucky. Later, parts of Hardin and Breckenridge counties were taken to form Meade County in 1823.

To facilitate the travel of these pioneers across the Ohio, crude ferries were early established. During the summer months when the Ohio was at the lowest stage, there was a shallow place in the river called “Boone’s Ford.” This place in the Ohio was near where the old U.S. Navigation Dam 43 was once located.

Many of the early pioneers settling in present day Harrison County came from the eastern states. Many made the trip west from Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, the Carolinas, Georgia and Tennessee. The overland route they traveled was a well beaten trace called the Wilderness Road. This route crossed the mountains at Cumberland Gap in southeastern Kentucky and then crossed through central Kentucky in a northwesterly direction to the Falls of the Ohio at Louisville. This route passed through the Kentucky settlements of Barbourville, London, Crab Orchard, Stanford, Danville, Harrodsburg, Bardstown and Shepherdsville. Near the latter place, the road turned north to Louisville.

From Shepherdsville, one branch of the Wilderness Road veered up a northwesterly direction to Salt Landing on the Ohio River. As early as 1807, a ferry was established by William Smith at the mouth of Eight Mile Creek on the Indiana bank. Smith failed to give the proper legal bond and John Brinley (sometimes spelled Brindley) purchased the ferry. In 1809, Brinley began operating the ferry from Eight Mile Creek to the Kentucky side of the Ohio at Salt Landing.

Downstream from Brinley’s ferry were Colvin and Trueman’s ferries, and near the site of the former Dam No. 43 was Lee’s and Cosenberry’s ferries. In the big bend of the Ohio in the vicinity of the mouth of Otter Creek were Lane’s, Norris’ and Sturgin’s ferries.

Leonard’s ferry was located at Tobacco Landing, and just below that point was Armstrong’s and Marsh’s. Opposite Brandenburg, Ky., was Doup’s, and Samuel McAdams operated a ferry at New Amsterdam. Mauck’s ferry was at Lick’s Run by Mauckport, and Oatman’s ferry was just below the present city of New Albany.

Early Harrison County levied taxes on these Ohio River ferries. According to the tax records, Brinley, Mauck and Oatman paid the highest taxes of all the opera-tors, which leads one to believe that they had more elaborate equipment at their crossing points.From the crossing points of these ferries on the Ohio were roads or traces leading to Corydon located some 15 to 20 miles from the river. Over these routes travelled many of the first pioneers settling in Harrison County. Many of these early settlers of Indiana Territory were the descendant.s of early families of Kentucky families who had lived for a generation along the Wilderness Road of central Kentucky before migrating north and westward.

These traces from the Ohio to Corydon were nothing more than a well beaten dirt path made by herds of buffalo as they migrated between water holes, pastures, mud flats and salt springs. The buffalo were nature’s first road engineers. Through their natural instinct, they travelled the high ground, crossed the streams at shallow fording places and generally kept on a direct course of travel.

When the settlers first arrived, the buffalo were still so plentiful that travelers often had to seek shelter to avoid being trampled by a moving herd.

One of the most widely known trace made by migrating herds was the Old Buffalo Trace which crossed the northern part of Harrison County and was used as a direct road by travelers from the Falls of the Ohio at Clarksville to Vincennes on the Wabash.

Governor’s Trace extended on west from Corydon to Governor Harrison’s Mill near Blue River and then northwest to French Lick and Buffalo Trace, which was the main road to Vincennes. Early roads extended north and northwest from Corydon to the northern regions of early Harrison County. Another well travelled road east from Corydon to the Falls of the Ohio at Clarksville was called the Ridge Road or The Big Road. This road followed an elevated ridge from Corydon approximately 12 miles until it reached the “Knobs” or hills of the Ohio. These roads east, west and north out of Corydon were all laid out as early as 1809.

The early records in the court-house at Corydon contain numerous accounts of viewers being appointed to lay out the best route for these early roads, supervisor being appointed, and hands being named to open and maintain these roads. There are also many accounts of changes in the routes of roads to make them more passable.

Early travel in the area was done on foot or by horseback. Early settlers occasionally moved their earthly possessions by wagon. This was not the best mode of travel during this early pioneer period of Harrison County, as the wagons often broke down or bogged down in the mud flats. In the summer, horseflies and mosquitoes were prevalent.

Settlers often travelled during the winter months in order to be at their destination by spring, when they would clear land and plant crops.

Travel by water on the Ohio was also used by the pioneers moving into Harrison County. This was costly as well as dangerous. Indians and river pirates lurked along the bank waiting for a victim to prey upon.

Early settlers built flatboats and broadhorns and floated with the current down the Ohio from Pittsburgh.

Those travelling by the water route had problems at the Falls of the Ohio at Louisville. There had to be enough water in the river so they could safely “shoot the rapids.” Their belongings had to be unload-ed and carted around the falls then reloaded below the rapids. Generally, a pilot was employed; at the falls or rapids to safely guide the boat through one of the threechutes and bring the flatboat or broadhorn safely into the lower river without dashing the boat into pieces. An early canal on the Kentucky side of the Falls opened in 1830, and, with the coming of the steamboats in 1811, river travel became less hazardous.

A good source for reading of early traveling in Indiana was published in 1970 by the Indiana Historical Bureau and is titled “Travel Accounts of Indiana 1679-1961.” It was compiled by Shirley S. McCord.
Source: Harrison County's Earliest Years by Frederick P. Griffin

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