Western Kentucky has been inhabited by humans since 13,000 BC.
Historical remains of Native American inhabitation can be seen at
Wickliffe Mounds in northwestern Ballard County. This archaeological
site of a village of the Mississippian mound builders is located on a
bluff overlooking the Mississippi river. This complex settlement, was
occupied from about 1100 A.D. to 1350 A.D., featured permanent houses
and earthen mounds situated around a central plaza. The inhabitants
farmed the river bottoms and participated in a vast trade network. The
French explorers Jacques “Pere” Marquette and Louis Joliet were the
first Europeans to explore the area and their expedition claimed the
Middle Mississippi River Valley for the French. At that time Western
Kentucky was mostly the territory of the Chickasaw tribe. The end of the
French and Indian War in 1763 saw France ceding all lands in Canada and
all lands east of the Mississippi, including Kentucky, to the British.
Possession of Kentucky went to the United States at the end of the
Revolutionary War in 1783. The westernmost part of Kentucky, west of the
Tennessee River, was recognized as hunting ground belonging to the
Chickasaw by the 1786 Treaty of Hopewell.
first Kentucky was a part of Virginia. Several factors contributed to
the desire of the residents of Kentucky County to separate from
Virginia. First, traveling to the state capital was long and dangerous.
Second, offensive use of local militia against Indian raids required
authorization from the governor of Virginia. Third, settlers felt they
received unfair treatment from the courts concerning land claims. Last,
Virginia refused to recognize the importance of trade along the
Mississippi River to Kentucky's economy. Kentuckians struggled for years
but finally on June 1, 1792 the United States Congress accepted the
Kentucky Constitution and admitted it as the 15th state. Settlement in
Western Kentucky was sparse until 1818 because of attacks by the
Chickasaw. In 1818 the U.S. Federal government purchased the claims to a
large territory held by the Chickasaw. This area comprised the lands
bounded by the Mississippi River to the west, the Ohio River to the
north, and Tennessee River to the east. It also included all of
Tennessee west of the Tennessee River. This acquisition was called the
Jackson Purchase, after Andrew Jackson who was a major land speculator
at the time and who would later become the seventh President of the
United States. The Jackson Purchase includes all 8 western Kentucky
counties. The four counties of Western Kentucky that border the
Mississippi River are Ballard, Carlisle, Hickman, and Fulton.
County was formed in 1821 and named after Captain Paschal Hickman who
was killed during the War of 1812. Ballard
County was organized in 1842 from portions of Hickman County and
McCracken County and was named after Captain Bland Ballard, a member of the
Kentucky General Assembly. Its county seat is Wickliffe. Carlisle County
was formed in 1886 from part of Ballard County and was named after John
Griffin Carlisle, a Speaker of the United States House of
Representatives. Its county seat is Bardwell. Fulton County is the
westernmost of Kentucky's counties and was organized in 1845 from
Hickman County. It was named in honor of Robert Fulton, then American
engineer and inventor who is widely credited with developing the first
commercially successful steamboat. Its county seat is Hickman. Visitors to Western
Kentucky can explore the history of these counties and their communities
at local museums including the Fulton County Museum in Clinton, the
Carlisle County Museum and Library in Bardwell, and the Barlow House
Museum in Barlow.
During the Civil War Confederate Major General Leonidas Polk violated
the Commonwealth's neutrality in September of 1861 by ordering Brigadier
General Gideon Johnson Pillow to occupy Columbus. Columbus was of
strategic importance both because it was the terminus of the Mobile and
Ohio Railroad and because of its position along the Mississippi River.
Polk constructed Fort DuRussey which he called "The Gibraltar of the
West" on the high bluffs and equipped it with 143 cannons. To control
traffic along the river, Polk stretched an anchor chain across the river
from the bank in Columbus to the opposite bank in Belmont, Missouri.
Today Columbus-Belmont State Park interprets the fort as well as
providing recreational and natural activities.
Western Kentucky provides it visitors with a variety of activities,
whether it be riding across the Mississippi River on the Hickman-Dorena
ferry, interacting with nature at sites like the Ballard Wildlife
Management Area, or visiting the many historical museums and sites..