As you walk this trail let your mind wander back to another time. Think about how early settlers and Native Americans made use of the things nature provided them. Interpretive signs along the trail will help….
1. Smaller plants, easily overlooked today, helped make frontier life a little more bearable. Sassafras, rose nips, and mint made good teas, and berries brightened a monotonous diet. Salads were made of dandelions, wild lettuce, and pokeweed. Medicinal herbs took the place of drugs, and before the flax was harvested, nettles were used to make thread for weaving. Lamp wicks were fashioned from milkweed and moss.
2. Some of what has now reverted to forest was once fields, cleared by Thomas Lincoln’s labor. He planted most of the land in corn, a staple of the frontier diet that was made into pone, corn bread, hominy, and hoe cakes. The husks were used to stuff mattresses. Corn was also used to make whiskey, a common medium of exchange on the frontier.
3. The large depression here is called the Big Sink. The natural spring that flowed here until the 1930’s was one of the features homesteaders looked for in choosing a site to build their log cabins.
4. The forest is a living ecosystem. Where once a large colony of Mayapples were found, now shadowed by the forest canopy, we find other plants have moved into the area. The habitat for the Mayapple is in rich deciduous woodlands, meadows, and moist shaded road banks so it is surprising that the Mayapples have disappeared. Just a short distance from this spot, along the trail to your left, you will find another healthy stand of Mayapples.
Mayapple fruit is edible when ripe but all other parts of the plant are poisonous. Native Americans used the powdered root as an insecticide.
5. Here the trail joins and follows an old wagon road which crossed the Lincoln farm. The cut remains deep even after three quarters of a century of disuse. Travel was much slower in the days of Lincoln. The move here from Elizabethtown, KY, approximately 12 miles, would have taken the family all day by horse and wagon. The slow pace allowed them time to notice the small and insignificant – a small rabbit dashing across the path, a wildflower in bloom, or maybe a robin feeding her young.
6. Small animals like opossum, raccoon, fox, rabbit, turkey, and squirrel that a visitor might see today were an important source of food for the Lincolns. Thomas also brought home larger animals such as deer, bison, elk, and black bear, which beside meat, provided clothes and bedding for the early settlers.
7. The White Oak tree was one of the most useful trees found in Kentucky forests. Its hardwood was turned into log cabins, fence rails, farm implements, and fuel. The acorns of the oak could be eaten in an emergency.
8. Wind and ice storms are quite frequent in this part of Kentucky. As the ever changing forest adapts to this change, trees are blown down making room for others to grow. The Shagbark hickory that once stood at this spot is now creating soil to enrich the forest and feed the younger growing trees. See if you can find another Shagbark hickory along your walk.
As you walk the trail you may see other plants that were foodstuff for the pioneer. Persimmons were gathered when ripe and baked into bread. Muscadine grapes were eaten raw or cooked for jelly. Pioneers also fermented the grapes and made wine out of them. Wild grapes, on the other hand were dried and eaten as raisins. Walnuts and hickory nuts were boiled for oil. The oil then mixed with ground corn (hominy) and eaten. The nuts were also used to make dyes. Bear fat was mixed with corn meal and fried as corn cakes.
The land is rolling upland plain, and the soil, although not particularly fertile, was ample to support crops of corn, beans, squash, and the few head of livestock that provided the livelihood of the early Kentucky settlers. The area around Hodgenville was not generally inhabited by Native Americans in historic times, but was used rather as hunting and fishing grounds by the Cherokees, Chickasaws, and tribes of the Iroquois Nation. The first white men in Kentucky were probably the French. However in 1750 Dr. Thomas Walker explored eastern Kentucky on behalf of the Loyal Land Company, heralding the dawn of English competition with the Native Americans and the French who claimed the territory as part of the French colonial empire.
The Treaty of Paris of 1763 ended the French-British disputes over the territory, although the Proclamation of 1763 forbade English settlement of Kentucky; when colonization began a dozen years later, the pioneer emigrants found Kentucky truly a "dark and bloody ground." The clearing and homesteading provoked violent clashes with the Native Americans who resented this invasion of their game reserves. In spite of these dangers, however, in November of 1788 Robert Hodgen and John Close built two mills on the Nolin and South Fork Creeks. These mills later became the nuclei of two permanent settlements in Hardin, (now LaRueCounty) Kentucky.
The Land That Molded the Man
Many believe that Abraham Lincoln’s early contacts with the land here in Kentucky led to a deep personal respect for the small, commonplace, everyday aspects of life which shaped his goals and became the cornerstone of his ideals for this county.
In this brief encounter with the land Lincoln passed over, you will have the opportunity to interact with the environment that shaped his life. When you return home, look around in your environment to see what influences are shaping your life. In leaving this spot, remember that the heritage that so influenced Lincoln and other pioneers is a heritage worth preserving for the future of all Americans.
For the safety of both you and the forest community, please:
Take only pictures and memories, leave only foot prints.
Leave plants and animals undisturbed.
Stay on the trail.
Do not litter!