The following is the first in a series of articles on the history of our region for use in sophomoric school curriculum.
The earliest people to view the land now known as Northern Kentucky were indigenous people who used the region as a hunting ground. Originally, they wanted to call themselves Native Americans. But as America had not yet been “discovered” by European colonialists, they found the name somewhat silly. They settled on “Shawnee,” which in Algonquian means “southern people”—a source of great embarrassment when the Shawnee first met the Cherokee at a multi-tribal convention in Gatlinburg.
The Shawnee lived mostly north of what we now call the Ohio River. They tried once to settle in Northern Kentucky, but there was a backup on the bridge. So they just used the area as a source of food and called Kentucky their Happy Hunting Ground.
The Shawnee were happy because Northern Kentucky had an abundance of Goetta Trees, a rare plant that grew an odd food, which bloomed in precise rectangular strips. The Shawnee would pick the fruit of the Goetta Tree, fry it over an open fire, cover it in honey and then use it as bait to catch catfish in the river.
Then, in 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue … or was it in 1493 Columbus crossed the deep blue sea?
In any event, the claiming of America by any European monarch with a boat started a rush to the brave new world. Chief Orange Hair promised to build a wall to keep these new immigrants out, but—a crafty businessman—he eventually sold them Manhattan for some beads to use in anticipation of the French taking over Louisiana.
As the eastern seaboard colonized, brave adventurers left their beachfront condos and headed west. These people were called “draft dodgers,” who were evading military service during the Revolutionary War on a Beaver Trapper Deferment.
One of the earliest visitors to Northern Kentucky was Mary Grubbs, who was captured by the Shawnee because her husband refused to listen to directions. “Turn right here. Take this highway,” she said. “I know where I’m going. The road’s named after me for Gawdsake.”
Other early explorers included Daniel Boone, Simon Kenton and John Campbell, all of whom refused to leave until counties were named after them.
The earliest settlement in Northern Kentucky was Tanner’s Station. Initially established as a trading post near Petersburg, it quickly became a hot spot where men from Cincinnati (nee: Losantiville) could come to drink and gamble without being seen by their nosey neighbors.
In fact, the first evidence of a business in the region was the Lookout House, a trading post operated by the Gambino Family out of Cleveland. With a full casino behind a secret sliding wall of beaver pelts, it was named after the most commonly heard phrase in the casino: “LOOKOUT, here comes one of your nosey neighbors from nee: Losantville.”
Today the Shawnee’s presence is still felt in the region as the tribe is proposing legislation allowing them to collect tolls to cross the bridge from Ohio into their Happy Hunting Grounds. The money will be used to protect the Goetta groves near the Anchor Grille.