An Indian Account of Big Bone Lick and Legends Concerning It

Letter of 1762

James Wright to John Bartram


edited by

Jhon Hampton, M. A.


The Original is in the British Museum
B. M. Additional Mss 216 48, ff. 333-334.



Respected friend,

      Pursuant to thy request, I have made as particular an Enquiry relating to those bones thou mentions, as I possibly Could, from two Sincible Shawanese Indians, Assisted by an Interpreter, And the Substance of what they Say is as follows — the place where they lye is about 3 miles from the Ohio, salt & moist, as well as I could judge by their description of it seems to contain 30 or 40 Acres, in the Midst of a large Savannah, 4 days Journey Below the lower Shawanese town, on the East Side of the river, that there appear to be the remains of 5 Entire Sceletons, with their heads All pointing towards Each other, And near together, supposd to have fallen at the same time; when they were desired to describe their several parts, they began with their heads, of which two were larger than the rest, one of these, they said a Man Could but Just Grasp in Both his Arms, with a long Nose, And the Mouth on the under side, they next mentioned the shoulder blade, which when Set on End, reached to their Shoulders, And they were both tall men, What they Call'd the Cup (or socket) of this bone, was equal in size to a large bowl, the thigh bone when broke asunder, would admit of a little boy's Creeping into it — they were askd if they had seen those long bones they Call'd horns, they Answered they had, And by the distance from where they stood to the door, Showd them to be 10 or 12 feet long, And added that by the Bones, they Judged the Creature when Alive must have been the Size of a Small House, pointing from the Window to a Stable in Sight; — I askd them if the Place where they lay was Surounded with Mountains, So as to admit a probability of its Ever having been a lake, they Answered, they place was salt and Wettish, And by having been much trod & Licked, was somthing lower than the adjacent land, which however, was so level, to a pordigious Extent, that the lick, as they Calld it, Could never been coverd with water; And that there were many roads thro this Extent of land, larger & more beaten by Buffolas and other Creatures, that had made them to go to it, that any Roads they saw in this Part of the Country on being Questioned if they had see such bones in Any other place, they said they had seen many such, Scatterd here & there in that large tract of land mentioned before, some upon the Surface, and some Partly burned (sic), but all much more decay'd by time, they those they had been describing, and not Any Entire Sceleton; I Askd if they had Ever heard from their old men, when these 5 were first observed, or if they, or their fathers, had Ever seen any such large Creatures living, as these bones were supposd to have been a part of, they Answered they had never heard them of, other then as in the Condition they are at present, or ever heard of any such creature having been seen by the oldest Man, or his father — that they had indeed a tradition, such mighty Creatures, once frequented those Savannahs, that there were then men of a size proportionable to them, who used to kill them, and tye them in Their Noppusses And throw them upon their Backs As an Indian now dos a Deer, that they had seen Marks in rocks, which tradition said, were made by these Great & Strong Men, when they sate down with their Burthens, such as a Man makes by sitting down on the Snow, that when there were no more of these strong Men left alive, God had Kill'd these last 5 they had been questioned about, which the Interpreter said was to be understood, they supposed them to have been Killd by lightening — these the Shawanese said were their traditions, and as to what they knew, they had told it — the Man who Interpreted, was well Acquainted with their language, and as I have known him from a boy, I am Confident he would do it faithfully, I shal be pleas'd if what smal Information I have gain'd wil be agreable to thee, And shal be glad to oblige thee at any time the the Utmost of my Power,

I am thy Assured friend
James Wright

August 22nd 1762
John Bartram


Big Bone History

1