Kentucky State History
Kentucky has a very long archaeological record of human habitation. Records of different native groups in Kentucky date back over 15,000 years and cover many different cultural eras. Among the many tools and sites that remain, some of the most interesting are sites where people buried their dogs; the evidence suggests the local peoples domesticated and made companions of dogs quite early (something many Kentuckians today will undoubtedly relate to). In the 1000s CE, Kentucky was home to Mississippian and Fort Ancient cultures. The most famous nations present in Kentucky were the Chickasaw, Lenape, Wyandot, Cherokee, and Shawnee.
Kentucky was thoroughly explored by the French in the 1600 and 1700s, where they established a military and economic presence. The fertile lands of Kentucky and the trading prospects made the area attractive to the colonial powers. Kentucky was the first region west of the Allegheny Mountains to be settled by American colonists. James Harrod established the first permanent settlement at Harrodsburg in 1774; the following year Daniel Boone, who had explored the area in 1767, blazed the Wilderness Trail through the Cumberland Gap and founded Boonesboro. These developments were opposed by the peoples living in the region; a military alliance of Shawnee, Miami, and several smaller nations fought against the U.S. Army under General "Mad" Anthony Wayne. The U.S. victory in 1794 at Fallen Timbers in Ohio marked the end of Native American resistance in the area, with one notable exception. Twenty years after the battle, Fallen Timbers veteran Tecumseh would lead troops against the U.S., culminating in the Battle of Tippecanoe.
Kentucky joined as a slave state, although large immigrant populations (especially Germans) were a major abolitionist bloc in the state (as elsewhere in the South). The tensions between pro- and anti-slavery groups in Kentucky resulted in the fighting on Bloody Monday in 1850, when Anglo-American Protestants rioted and attacked many Irish and German immigrants. As a slaveholding state with a considerable abolitionist population, Kentucky was caught in the middle during the Civil War, supplying both Union and Confederate forces with thousands of troops.
The fighting between Kentucky citizens would continue for decades after the Civil War. On top of the general violence against black people by groups like the KKK, many families carried grudges from before and during the war. The violence continued in the booming coal towns, and the violent climate contributed to the assassination of the state governor in 1900. By contrast, although the state was a focal point of the civil rights movement in the 1960s, it didn't see violence comparable to Alabama or Mississippi.
After the World Wars, Kentucky began to rapidly industrialize. The manufacturing investments of the wartime years continued, and the state soon became on the the nation's leading automotive manufacturers. Part of the state's later modernizing efforts included early adoption of Common Core, and early adoption of the Affordable Care Act.
Louisville is famous for the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs, and the Bluegrass country around Lexington is the home of some of the world's finest race horses. Other attractions are Mammoth Cave, the George S. Patton, Jr., Military Museum at Fort Knox, and Old Fort Harrod State Park.
Kentucky Culture and Interesting Facts
The Kentucky Derby
The Kentucky Derby is, arguably, the most famous horse race in the world. The Derby has taken place every year since 1875 at Churchill Downs, making it one of a few sporting events that didn't face interruption during the World Wars. It's hard to track down who first said it, but the Derby has come to be known as "the most exciting two minutes in sports" due to the prestige and stakes; it is the first of the three horse races that make up the Triple Crown, a trio of races with a collective prize pool of $5.3 million. Only 13 horses have won the Triple Crown, with the most recent in 2018. The Derby is the second most popular sporting event for viewing parties after the Super Bowl.
Kentucky Bourbon & Moonshine
Kentucky is famous for its local liquors. Bourbon, perhaps named for Bourbon County Kentucky, is a corn-derived kind of whiskey that has become iconic of the American South in general and Kentucky in particular. Much in the way that Scotch is a recognized term for the unique whiskey of Scotland, Bourbon is globally recognized as a U.S. product. Kentucky produces over 95% of the world's bourbon. Not only is it popular to drink, but it's often used in cooking to enrich the flavor of both sweet and savory foods. Moonshine is a whiskey relative also made from corn, but much higher in alcohol content and clear in color. It began with illegally produced liquor in the 1800s, which was smuggled and sold throughout the country by "moonrakers" (an old term for smugglers).
Mammoth Cave National Park
Mammoth Cave National Park is one of the most popular nature tourist destinations in the U.S. Mammoth Cave is the longest cave system in the world, with more than 400 miles of winding caves and tunnels (and more being discovered each year). Aside from its size, the cave has many distinctive features. The composition of the rock mostly prevents the formation of stalagmites and stalactites, except in some areas where faults in the rock allow for unique formations. Mammoth Cave is also home to an indigenous species of blind shrimp, the Kentucky cave shrimp.
Bluegrass music is a popular and respected form of American roots music, or traditional U.S. folk music. Bluegrass gets its name from Bill Monroe's band The Blue Grass Boys. The genre incorporates elements of British traditional songs, Appalachian folk music, and African-American music traditions like blues and jazz. Bluegrass is characterized by its use of acoustic string instruments—especially the fiddle and banjo—and its multi-layered vocals, which give it a distinctive sound. Like jazz, bluegrass can be highly improvisational.
Famous Kentucky Natives and Residents
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