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Digging Into the Past

by Heidi Bright Parales

As the Declaration of Independence was being signed in Philadelphia, many of the earliest Euro-Americans began settling Kentucky under the protection of Fort Logan. This frontier fort, a significant early gateway to the settlement of the West, is now being excavated by a team of volunteers and professional archaeologists under the direction of Kim McBride, co-director of the Kentucky Archaeological Survey (a joint undertaking of the anthropology department and the Kentucky Heritage Council).

Located in Lincoln County on the edge of what is now Stanford, the small fort served as a safe haven for settlers and as a base for scouting further into what is now Kentucky. Through this and other forts, settlement of the area became possible.

"This area was a very important one in the early settlement of this region by Euro-Americans," says McBride.

Physical descriptions of individual forts from this era are rare, and few physical drawings exist, though documents do provide detail on militia and scouting. Archaeological excavations are necessary to fully understand the size, appearance, location, and occupational history of these forts. While locating these sites is a first step toward their preservation, full-scale excavations are needed to understand variations in the physical structure of these forts. Archaeology also helps us identify and understand the materials early settlers used for their forts and homes.

Written accounts about Logan's fort tell that the fort site, near a spring, was chosen in 1775. Construction was completed in 1777. Sometimes up to 19 single men lived in the fort, along with seven families. When danger from Indians brewed, settlers were called back into the fort for protection.

In 1777, Daniel Boone warned the inhabitants of the fort about a coming siege by Indians. According to a written account of the attack, William Hudson was killed and scalped. He was buried inside the fort.

Photo of Hand-wrought nails, a hook, a gouging tool, and an ax bladeHand-wrought nails, a hook, a gouging tool, and "what might be," McBride says, "an ax blade"

Discovery of the remains of a scalped man is perhaps the most significant archaeological find from this fort. McBride says, "I always have mixed feelings when we find human remains, which need to be treated with respect, but the burial helped verify that we were excavating within the fort. And, of course, we have learned much from it."

According to research done by Clyde N. Bunch, a member of the Logan's Fort Foundation, the log fort was 90 feet by 150 feet, and gates--located at the east and west ends--were raised and lowered by leather thongs. Two blockhouses were built on each end of the south side, with three cabins between them. A blockhouse, built on the northwest corner, was adjoined by four cabins. A conventional cabin, situated on the northeast corner, is thought to be the one built by Benjamin Logan.

According to McBride, "The focus of our project has been to help verify the exact location of the fort, to help provide details about its physical construction, internal layout, and material culture, and to assist the local civic groups who have committed themselves to seeing this important site recognized."

The site was difficult to excavate because it has been reused many times. By 1780, most of the families had permanently left the fort, according to McBride. "Documents suggest a possible house there in 1820, probably another house by the 1850s, and the one standing today. An additional complication was that the L & N railroad put a track through the site in the 1860s.

"One of the goals of the unit excavation was to open up the investigation to the public," says McBride. During a period of 12 days, professional archaeologists and hundreds of volunteers helped excavate the fort. Most of what they found could be dated to the late 18th and early 19th centuries, says McBride.

"Not only are we trying to understand the past, we are trying to get the public to touch and understand the past," says M. Jay Stottman, who received his master's degree from UK and is now on the staff of the Kentucky Archaeological Survey. "Archaeology makes history and the process of understanding tangible, which provides more than just facts. It creates experiences and memories that will become history," he adds. The ultimate goal of the Logan's Fort Foundation and the Daughters of the American Revolution is to accurately reconstruct the fort.

"We have been working with the schools this spring, in constructing a model of the site, based on both the documentary and archaeological evidence," says McBride.

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