The forest before the white settlers came
The following passage is quoted from Kentucky, The Pioneer State of the West by Thomas Crittendon Cherry.
Before the coming of the earliest explorers and settlers, Kentucky was a vast wilderness and rugged waste still unchanged by the hand of civilized man. It was bounded by the broad Ohio on the north, to the east lay the cloud-capped Allegheny Mountains, and to the south the endless forests and streams of what is now Tennessee, while the mighty "Father of Waters" washed its western shores. This territory, comprising over forty thousand square miles, shield-shaped, and sloping westward, made a changing scene of hills and mountains, rivers and valleys, forests and open stretches of fertile lands called "Barrens."
Numerous rivers, choked by fallen trees and fed by pure springs wound in and out down the fertile valleys. Most of these streams rose in the mountains or highlands and after wandering in many directions poured their waters into the beautiful Ohio. Here and there the silence was broken by rippling shoals or roaring waterfalls which mingled their music with the discordant cries of wild animals and fowls and the war whoop of roving bands of savages.
Beneath the everlasting hills lay vast beds of coal, iron ore, and pools of oil, and from its surface grew endless forests of finest timber, all waiting the coming of the white man and the needs of civilization. Many wild flowers and shrubs bloomed in abundance everywhere, fertile stretches of open land were covered with clover and wild pea vines, and beautiful birds of many varieties gladdened the scene with their songs.
Fish of many kinds swarmed in the creeks and rivers and swans, ducks, geese and many other native water fowls floated upon the peaceful waters or wound their flight from stream to stream and lake to lake in large flocks. Pigeons in countless numbers and beautifully colored parrakeets [sic] swarmed in the forests, and great owls uttered their solemn notes in the twilight of the dismal woods. Numerous flocks of wild turkeys fed upon an abundance of acorns, hazelnuts, chestnuts, wild berries, and the many varieties of insects that infested the woods and Barrens.
Dense forests crowded to the waters edge and reaching back in endless confusion, through valleys and uphill slopes, were matted in many places with a tangled undergrowth of bushes, briars and vines that made difficult a passage even for the wild animals. Giant forests of oak and tulip, beech and ash, sycamore and linden, cedar and pine, and many other varieties of trees grew so close that their leafy branches spread a canopy through which the rays of the sun could scarcely penetrate, producing twilight effects even at high noon.
Through these forests roamed immense herds of buffalo, deer, and elk, which broke out paths or trails to watering places, salt licks, and barren patches of land covered with wild grasses.
Many other animals roamed the woods, and birds in great abundance swarmed in the forests. Panther and wild cat crouched in the dense canebrakes or on overhanging cliffs ready to spring upon their unsuspecting victims. Bear and large packs of wolves that lived in the caves prowled through the forests in search of their prey. A solemn stillness reigned everywhere except when broken by a confusion of forest sounds. Nature seemed to have heaped up her many bounties in this new land to make it a fit dwelling place for God's wild creatures.
The ruthless hand of civilized man had not yet disturbed the natural beauty and freshness of this wonderful scene. For unnumbered years, the seasons came and went but there was none to plow, sow and reap as civilized men are used to do, but the forests, each year, yielded a rich harvest of wild fruits and nuts. No roar of engines, no rumble of machinery, no hum of commerce nor ringing of church and school bells broke the stillness of this wild region.
To this picturesque land of natural wealth and rugged beauty, nearly two hundred years ago, came the first white explorers, hunters, and settlers, with rifle and ax to convert it into a land now inhabited by civilized man and ruled by the arts and institutions of civilized life.
From Kentucky, The Pioneer State of the West by Thomas Crittendon Cherry. Published by D.C. Heath and Company of Boston, New York, and Chicago, 1923.
Photo credit: Appalachia Forest Action Project volunteers looking at "Big Red," an old-growth red oak tree on Joe Aliff's property. Photographed by Mary Hufford, 1994. From Tending the Commons: Folklife and Landscape in Southern West Virginia at the Library of Congress.