In 1784, the adventures of Col. Daniel Boone was issued from the press of James Adams in Wilmington, Delaware. It was part of a larger book, “Kentucke” by John Filson. It arrived in the “log cabin village of Lexington” about a year after it was published. In the book was also the first map of Kentucke, and considering the time, all of it was done extremely well! The three men who told John Filson about the state, were “Daniel Boon, Levi Todd, and James Harrod.”
Daniel Boone is the famous man who heard about this new land and explored it, first reaching it in 1769. Levi Todd was also an early Kentucky explorer and helped to co-found Lexington. Levi was also the grandfather of a young girl named Mary, who married a lawyer and rail- splitter by the name of Abe Lincoln! James Harrod started a fort named after him, called Harrodsburg.
When these men were traveling through the “howling wilderness, the habitation of savages and wild beasts”, they had to travel through thick growths of cane, called cane breaks, that in places were too thick for a man to push his way through! They described the “fine cane as fodder for cattle. It grew from 3 to 12 feet high, of a hard substance, with joints at eight or ten inches distance along the stalk, from which proceeds leaves resembling that of the willow.” Throughout Kentucky are creeks and towns that are reminders of the massive fields of cane that once grew here. There is Caneyville, Cane Ridge, Cane Valley, Canebrake Drive, Cane Creek, Cane Manor, among others. One possible explanation of the name Kaintuck, is from the cane breaks (Cane-tucke).
The cane poles were also used for wattle fences, and fishing poles, for bean poles and the young whips were used for “whupping” naughty little boys! Buffalo would hide in the patches of cane and Indians made arrowhead shafts with it, along with baskets and sleeping mats. The old pioneers would cut a piece a few inches long with a joint at the end to use as a drinking cup or as a cup to measure gun powder grains to put in their mussel loaders. I have one of these measuring devices for gunpowder left by a long-ago ancestor.
So much of the cane, otherwise known as “arundinaria gigantean”, across Kentucky is now gone. It has been disappearing for two hundred years. It was cut to clear the land to cultivate the fields, and they fed it to their cattle. Construction crews dug it up, and plant species from Europe and China choked it out. The cane can only be found in small patches, or in some of the large state forests.
Julian Campbell, a botanist and an expert on native plants in Kentucky wants to put the “cane” back in Cantucke! Scientists think that replanting cane and other native plants, especially along creek banks, could go a long way toward improving Kentucky’s creeks and rivers. The cane plants would act as a natural water filter for water runoff and keep the soil from eroding.
I know of one patch of cane that is still in our area. The patch is about 90 feet long and about 40 feet wide. We used the cane poles for fishing when I was little, and I tied them together for a trellis for flowering vines.
It would be great if there were more patches of the native cane, also called river cane, in our area. If anyone knows of any, please let me know.
You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or at 270-875-5317 and leave a message, or you can stop by and see us at the Regional Family Research Center behind the History Museum! We are open Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, from 9 a.m. until 4 p.m.