“The most celebrated national and international Pleistocene mega fauna site known to science.”
- Don Clare,  Lost River Towns of Boone County

Big Bone, Kentucky   Big Bone, Kentucky
Big Bone Methodist Church
(later, a Baptist Church)

The Methodist Church
Ladies Aid Society

A few words on the church are here.

  A few words on the Big Bone Methodist's Ladies Aid Society, here. Who's in the picture?  Here.


Big Bone Grill, 1969 Fred and Fran's, 1969
Big Bone Grill, 1969 Fred and Fran's, 1969


Big Bone, Kentucky Big Bone, Kentucky Big Bone Baptist
Main Street, Big Bone, Kentucky
 Used through the cooperation of the 
University of Louisville Photographic Archives
Big Bone Baptist
A 1943 history of the
church is here.
Big Bone Baptist,
by Caroline Williams

The Little Zion Baptist Church


Big Bone, Ky

Mary Howlett Home


Big Bone, Kentucky 

This is the map from the expedition of Captain Charles Lemoyne de Longueil.  We put the yellow dot on it so you can easily locate what would become Cincinnati. Note down around Big Bone, where it notes “Endroit -- ou` on a` trouve' des os d'Elephant en 1729”. In English, that’s “Place where one found the bones of Elephant in 1729.”  This is the map that put Big Bone, well, on the map, and made it famous throughout the world. Not America; the world. The map is dated 1729, was published in 1744. Many - not all - believe it was actually from 1739, not 1729.


Before the Lewis and Clark Expedition left for the west, Lewis, on his way to Louisville to hook up with Clark,
stopped at Big Bone to investigate what was up with these giant bones being found. He stopped at Big Bone on October 4, 1803.


Big Bone, Kentucky

Big Bone, Kentucky 

Portion of a larger map by Henry Popple, drawn in 1733.
Identifies Big Bone as “elephant bones found here.”
Big Bone, c. 1930


Big Bone Island Big Bone, Kentucky
Camping on Big Bone Island
Wendell and Asa “Buddy” Rouse
March 9, 1947
Loading Tobacco, Hamilton


Big Bone, Kentucky Big Bone, Kentucky
Local Residents holding findings from Big Bone Lick, 1913


Some European naturalists argued that plants, animals, and humans, were smaller and inferior in the New World. Thomas Jefferson points out these bones being found at Big Bone, which are larger than anything Europe knows of. Jefferson's essay is here (pdf).
A piece on Big Bone mammoths from 1789. Notice they haven't yet figured out the concept of “extinction.” A piece from 1811 is more descriptive of the site.
An 1830 discovery of cache of bones 6,000 acres are for sale along Big Bone Creek in 1826. Maybe the same acreage for sale in 1808?
The wonders of Big Bone, 1830. Felix Koch publishes his experiences excavating bones at Big Bone in this pdf, from a 1914 issue of the American Antiquarian and Oriental Journal.


One man's history of Big Bone, from 1876, is here. On October 12, 1919, The Courier-Journal ran a feature story on Big Bone, here, and another in 1890, here. An unknown papers' feature story on Big Bone is here.
The bridge across Big Bone Creek into Gallatin County Dr. Paul Tenkotte writes about Thomas Ashe and the Big Bone bone Swindle
Storm of 1895, here. Homicide in Big Bone in 1867, here. Poetic ode, from 1883, to the Last Mammoth of Big Bone, here.
Steve Preston wrote about Big Bone for the Kentucky Tribune, at their site here. F. Eichelberger wrote on Big Bone for the WPA. (pdf) Big Bone's ball team call themselves “The Brilliants.”
“One of the pleasantest places to visit in this hot weather is the Big Bone Springs.  Colonel J. O. Campbell and Son, formerly of Burlington, have charge of the Clay House there, and are doing their best to provide for the comfort and amusement of their guests.” from the Covington Ticket, July 15, 1876.

Many of the bones from Big Bone reside these days in Philadelphia's Academy of Natural Sciences, now a part of Drexel University. They have a page on Big Bone at their website, here.

For what it's worth:  The US Post Office folks had a post office named “Big Bone Lick” from 1829-1831, “Big Bone Landing,” from 1834-1835, and “Bigbone” from 1890 to 1941.
Big Bone tobacco growers pledge to The Equity. If you aren't familiar with the Tobacco Wars of 1908, we suggest starting here.


Big Bone State Park's web site is here. You can read a proposal to build the Covington, Big Bone, and Carrollton Railroad, here. Daniel Boone artifact found near Big Bone?  Story here.
Wikipedia article about Big Bone is here. Wikipedia article about the park is here. A less flattering view of Big Bone is from R. E. Banta, here.

Steamer Union explodes near Big Bone.

  “The post office at Handysburgh, Boone county, Ky., has been discontinued, and a new office established at Big Bone Lick in that county.” The Indiana Palladium (Lawrenceburg), February 21, 1829


There are three Big Bone items on the National Register of Historic Places. Applications here - all pdf's - contain histories, maps, and interior and exterior photography.

Big Bone Archeological District Big Bone Lick State Park Big Bone Methodist Church


There were at least four steamboats manufactured in Big Bone.  More here. The steamboat C. T. Dumont is hit by the tow Tom Rees in 1865 at Big Bone, more here. In 1855 the steamers Telegraph #3 and the Swallow collide near Big Bone, here.


Animals Found at Big Bone, to date
many of the bones found at Big Bone dated back to c. 18,000  B.C.
Big Bone, Kentucky

American mastodon
(Mammut americanum)

Big Bone, Kentucky

Columbia mammoth (Mammuthus columbi)

Big Bone, Kentucky

Harlan's musk-ox (Bootherium bombifrons)

Big Bone, Kentucky

An extinct bison (Bison antiquus),

Big Bone, Kentucky

Stag Moose (Cervalces scotti)

The five animals above represent holotypes found at Big Bone 
( A Holotype is a single specimen or illustration designated as the type for naming a species or subspecies or used as the basis for naming a species - a big deal.  Clicking on an animal's picture will take you to the Wikipedia site about it.)  The animals below have also been found at Big Bone.
 (Mammuthus sp)
A ground sloth (Mylodon sp.) An extinct horse (Equus cf. E. complicatus), Woolly Mammoth (Mammuthus primigenius), Harlan's Ground Sloth
 (Paramylodon harleni)
Columbia mammoth (Mammuthus columbi), Jefferson ground sloth
(Megalonyx jeffersonii)
deer bear
 (Ursus sp.)


Big Bone, Kentucky Big Bone, Kentucky
This is not a “typical” bison, but an extinct version that was about 25% larger.  The first skeletons of it were found at Big Bone.  Read more at this site. Mastodon skeletons were first discovered in America at Big Bone.  Read more about them at this site.


Big Bone, Kentucky Big Bone, Kentucky

Newer views at the Big Bone State Park


Both the Big Bone Park and the Big Bone Archeological District are on the National Register of Historic Places. The applications, pdf's, contain photo's, maps, history, and architectural details.


Big Bone, Kentucky Big Bone, Kentucky
Promotional Brochure from the Friends of Big Bone. 
Visit them on the web here.



“At Big Bone Lick, thirty miles above the mouth of Kentucky River, I saw [Carolina parakeets] in great numbers. They came screaming through the woods in the morning, about an hour after sunrise, to drink the salt water, of which they, as well as the pigeons, are remarkably fond. When they alighted on the ground, it appeared at a distance as if covered by a carpet of richest green, orange, and yellow: they afterwards settled, in one body, on a neighboring tree, which stood detached from any other, covering almost every twig of it, and the sun, shining strongly on their gay and glossy plumage, produced a very beautiful and splendid appearance.” Alexander Wilson, 1808, American Ornithology, Or, The Natural History of the Birds of the United States. Image: Carolina Parakeets, John James Audubon, 1833.


Big Bone

The Clay Hotel in Big Bone
From a Facebook post by Tony Horn

The hotel above may or may not be the one advertised below:

Big Bone Springs
from Covington's Daily Commonwealth, July 27, 1881

The mineral waters of Big Bone were absolutely a tourist attraction.

The mineral waters drew attention from national publications, inspired scientists, and led to dreadful poetry. One journal pronounced them perfectly safe, except for the local residents the waters made sick. Then there's this review of the taste of the waters.

Big Bone, Kentucky 

Big Bone Mineral Water
ad from a 1904 issue of the Maysville Public Ledger

An 1856-57 chemical analysis of the mineral water is here.

The Big Bone Hotel Company was formed in 1851.

This is C. W. Peale's “The Exhumation of the Mastodon” The scene is likely from Newburgh, N.Y., but we include it here to show what it might have looked like to dig up a mastodon in Big Bone.


The University of Nebraska's archaeological museum published a
 newsletter of it's dig at Big Bone Lick in the 1960's.  You can read it here(pdf)
However, mostly they only found “newer” bison bones, and, since they excavated with a bulldozer (!),
their archaeological “credentials” are highly suspect.


July 2, 1960 - The Commonwealth of Kentucky accepted a 525-acre tract of land in Boone County to be developed as a state park to showcase Kentucky’s pre-historic past and the location of one of America’s earliest animal inhabitations. 


“From Dr. J. W. Baxter, who recently made a visit to Big Bone, we learn that the work of exhuming the remains of the mammoth mastodons is in operation, though prosecuted with such clumsiness as to destroy many portions of the huge skeletons. It is a strange matter that scientific men have not ere this formed a company for the recovery of the many specimens of these monsters of the forest whose remains are within reach.” Courier-Journal, July 27, 1868

Still “a strange matter,” 150 years later. . .


Why isn't there a great museum at Big Bone?  One man's rant, here.