A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Our Rich History: Newport American Indian overview; local tribes left the region by the late 1600s

By Jeannine Kreinbrink
Special to NKyTribune

Part 51 of our series, “Resilience and Renaissance: Newport, Kentucky, 1795-2020.”

Native American Indians lived in the Northern Kentucky area from at least 12,000 years ago until the 1500s. By the eighteenth century (1700s), many Native Americans used Northern Kentucky as a resource area rather than as a home. Hunting, salt making, and trapping were important activities conducted in Northern Kentucky by regional tribes. The period before 1492 is known as the Prehistoric Period.

Little is known about the Native Indian occupation of Newport itself. No historical accounts relate the presence of mounds or village sites in the valley. However, both neighboring Covington and Cincinnati have historical accounts from the early 19th Century that describe earthworks and mounds. The similar setting of Newport on the river terraces makes it very likely that Native tribes lived near the confluence of the Licking and the Ohio Rivers. This chronological overview briefly summarizes the Native Indian cultures that would have lived in Newport.

Sunwatch Village in Dayton, Ohio features an archaeological recreation of a settlement from the Fort Ancient Culture, circa 1200 AD. (Photo by Paul A. Tenkotte)

The first Native peoples (Paleo-Indian-before 8000 BC and probably before 14,000 years ago) entered the eastern United States after the Wisconsin glacial retreat, during a time of rapid environmental shifting. Extensive climate change altered the Northern Kentucky environment as the glaciers retreated and the weather moderated during the Paleo period. The first recognized Paleo tradition in the Northern Kentucky area is the Clovis period, with characteristic projectile points and tools. Clovis points are long blades with a particular type of flute, or narrow channel flake, removed from the base. The Paleo Indians hunted the last of the large Pleistocene mammals, such as mammoth and mastodon, but evidence also exists for a varied diet based on both plants and animals.

The Archaic Period people (circa 8000 BC -1000 BC) adapted to the changing climate and greater variety of animals and plants—it is important to state that these are the same people as before. The Archaic tribes lived in seasonal camps, often using a base camp with outlying activity camps, and extractive sites such as chert quarries, for periodic use throughout the year. By 2600 BC, the Late Archaic period represented a time frame of increasing population and local complexity and specialization among the various regional groups. Late Archaic sites are documented in every Northern Kentucky county in larger numbers than previous time periods. Evidence for domestication of plants, such as gourds and sunflower, has been found on excavated sites in the central Ohio River Valley.

The Woodland period was marked by significant shifts in subsistence strategy, technological changes, and changing settlement patterns, although these did not appear instantly. Divided traditionally into the Early Woodland, Middle Woodland, and Late Woodland periods, those periods have been assigned varying date ranges. Kentucky archaeology generally assigns the approximate date ranges of 1000-200 BC, 200BC – AD 500, and AD 500 – AD 1000 respectively, however, these date ranges are arbitrary.

Three important differences in Northern Kentucky mark the separation of Late Archaic and Early Woodland. The first is the presence of pottery, which appears for the first time in this region by at least 700 BC. Secondly, the quantity of sites decreases across Northern Kentucky. Thirdly, and a bit later in time, burial mounds make their first appearance. In general, continuity from the Late Archaic into the Woodland period is seen for stone tools such as scrapers, knives, drills, nutting stones, and so forth.

Numerous burial mounds and other earthworks have been documented for Northern Kentucky during the Early Woodland Adena cultural period. Only two burial mounds from this time period have been documented in Campbell County, neither was found in Newport.

A reconstructed thatched-roof house as it would have appeared circa 1200 AD, at Sunwatch Village, Dayton, Ohio. Note how the roof is steeply pitched to enable rain runoff. (Photo by Paul A. Tenkotte)

The Middle Woodland period is typically defined by the Hopewell complex that was centered near Chillicothe, Ohio on the Scioto River. Hopewell Culture is characterized by elaborate geometric earthworks, enclosures, and a wide array of exotic ceremonial goods. Ceremonially, Hopewell appears to represent a continuation of Adena, but on a more expanded and elaborate scale.

Multiple mounds and earthworks from both Adena and Hopewell were reported in downtown Cincinnati and several in Covington by early 19th Century residents. Although none are reported from Newport, they probably existed. Newport was settled early by historic period settlers, and mounds were probably leveled fairly soon after settlement as streets were platted and houses built.

The Hopewell Culture was the climax of the Middle Woodland Period in the Ohio Valley. Lasting only a few hundred years, its influence waned after about AD 450. Ceremonial centers were abandoned, trade networks dissipated, and less emphasis was placed on burial ceremonialism. The ensuing period is called the Late Woodland and lasted from approximately 500–1000 A.D. The Late Woodland people began to rely on agricultural crops instead of gathering nuts and wild plants.

After circa 1000 AD, the local Native inhabitants of Northern Kentucky practiced maize agriculture, used the bow and arrow, and tempered their pottery with shell instead of grit or limestone. Social and political changes may have also accompanied the technological changes. In the central Ohio Valley, including Northern Kentucky, this time frame is known as the Fort Ancient period. During the Fort Ancient period, permanently occupied villages have been documented along most of the major streams and rivers in Northern Kentucky. The Fort Ancient period reaches into the historic period, well into the 1600s. Their farmlands were the fertile stream valleys that surrounded their village site. Although not documented, Fort Ancient people probably lived in the Newport valley.

Some sites that date after the 16th Century may also contain fragments of brass, copper or glass trade items. These artifacts, including some items found at the Bintz site in Campbell County, indicate contact with European explorers. These may have been acquired through direct contact with French missionaries or trappers who had entered the region by the early 17th Century.

All local tribes left the Newport and Northern Kentucky region by the late 1600s, pushed out by the Iroquois tribes as they took control of the fur trapping trade with the British and French. In the mid-1700s tribes such as the Shawnee made their way back into Ohio. The Shawnee, Miami, and other Ohio/Indiana tribes extended their hunting territories back into Northern Kentucky at this time. When historic settlers began to arrive, Native warriors often attacked, attempting to end the settlement expansion.

By the late 1700s, no known Shawnee villages existed in Northern Kentucky or in Ohio south of the latitude of Dayton, Ohio (about 60 miles north of Cincinnati). On January 31, 1786, the Shawnee signed a treaty with the United States at Fort Finney at the mouth of the Great Miami River in which they gave up rights to all lands east, west and south of the land allotted to them. Conflicts continued through the War of 1812.

Jeannine Kreinbrink, MA, RPA is a noted regional archaeologist, and partner of K&V Cultural Resources Management, LLC. She has published many reports and articles, including for The Encyclopedia of Northern Kentucky.

We want to learn more about the history of your business, church, school, or organization in our region (Cincinnati, Northern Kentucky, and along the Ohio River). If you would like to share your rich history with others, please contact the editor of “Our Rich History,” Paul A. Tenkotte, at tenkottep@nku.edu. Paul A. Tenkotte, PhD is Professor of History at Northern Kentucky University (NKU) and the author of many books and articles.

For further information, see:

Terry A. Barnhart, “Ancient Metropolis Prehistoric Cincinnati,” Ohio Valley History, 17, no. 2 (Summer 2017): 3-24.

Jeannine Kreinbrink, “American Indians”, in Paul A. Tenkotte and James C. Claypool, eds. The Encyclopedia of Northern Kentucky (Lexington: University of Kentucky Press, 2009): 20-23.

David Pollack, The Archaeology of Kentucky: An Update. Kentucky Heritage Council State Historic Preservation Comprehensive State Plan Report No. 3, 2008.

Related Posts

Leave a Comment