Bullitt County History

Henry Crist

Henry Crist was a colorful character. A biography of him may be found in Collins' History of Kentucky. The following description is partly based on the information given in Collins' history.


In the Fort Knox Military Reservation in Kentucky is a secluded stretch of river that was once the site of a deadly battle between Indians and pioneers.

It was May, 1788. A young man named Henry Crist was eager to begin working at his newly acquired saltworks. To do that, he had purchased a number of iron kettles and other supplies in Louisville. Next he hired a flatboat and a crew of eleven to take the supplies by water to the saltworks. The weight of the kettles made it difficult to transport them overland the twenty-five miles to the saltworks. For this reason, he planned to transport them by flatboat down the Ohio River to the mouth of the Salt River and upstream from there to the saltworks.

At that time in Kentucky, salt, in its own way, was almost as valuable as the gold in Fort Knox today. It was used by the settlers to preserve meat. It made it possible for the to have time to clear land and build homes. Without preserved meat the settlers would have had to spend much time hunting the food they needed to survive.

The salt was extracted from water which had passed through salt laden clay, dissolving the salt as it went. The water was then boiled away leaving the salt. Hence the need for the kettles.

Crist, who was only twenty-four years old, had been up and down the Ohio River from his native Pennsylvania since he was fifteen. He had learned early the importance of salt to the backwoods settlers. When the opportunity to own a saltworks came along he jumped at the chance.

Now he was on his way. The Ohio was swollen by flood waters. This killed most of the current, causing the journey to take longer. They could have stayed close to the shore and used poles to push the boat faster. This would have left them open to Indian attack from the nearby bank. For this reason they kept to the middle of the wide river. This was slower, but definitely safer.

When they reached the mouth of the Salt River things were different. The flood waters of the Ohio had backed up the Salt, killing the current. This made poling upstream easier. However, the river was barely one hundred yards wide in most places. This meant that they were almost always within range of Indian guns from the shore.

On the morning of the second day on the Salt River, they had been poling since daybreak and pulled to the north shore around eight o'clock to have breakfast. Just as they reached shore the sound of turkeys' gobbling reached them.

Two of the crew members grabbed their guns and leaped ashore bent on getting fresh meat. Crist called after them to warn them of the Indian danger. Disregarding the warning, they quickly climbed the bank and disappeared into the woods.

The boat had barely been tied up when a volley of rifles discharging was heard. Before anyone had time to ponder the meaning of the shots, the two crewmen came crashing out of the woods. Right behind them were a number of screaming Indians. The Indians were so intent on capturing the two men that they chased them all the way to the water's edge.

By this time Crist and the others had grabbed up their rifles and now began firing. Even with this fire, the Indians persisted and almost caught the two men.

The kettles had been ranked up along the sides leaving an open gangway through the middle of the boat from bow to stern. Unfortunately, the bow lay to the shore. This left the gangway open to the Indians' fire.

By the time the rope was loosed and the boat moved out to the middle of the river, five of the twelve boatmen were dead. Two others were wounded so badly that they would soon die. Many Indians were also dead or wounded and the rest were furious.

Moving on upstream, some forty of the Indians crossed the river, some on logs, others swimming with their guns held high out of the water. With Indians on both banks it was certain that Crist and his crew had little chance to escape.

Moving quickly, Crist pushed the boat to the south side of the river. Leaping ashore with rifles, Crist and another crewman prepared to meet the Indians. The remaining crew members fled into the woods.

As the Indians closed in Crist and the other man, Christian Crepps, charged them with a shout and fired. Crepps' shot caught an Indian in the chest, killing him instantly. Crist's gun misfired. In disgust he flung it at the Indians. Taken by surprise, the Indians retreated into a ravine. From there they got off a few misdirected shots. Unfortunately, one of the balls struck Crist in the heel completely crushing the bones of his heel. Another ball ricocheted off a rock and struck Crepps in the side.

The two men pulled themselves into the brush and hid. So intent were they on reaching the boat and its contents that the Indians passed right past Crist without seeing him. As they rushed the boat he slipped away.

Meanwhile, Crepps, who was bleeding badly, began a journey that would see him make it back to the saltworks only to die from loss of blood.

But Henry Crist is the subject of this tale. With his heel smashed, he was unable to walk. The wound continued to bleed. With on one to help him, Crist decided that his only chance was to somehow make it back to the saltworks.

The pain was so great that he had to fight hard to remain conscious. As he crawled along the bank, his hands and knees were torn by the rocks and barbs. Soon they were bleeding. Piece by piece he tore parts of his clothing to wrap around his hands and knees. That night he crossed over the river on a log. Concealing himself in a thicket, he tried to get some sleep. But the pain was too great. Soon he began to crawl again.

Guided by the stars he crept onward toward the saltworks. Sometime before dawn he spied a campfire. Slowly he pressed forward toward the light. Suddenly a dog barked. A number of Indians rose up from around the fire. Startled, Crist ducked behind a bush. Seeing and hearing nothing, the Indians soon settled back around the fire. Convinced that he had not been spotted, Crist again began his painful journey.

At daylight, he could see a high hill or knob in front of him. If he could make it to the top of that hill maybe he could see the saltworks. Slowly, painfully he crawled to the top.

What he saw was so despairing that he almost gave up right there. All he could see in every direction were trees.

Bitterly, he crawled back down the hill and headed eastward. By his reckoning the saltworks lay some eight miles in that direction.

By dusk, he had traveled perhaps half that distance. He halted to rest for several hours. His thirst was maddening. He had tasted water only once since he left the river. That had been the night before when he had crossed a small stream.

When he tried to start again, the swelling and stiffness made every movement full of pain. On he crawled, resting frequently. The morning brought him little hope. His hunger, raging thirst, acute pain, and want of sleep drained his will to continue. But even death eluded him. Finally, he pulled himself up and crawled on.

Toward nightfall, he reached a clearing. There before him lay a path. Beyond the path and down in the valley he could see the hundred fires of the furnaces at the saltworks all glowing.

But he could go no further. He had lost so much blood and was so weak that he had no strength left.

Suddenly he heard the tramp of a horse's hooves approaching him and hope sprang up once more. The sound came nearer and nearer. When the horse and rider appeared, Crist summoned his remaining strength and called out. But to his dismay, the rider turned suddenly and galloped off toward the saltworks.

This was the last straw. With no strength left, Crist lay down to die.

Meanwhile, the horseman returned to the saltworks and reported the incident. It was his belief that the call had come from Indians lying in ambush. However, it didn't seem to the others that Indians in ambush would call out. Finally, a group of men decided to investigate.

Carrying torches for light, they soon found Crist. Unable to move, he had to be carried back to the saltworks.

There is no record of what happened to the other members of the crew who escaped into the wilderness. At any rate, they didn't return to the saltworks.

It took a full year for Henry Crist to recover. Lesser men might have given up and returned to the safety of the eastern states. But Henry Crist was and example of the men and women who stayed in frontier Kentucky despite extreme hardships.

He continued to work in the saltworks and eventually owned most of them. He was also a member of the Kentucky legislature and a member of the U. S. Congress in 1808. He died at his home in Bullitt County in August 1844, at eighty years of age.

This map will give you an idea of the terrain that Crist had to traverse as he made his way eastward to Bullitt Lick.


This is a work in progress. It is copyright 2006 by Charles Hartley, Shepherdsville KY. All rights are reserved. No part of the content of this page may be included in any format in any place without the written permission of the copyright holder.


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The Bullitt County History Museum, a service of the Bullitt County Genealogical Society, is located in the county courthouse at 300 South Buckman Street (Highway 61) in Shepherdsville, Kentucky. The museum, along with its research room, is open 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday; and from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Thursday. Admission is free. The museum, as part of the Bullitt County Genealogical Society, is a 501(c)3 tax exempt organization and is classified as a 509(a)2 public charity. Contributions and bequests are deductible under section 2055, 2106, or 2522 of the Internal Revenue Code. Page last modified: 17 Sep 2017 . Page URL: bullittcountyhistory.org/bchistory/henrycrist.html