The Bullitt County History Museum

Henry Crist and the Battle of the Kettles

The following article by Charles Hartley originally appeared in The Courier-Journal on 15 Feb 2012. It is archived here with additional information for your reading enjoyment.

If you've traveled through western Bullitt County, up and down the hills traversed by the roads in this area, you can sympathize with poor Henry Crist who had to pass this way on his hands and knees.

In May 1788, Crist purchased iron kettles and other supplies in Louisville, and hired a flatboat and a crew to take the supplies by water to his newly acquired saltworks along Long Lick Creek. They planned to travel down the Ohio River to the mouth of the Salt River and upstream from there to the saltworks.

Museum Display
Display at History Museum

Early pioneers needed salt to cure meat. It was the only way they had to preserve it. 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.

When Crist's party reached the mouth of Salt River, flood waters had deadened its current, making poling upstream easier. They had been poling upriver since daybreak and pulled to the north shore around eight o'clock to have breakfast. As they reached shore they heard the sound of turkeys. Two crew members grabbed their guns and leaped ashore, bent on getting fresh meat, despite Crist's warning to watch for Indians. Almost immediately, a volley of rifles discharging was heard. The crewmen came crashing out of the woods with Indians in pursuit.

The kettles were ranked up along the boat's sides leaving an open gangway through the middle from bow to stern. The bow lay to the shore, leaving the gangway open to the Indians' fire. Seven of the twelve boatmen died or were mortally wounded before the boat could be moved out to the middle of the river. Many Indians were also dead or wounded and the rest were furious.

Some forty Indians moved upstream and crossed the river, some on logs, others swimming with their guns held high out of the water. Moving quickly, Crist pushed the boat to the south side of the river. Leaping ashore with rifles, Crist and another crewman name Christian Crepps prepared to meet the Indians. The remaining crew members fled into the woods, disappearing forever.

As the Indians closed in, Crepps and Crist charged them with a shout and fired. Crepps' shot caught an Indian in the chest, killing him instantly. The Indians retreated into a ravine and got off a few misdirected shots. Unfortunately, one of the balls struck Crist in the heel. Another ball ricocheted off a rock and struck Crepps in the side.

The two men pulled themselves into the thick underbrush and hid as the Indians rushed the boat. They were separated, and Crepps began a journey that would see him make it back to the saltworks only to die from loss of blood.

With his heel smashed, Crist crawled along the bank, his hands and knees torn by the rocks and barbs. That night he crossed over the river on a log. Guided by the stars he crept onward toward the saltworks. Sometime before dawn he spied a campfire. When a dog barked, several Indians rose up from around the fire. Startled, Crist ducked behind a bush. Convinced that he had not been spotted, Crist again began his painful journey.

The map below shows the approximately location of the Indian attack on the left, and the general location of Bullitt's Lick on the right. The map gives an idea of the terrain that Crist had to travel.

At daylight, he crawled to the top of a hill, but 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, and halted to rest for several hours.

When he tried to start again, his hunger, raging thirst, acute pain, and want of sleep nearly drained his will to continue. Finally, he pulled himself up and crawled on.

Toward nightfall, he reached a clearing. There before him lay a path, and down in the valley he could see the hundred fires of the furnaces at the saltworks all glowing. But he had lost so much blood and was so weak that he had no strength left.

Suddenly a horse and rider appeared. Crist called out, but the rider galloped off toward the saltworks. With no strength left, Crist lay down to die.

But all was not lost. The horseman, who had feared he might be riding into an Indian ambush, gathered a group of men to investigate. They soon found Crist, and carried him back to the saltworks.

It took a full year for Henry Crist to recover. He continued to work in the saltworks and eventually owned most of them. Later he was 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 1844, and is buried in the Frankfort Cemetery. (See this page.)

Little is known about Christian Crepps, other than he was married to Elizabeth Brashear, daughter of Ignatius Brashear; and their daughter Margaret married Charles Wickliffe in 1813. Wickliffe would become Kentucky governor in 1839, and his daughter Julia married William Beckham, and would become the mother of John Crepps Wickliffe Beckham who became Kentucky's governor on the death of Governor Goebel in 1900.

Copyright 2019 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.

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 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. Saturday appointments are available by calling 502-921-0161 during our regular weekday hours. 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: 13 Jan 2024 . Page URL: