American buffalo, bison, which later made their way to Northern Kentucky,
are believed to have first crossed the Mississippi River in the 15th century. As the buffalo moved east, they created a system of paths, roads, traces,
and trails that described their annual movements.
In prehistoric times mammoths and mastodons used similar trails, and in later times, elk and even deer utilized the trails. Northern Kentucky was on the buffalo’s path as they moved south in late winter and early spring from their winter range on the prairies of central Ohio to their grazing sites in Central Kentucky. The Indians called this trail the Alanant-O-wamiowee,
or Great Buffalo Path (see Warrior Trail). It funneled herds from the Little Miami River and the Great Miami River in Ohio across the ford at the mouth of the Licking River at Covington, from which it followed the high ground along modern Banklick St. in Covington south to the Banklick Creek. Five miles from the river, this Little Miami Big Bone Trace passed through a large salt lick in Kentucky later called Latonia Springs. The trace continued on 15 miles to Big Bone Lick, where it was joined by two traces from the Great Miami River that crossed the Ohio River at Petersburg and at the mouth of Gunpowder Creek.
Access to salt was a major attraction of the portion of the Alanant-O-wamiowee that followed a crescent-shaped outcrop of salt springs from Big Bone Lick southwest to Drennon Licks on the Kentucky River. It then crossed the ford at Leestown, near Frankfort, and continued east through
Stamping Ground, Great Crossing, and Georgetown and on to Paris. The eastern section of the Alanant-O-wamiowee followed a geologic fault
that produced a variety of salt springs from the Upper Blue Licks to the Lower Blue Licks (see Blue Licks) and then on to Mayslick, Washington, and
the Ohio River at Limestone (Maysville).
The eastern portion of the buffalo trail provided the best early road to the Bluegrass region and was known as the Limestone Trace. A buffalo trace was converted to a wagon road by cutting the small trees to axle height; the Limestone Trace became the Limestone Pike, the first improved section of road in the state. Virtually all of the major highways follow buffalo traces for all or part of their length. Towns and cities often developed where two or more traces crossed.
The Licking River route was particularly popular with the American Indians, who used it to transport game from their annual hunts in Central
Kentucky to their villages in Ohio along the two Miami rivers. A buffalo trace ascended the west side of the Licking River to Falmouth, where it
crossed the river and continued on to Paris, intersecting the Alanant-O-wamiowee.
The Washington Trace was mentioned in the 1790s. It connected Washington in Mason Co. with the mouth of the Little Miami River across
from Campbell Co. It was developed rather quickly into a wagon road (see Washington Trace Rd.). The buffalo and the civilizations living in the
region did not coexist for very long. The buffalo were killed off in a short period after the arrival of settlers and the growth of towns. The use of the
buffalo roads by other game ended about the same time. The last buffalo in Pennsylvania was reported in 1801, in Ohio in 1808, and in Kentucky in 1820.
It is estimated that buffalo were extinct east of the Mississippi River by 1830. The waves of immigrants who later used the buffalo traces never saw a buffalo.
Belue, Ted Franklin. The Long Hunt—Death of the
Buffalo East of the Mississippi. Mechanicsburg,
Pa.; Stackpole Books, 1996.
Jillson, Willard Rouse. Pioneer Kentucky. Frankfort,
Ky: Standard, 1934.
Joseph F. Gastright
Above excerpted from page 128 of THE ENCYCLOPEDIA OF NORTHERN KENTUCKY THE UNIVERSITY PRESS OF KENTUCKY ISBN 978-0-8131-2565-7