William “Big Bill” Hardin was a man of great courage, well skilled in pioneer life. Some historians have mentioned Hardin in the same breath with Daniel Boone, Simon Kenton, Benjamin Logan and several others but he rests in an unmarked grave, even without a crude boulder for a headstone. Col. Hardin had a major impact on Hardin and Breckenridge counties in Kentucky. Hardin County was named after him.
The Indians made many efforts to take his scalp but always came up short. They nicknamed him “Big Bill” because he was full of fight, tenacious and a six-footer at a time when the average man was about five-foot, six or seven inches.
On one occasion while out on a hunt, Hardin fired his gun and began cleaning it in preparation for the morning. An Indian who had been laying low, watching for the opportunity to attack Hardin, saw the chance to kill him while his gun wasn’t loaded. He sprang from his place of hiding and ran toward Hardin with his gun readied. “Ugh! Big Bill,” he uttered tauntingly. That short hesitation cost the brave his life as Hardin knocked the Indian’s gun aside and he proceeded to pummel the brave with the gunstock of his rifle.
On another occasion Hardin was a picket (lookout) for workers in the field outside the fort. When the Indians saw Hardin they pelted his position with gunfire. The other workers saw it as an opportunity to rush back to the fort. Colonel Hardin was shot through the lungs. Sarah McDonald, an adolescent girl who was working in the field, saw an Indian warrior coming forward with his knife to take Big Bill’s scalp.
“Point your gun at him, Mr. Bill, or he’ll kill us both,” Sarah implored him after picking up and handing him his rifle. It was difficult for Col. Hardin but he pointed at the Indian causing him to retreat. This gave Sarah and Hardin the opportunity to get on the colonel’s horse and safely reach the stockade. Hardin would not have been able to survive his injuries if he hadn’t been in such robust health.
Hardin’s parents had been forced to flee from France after the massacre of St. Bartholomew and when the Protestants were killed and/or persecuted. Colonel William “Big Bill” Hardin was one of three brothers to come to North America. Later on his party floated down the Ohio River in 1778, landing where Louisville is now situated. They remained there for a short time before proceeding a little further down the Ohio River and up Sinking Creek where his fort was built.
Indians attacked the fort twice after it was completed. Hardin’s men were victorious but the Indians continued to be disruptive to their everyday affairs. Then Hardin learned that the Indians were building a village in southern Illinois. He organized an army of eighty men and went into southern Illinois to confront them. They killed the small number of braves guarding the village and waited in nearby woods, surrounded by open land, for the others to return.
A hotly-contested battle began upon their return and Hardin’s men and the Indians alike took many casualties. Hardin suffered a gunshot wound to the leg early in the confrontation. Knowing the importance of his direction and moral support he proceeded to climb atop a huge, fallen, chestnut tree and continued to direct his men in battle.
As often happened in that era, the battle primarily changed to hand-to-hand combat after the initial volley. The Indians were killed or put to flight. The battle was purported to have been one of the bloodiest battles in the winning of the borderland.
Among the eighty men who accompanied Colonel Hardin on the raid were: Christopher Bush, Richard Stevens, Charles Hamilton, Samuel Spencer, William McDaniels, John Jolly, John Bruner, Henry Dean, Mordicia Lincoln, Samuel Crawford, Edgar Pate, Adam Barr, Ben Huff, William Perrin, George Robards and a Luce, Kelso, Barger, Carlyle, Shively, Miller, Hardaway, Comstock, Haynes, Claycomb, Payne, Rice and Lampton, among others.
Colonel “Big Bill” Hardin’s scalp was a coveted trophy and many Indian braves paid the supreme price for trying to take it. On several occasions the Indians thought Hardin had been killed yet he continued fighting at each instance and leading his men. Some Indian war parties feared that he was a ghost and dispersed simply upon seeing him on the battlefield.
Colonel Hardin served as a member of the legislature of Kentucky from 1810-1813. All residents of Breckinridge County, Kentucky, are recipients of Colonel Hardin’s charity and foresight. He donated the grounds for the courthouse, jail and other public offices. “Big Bill” Hardin made a difference in the time he lived…. and beyond.
Copyright 2019 Jadon Gibson
Editor’s note: Gibson is a freelance writer from Harrogate, TN. His writings From the Mountains are both historical and nostalgic in nature and can be read regularly atbereaonline.com