Markers commemorate two important early Clay Countians
The men commemorated by these two highway historic markers are undoubtedly the two most prominent names of the early history of the county. As these sort of markers go, one is fairly accurate, the other less so. No name in Clay County history is more misused than Chief Red Bird's. His name is thrown about with abandon in the lineages of some local families, with little or no documentary evidence to support the claims. And even the information on the sign at right is clearly wrong in one important area. One thing is clear, however: Chief Red Bird actually did live along the banks of the Red Bird River, that takes its name from him. And he was killed in the area. But not, as the sign claims, along with his "friend" Jack. According to a series of letters between the governors of Tennessee and Kentucky at the time, Jack was actually one of the two men who allegedly did the killing. Legends die hard, though, and Jack will no doubt forever be held dear in the hearts of Clay Countians as a "friend" of Chief Red Bird.
John Gilbert, who is thought to have been the first settler on Red Bird, and thus, Clay County, most likely knew Red Bird. And this is one case where a man said to have been Red Bird's friend may actually have been. Gilbert is thought to have settled here in 1783, the year the American Revolution ended, when the state of Virginia opened up parts of what became eastern Kentucky for settlement. Click here for more information on John Gilbert and his family.
These two historical markers are located on KY 66 in front of the Big Creek Elementary School, less than a mile from the Big Creek exit of the Hal Rogers Parkway. The Chief Red Bird sign was moved from the spot where he was allegedly killed after vandals damaged the sign. It was further downstream from the site, near the mouth of Dry Branch. The John Gilbert grave site and homestead at the mouth of Gilbert's Creek is several miles upstream from the sign, just off KY 66.