THE LAND AND TOWNS
IN Livingston County most of the countryside was unevenly rolling high ground, a plateau that in ages past had been eroded into myriad narrow valleys. In the upland areas, grass-covered barren lands could be found, spotted with groves of large cedar trees; but covering most of the land grew the dense, primal, hardwood forest. Along the rivers, where mist gathered in the mornings, lay the flat, highly fertile bottomlands. Where it had not been cleared, this ground supported dense canebreaks and magnificent stands of trees—pecan, sycamore, cypress, oak, maple, chestnut, cottonwood, poplar, walnut, and other varieties in abundance. In the creek bottoms and ravines the trees reached astonishing size. Favored by moisture and sheltered from the wind, they thrust their trunks straight up, often seventy or more feet to the first limb, as if striving to put their leaves in the sunlight. In the glens under the leaves of the trees it was dusky; noon sunlight did not enter these hollows until the leaves fell in autumn. The roads and trails, for the most part, were laid out along the high ground, generally following the ridges to secure natural drainage and avoid too many stream crossings.
West Kentucky was also a land of many rivers that were used extensively for transportation, even though the water level varied widely from season to season. The spring rains and the melting snows upstream brought a rise each year. Between the banks ran swirling muddy water that carried limbs and even whole trees along with it. Sometimes the rivers overflowed the banks and flooded the bottoms. During the summer the water fell, exposing sand bars, beds of rock, and hard-baked, wafflecracked mud flats. In dry periods the river was scattered with bars, rocks, and sawyers, and the water was confined to a more tortuous and constricted channel. Often there was little or no current, and in the sloughs and bayous the water lay still, disturbed only by the sinuous passage of a moccasin, the feeding of summer ducks, or the occasional splash of a fish.
A year or so after arriving in Livingston, Colonel Lewis wrote to Jefferson describing the abundance of fish to be found there.