The Spirt of the Salt River

The Salt River flows from Persimmon Knob in Boyle county, slowly winding its way across the state until it drains into the Ohio river near West Point. In the days when river transportation drove the markets of Kentucky, it was a busy path that took people and goods from the Appalachians to the Ohio, and then down the Mississippi to New Orleans and the ocean. But these days the river that once connected Eastern Kentucky to the rest of the world has gone quiet, and it's value is seen less as a source of pure commerce than as a shelter for a number of rare plants and animals that live along its banks. But something else dwells in this river.

Ever since the early settlers of Kentucky found their way to its banks in the 18th Century, thee have been reports of a something strange and beautiful that calls the Salt River its home. For during the night, in the headwaters of the Salt River near Parksville, the mysterious sound of a woman's voice singing is heard coming from the river.

The sound has been reported by travelers and residents near the river for over two centuries. They describe the voice as clear, quiet, and unbelievably sad and beautiful, singing a soft song whose words are indistinct, and whose language no one seems to know. The singing in heard most often during the summer, and particularly on nights where there is no moon. On such nights, when the slow-moving waters of the river flow in darkness, a lucky wandered along its banks may hear the voice calling out to him. An even luckier traveller may see the spirit singing it.

For on rare occasions, men who have heard the song of the river have said that they have seen a beautiful woman, with beautiful soft brown skin and long, black hair rising from the river, looking up towards the sky and singing her song.

One such report comes from the journal of an late 18th century settler that's been passed down for generations by a family in Parksville. In its pages, it tells the story of a tired and hungry pioneer who had crossed over the Appalachians looking to find his fortune in Kentucky. He had come across the mountains, scouting out land for a farm and hunting and trapping furs to sell for funds for his new home as he went. His only companion on his travels was his faithful hound dog, who bounded happily beside him during the day and slept beside him during the cold nights.

It was on one of these nights that the man found himself camping by the banks of the Salt River. As his fire died down and he settled under his blanket for the night, he noticed that his dog was whimpering and pacing fretfully. He tried to get her to settle down, but the poor animal became more and more nervous, disturbed by something in the darkness. As he scratched her head and tried to calm her, the man heard the singing begin.

It was a slow, beautiful sound, and the first voice apart from his own that the man had heard for months. It was also the most lovely voice the man had ever heard.

Following the sound of the voice, the man made his way along the banks of the river with his dog close on his heels, her tail tucked between her legs. As he rounded a bend, he saw the pale moonlight twinkling on the water, but then her remembered that there was no moon.

The light was coming from the middle of the river, where it shone from no source he could see but seemed to hang in the air, shimmering off a faint form in the water. He was astounded as he saw the form come into focus as young woman. She was waist-deep in the river, standing naked and unashamed, and singing up to the moonless sky. He thought he might be dreaming. He was astounded. Not only was this first woman he had seen in months, but she was also the most beautiful woman he had ever seen, and although she only seemed to be waist-deep in the river, she emerged form the middle of the river where the water should have been twice as deep as her head.

He kept quiet and inched closer, dragging his nervous hound along with him. Hiding behind the bushes, he could see her quite clearly, and he struggled to make out the words she was singing. But he could't make out out the details of the song, only that it was the saddest and most captivating song he had ever heard.

The whole situation was too much for the poor hound, who finally began barking at the spirit. Hearing the animal, the woman turned and looked at the mad and he saw her sad, jet-black eyes. She gave him a wistful look, and silence fell as the lights faded and she disappeared under the waters.

The man returned to his campsite where he spent a sleepless night, and later her returned to Parksville where he built his home. He eventually took a wife and started a family, and on moonlit nights he would go out hunting with his dog, but on the nights when there was no moon he would silently slip away from his wife and children, leaving his hound at home, and silently walk by the banks of the Salt River.

The Spirit of the Salt River has been heard many times since then, and occasionally someone out on the river at night has seen her form.

Who is this lovely siren who haunts the river? Is the spirit of one of the Indian Nations whose lands and lives were lost to the settlers? Is she something older, something from before even the Indians walked the Kentucky hills? Whatever she is, she's part of the landscape of Kentucky and the story of her mystery and her beauty continues to inspire Kentuckians to this day. A small theater company based in nearby Danville, Salt River Shakespeare, takes its name from the river and its company mascot an image that they say represents the Spirit of the Salt River.

So if you're wandering near the river in Boyle County on a moonless night, stop to listen to sound of the water you may hear the Salt River Spirit singing to you.

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