Have you ever noticed the woman depicted in bronze in front of the Main Library in Burlington? We get lots of questions and comments about her. The plaque by her feet reads Mary Draper Ingles. Children often read her name and then come into the library and ask us if she’s from Little House on the Prairie. We’ve also been asked, usually by older children, if she is the grim reaper.
Kids are really concerned about her in the winter. They worry about her bare feet being cold. A lot of them also comment on the size of her feet. They want to know if the real Mary Ingles had feet that big. Most often, however, people ask us who she is and then want to know if we have a book about her. Yes, we have books about her; the most popular is probably the historical novel, Follow the River by James Alexander Thom. If you are interested in her story, you might want to reserve the book in our catalog. In the meantime I’ll share the highlights of her story with you.
Mary Draper Ingles was a strong, courageous woman best-known for escaping from Indian captivity at Big Bone Lick in Boone County, Kentucky. Most of what is known about her comes from a narrative account of the Ingles family written by Mary’s son, Colonel John Ingles.
Mary lived with her husband in a place called Draper’s Meadows, a small settlement of ten people in August County, Virginia. On Wednesday, July 30, 1755, the Shawnee attacked Draper’s Meadow. Mary was taken prisoner along with her two sons, Thomas and George. Mary’s husband was away at the time and was not captured. The Shawnee headed for the Ohio River and the Shawnee town of Sonnontio. When they reached the town, the two boys were taken from Mary and adopted into the tribe. Mary was taken to Big Bone Lick, more than 100 miles further west, to help make salt.
Sometime in October, Mary decided to escape. Because the prisoners were allowed to roam the camp at will, Mary and another woman simply left camp taking with them two blankets and two tomahawks. After four or five days, the women reached the junction of the Ohio and Licking Rivers, near present-day Cincinnati. There they found an abandoned cabin, which contained a supply of corn. According to the narrative, when the corn ran out, they survived on “black walnuts, grapes, pawpaws, etc.” The women crossed at least 145 creeks and rivers and traveled five to six hundred miles. They separated near the end of the journey and Mary arrived home on or about December 1, 1755. She reunited with her husband and had four more children before she died in 1815 at the age of 83.
Mary Draper Ingles was chosen as the subject of the Library statue in part because some of her story took place in Boone County and also because she was a strong heroic woman who never gave up. Mary endured great hardship to achieve her goal of returning home.
The Mary Draper Ingles sculpture was created by Matthew Scott Langford. Langford has been a professional sculptor since 1991. Born in Cincinnati, but raised and educated in Northern Kentucky, he lives in Union, with his wife and two daughters, in an antebellum log cabin, not far from the site of Mary Ingles’ escape.
Watch a brief interview with Matt Langford and learn more about the Library’s Mary Draper Ingles statue in the video below.