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The Great Republic by the Master Historians
The Pioneer of Kentucky
by Bancroft, Hubert H.


[While the events of the Revolutionary War and of the succeeding period were taking place on the seaboard of America, the interior was the seat of interesting incidents of which some description is desirable. The colonists of America had dispossessed the original tenants of the soil from the Atlantic region, or reduced them to a state of hopeless submission, with the exception of the Iroquois tribes of New York, who were too warlike and well organized to be easily overcome. But in the interior, beyond the mountain-barrier of the Alleghanies, the savages were yet numerous and their spirit unbroken. The Cherokees had become peaceful, but the Northern tribes were vigorous and warlike, and viewed with jealous hostility the spread of pioneer invasion into their territory. This feeling was encouraged by the art of British emissaries, who, during the war, roused the savages to acts of horrible cruelty and devastation.

The first movements of the whites westward had been made by way of the great lakes and the Mississippi, along which the French had early established trading- stations. The next movement of the French was southward from the lakes to the Ohio, while at the same time the English were pushing westward through Pennsylvania to the same region. The conflicts arising from this, with the final triumph of the English, we have considered. But the victors had another foe to deal with, in the savages of the Ohio territory, and not till they had defeated Pontiac and his warriors, and broken the spirit of the hostile tribes, were they secure in their possession of the vast and fertile region which they had thus appropriated.

There is another movement of emigration now to consider, which opened a new and extensive territory to European settlers, and gave rise to historical events of interest and importance. In a preceding article it was remarked that the news of the battle of Lexington reached the ears of a party of hunters in the interior of Kentucky, and that they gave the name of Lexington to the locality of their camp. The movement in this direction was instigated and led by the celebrated pioneer and hunter Daniel Boone, whose adventurous life has so long been a source of interest and enjoyment to readers. The story of the discovery, conquest, and settlement of Kentucky belongs to the era of the Revolutionary War, and had reached its most interesting phase at the period when the seaboard colonists were first taking arms against British aggression. Its consequences, however, reached far into the succeeding period, and a description of it is properly in place here.

Kentucky was first discovered in 1767, by a bold hunter named John Finley, who, with some companions, in that year crossed the Alleghanies and entered this unknown land. It was no easy enterprise. There was a mountain-region nearly fifty miles in width to cross, traversed by parallel ridges, all rugged, and some almost impassable. Yet the beautiful and fertile expanse which they beheld from the western slope repaid the hardy pioneers for their toil, and for months they wandered in this new Eden, which was full of game, and pleasantly salubrious in its climate, while unclaimed by those savage tenants whose presence filled with peril all other regions of the country. No Indians possessed the country. It was the hunting and battle region of Northern, Western, and Southern tribes, who frequently crossed its soil, yet never made it their home. Yet here desperate battles frequently took place, and the name of "the dark and bloody ground," which it subsequently received, was always appropriate.

The story told by Finley on his return was eagerly heard by Daniel Boone, a noted hunter of North Carolina, whither his parents had emigrated from Pennsylvania. In 1769 a party under the leadership of Boone crossed the mountains, and entered Kentucky by way of Cumberland Gap. His adventures in this region for several years succeeding were numerous and exciting. He acquired the reputation of a mighty hunter, became dreaded by the Indians, and, though on several occasions taken prisoner, always managed to escape from their hands. During this interval the Indian war known as Lord Dunmore's War broke out, through the assassination, by white fiends, of the family of the renowned Indian chief Logan. The borders of the Virginia frontier were terribly raided, and it needed an army of three thousand men to subdue the savages. In the final battle, which was desperately contested, two hundred and fifteen Virginians and several hundred Indian warriors were killed and wounded. The repulsed tribes fled in terror, and their whole country was devastated by the victors.

In this campaign Boone took part, and its conclusion was followed by a more rapid inflow of settlers into the region which he had explored, and which had become now more safe for white emigrants. Under his directions a strong fort was built at Boonsborough, on the left bank of the Kentucky River. To this frontier post came a party of adventurous settlers, under his leadership. It was a dangerous location. Lurking Indians waited to cut off any settler who ventured too far beyond the walls of the fort. At one time a daughter of Boone and two other girls, while canoeing on the river, were captured by savages. Boone rapidly pursued, and succeeded in surprising the captors and rescuing their prisoners. The story of the adventures of these pioneers is full of thrilling incidents, and their life was one of hairbreadth escapes. Finally Boone was taken prisoner, while out with a party making salt at the Salt Lick Springs. As the Indians were not resisted, the captives were well treated, taken to Detroit, and all ransomed except Boone, whom they would not surrender. They took him back with them to Chillicothe, the home of the tribe, and adopted him into the family of Blackfish, a distinguished Shawnee chief. The ceremony of adoption was a severe and painful one, as part of it consisted in the plucking out of all the hairs of the head, with the exception of the scalp-lock tuft, of three or four inches' diameter. Yet the shrewd and politic captive bore all these inflictions with equanimity, and managed to appear perfectly content with his lot. The exciting events which succeeded we give from Abbott's "Daniel Boone, the Pioneer of Kentucky."]

Colonel Boone, having passed through this transformation, with his Indian dress and his painted cheeks, his tufted scalp-lock and his whole person embrowned by constant exposure to the open air, could scarcely be distinguished from any of his Indian associates. His wary captors, however,. habitually, but without a remark suggestive of any suspicions, adopted precautions to prevent his escape. So skilful a hunter as Boone could, with his rifle and a supply of ammunition, traverse the solitary expanse around for almost any length of time, living in abundance. But deprived of his rifle or of ammunition he would soon almost inevitably perish of starvation. The Indians were therefore very careful not to allow him to accumulate any ammunition, which was so essential to sustain him in a journey through the wilderness.

Though Boone was often allowed to go out alone to hunt, they always counted his balls and the charges of powder. Thus they could judge whether he had concealed any ammunition to aid him, should he attempt to escape. He, however, with equal sagacity, cut the balls in halves, and used very small charges of powder. Thus he secretly laid aside quite a little store of ammunition.

[During this period the Indians took Boone with them to some salt springs to aid them in making salt. Here they kept him too busy at the kettles to give him an opportunity to escape.]

After an absence of about a fortnight, they returned with a good supply of salt to the Little Miami. Here Boone was quite alarmed to find that during his absence the chiefs had been marshalling a band of four hundred and fifty of their bravest warriors to attack Boonsborough. In that fort were his wife and children. Its capture would probably insure their slaughter. He was aware that the fort was not sufficiently guarded by its present inmates, and that, unapprehensive of impending danger, they were liable to be taken entirely by surprise. Boone was sufficiently acquainted with the Shawanese dialect to understand every word they said, while he very sagaciously had assumed, from the moment of his captivity, that he was entirely ignorant of their language.

Boone's anxiety was very great. He was compelled to assume a smiling face as he attended their war-dances. Apparently unmoved, he listened to the details of their plans for the surprise of the fort. Indeed, to disarm suspicion and to convince them that he had truly become one of their number, he co-operated in giving efficiency to their hostile designs against all he held most dear in the world.

It had now become a matter of infinite moment that he should immediately escape and carry to his friends in the fort the tidings of their peril. But the slightest unwary movement would have led the suspicious Indians so to redouble their vigilance as to render escape utterly impossible. So skilfully did he conceal the emotions which agitated him, and so successfully did he feign entire contentment with his lot, that his captors, all absorbed in the enterprise in which they were engaged, remitted their ordinary vigilance.

On the morning of the sixteenth of June [1777] Boone rose very early to take his usual hunt. With his secreted ammunition, and the amount allowed him by the Indians for the day, he hoped to be able to save himself from starvation during his flight of five days through the pathless wilderness. There was a distance of one hundred and sixty miles between Old Chillicothe and Boonsborough. The moment his flight should be suspected, four hundred and fifty Indian warriors, breathing vengeance, and in perfect preparation for the pursuit, would be on his track. His capture would almost certainly result in his death by the most cruel tortures; for the infuriated Indians would wreak upon him all their vengeance.

It is, however, not probable that this silent, pensive man allowed these thoughts seriously to disturb his equanimity. An instinctive trust in God seemed to inspire him. He was forty-three years of age. In the knowledge of woodcraft, and in powers of endurance, no Indian surpassed him. Though he would be pursued by sagacious and veteran warriors and by young Indian braves, a pack of four hundred and fifty savages following, with keener scent than that of the bloodhound, one poor victim, yet undismayed he entered upon the appalling enterprise. The history of the world perhaps presents but few feats so difficult and yet so successfully performed.

It was necessary, as soon as Boone got out of sight of the village, to fly with the utmost speed, to put as great a distance as possible between himself and his pursuers before they should suspect his attempt at escape. He subsequently learned that as soon as the Indians apprehended that he had actually fled, there was the most intense commotion in their camp, and immediately a large number of their fleetest runners and keenest hunters were put upon his trail. He dared not fire a gun. Had he killed any game he could not have ventured to kindle a fire to cook it. He had secretly provided himself with a few cuts of dried venison with which he could appease his hunger as he pressed forward by day and by night, scarcely allowing himself one moment for rest or sleep. His route lay through forests and swamps, and across many streams swollen by recent rains.

At length he reached the Ohio River. Its current was swift and turbid, rolling in a majestic flood half a mile in width, filling the bed of the stream with almost fathomless waters from shore to shore. Experienced as Colonel Boone was in wood-craft, he was not a skilful swimmer. The thought of how he should cross the Ohio had caused him much anxiety. Upon reaching its banks he fortunately-- may we not say providentially?--found an old canoe which had drifted among the bushes upon the shore. There was a large hole at one end, and it was nearly filled with water. He succeeded in baling out the water and plugging up the hole, and crossed the river in safety. Then for the first time he so far indulged in a feeling of security as to venture to shoot a turkey, and, kindling a fire, he feasted abundantly upon the rich repast. It was the only meal in which he had indulged during his flight of five days.

[On reaching the fort they looked upon him as a dead man come to life. His wife and children, believing him dead, had returned to North Carolina. He found the fort in a bad condition, and at once brought all his energy and experience to work to put it in a proper state of defence. This done, he determined to strike terror into his Indian foes, and on the 1st of August led a party of nineteen men across the Ohio. They met and routed a body of thirty savages near the Indian town of Paint Creek.]

Boone sent forward some swift runners as spies, and they speedily returned with the report that the Indians in a panic had entirely abandoned Paint Creek. Aware that the warriors would rush to join the four hundred and fifty from Old Chillicothe, and that they might cut off his retreat, or reach Boonsborough before his return, he immediately commenced a rapid movement back to the fort. Every man would be needed there for an obstinate defence. This foray had extended one hundred and fifty miles from the fort. It greatly alarmed the Indians. It emboldened the hearts of the garrison, and gave them intelligence of the approach of their foes. After an absence of but seven days, Boone with his heroic little band quite triumphantly re-entered the fort.

[The Indian army, four hundred and forty-four in number, arrived on August 8, commanded by Captain Duquesne, eleven other Frenchmen, and some of their own chiefs, with British and French colors flying. The fort was summoned to surrender in the name of his Britannic majesty. Boone asked and was granted two days to consider. He employed the interval to prepare for an obstinate defence. He then returned the answer that "we are determined to defend our fort while a man is living."]

There were but fifty men in the garrison at Boonsborough. They were assailed by a body of more than ten to one of the bravest Indian warriors, under the command of an officer in the British army. The boldest in the fort felt that their situation was almost desperate. The ferocity of the Indian and the intelligence of the white man were combined against them. They knew that the British commander, however humane he might be, would have no power, should the fort be taken by storm, to save them from death by the most horrible tortures.

[It was now declared by Duquesne that his orders were to take them captive and not destroy them, and if nine of them would come out and treat with him he would withdraw his forces and peacefully retire. Boone accepted this proposition.]

But, better acquainted with the Indian character than perhaps Duquesne could have been, he selected nine of the most athletic and strong of the garrison, and appointed the place of meeting in front of the fort, at a distance of only one hundred and twenty feet from the walls. The riflemen of the garrison were placed in a position to cover the spot with their guns, so that in case of treachery the Indians would meet with instant punishment, and the retreat of the party from the fort would probably be secured.

[Duquesne proposed highly liberal terms. But Boone well knew that the Indians would not assent to these terms. During the conference the savages had drawn near, and now Blackfish, Boone's adopted father, professed entire amity, and proposed that they should conclude the treaty in what he asserted was the Indian manner, by each white man shaking hands with two Indians.]

This shallow pretence, scarcely up to the sagacity of children, by which Blackfish hoped that two savages grapling each one of the commissioners would easily be able to make prisoners of them, and then by threats of torture compel the surrender of the fort, did not in the slightest degree deceive Colonel Boone. He was well aware of his own strength and of that of the men who accompanied him. He also knew that his riflemen occupied concealed positions, from which, with unerring aim, they could instantly punish the savages for any act of treachery. He therefore consented to the arrangement. The grasp was given. Instantly a terrible scene of confusion ensued.

The burly savages tried to drag off their victims. The surrounding Indians rushed in to their aid, and a deadly fire was opened upon them from the fort, which was energetically responded to by all the armed savages from behind stumps and trees. One of the fiercest of battles had instantly blazed forth. Still these stalwart pioneers were not taken by surprise. Aided by the bullets of the fort, they shook off their assailants, and all succeeded in escaping within the heavy gates, which were immediately closed behind them. One only of their number, Boone's brother, was wounded. This escape seems almost miraculous. But the majority of the Indians in intelligence were mere children; sometimes very cunning, but often with the grossest stupidity mingled with their strategy.

Duquesne and Blackfish, the associated leaders, now commenced the siege of the fort with all their energies. Dividing their forces into two parties, they kept up an incessant fire upon the garrison for nine days and nine nights. It was one of the most heroic of those bloody struggles between civilization and barbarism which have rendered the plains of Kentucky memorable.

The savages were very careful not to expose themselves to the rifles of the besieged. They were stationed behind rocks and trees and stumps, so that it was seldom that the garrison could catch even a glimpse of the foes who were assailing them. It was necessary for those within the fort to be sparing of their ammunition. They seldom fired unless they could take deliberate aim, and then the bullet was almost sure to reach its mark. Colonel Boone, in describing this attempt of the Indians to capture the commissioners by stratagem, and the storm of war which followed, writes:

"They immediately grappled us, but, although surrounded by hundreds of savages, we extricated ourselves from them and escaped all safe into the garrison except one, who was wounded, through a heavy fire from their army. They immediately attacked us on every side, and a constant heavy fire ensued between us, day and night, for the space of nine days. In this time the enemy began to undermine our fort, which was situated about sixty yards from the Kentucky River. They began at the water-mark and proceeded in the bank some distance, which we understood by their making the water muddy with the clay. We immediately proceeded to disappoint their design by cutting a trench across their subterranean passage. The enemy, discovering our countermine by the clay we threw out of the fort, desisted from that stratagem. Experience now fully convincing them that neither their power nor their policy could effect their purpose, on the twentieth of August they raised the siege and departed.

"During this siege, which threatened death in every form, we had two men killed and four wounded, besides a number of cattle. We killed of the enemy thirty- seven, and wounded a great number. After they were gone we picked up one hundred and twenty-five pounds' weight of bullets, besides what stuck in the logs of our fort, which certainly is a great proof of their industry."

It is said that during this siege one of the negroes, probably a slave, deserted from the fort with one of their best rifles, and joined the Indians. Concealing himself in a tree, where unseen he could take deliberate aim, he became one of the most successful of the assailants. But the eagle eye of Boone detected him, and though, as was afterwards ascertained by actual measurement, the tree was five hundred and twenty-five feet distant from the fort, Boone took deliberate aim, fired, and the man was seen to drop heavily from his covert to the ground. The bullet from Boone's rifle had pierced his brain.

At one time the Indians had succeeded in setting fire to the fort, by throwing flaming combustibles upon it, attached to their arrows. One of the young men extinguished the flames, exposing himself to the concentrated and deadly fire of the assailants in doing so. Though the bullets fell like hailstones around him, the brave fellow escaped unscathed.

[The Indians never again assailed the fort. From that time forward the settlements in Kentucky rapidly increased, the Revolutionary War driving many settlers West. There were other troubles with the savages, but the dominion of the white man in the trans-Alleghany region was assured, and the aborigines had lost their hold upon the land of their forefathers.]

John S. C. Abbott

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