Part 3 out of 12
it by a resistless fascination. The sun went over it early in the day,
as though glad to leave the place, and after that a dark scowl would
settle there. At night we felt its presence, like a curse. Even Polly
Ann was silent. And she had need to be now. When it was necessary, we
talked in low tones, and the bell-clappers on the horses were not loosed
at night. It was here, but four years gone, that Daniel Boone's family
was attacked, and his son killed by the Indians.
We passed, from time to time, deserted cabins and camps, and some places
that might once have been called settlements: Elk Garden, where the
pioneers of the last four years had been wont to lay in a simple supply
of seed corn and Irish potatoes; and the spot where Henderson and his
company had camped on the way to establish Boonesboro two years before.
And at last we struck the trace that mounted upward to the Gateway
ON THE WILDERNESS TRAIL
And now we had our hands upon the latch, and God alone knew what was
behind the gate. Toil, with a certainty, but our lives had known it.
Death, perchance. But Death had been near to all of us, and his presence
did not frighten. As we climbed towards the Gap, I recalled with strange
aptness a quaint saying of my father's that Kaintuckee was the Garden of
Eden, and that men were being justly punished with blood for their
As if to crown that judgment, the day was dark and lowering, with showers
of rain from time to time. And when we spoke,--Polly Ann and I,--it was
in whispers. The trace was very narrow, with Daniel Boone's blazes, two
years old, upon the trees; but the way was not over steep. Cumberland
Mountain was as silent and deserted as when the first man had known it.
Alas, for the vanity of human presage! We gained the top, and entered
unmolested. No Eden suddenly dazzled our eye, no splendor burst upon it.
Nothing told us, as we halted in our weariness, that we had reached the
Promised Land. The mists weighed heavily on the evergreens of the slopes
and hid the ridges, and we passed that night in cold discomfort. It was
the first of many without a fire.
The next day brought us to the Cumberland, tawny and swollen from the
rains, and here we had to stop to fell trees to make a raft on which to
ferry over our packs. We bound the logs together with grapevines, and as
we worked my imagination painted for me many a red face peering from the
bushes on the farther shore. And when we got into the river and were
caught and spun by the hurrying stream, I hearkened for a shot from the
farther bank. While Polly Ann and I were scrambling to get the raft
landed, Tom and Weldon swam over with the horses. And so we lay the
second night dolefully in the rain. But not so much as a whimper escaped
from Polly Ann. I have often told her since that the sorest trial she
had was the guard she kept on her tongue,--a hardship indeed for one of
Irish inheritance. Many a pull had she lightened for us by a flash of
The next morning the sun relented, and the wine of his dawn was wine
indeed to our flagging hopes. Going down to wash at the river's brink, I
heard a movement in the cane, and stood frozen and staring until a great,
bearded head, black as tar, was thrust out between the stalks and looked
at me with blinking red eyes. The next step revealed the hump of the
beast, and the next his tasselled tail lashing his dirty brown quarters.
I did not tarry longer, but ran to tell Tom. He made bold to risk a shot
and light a fire, and thus we had buffalo meat for some days after.
We were still in the mountains. The trail led down the river for a bit
through the worst of canebrakes, and every now and again we stopped while
Tom and Weldon scouted. Once the roan mare made a dash through the
brake, and, though Polly Ann burst through one way to head her off and I
another, we reached the bank of Richland Creek in time to see her nose
and the top of her pack above the brown water. There was nothing for it
but to swim after her, which I did, and caught her quietly feeding in the
cane on the other side. By great good fortune the other horse bore the
"Drat you, Nancy," said Polly Ann to the mare, as she handed me my
clothes, "I'd sooner carry the pack myself than be bothered with you."
"Hush," said I, "the redskins will get us."
Polly Ann regarded me scornfully as I stood bedraggled before her.
"Redskins!" she cried. "Nonsense! I reckon it's all talk about
But we had scarce caught up ere we saw Tom standing rigid with his hand
raised. Before him, on a mound bared of cane, were the charred remains
of a fire. The sight of them transformed Weldon. His eyes glared again,
even as when we had first seen him, curses escaped under his breath, and
he would have darted into the cane had not Tom seized him sternly by the
shoulder. As for me, my heart hammered against my ribs, and I grew sick
with listening. It was at that instant that my admiration for Tom
McChesney burst bounds, and that I got some real inkling of what
woodcraft might be. Stepping silently between the tree trunks, his eyes
bent on the leafy loam, he found a footprint here and another there, and
suddenly he went into the cane with a sign to us to remain. It seemed an
age before he returned. Then he began to rake the ashes, and, suddenly
bending down, seized something in them,--the broken bowl of an Indian
"Shawnees!" he said; "I reckoned so." It was at length the beseeching in
Polly Ann's eyes that he answered.
"A war party--tracks three days old. They took poplar."
To take poplar was our backwoods expression for embarking in a canoe, the
dugouts being fashioned from the great poplar trees.
I did not reflect then, as I have since and often, how great was the
knowledge and resource Tom practised that day. Our feeling for him
(Polly Ann's and mine) fell little short of worship. In company ill at
ease, in the forest he became silent and masterful--an unerring woodsman,
capable of meeting the Indian on his own footing. And, strangest thought
of all, he and many I could name who went into Kentucky, had escaped, by
a kind of strange fate, being born in the north of Ireland. This was so
of Andrew Jackson himself.
The rest of the day he led us in silence down the trace, his eye alert to
penetrate every corner of the forest, his hand near the trigger of his
long Deckard. I followed in boylike imitation, searching every thicket
for alien form and color, and yearning for stature and responsibility.
As for poor Weldon, he would stride for hours at a time with eyes fixed
ahead, a wild figure,--ragged and fringed. And we knew that the soul
within him was torn with thoughts of his dead wife and of his child in
captivity. Again, when the trance left him, he was an addition to our
little party not to be despised.
At dark Polly Ann and I carried the packs across a creek on a fallen
tree, she taking one end and I the other. We camped there, where the
loam was trampled and torn by countless herds of bison, and had only
parched corn and the remains of a buffalo steak for supper, as the meal
was mouldy from its wetting, and running low. When Weldon had gone a
little distance up the creek to scout, Tom relented from the sternness
which his vigilance imposed and came and sat down on a log beside Polly
Ann and me.
"'Tis a hard journey, little girl," he said, patting her; "I reckon I
done wrong to fetch you."
I can see him now, as the twilight settled down over the wilderness, his
honest face red and freckled, but aglow with the tenderness it had hidden
during the day, one big hand enfolding hers, and the other on my
"Hark, Davy!" said Polly Ann, "he's fair tired of us already. Davy, take
"Hush, Polly Ann," he answered; delighted at her raillery. "But I've a
word to say to you. If we come on to the redskins, you and Davy make for
the cane as hard as you kin kilter. Keep out of sight."
"As hard as we kin kilter!" exclaimed Polly Ann, indignantly. "I reckon
not, Tom McChesney. Davy taught me to shoot long ago, afore you made up
your mind to come back from Kaintuckee."
Tom chuckled. "So Davy taught you to shoot," he said, and checked
himself. "He ain't such a bad one with a pistol,"--and he patted
me,--"but I allow ye'd better hunt kiver just the same. And if they
ketch ye, Polly Ann, just you go along and pretend to be happy, and tear
off a snatch of your dress now and then, if you get a chance. It
wouldn't take me but a little time to run into Harrodstown or Boone's
Station from here, and fetch a party to follow ye."
Two days went by,--two days of strain in sunlight, and of watching and
fitful sleep in darkness. But the Wilderness Trail was deserted. Here
and there a lean-to--silent remnant of the year gone by--spoke of the
little bands of emigrants which had once made their way so cheerfully to
the new country. Again it was a child's doll, the rags of it beaten by
the weather to a rusty hue. Every hour that we progressed seemed to
justify the sagacity and boldness of Tom's plan, nor did it appear to
have entered a painted skull that a white man would have the hardihood to
try the trail this year. There were neither signs nor sounds save
Nature's own, the hoot of the wood-owl, the distant bark of a mountain
wolf, the whir of a partridge as she left her brood. At length we could
stand no more the repression that silence and watching put upon us, and
when a rotten bank gave way and flung Polly Ann and the sorrel mare into
a creek, even Weldon smiled as we pulled her, bedraggled and laughing,
from the muddy water. This was after we had ferried the Rockcastle
Our trace rose and fell over height and valley, until we knew that we
were come to a wonderland at last. We stood one evening on a spur as the
setting sun flooded the natural park below us with a crystal light and,
striking a tall sycamore, turned its green to gold. We were now on the
hills whence the water ran down to nourish the fat land, and I could
scarce believe that the garden spot on which our eyes feasted could be
the scene of the blood and suffering of which we had heard. Here at last
was the fairyland of my childhood, the country beyond the Blue Wall.
We went down the river that led into it, with awes as though we were
trespassers against God Himself,--as though He had made it too beautiful
and too fruitful for the toilers of this earth. And you who read this an
hundred years hence may not believe the marvels of it to the pioneer, and
in particular to one born and bred in the scanty, hard soil of the
mountains. Nature had made it for her park,--ay, and scented it with her
own perfumes. Giant trees, which had watched generations come and go,
some of which mayhap had been saplings when the Norman came to England,
grew in groves,--the gnarled and twisted oak, and that godsend to the
settlers, the sugar-maple; the coffee tree with its drooping buds; the
mulberry, the cherry, and the plum; the sassafras and the pawpaw; the
poplar and the sycamore, slender maidens of the forest, garbed in
daintier colors,--ay, and that resplendent brunette with the white
flowers, the magnolia; and all underneath, in the green shade, enamelled
banks which the birds themselves sought to rival.
At length, one afternoon, we came to the grove of wild apple trees so
lovingly spoken of by emigrants as the Crab Orchard, and where formerly
they had delighted to linger. The plain near by was flecked with the
brown backs of feeding buffalo, but we dared not stop, and pressed on to
find a camp in the forest. As we walked in the filtered sunlight we had
a great fright, Polly Ann and I. Shrill, discordant cries suddenly burst
from the branches above us, and a flock of strange, green birds flecked
with red flew over our heads. Even Tom, intent upon the trail, turned
and laughed at Polly Ann as she stood clutching me.
"Shucks," said he, "they're only paroquets."
We made our camp in a little dell where there was short green grass by
the brookside and steep banks overgrown with brambles on either hand.
Tom knew the place, and declared that we were within thirty miles of the
station. A giant oak had blown down across the water, and, cutting out a
few branches of this, we spread our blankets under it on the turf.
Tethering our faithful beasts, and cutting a quantity of pea-vine for
their night's food, we lay down to sleep, Tom taking the first watch.
I had the second, for Tom trusted me now, and glorying in that trust I
was alert and vigilant. A shy moon peeped at me between the trees, and
was fantastically reflected in the water. The creek rippled over the
limestone, and an elk screamed in the forest far beyond. When at length
I had called Weldon to take the third watch, I lay down with a sense of
peace, soothed by the sweet odors of the night.
I awoke suddenly. I had been dreaming of Nick Temple and Temple Bow, and
my father coming back to me there with a great gash in his shoulder like
Weldon's. I lay for a moment dazed by the transition, staring through
the gray light. Then I sat up, the soft stamping and snorting of the
horses in my ears. The sorrel mare had her nose high, her tail
twitching, but there was no other sound in the leafy wilderness. With a
bound of returning sense I looked for Weldon. He had fallen asleep on
the bank above, his body dropped across the trunk of the oak. I leaped
on the trunk and made my way along it, stepping over him, until I reached
and hid myself in the great roots of the tree on the bank above. The
cold shiver of the dawn was in my body as I waited and listened. Should
I wake Tom? The vast forest was silent, and yet in its shadowy depths my
imagination drew moving forms. I hesitated.
The light grew: the boles of the trees came out, one by one, through the
purple. The tangled mass down the creek took on a shade of green, and a
faint breath came from the southward. The sorrel mare sniffed it, and
stamped. Then silence again,--a long silence. Could it be that the cane
moved in the thicket? Or had my eyes deceived me? I stared so hard that
it seemed to rustle all over. Perhaps some deer were feeding there, for
it was no unusual thing, when we rose in the morning, to hear the whistle
of a startled doe near our camping ground. I was thoroughly frightened
now,--and yet I had the speculative Scotch mind. The thicket was some
one hundred and fifty yards above, and on the flooded lands at a bend.
If there were Indians in it, they could not see the sleeping forms of our
party under me because of a bend in the stream. They might have seen me,
though I had kept very still in the twisted roots of the oak, and now I
was cramped. If Indians were there, they could determine our position
well enough by the occasional stamping and snorting of the horses. And
this made my fear more probable, for I had heard that horses and cattle
often warned pioneers of the presence of redskins.
Another thing: if they were a small party, they would probably seek to
surprise us by coming out of the cane into the creek bed above the bend,
and stalk down the creek. If a large band, they would surround and
overpower us. I drew the conclusion that it must be a small party--if a
party at all. And I would have given a shot in the arm to be able to see
over the banks of the creek. Finally I decided to awake Tom.
It was no easy matter to get down to where he was without being seen by
eyes in the cane. I clung to the under branches of the oak, finally
reached the shelving bank, and slid down slowly. I touched him on the
shoulder. He awoke with a start, and by instinct seized the rifle lying
"What is it, Davy?" he whispered.
I told what had happened and my surmise. He glanced then at the restless
horses and nodded, pointing up at the sleeping figure of Weldon, in full
sight on the log. The Indians must have seen him.
Tom picked up the spare rifle.
"Davy," said he, "you stay here beside Polly Ann, behind the oak. You
kin shoot with a rest; but don't shoot," said he, earnestly, "for God's
sake don't shoot unless you're sure to kill."
I nodded. For a moment he looked at the face of Polly Ann, sleeping
peacefully, and the fierce light faded from his eyes. He brushed her on
the cheek and she awoke and smiled at him, trustfully, lovingly. He put
his finger to his lips.
"Stay with Davy," he said. Turning to me, he added: "When you wake
Weldon, wake him easy. So." He put his hand in mine, and gradually
tightened it. "Wake him that way, and he won't jump."
Polly Ann asked no questions. She looked at Tom, and her soul was in her
face. She seized the pistol from the blanket. Then we watched him
creeping down the creek on his belly, close to the bank. Next we moved
behind the fallen tree, and I put my hand in Weldon's. He woke with a
sigh, started, but we drew him down behind the log. Presently he climbed
cautiously up the bank and took station in the muddy roots of the tree.
Then we waited, watching Tom with a prayer in our hearts. Those who have
not felt it know not the fearfulness of waiting for an Indian attack.
At last Tom reached the bend in the bank, beside some red-bud bushes, and
there he stayed. A level shaft of light shot through the forest. The
birds, twittering, awoke. A great hawk soared high in the blue over our
heads. An hour passed. I had sighted the rifle among the yellow leaves
of the fallen oak an hundred times. But Polly Ann looked not once to the
right or left. Her eyes and her prayers followed the form of her
Then, like the cracking of a great drover's whip, a shot rang out in the
stillness, and my hands tightened over the rifle-stock. A piece of bark
struck me in the face, and a dead leaf fluttered to the ground. Almost
instantly there was another shot, and a blue wisp of smoke rose from the
red-bud bushes, where Tom was. The horses whinnied, there was a rustle
in the cane, and silence. Weldon bent over.
"My God!" he whispered hoarsely, "he hit one. Tom hit one."
I felt Polly Ann's hand on my face.
"Davy dear," she said, "are ye hurt?"
"No," said I, dazed, and wondering why Weldon had not been shot long ago
as he slumbered. I was burning to climb the bank and ask him whether he
had seen the Indian fall.
Again there was silence,--a silence even more awful than before. The sun
crept higher, the magic of his rays turning the creek from black to
crystal, and the birds began to sing again. And still there was no sign
of the treacherous enemy that lurked about us. Could Tom get back? I
glanced at Polly Ann. The same question was written in her yearning
eyes, staring at the spot where the gray of his hunting shirt showed
through the bushes at the bend. Suddenly her hand tightened on mine.
The hunting shirt was gone!
After that, in the intervals when my terror left me, I tried to speculate
upon the plan of the savages. Their own numbers could not be great, and
yet they must have known from our trace how few we were. Scanning the
ground, I noted that the forest was fairly clean of undergrowth on both
sides of us. Below, the stream ran straight, but there were growths of
cane and briers. Looking up, I saw Weldon faced about. It was the
But where had Tom gone?
Next my eye was caught by a little run fringed with bushes that curved
around the cane near the bend. I traced its course, unconsciously, bit
by bit, until it reached the edge of a bank not fifty feet away.
All at once my breath left me. Through the tangle of bramble stems at
the mouth of the run, above naked brown shoulders there glared at me,
hideously streaked with red, a face. Had my fancy lied? I stared again
until my eyes were blurred, now tortured by doubt, now so completely
convinced that my fingers almost released the trigger,--for I had thrown
the sights into line over the tree. I know not to this day whether I
shot from determination or nervousness. My shoulder bruised by the kick,
the smoke like a veil before my face, it was some moments ere I knew that
the air was full of whistling bullets; and then the gun was torn from my
hands, and I saw Polly Ann ramming in a new charge.
"The pistol, Davy," she cried.
One torture was over, another on. Crack after crack sounded from the
forest--from here and there and everywhere, it seemed--and with a song
that like a hurtling insect ran the scale of notes, the bullets buried
themselves in the trunk of our oak with a chug. Once in a while I heard
Weldon's answering shot, but I remembered my promise to Tom not to waste
powder unless I were sure. The agony was the breathing space we had
while they crept nearer. Then we thought of Tom, and I dared not glance
at Polly Ann for fear that the sight of her face would unnerve me.
Then a longing to kill seized me, a longing so strange and fierce that I
could scarce be still. I know now that it comes in battle to all men,
and with intensity to the hunted, and it explained to me more clearly
what followed. I fairly prayed for the sight of a painted form, and time
after time my fancy tricked me into the notion that I had one. And even
as I searched the brambles at the top of the run a puff of smoke rose out
of them, a bullet burying itself in the roots near Weldon, who fired in
return. I say that I have some notion of what possessed the man, for he
was crazed with passion at fighting the race which had so cruelly wronged
him. Horror-struck, I saw him swing down from the bank, splash through
the water with raised tomahawk, and gain the top of the run. In less
time than it takes me to write these words he had dragged a hideous,
naked warrior out of the brambles, and with an avalanche of crumbling
earth they slid into the waters of the creek. Polly Ann and I stared
transfixed at the fearful fight that followed, nor can I give any
adequate description of it. Weldon had struck through the brambles, but
the savage had taken the blow on his gun-barrel and broken the handle of
the tomahawk, and it was man to man as they rolled in the shallow water,
locked in a death embrace. Neither might reach for his knife, neither
was able to hold the other down, Weldon's curses surcharged with hatred.
the Indian straining silently save for a gasp or a guttural note, the
white a bearded madman, the savage a devil with a glistening,
paint-streaked body, his features now agonized as his muscles strained
and cracked, now lighted with a diabolical joy. But the pent-up rage of
months gave the white man strength.
Polly Ann and I were powerless for fear of shooting Weldon, and gazed
absorbed at the fiendish scene with eyes not to be withdrawn. The
tree-trunk shook. A long, bronze arm reached out from above, and a
painted face glowered at us from the very roots where Weldon had lain.
That moment I took to be my last, and in it I seemed to taste all
eternity, I heard but faintly a noise beyond. It was the shock of the
heavy Indian falling on Polly Ann and me as we cowered under the trunk,
and even then there was an instant that we stood gazing at him as at a
worm writhing in the clay. It was she who fired the pistol and made the
great hole in his head, and so he twitched and died. After that a
confusion of shots, war-whoops, a vision of two naked forms flying from
tree to tree towards the cane, and then--God be praised--Tom's voice
"Polly Ann! Polly Ann!"
Before she had reached the top of the bank Tom had her in his arms, and a
dozen tall gray figures leaped the six feet into the stream and stopped.
My own eyes turned with theirs to see the body of poor Weldon lying face
downward in the water. But beyond it a tragedy awaited me. Defiant,
immovable, save for the heaving of his naked chest, the savage who had
killed him stood erect with folded arms facing us. The smoke cleared
away from a gleaming rifle-barrel, and the brave staggered and fell and
died as silent as he stood, his feathers making ripples in the stream.
It was cold-blooded, if you like, but war in those days was to the death,
and knew no mercy. The tall backwoodsman who had shot him waded across
the stream, and in the twinkling of an eye seized the scalp-lock and ran
it round with his knife, holding up the bleeding trophy with a shout.
Staggering to my feet, I stretched myself, but I had been cramped so long
that I tottered and would have fallen had not Tom's hand steadied me.
"Davy!" he cried. "Thank God, little Davy! the varmints didn't get ye."
"And you, Tom?" I answered, looking up at him, bewildered with happiness.
"They was nearer than I suspicioned when I went off," he said, and looked
at me curiously. "Drat the little deevil," he said affectionately, and
his voice trembled, "he took care of Polly Ann, I'll warrant."
He carried me to the top of the bank, where we were surrounded by the
whole band of backwoodsmen.
"That he did!" cried Polly Ann, "and fetched a redskin yonder as clean as
you could have done it, Tom."
"The little deevil!" exclaimed Tom again.
I looked up, burning with this praise from Tom (for I had never thought
of praise nor of anything save his happiness and Polly Ann's). I looked
up, and my eyes were caught and held with a strange fascination by
fearless blue ones that gazed down into them. I give you but a poor
description of the owner of these blue eyes, for personal magnetism
springs not from one feature or another. He was a young man,--perhaps
five and twenty as I now know age,--woodsman-clad, square-built,
sun-reddened. His hair might have been orange in one light and sand-colored in another. With a boy's
sense of such things I knew that the
other woodsmen were waiting for him to speak, for they glanced at him
"You had a near call, McChesney," said he, at length; "fortunate for you
we were after this band,--shot some of it to pieces yesterday morning."
He paused, looking at Tom with that quality of tribute which comes
naturally to a leader of men. "By God," he said, "I didn't think you'd
"My word is good, Colonel Clark," answered Tom, simply.
Young Colonel Clark glanced at the lithe figure of Polly Ann. He seemed
a man of few words, for he did not add to his praise of Tom's achievement
by complimenting her as Captain Sevier had done. In fact, he said
nothing more, but leaped down the bank and strode into the water where
the body of Weldon lay, and dragged it out himself. We gathered around
it silently, and two great tears rolled down Polly Ann's cheeks as she
parted the hair with tenderness and loosened the clenched hands. Nor did
any of the tall woodsmen speak. Poor Weldon! The tragedy of his life
and death was the tragedy of Kentucky herself. They buried him by the
waterside, where he had fallen.
But there was little time for mourning on the border. The burial
finished, the Kentuckians splashed across the creek, and one of them,
stooping with a shout at the mouth of the run, lifted out of the brambles
a painted body with drooping head and feathers trailing.
"Ay, Mac," he cried, "here's a sculp for ye."
"It's Davy's," exclaimed Polly Ann from the top of the bank; "Davy shot
"Hooray for Davy," cried a huge, strapping backwoodsman who stood beside
her, and the others laughingly took up the shout. "Hooray for Davy.
Bring him over, Cowan." The giant threw me on his shoulder as though I
had been a fox, leaped down, and took the stream in two strides. I
little thought how often he was to carry me in days to come, but I felt a
great awe at the strength of him, as I stared into his rough features and
his veined and weathered skin. He stood me down beside the Indian's
body, smiled as he whipped my hunting knife from my belt, and said, "Now,
Davy, take the sculp."
Nothing loath, I seized the Indian by the long scalp-lock, while my big
friend guided my hand, and amid laughter and cheers I cut off my first
trophy of war. Nor did I have any other feeling than fierce hatred of
the race which had killed my father.
Those who have known armies in their discipline will find it difficult to
understand the leadership of the border. Such leadership was granted
only to those whose force and individuality compelled men to obey them.
I had my first glimpse of it that day. This Colonel Clark to whom Tom
delivered Mr. Robertson's letter was perchance the youngest man in the
company that had rescued us, saving only a slim lad of seventeen whom I
noticed and envied, and whose name was James Ray. Colonel Clark, so I
was told by my friend Cowan, held that title in Kentucky by reason of his
Clark had been standing quietly on the bank while I had scalped my first
redskin. Then he called Tom McChesney to him and questioned him closely
about our journey, the signs we had seen, and, finally, the news in the
Watauga settlements. While this was going on the others gathered round
"What now?" asked Cowan, when he had finished.
"Back to Harrodstown," answered the Colonel, shortly.
There was a brief silence, followed by a hoarse murmur from a thick-set
man at the edge of the crowd, who shouldered his way to the centre of it.
"We set out to hunt a fight, and my pluck is to clean up. We ain't
finished 'em yet."
The man had a deep, coarse voice that was a piece with his roughness.
"I reckon this band ain't a-goin' to harry the station any more, McGary,"
"By Job, what did we come out for? Who'll take the trail with me?"
There were some who answered him, and straightway they began to quarrel
among themselves, filling the woods with a babel of voices. While I
stood listening to these disputes with a boy's awe of a man's quarrel,
what was my astonishment to feel a hand on my shoulder. It was Colonel
Clark's, and he was not paying the least attention to the dispute.
"Davy," said he, "you look as if you could make a fire."
"Yes, sir," I answered, gasping.
"Well," said he, "make one."
I lighted a piece of punk with the flint, and, wrapping it up in some dry
brush, soon had a blaze started. Looking up, I caught his eye on me
"Mrs. McChesney," said Colonel Clark to Polly Ann, "you look as if you
could make johnny-cake. Have you any meal?"
"That I have," cried Polly Ann, "though it's fair mouldy. Davy, run and
I ran to the pack on the sorrel mare. When I returned Mr. Clark said:--
"That seems a handy boy, Mrs. McChesney."
"Handy!" cried Polly Ann, "I reckon he's more than handy. Didn't he save
my life twice on our way out here?"
"And how was that?" said the Colonel.
"Run and fetch some water, Davy," said Polly Ann, and straightway
launched forth into a vivid description of my exploits, as she mixed the
meal. Nay, she went so far as to tell how she came by me. The young
Colonel listened gravely, though with a gleam now and then in his blue
eyes. Leaning on his long rifle, he paid no manner of attention to the
angry voices near by,--which conduct to me was little short of the
"Now, Davy," said he, at length, "the rest of your history."
"There is little of it, sir," I answered. "I was born in the Yadkin
country, lived alone with my father, who was a Scotchman. He hated a man
named Cameron, took me to Charlestown, and left me with some kin of his
who had a place called Temple Bow, and went off to fight Cameron and the
Cherokees." There I gulped. "He was killed at Cherokee Ford, and--and I
ran away from Temple Bow, and found Polly Ann."
This time I caught something of surprise on the Colonel's face.
"By thunder, Davy," said he, "but you have a clean gift for brief
narrative. Where did you learn it?"
"My father was a gentleman once, and taught me to speak and read," I
answered, as I brought a flat piece of limestone for Polly Ann's baking.
"And what would you like best to be when you grow up, Davy?" he asked.
"Six feet," said I, so promptly that he laughed.
"Faith," said Polly Ann, looking at me comically, "he may be many things,
but I'll warrant he'll never be that."
I have often thought since that young Mr. Clark showed much of the wisdom
of the famous king of Israel on that day. Polly Ann cooked a piece of a
deer which one of the woodsmen had with him, and the quarrel died of
itself when we sat down to this and the johnny-cake. By noon we had taken
up the trace for Harrodstown, marching with scouts ahead and behind. Mr.
Clark walked mostly alone, seemingly wrapped in thought. At times he had
short talks with different men, oftenest--I noted with pride--with Tom
McChesney. And more than once when he halted he called me to him, my
answers to his questions seeming to amuse him. Indeed, I became a kind
of pet with the backwoodsmen, Cowan often flinging me to his shoulder as
he swung along. The pack was taken from the sorrel mare and divided
among the party, and Polly Ann made to ride that we might move the
It must have been the next afternoon, about four, that the rough stockade
of Harrodstown greeted our eyes as we stole cautiously to the edge of the
forest. And the sight of no roofs and spires could have been more
welcome than that of these logs and cabins, broiling in the midsummer
sun. At a little distance from the fort, a silent testimony of siege,
the stumpy, cleared fields were overgrown with weeds, tall and rank, the
corn choked. Nearer the stockade, where the keepers of the fort might
venture out at times, a more orderly growth met the eye. It was young
James Ray whom Colonel Clark singled to creep with our message to the
gates. At six, when the smoke was rising from the stone chimneys behind
the palisades, Ray came back to say that all was well. Then we went
forward quickly, hands waved a welcome above the logs, the great wooden
gates swung open, and at last we had reached the haven for which we had
suffered so much. Mangy dogs barked at our feet, men and women ran
forward joyfully to seize our hands and greet us.
And so we came to Kaintuckee.
The old forts like Harrodstown and Boonesboro and Logan's at St. Asaph's
have long since passed away. It is many, many years since I lived
through that summer of siege in Harrodstown, the horrors of it are faded
and dim, the discomforts lost to a boy thrilled with a new experience. I
have read in my old age the books of travellers in Kentucky, English and
French, who wrote much of squalor and strife and sin and little of those
qualities that go to the conquest of an empire and the making of a
people. Perchance my own pages may be colored by gratitude and love for
the pioneers amongst whom I found myself, and thankfulness to God that we
had reached them alive.
I know not how many had been cooped up in the little fort since the early
spring, awaiting the chance to go back to their weed-choked clearings.
The fort at Harrodstown was like an hundred others I have since seen, but
sufficiently surprising to me then. Imagine a great parallelogram made
of log cabins set end to end, their common outside wall being the wall of
the fort, and loopholed. At the four corners of the parallelogram the
cabins jutted out, with ports in the angle in order to give a flanking
fire in case the savages reached the palisade. And then there were huge
log gates with watch-towers on either sides where sentries sat day and
night scanning the forest line. Within the fort was a big common dotted
with forest trees, where such cattle as had been saved browsed on the
scanty grass. There had been but the one scrawny horse before our
And the settlers! How shall I describe them as they crowded around us
inside the gate? Some stared at us with sallow faces and eyes brightened
by the fever, yet others had the red glow of health. Many of the men
wore rough beards, unkempt, and yellow, weather-worn hunting shirts,
often stained with blood. The barefooted women wore sunbonnets and loose
homespun gowns, some of linen made from nettles, while the children
swarmed here and there and everywhere in any costume that chance had
given them. All seemingly talking at once, they plied us with question
after question of the trace, the Watauga settlements, the news in the
Carolinys, and how the war went.
"A lad is it, this one," said an Irish voice near me, "and a woman! The
dear help us, and who'd 'ave thought to see a woman come over the
mountain this year! Where did ye find them, Bill Cowan?"
"Near the Crab Orchard, and the lad killed and sculped a six-foot brave."
"The Saints save us! And what'll be his name?"
"Davy," said my friend.
"Is it Davy? Sure his namesake killed a giant, too."
"And is he come along, also?" said another. His shy blue eyes and stiff
blond hair gave him a strange appearance in a hunting shirt.
"Hist to him! Who will ye be talkin' about, Poulsson? Is it King David
There was a roar of laughter, and this was my introduction to Terence
McCann and Swein Poulsson. The fort being crowded, we were put into a
cabin with Terence and Cowan and Cowan's wife--a tall, gaunt woman with a
sharp tongue and a kind heart--and her four brats, "All hugemsmug
together," as Cowan said. And that night we supped upon dried buffalo
meat and boiled nettle-tops, for of such was the fare in Harrodstown that
"Tom McChesney kept his faith." One other man was to keep his faith with
the little community--George Rogers Clark. And I soon learned that
trustworthiness is held in greater esteem in a border community than
anywhere else. Of course, the love of the frontier was in the grain of
these men. But what did they come back to? Day after day would the sun
rise over the forest and beat down upon the little enclosure in which we
were penned. The row of cabins leaning against the stockade marked the
boundaries of our diminutive world. Beyond them, invisible, lurked a
relentless foe. Within, the greater souls alone were calm, and a man's
worth was set down to a hair's breadth. Some were always to be found
squatting on their door-steps cursing the hour which had seen them depart
for this land; some wrestled and fought on the common, for a fist fight
with a fair field and no favor was a favorite amusement of the
backwoodsmen. My big friend, Cowan, was the champion of these, and often
of an evening the whole of the inhabitants would gather near the spring
to see him fight those who had the courage to stand up to him. His
muscles were like hickory wood, and I have known a man insensible for a
quarter of an hour after one of his blows. Strangely enough, he never
fought in anger, and was the first to the spring for a gourd of water
after the fight was over. But Tom McChesney was the best wrestler of the
lot, and could make a wider leap than any other man in Harrodstown.
Tom's reputation did not end there, for he became one of the two
breadwinners of the station. I would better have said meatwinners. Woe
be to the incautious who, lulled by a week of fancied security, ventured
out into the dishevelled field for a little food! In the early days of
the siege man after man had gone forth for game, never to return. Until
Tom came, one only had been successful,--that lad of seventeen, whose
achievements were the envy of my boyish soul, James Ray. He slept in the
cabin next to Cowan's, and long before the dawn had revealed the forest
line had been wont to steal out of the gates on the one scrawny horse the
Indians had left them, gain the Salt River, and make his way thence
through the water to some distant place where the listening savages could
not hear his shot. And now Tom took his turn. Often did I sit with
Polly Ann till midnight in the sentry's tower, straining my ears for the
owl's hoot that warned us of his coming. Sometimes he was empty-handed,
but sometimes a deer hung limp and black across his saddle, or a pair of
turkeys swung from his shoulder.
"Arrah, darlin'," said Terence to Polly Ann, "'tis yer husband and James
is the jools av the fort. Sure I niver loved me father as I do thim."
I would have given kingdoms in those days to have been seventeen and
James Ray. When he was in the fort I dogged his footsteps, and listened
with a painful yearning to the stories of his escapes from the roving
bands. And as many a character is watered in its growth by hero-worship, so my own grew firmer in the
contemplation of Ray's
resourcefulness. My strange life had far removed me from lads of my own
age, and he took a fancy to me, perhaps because of the very persistence
of my devotion to him. I cleaned his gun, filled his powder flask, and
ran to do his every bidding.
I used in the hot summer days to lie under the elm tree and listen to the
settlers' talk about a man named Henderson, who had bought a great part
of Kentucky from the Indians, and had gone out with Boone to found
Boonesboro some two years before. They spoke of much that I did not
understand concerning the discountenance by Virginia of these claims,
speculating as to whether Henderson's grants were good. For some of them
held these grants, and others Virginia grants--a fruitful source of
quarrel between them. Some spoke, too, of Washington and his ragged
soldiers going up and down the old colonies and fighting for a freedom
which there seemed little chance of getting. But their anger seemed to
blaze most fiercely when they spoke of a mysterious British general named
Hamilton, whom they called "the ha'r buyer," and who from his stronghold
in the north country across the great Ohio sent down these hordes of
savages to harry us. I learned to hate Hamilton with the rest, and
pictured him with the visage of a fiend. We laid at his door every
outrage that had happened at the three stations, and put upon him the
blood of those who had been carried off to torture in the Indian villages
of the northern forests. And when--amidst great excitement--a spent
runner would arrive from Boonesboro or St. Asaph's and beg Mr. Clark for
a squad, it was commonly with the first breath that came into his body
that he cursed Hamilton.
So the summer wore away, while we lived from hand to mouth on such scanty
fare as the two of them shot and what we could venture to gather in the
unkempt fields near the gates. A winter of famine lurked ahead, and men
were goaded near to madness at the thought of clearings made and corn
planted in the spring within reach of their hands, as it were, and they
might not harvest it. At length, when a fortnight had passed, and Tom
and Ray had gone forth day after day without sight or fresh sign of
Indians, the weight lifted from our hearts. There were many things that
might yet be planted and come to maturity before the late Kentucky
The pressure within the fort, like a flood, opened the gates of it,
despite the sturdily disapproving figure of a young man who stood silent
under the sentry box, leaning on his Deckard. He was Colonel George
Rogers Clark, Commander-in-chief of the backwoodsmen of Kentucky,
whose power was reenforced by that strange thing called an education. It
was this, no doubt, gave him command of words when he chose to use them.
 It appears that Mr. Clark had not yet received the title of
Colonel, though he held command.--EDITOR.
"Faith," said Terence, as we passed him, "'tis a foine man he is, and a
gintleman born. Wasn't it him gathered the Convintion here in
Harrodstown last year that chose him and another to go to the Virginia
legislatoor? And him but a lad, ye might say. The divil fly away wid
his caution! Sure the redskins is as toired as us, and gone home to the
wives and childher, bad cess to thim."
And so the first day the gates were opened we went into the fields a
little way; and the next day a little farther. They had once seemed to
me an unexplored and forbidden country as I searched them with my eyes
from the sentry boxes. And yet I felt a shame to go with Polly Ann and
Mrs. Cowan and the women while James Ray and Tom sat with the guard of
men between us and the forest line. Like a child on a holiday, Polly Ann
ran hither and thither among the stalks, her black hair flying and a song
on her lips.
"Soon we'll be having a little home of our own, Davy," she cried; "Tom
has the place chose on a knoll by the river, and the land is rich with
hickory and pawpaw. I reckon we may be going there next week."
Caution being born into me with all the strength of a vice, I said
nothing. Whereupon she seized me in her strong hands and shook me.
"Ye little imp!" said she, while the women paused in their work to laugh
"The boy is right, Polly Ann," said Mrs. Harrod, "and he's got more sense
than most of the men in the fort."
"Ay, that he has," the gaunt Mrs. Cowan put in, eying me fiercely, while
she gave one of her own offsprings a slap that sent him spinning.
Whatever Polly Ann might have said would have been to the point, but it
was lost, for just then the sound of a shot came down the wind, and a
half a score of women stampeded through the stalks, carrying me down like
a reed before them. When I staggered to my feet Polly Ann and Mrs. Cowan
and Mrs. Harrod were standing alone. For there was little of fear in
"Shucks!" said Mrs. Cowan, "I reckon it's that Jim Ray shooting at a
mark," and she began to pick nettles again.
"Vimmen is a shy critter," remarked Swein Poulsson, coming up. I had a
shrewd notion that he had run with the others.
"Wimmen!" Mrs. Cowan fairly roared. "Wimmen! Tell us how ye went in
March with the boys to fight the varmints at the Sugar Orchard, Swein!"
We all laughed, for we loved him none the less. His little blue eyes
were perfectly solemn as he answered:--
"Ve send you fight Injuns mit your tongue, Mrs. Cowan. Then we haf no
"Land of Canaan!" cried she, "I reckon I could do more harm with it than
you with a gun."
There were many such false alarms in the bright days following, and never
a bullet sped from the shadow of the forest. Each day we went farther
afield, and each night trooped merrily in through the gates with hopes of
homes and clearings rising in our hearts--until the motionless figure of
the young Virginian met our eye. It was then that men began to scoff at
him behind his back, though some spoke with sufficient backwoods
bluntness to his face. And yet he gave no sign of anger or impatience.
Not so the other leaders. No sooner did the danger seem past than bitter
strife sprang up within the walls. Even the two captains were mortal
enemies. One was Harrod, a tall, spare, dark-haired man of great
endurance,--a type of the best that conquered the land for the nation;
the other, that Hugh McGary of whom I have spoken, coarse and brutal, if
you like, but fearless and a leader of men withal.
A certain Sunday morning, I remember, broke with a cloud-flecked sky, and
as we were preparing to go afield with such ploughs as could be got
together (we were to sow turnips) the loud sounds of a quarrel came from
the elm at the spring. With one accord men and women and children
flocked thither, and as we ran we heard McGary's voice above the rest.
Worming my way, boylike, through the crowd, I came upon McGary and Harrod
glaring at each other in the centre of it.
"By Job! there's no devil if I'll stand back from my clearing and waste
the rest of the summer for the fears of a pack of cowards. I'll take a
posse and march to Shawanee Springs this day, and see any man a fair
fight that tries to stop me."
"And who's in command here?" demanded Harrod.
"I am, for one," said McGary, with an oath, "and my corn's on the ear.
I've held back long enough, I tell you, and I'll starve this winter for
you nor any one else."
"Where's Clark?" he said to Bowman.
"Clark!" roared McGary, "Clark be d--d. Ye'd think he was a woman." He
strode up to Harrod until their faces almost touched, and his voice shook
with the intensity of his anger. "By G--d, you nor Clark nor any one
else will stop me, I say!" He swung around and faced the people. "Come
on, boys! We'll fetch that corn, or know the reason why."
A responding murmur showed that the bulk of them were with him. Weary of
the pent-up life, longing for action, and starved for a good meal, the
anger of his many followers against Clark and Harrod was nigh as great as
his. He started roughly to shoulder his way out, and whether from
accident or design Captain Harrod slipped in front of him, I never knew.
The thing that followed happened quickly as the catching of my breath. I
saw McGary powdering his pan, and Harrod his, and felt the crowd giving
back like buffalo. All at once the circle had vanished, and the two men
were standing not five paces apart with their rifles clutched across
their bodies, each watching, catlike, for the other to level. It was a
cry that startled us--and them. There was a vision of a woman flying
across the common, and we saw the dauntless Mrs. Harrod snatching her
husband's gun from his resisting hands. So she saved his life and
At this point Colonel Clark was seen coming from the gate. When he got
to Harrod and McGary the quarrel blazed up again, but now it was between
the three of them, and Clark took Harrod's rifle from Mrs. Harrod and
held it. However, it was presently decided that McGary should wait one
more day before going to his clearing, whereupon the gates were opened,
the picked men going ahead to take station as a guard, and soon we were
hard at work, ploughing here and mowing there, and in another place
putting seed in the ground: in the cheer of the work hardships were
forgotten, and we paused now and again to laugh at some sally of Terence
McCann's or odd word of Swein Poulsson's. As the day wore on to
afternoon a blue haze--harbinger of autumn--settled over fort and forest.
Bees hummed in the air as they searched hither and thither amongst the
flowers, or shot straight as a bullet for a distant hive. But presently
a rifle cracked, and we raised our heads.
"Hist!" said Terence, "the bhoys on watch is that warlike! Whin there's
no redskins to kill they must be wastin' good powdher on a three."
I leaped upon a stump and scanned the line of sentries between us and the
woods; only their heads and shoulders appeared above the rank growth. I
saw them looking from one to another questioningly, some shouting words I
could not hear. Then I saw some running; and next, as I stood there
wondering, came another crack, and then a volley like the noise of a
great fire licking into dry wood, and things that were not bees humming
round about. A distant man in a yellow hunting shirt stumbled, and was
drowned in the tangle as in water. Around me men dropped plough-handles
and women baskets, and as we ran our legs grew numb and our bodies cold
at a sound which had haunted us in dreams by night--the war-whoop. The
deep and guttural song of it rose and fell with a horrid fierceness. An
agonized voice was in my ears, and I halted, ashamed. It was Polly
"Davy!" she cried, "Davy, have ye seen Tom?"
Two men dashed by. I seized one by the fringe of his shirt, and he flung
me from my feet. The other leaped me as I knelt.
"Run, ye fools!" he shouted. But we stood still, with yearning eyes
staring back through the frantic forms for a sight of Tom's.
"I'll go back!" I cried, "I'll go back for him. Do you run to the fort."
For suddenly I seemed to forget my fear, nor did even the hideous notes
of the scalp halloo disturb me. Before Polly Ann could catch me I had
turned and started, stumbled,--I thought on a stump,--and fallen headlong
among the nettles with a stinging pain in my leg. Staggering to my feet,
I tried to run on, fell again, and putting down my hand found it smeared
with blood. A man came by, paused an instant while his eye caught me,
and ran on again. I shall remember his face and name to my dying day;
but there is no reason to put it down here. In a few seconds' space as I
lay I suffered all the pains of captivity and of death by torture, that
cry of savage man an hundred times more frightful than savage beast
sounding in my ears, and plainly nearer now by half the first distance.
Nearer, and nearer yet--and then I heard my name called. I was lifted
from the ground, and found myself in the lithe arms of Polly Ann.
"Set me down!" I screamed, "set me down!" and must have added some of the
curses I had heard in the fort. But she clutched me tightly (God bless
the memory of those frontier women!), and flew like a deer toward the
gates. Over her shoulder I glanced back. A spare three hundred yards
away in a ragged line a hundred red devils were bounding after us with
feathers flying and mouths open as they yelled. Again I cried to her to
set me down; but though her heart beat faster and her breath came
shorter, she held me the tighter. Second by second they gained on us,
relentlessly. Were we near the fort? Hoarse shouts answered the
question, but they seemed distant--too distant. The savages were
gaining, and Polly Ann's breath quicker still. She staggered, but the
brave soul had no thought of faltering. I had a sight of a man on a
plough horse with dangling harness coming up from somewhere, of the man
leaping off, of ourselves being pitched on the animal's bony back and
clinging there at the gallop, the man running at the side. Shots
whistled over our heads, and here was the brown fort. Its big gates
swung together as we dashed through the narrowed opening. Then, as he
lifted us off, I knew that the man who had saved us was Tom himself. The
gates closed with a bang, and a patter of bullets beat against them like
Through the shouting and confusion came a cry in a voice I knew, now
pleading, now commanding.
"Open, open! For God's sake open!"
"It's Ray! Open for Ray! Ray's out!"
Some were seizing the bar to thrust it back when the heavy figure of
McGary crushed into the crowd beside it.
"By Job, I'll shoot the man that touches it!" he shouted, as he tore them
away. But the sturdiest of them went again to it, and cursed him. And
while they fought backward and forward, the lad's mother, Mrs. Ray, cried
out to them to open in tones to rend their hearts. But McGary had gained
the bar and swore (perhaps wisely) that he would not sacrifice the
station for one man. Where was Ray?
Where was Ray, indeed? It seemed as if no man might live in the hellish
storm that raged without the walls: as if the very impetus of hate and
fury would carry the ravages over the stockade to murder us. Into the
turmoil at the gate came Colonel Clark, sending the disputants this way
and that to defend the fort, McGary to command one quarter, Harrod and
Bowman another, and every man that could be found to a loophole, while
Mrs. Ray continued to run up and down, wringing her hands, now facing one
man, now another. Some of her words came to me, shrilly, above the
"He fed you--he fed you. Oh, my God, and you are grateful--grateful!
When you were starving he risked his life--"
Torn by anxiety for my friend, I dragged myself into the nearest cabin,
and a man was fighting there in the half-light at the port. The huge
figure I knew to be my friend Cowan's, and when he drew back to load I
seized his arm, shouting Ray's name. Although the lead was pattering on
the other side of the logs, Cowan lifted me to the port. And there,
stretched on the ground behind a stump, within twenty feet of the walls,
was James. Even as I looked the puffs of dust at his side showed that
the savages knew his refuge. I saw him level and fire, and then Bill
Cowan set me down and began to ram in a charge with tremendous energy.
Was there no way to save Ray? I stood turning this problem in my mind,
subconsciously aware of Cowan's movements: of his yells when he thought
he had made a shot, when Polly Ann appeared at the doorway. Darting in,
she fairly hauled me to the shake-down in the far corner.
"Will ye bleed to death, Davy?" she cried, as she slipped off my legging
and bent over the wound. Her eye lighting on a gourdful of water on the
puncheon table, she tore a strip from her dress and washed and bound me
deftly. The bullet was in the flesh, and gave me no great pain.
"Lie there, ye imp!" she commanded, when she had finished.
"Some one's under the bed," said I, for I had heard a movement.
In an instant we were down on our knees on the hard dirt floor, and there
was a man's foot in a moccasin! We both grabbed it and pulled, bringing
to life a person with little blue eyes and stiff blond hair.
"Swein Poulsson!" exclaimed Polly Ann, giving him an involuntary kick,
"may the devil give ye shame!"
Swein Poulsson rose to a sitting position and clasped his knees in his
"I haf one great fright," said he.
"Send him into the common with the women in yere place, Mis' McChesney,"
growled Cowan, who was loading.
"By tam!" said Swein Poulsson, leaping to his feet, "I vill stay here und
fight. I am prave once again." Stooping down, he searched under the
bed, pulled out his rifle, powdered the pan, and flying to the other
port, fired. At that Cowan left his post and snatched the rifle from
"Ye're but wasting powder," he cried angrily.
"Then, by tam, I am as vell under the bed," said Poulsson. "Vat can I
I had it.
"Dig!" I shouted; and seizing the astonished Cowan's tomahawk from his
belt I set to work furiously chopping at the dirt beneath the log wall.
"Dig, so that James can get under."
Cowan gave me the one look, swore a mighty oath, and leaping to the port
shouted to Ray in a thundering voice what we were doing.
"Dig!" roared Cowan. "Dig, for the love of God, for he can't hear me."
The three of us set to work with all our might, Poulsson making great
holes in the ground at every stroke, Polly Ann scraping at the dirt with
the gourd. Two feet below the surface we struck the edge of the lowest
log, and then it was Poulsson who got into the hole with his hunting
knife--perspiring, muttering to himself, working as one possessed with a
fury, while we scraped out the dirt from under him. At length, after
what seemed an age of staring at his legs, the ground caved on him, and
he would have smothered if we had not dragged him out by the heels,
sputtering and all powdered brown. But there was the daylight under the
Again Cowan shouted at Ray, and again, but he did not understand. It was
then the miracle happened. I have seen brave men and cowards since, and
I am as far as ever from distinguishing them. Before we knew it Poulsson
was in the hole once more--had wriggled out of it on the other side, and
was squirming in a hail of bullets towards Ray. There was a full minute
of suspense--perhaps two--during which the very rifles of the fort were
silent (though the popping in the weeds was redoubled), and then the
barrel of a Deckard was poked through the hole. After it came James Ray
himself, and lastly Poulsson, and a great shout went out from the
loopholes and was taken up by the women in the common.
* * * * * * *
Swein Poulsson had become a hero, nor was he willing to lose any of the
glamour which was a hero's right. As the Indians' fire slackened, he
went from cabin to cabin, and if its occupants failed to mention the
exploit (some did fail so to do, out of mischief), Swein would say:--
"You did not see me safe James, no? I vill tell you Joost how."
It never leaked out that Swein was first of all under the bed, for Polly
Ann and Bill Cowan and myself swore to keep the secret. But they told
how I had thought of digging the hole under the logs--a happy
circumstance which got me a reputation for wisdom beyond my years. There
was a certain Scotchman at Harrodstown called McAndrew, and it was he
gave me the nickname "Canny Davy," and I grew to have a sort of
precocious fame in the station. Often Captain Harrod or Bowman or some
of the others would pause in their arguments and say gravely, "What does
Davy think of it?" This was not good for a boy, and the wonder of it is
that it did not make me altogether insupportable. One effect it had on
me--to make me long even more earnestly to be a man.
The impulse of my reputation led me farther. A fortnight of more
inactivity followed, and then we ventured out into the fields once more.
But I went with the guard this time, not with the women,--thanks to a
whim the men had for humoring me.
"Arrah, and beant he a man all but two feet," said Terence, "wid more
brain than me an' Bill Cowan and Poulsson togither? 'Tis a fox's nose
Davy has for the divils, Bill. Sure he can smell thim the same as you
an' me kin see the red paint on their faces."
"I reckon that's true," said Bill Cowan, with solemnity, and so he
carried me off.
At length the cattle were turned out to browse greedily through the
clearing, while we lay in the woods by the forest and listened to the
sound of their bells, but when they strayed too far, I was often sent to
drive them back. Once when this happened I followed them to the shade at
the edge of the woods, for it was noon, and the sun beat down fiercely.
And there I sat for some time watching them as they lashed their sides
with their tails and pawed the ground, for experience is a good master.
Whether or not the flies were all that troubled them I could not tell,
and no sound save the tinkle of their bells broke the noonday stillness.
Making a circle I drove them back toward the fort, much troubled in mind.
I told Cowan, but he laughed and said it was the flies. Yet I was not
satisfied, and finally stole back again to the place where I had found
them. I sat a long time hidden at the edge of the forest, listening
until my imagination tricked me into hearing those noises which I feared
and yet longed for. Trembling, I stole a little farther in the shade of
the woods, and then a little farther still. The leaves rustled in the
summer's breeze, patches of sunlight flickered on the mould, the birds
twittered, and the squirrels scolded. A chipmunk frightened me as he
flew chattering along a log. And yet I went on. I came to the creek as
it flowed silently in the shade, stepped in, and made my way slowly down
it, I know not how far, walking in the water, my eye alert to every
movement about me. At length I stopped and caught my breath. Before me,
in a glade opening out under great trees, what seemed a myriad of forked
sticks were piled against one another, three by three, and it struck me
all in a heap that I had come upon a great encampment. But the skeletons
of the pyramid tents alone remained. Where were the skins? Was the camp
For a while I stared through the brier leaves, then I took a venture,
pushed on, and found myself in the midst of the place. It must have held
near a thousand warriors. All about me were gray heaps of ashes, and
bones of deer and elk and buffalo scattered, some picked clean, some with
the meat and hide sticking to them. Impelled by a strong fascination, I
went hither and thither until a sound brought me to a stand--the echoing
crack of a distant rifle. On the heels of it came another, then several
together, and a faint shouting borne on the light wind. Terrorized, I
sought for shelter. A pile of brush underlain by ashes was by, and I
crept into that. The sounds continued, but seemed to come no nearer, and
my courage returning, I got out again and ran wildly through the camp
toward the briers on the creek, expecting every moment to be tumbled
headlong by a bullet. And when I reached the briers, what between
panting and the thumping of my heart I could for a few moments hear
nothing. Then I ran on again up the creek, heedless of cover, stumbling
over logs and trailing vines, when all at once a dozen bronze forms
glided with the speed of deer across my path ahead. They splashed over
the creek and were gone. Bewildered with fear, I dropped under a fallen
tree. Shouts were in my ears, and the noise of men running. I stood up,
and there, not twenty paces away, was Colonel Clark himself rushing
toward me. He halted with a cry, raised his rifle, and dropped it at the
sight of my queer little figure covered with ashes.
"My God!" he cried, "it's Davy."
"They crossed the creek," I shouted, pointing the way, "they crossed the
creek, some twelve of them."
"Ay," he said, staring at me, and by this time the rest of the guard were
come up. They too stared, with different exclamations on their
lips,--Cowan and Bowman and Tom McChesney and Terence McCann in front.
"And there's a great camp below," I went on, "deserted, where a thousand
men have been."
"A camp--deserted?" said Clark, quickly.
"Yes," I said, "yes." But he had already started forward and seized me
by the arm.
"Lead on," he cried, "show it to us." He went ahead with me, travelling
so fast that I must needs run to keep up, and fairly lifting me over the
logs. But when we came in sight of the place he darted forward alone and
went through it like a hound on the trail. The others followed him,
crying out at the size of the place and poking among the ashes. At
length they all took up the trail for a way down the creek. Presently
Clark called a halt.
"I reckon that they've made for the Ohio," he said. And at this judgment
from him the guard gave a cheer that might almost have been heard in the
fields around the fort. The terror that had hovered over us all that
long summer was lifted at last.
You may be sure that Cowan carried me back to the station. "To think it
was Davy that found it!" he cried again and again, "to think it was Davy
"And wasn't it me that said he could smell the divils," said Terence, as
he circled around us in a mimic war dance. And when from the fort they
saw us coming across the fields they opened the gates in astonishment,
and on hearing the news gave themselves over to the wildest rejoicing.
For the backwoodsmen were children of nature. Bill Cowan ran for the
fiddle which he had carried so carefully over the mountain, and that
night we had jigs and reels on the common while the big fellow played
"Billy of the Wild Woods" and "Jump Juba," with all his might, and the
pine knots threw their fitful, red light on the wild scenes of merriment.
I must have cut a queer little figure as I sat between Cowan and Tom
watching the dance, for presently Colonel Clark came up to us, laughing
in his quiet way.
"Davy," said he, "there is another great man here who would like to see
you," and led me away wondering. I went with him toward the gate,
burning all over with pride at this attention, and beside a torch there a
broad-shouldered figure was standing, at sight of whom I had a start of
"Do you know who that is, Davy?" said Colonel Clark.
"It's Mr. Daniel Boone," said I.
"By thunder," said Clark, "I believe the boy IS a wizard," while Mr.
Boone's broad mouth was creased into a smile, and there was a trace of
astonishment, too, in his kindly eye.
"Mr. Boone came to my father's cabin on the Yadkin once," I said; "he
taught me to skin a deer."
"Ay, that I did," exclaimed Mr. Boone, "and I said ye'd make a woodsman
Mr. Boone, it seemed, had come over from Boonesboro to consult with
Colonel Clark on certain matters, and had but just arrived. But so
modest was he that he would not let it be known that he was in the
station, for fear of interrupting the pleasure. He was much the same as
I had known him, only grown older and his reputation now increased to
vastness. He and Clark sat on a door log talking for a long time on
Kentucky matters, the strength of the forts, the prospect of new settlers
that autumn, of the British policy, and finally of a journey which
Colonel Clark was soon to make back to Virginia across the mountains.
They seemed not to mind my presence. At length Colonel Clark turned to
me with that quiet, jocose way he had when relaxed.
"Davy," said he, "we'll see how much of a general you are. What would
you do if a scoundrel named Hamilton far away at Detroit was bribing all
the redskins he could find north of the Ohio to come down and scalp your
"I'd go for Hamilton," I answered.
"By God!" exclaimed Clark, striking Mr. Boone on the knee, "that's what
Mr. Boone's visit lasted but a day. I was a great deal with Colonel
Clark in the few weeks that followed before his departure for Virginia.
He held himself a little aloof (as a leader should) from the captains in
the station, without seeming to offend them. But he had a fancy for
James Ray and for me, and he often took me into the woods with him by
day, and talked with me of an evening.
"I'm going away to Virginia, Davy," he said; "will you not go with me?
We'll see Williamsburg, and come back in the spring, and I'll have you a
little rifle made."
My look must have been wistful.
"I can't leave Polly Ann and Tom," I answered.
"Well," he said, "I like that. Faith to your friends is a big equipment
"But why are you going?" I asked.
"Because I love Kentucky best of all things in the world," he answered,
"And what are you going to do?" I insisted.
"Ah," he said, "that I can't tell even to you."
"To catch Hamilton?" I ventured at random.
He looked at me queerly.
"Would you go along, Davy?" said he, laughing now.
"Would you take Tom?"
"Among the first," answered Colonel Clark, heartily.
We were seated under the elm near the spring, and at that instant I saw
Tom coming toward us. I jumped up, thinking to please him by this
intelligence, when Colonel Clark pulled me down again.
"Davy," said he, almost roughly, I thought, "remember that we have been
joking. Do you understand?--joking. You have a tongue in your mouth, but
sense enough in your head, I believe, to hold it." He turned to Tom.
"McChesney, this is a queer lad you brought us," said he.
"He's a little deevil," agreed Tom, for that had become a formula with
It was all very mysterious to me, and I lay awake many a night with
curiosity, trying to solve a puzzle that was none of my business. And
one day, to cap the matter, two woodsmen arrived at Harrodstown with
clothes frayed and bodies lean from a long journey. Not one of the
hundred questions with which they were beset would they answer, nor say
where they had been or why, save that they had carried out certain orders
of Clark, who was locked up with them in a cabin for several hours.
The first of October, the day of Colonel Clark's departure, dawned crisp
and clear. He was to take with him the disheartened and the cowed, the
weaklings who loved neither work nor exposure nor danger. And before he
set out of the gate he made a little speech to the assembled people.
"My friends," he said, "you know me. I put the interests of Kentucky
before my own. Last year when I left to represent her at Williamsburg
there were some who said I would desert her. It was for her sake I made
that journey, suffered the tortures of hell from scalded feet, was near
to dying in the mountains. It was for her sake that I importuned the
governor and council for powder and lead, and when they refused it I said
to them, 'Gentlemen, a country that is not worth defending is not worth
At these words the settlers gave a great shout, waving their coonskin
hats in the air.
"Ay, that ye did," cried Bill Cowan, "and got the amminition."
"I made that journey for her sake, I say," Colonel Clark continued, "and
even so I am making this one. I pray you trust me, and God bless and
keep you while I am gone."
He did not forget to speak to me as he walked between our lines, and told
me to be a good boy and that he would see me in the spring. Some of the
women shed tears as he passed through the gate, and many of us climbed to
sentry box and cabin roof that we might see the last of the little
company wending its way across the fields. A motley company it was, the
refuse of the station, headed by its cherished captain. So they started
back over the weary road that led to that now far-away land of
civilization and safety.
During the balmy Indian summer, when the sharper lines of nature are
softened by the haze, some came to us from across the mountains to make
up for the deserters. From time to time a little group would straggle to
the gates of the station, weary and footsore, but overjoyed at the sight
of white faces again: the fathers walking ahead with watchful eyes, the
women and older children driving the horses, and the babies slung to the
pack in hickory withes. Nay, some of our best citizens came to Kentucky
swinging to the tail of a patient animal. The Indians were still abroad,
and in small war parties darted hither and thither with incredible
swiftness. And at night we would gather at the fire around our new
emigrants to listen to the stories they had to tell,--familiar stories to
all of us. Sometimes it had been the gobble of a wild turkey that had
lured to danger, again a wood-owl had cried strangely in the night.
Winter came, and passed--somehow. I cannot dwell here on the tediousness
of it, and the one bright spot it has left in my memory concerns Polly
Ann. Did man, woman, or child fall sick, it was Polly Ann who nursed
them. She had by nature the God-given gift of healing, knew by heart all
the simple remedies that backwoods lore had inherited from the north of
Ireland or borrowed from the Indians. Her sympathy and loving-kindness
did more than these, her never tiring and ever cheerful watchfulness.
She was deft, too, was Polly Ann, and spun from nettle bark many a cut of
linen that could scarce be told from flax. Before the sap began to run
again in the maples there was not a soul in Harrodstown who did not love
her, and I truly believe that most of them would have risked their lives
to do her bidding.
Then came the sugaring, the warm days and the freezing nights when the
earth stirs in her sleep and the taps drip from red sunrise to red
sunset. Old and young went to the camps, the women and children boiling
and graining, the squads of men posted in guards round about. And after
that the days flew so quickly that it seemed as if the woods had burst
suddenly into white flower, and it was spring again. And then--a joy to
be long remembered--I went on a hunting trip with Tom and Cowan and
three others where the Kentucky tumbles between its darkly wooded cliffs.
And other wonders of that strange land I saw then for the first time:
great licks, trampled down for acres by the wild herds, where the salt
water oozes out of the hoofprints. On the edge of one of these licks we
paused and stared breathless at giant bones sticking here and there in
the black mud, and great skulls of fearful beasts half-embedded. This
was called the Big Bone Lick, and some travellers that went before us had
made their tents with the thighs of these monsters of a past age.
A danger past is oft a danger forgotten. Men went out to build the homes
of which they had dreamed through the long winter. Axes rang amidst the
white dogwoods and the crabs and redbuds, and there were riotous
log-raisings in the clearings. But I think the building of Tom's house
was the most joyous occasion of all, and for none in the settlement would
men work more willingly than for him and Polly Ann. The cabin went up as
if by magic. It stood on a rise upon the bank of the river in a grove of
oaks and hickories, with a big persimmon tree in front of the door. It
was in the shade of this tree that Polly Ann sat watching Tom and me
through the mild spring days as we barked the roof, and none ever felt
greater joy and pride in a home than she. We had our first supper on a
wide puncheon under the persimmon tree on the few pewter plates we had
fetched across the mountain, the blue smoke from our own hearth rising in
the valley until the cold night air spread it out in a line above us,
while the horses grazed at the river's edge.
After that we went to ploughing, an occupation which Tom fancied but
little, for he loved the life of a hunter best of all. But there was
corn to be raised and fodder for the horses, and a truck-patch to be
cleared near the house.
One day a great event happened,--and after the manner of many great
events, it began in mystery. Leaping on the roan mare, I was riding like
mad for Harrodstown to fetch Mrs. Cowan. And she, when she heard the
summons, abandoned a turkey on the spit, pitched her brats out of the
door, seized the mare, and dashing through the gates at a gallop left me
to make my way back afoot. Scenting a sensation, I hurried along the
wooded trace at a dog trot, and when I came in sight of the cabin there
was Mrs. Cowan sitting on the step, holding in her long but motherly arms
something bundled up in nettle linen, while Tom stood sheepishly by,
staring at it.
"Shucks," Mrs. Cowan was saying loudly, "I reckon ye're as little use
to-day as Swein Poulsson,--standin' there on one foot. Ye anger me--just
grinning at it like a fool--and yer own doin'. Have ye forgot how to
Tom grinned the more, but was saved the effort of a reply by a loud noise
from the bundle.
"Here's another," cried Mrs. Cowan to me. "Ye needn't act as if it was
an animal. Faith, yereself was like that once, all red an' crinkled.
But I warrant ye didn't have the heft," and she lifted it, judicially.
"A grand baby," attacking Tom again, "and ye're no more worthy to be his
father than Davy here."
Then I heard a voice calling me, and pushing past Mrs. Cowan, I ran into
the cabin. Polly Ann lay on the log bedstead, and she turned to mine a
face radiant with a happiness I had not imagined.
"Oh, Davy, have ye seen him? Have ye seen little Tom? Davy, I reckon
I'll never be so happy again. Fetch him here, Mrs. Cowan."
Mrs. Cowan, with a glance of contempt at Tom and me, put the bundle
tenderly down on the coarse brown sheet beside her.
Poor little Tom! Only the first fortnight of his existence was spent in
peace. I have a pathetic memory of it all--of our little home, of our
hopes for it, of our days of labor and nights of planning to make it
complete. And then, one morning when the three of us were turning over
the black loam in the patch, while the baby slept peacefully in the
shade, a sound came to our ears that made us pause and listen with bated
breath. It was the sound of many guns, muffled in the distant forest.
With a cry Polly Ann flew to the hickory cradle under the tree, Tom
sprang for the rifle that was never far from his side, while with a kind
of instinct I ran to catch the spancelled horses by the river. In
silence and sorrow we fled through the tall cane, nor dared to take one
last look at the cabin, or the fields lying black in the spring sunlight.
The shots had ceased, but ere we had reached the little clearing McCann
had made they began again, though as distant as before. Tom went ahead,
while I led the mare and Polly Ann clutched the child to her breast. But
when we came in sight of the fort across the clearings the gates were
closed. There was nothing to do but cower in the thicket, listening
while the battle went on afar, Polly Ann trying to still the cries of the
child, lest they should bring death upon us. At length the shooting
ceased; stillness reigned; then came a faint halloo, and out of the
forest beyond us a man rode, waving his hat at the fort. After him came
others. The gates opened, and we rushed pell-mell across the fields to
The Indians had shot at a party shelling corn at Captain Bowman's
plantation, and killed two, while the others had taken refuge in the
crib. Fired at from every brake, James Ray had ridden to Harrodstown for
succor, and the savages had been beaten off. But only the foolhardy
returned to their clearings now. We were on the edge of another dreaded
summer of siege, the prospect of banishment from the homes we could
almost see, staring us in the face, and the labors of the spring lost
again. There was bitter talk within the gates that night, and many
declared angrily that Colonel Clark had abandoned us. But I remembered
what he had said, and had faith in him.
It was that very night, too, I sat with Cowan, who had duty in one of the
sentry boxes, and we heard a voice calling softly under us. Fearing
treachery, Cowan cried out for a sign. Then the answer came back loudly
to open to a runner with a message from Colonel Clark to Captain Harrod.
Cowan let the man in, while I ran for the captain, and in five minutes it
seemed as if every man and woman and child in the fort were awake and
crowding around the man by the gates, their eager faces reddened by the
smoking pine knots. Where was Clark? What had he been doing? Had he
"Deserted ye!" cried the runner, and swore a great oath. Wasn't Clark
even then on the Ohio raising a great army with authority from the
Commonwealth of Virginia to rid them of the red scourge? And would they
desert him? Or would they be men and bring from Harrodstown the company
he asked for? Then Captain Harrod read the letter asking him to raise
the company, and before day had dawned they were ready for the word to
march--ready to leave cabin and clearing, and wife and child, trusting in
Clark's judgment for time and place. Never were volunteers mustered more
quickly than in that cool April night by the gates of Harrodstown
"And we'll fetch Davy along, for luck," cried Cowan, catching sight of me
"Sure we'll be wanting a dhrummer b'y," said McCann.
And so they enrolled me.
THE CAMPAIGN BEGINS
"Davy, take care of my Tom," cried Polly Ann.
I can see her now, standing among the women by the great hewn gateposts,
with little Tom in her arms, holding him out to us as we filed by. And
the vision of his little, round face haunted Tom and me for many weary
miles of our tramp through the wilderness. I have often thought since
that that march of the volunteer company to join Clark at the Falls of
the Ohio was a superb example of confidence in one man, and scarce to be
equalled in history.
In less than a week we of Captain Harrod's little company stood on a
forest-clad bank, gazing spellbound at the troubled waters of a mighty
river. That river was the Ohio, and it divided us from the strange north
country whence the savages came. From below, the angry voice of the
Great Falls cried out to us unceasingly. Smoke rose through the
tree-tops of the island opposite, and through the new gaps of its forest
cabins could be seen. And presently, at a signal from us, a big flatboat
left its shore, swung out and circled on the polished current, and
grounded at length in the mud below us. A dozen tall boatmen,
buckskin-clad, dropped the big oars and leaped out on the bank with a
yell of greeting. At the head of them was a man of huge frame, and long,
light hair falling down over the collar of his hunting shirt. He wrung
Captain Harrod's hand.
"That there's Simon Kenton, Davy," said Cowan, as we stood watching them.
I ran forward for a better look at the backwoods Hercules, the tales of
whose prowess had helped to while away many a winter's night in
Harrodstown Station. Big-featured and stern, yet he had the kindly eye
of the most indomitable of frontier fighters, and I doubted not the truth
of what was said of him--that he could kill any redskin hand-to-hand.
"Clark's thar," he was saying to Captain Harrod. "God knows what his
pluck is. He ain't said a word."
"He doesn't say whar he's going?" said Harrod.
"Not a notion," answered Kenton. "He's the greatest man to keep his
mouth shut I ever saw. He kept at the governor of Virginny till he gave
him twelve hundred pounds in Continentals and power to raise troops.
Then Clark fetched a circle for Fort Pitt, raised some troops thar and in
Virginny and some about Red Stone, and come down the Ohio here with 'em
in a lot of flatboats. Now that ye've got here the Kentucky boys is all
in. I come over with Montgomery, and Dillard's here from the Holston
country with a company."
"Well," said Captain Harrod, "I reckon we'll report."
I went among the first boat-load, and as the men strained against the
current, Kenton explained that Colonel Clark had brought a number of
emigrants down the river with him; that he purposed to leave them on this
island with a little force, that they might raise corn and provisions
during the summer; and that he had called the place Corn Island.
"Sure, there's the Colonel himself," cried Terence McCann, who was in the
bow, and indeed I could pick out the familiar figure among the hundred
frontiersmen that gathered among the stumps at the landing-place. As our
keel scraped they gave a shout that rattled in the forest behind them,
and Clark came down to the waterside.
"I knew that Harrodstown wouldn't fail me," he said, and called every man
by name as we waded ashore. When I came splashing along after Tom he
pulled me from the water with his two hands.
"Colonel," said Terence McCann, "we've brought ye a dhrummer b'y."
"We'd have no luck at all without him," said Cowan, and the men laughed.
"Can you walk an hundred miles without food, Davy?" asked Colonel Clark,
eying me gravely.
"Faith he's lean as a wolf, and no stomach to hinder him," said Terence,
seeing me look troubled. "I'll not be missing the bit of food the likes
of him would eat."
"And as for the heft of him," added Cowan, "Mac and I'll not feel it."
Colonel Clark laughed. "Well, boys," he said, "if you must have him, you
must. His Excellency gave me no instructions about a drummer, but we'll
take you, Davy."
In those days he was a man that wasted no time, was Colonel Clark, and
within the hour our little detachment had joined the others, felling
trees and shaping the log-ends for the cabins. That night, as Tom and
Cowan and McCann and James Ray lay around their fire, taking a
well-earned rest, a man broke excitedly into the light with a
kettle-shaped object balanced on his head, which he set down in front of
us. The man proved to be Swein Poulsson, and the object a big drum, and
he straightway began to beat upon it a tattoo with improvised drumsticks.
"A Red Stone man," he cried, "a Red Stone man, he have it in the
flatboat. It is for Tavy."
"The saints be good to us," said Terence, "if it isn't the King's own
drum he has." And sure enough, on the head of it gleamed the royal arms
of England, and on the other side, as we turned it over, the device of a
regiment. They flung the sling about my neck, and the next day, when the
little army drew up for parade among the stumps, there I was at the end
of the line, and prouder than any man in the ranks. And Colonel Clark
coming to my end of the line paused and smiled and patted me kindly on
"Have you put this man on the roll, Harrod?" says he.
"No, Colonel," answers Captain Harrod, amid the laughter of the men at my
"What!" says the Colonel, "what an oversight! From this day he is
drummer boy and orderly to the Commander-in-chief. Beat the retreat, my
I did my best, and as the men broke ranks they crowded around me,
laughing and joking, and Cowan picked me up, drum and all, and carried me
off, I rapping furiously the while.
And so I became a kind of handy boy for the whole regiment from the
Colonel down, for I was willing and glad to work. I cooked the Colonel's
meals, roasting the turkey breasts and saddles of venison that the
hunters brought in from the mainland, and even made him journey-cake, a
trick which Polly Ann had taught me. And when I went about the island,
if a man were loafing, he would seize his axe and cry, "Here's Davy,
he'll tell the Colonel on me." Thanks to the jokes of Terence McCann, I
gained an owl-like reputation for wisdom amongst these superstitious
backwoodsmen, and they came verily to believe that upon my existence
depended the success of the campaign. But day after day passed, and no
sign from Colonel Clark of his intentions.
"There's a good lad," said Terence. "He'll be telling us where we're
I was asked the same question by a score or more, but Colonel Clark kept
his own counsel. He himself was everywhere during the days that
followed, superintending the work on the blockhouse we were building, and
eying the men. Rumor had it that he was sorting out the sheep from the
goats, silently choosing those who were to remain on the island and those
who were to take part in the campaign.
At length the blockhouse stood finished amid the yellow stumps of the
great trees, the trunks of which were in its walls. And suddenly the
order went forth for the men to draw up in front of it by companies, with
the families of the emigrants behind them. It was a picture to fix
itself in a boy's mind, and one that I have never forgotten. The line of
backwoodsmen, as fine a lot of men as I ever wish to see, bronzed by the
June sun, strong and tireless as the wild animals of the forest, stood
expectant with rifles grounded. And beside the tallest, at the end of
the line, was a diminutive figure with a drum hung in front of it. The
early summer wind rustled in the forest, and the never ending song of the
Great Falls sounded from afar. Apart, square-shouldered and indomitable,
stood a young man of twenty-six.
"My friends and neighbors," he said in a firm voice, "there is scarce a
man standing among you to-day who has not suffered at the hands of
savages. Some of you have seen wives and children killed before your
eyes--or dragged into captivity. None of you can to-day call the home
for which he has risked so much his own. And who, I ask you, is to blame
for this hideous war? Whose gold is it that buys guns and powder and
lead to send the Shawnee and the Iroquois and Algonquin on the warpath?"
He paused, and a hoarse murmur of anger ran along the ranks.
"Whose gold but George's, by the grace of God King of Great Britain and
Ireland? And what minions distribute it? Abbott at Kaskaskia, for one,
and Hamilton at Detroit, the Hair Buyer, for another!"
When he spoke Hamilton's name his voice was nearly drowned by
"Silence!" cried Clark, sternly, and they were silent. "My friends, the
best way for a man to defend himself is to maim his enemy. One year
since, when you did me the honor to choose me Commander-in-chief of your
militia in Kentucky, I sent two scouts to Kaskaskia. A dozen years ago
the French owned that place, and St. Vincent, and Detroit, and the people
there are still French. My men brought back word that the French feared
the Long Knives, as the Indians call us. On the first of October I went
to Virginia, and some of you thought again that I had deserted you. I
went to Williamsburg and wrestled with Governor Patrick Henry and his
council, with Mr. Jefferson and Mr. Mason and Mr. Wythe. Virginia had no
troops to send us, and her men were fighting barefoot with Washington
against the armies of the British king. But the governor gave me twelve
hundred pounds in paper, and with it I have raised the little force that
we have here. And with it we will carry the war into Hamilton's country.
On the swift waters of this great river which flows past us have come
tidings to-day, and God Himself has sent them. To-morrow would have been
too late. The ships and armies of the French king are on their way
across the ocean to help us fight the tyrant, and this is the news that
we bear to the Kaskaskias. When they hear this, the French of those
towns will not fight against us. My friends, we are going to conquer an
empire for liberty, and I can look onward," he cried in a burst of
inspired eloquence, sweeping his arm to the northward toward the forests
on the far side of the Ohio, "I can look onward to the day when these
lands will be filled with the cities of a Great Republic. And who among
you will falter at such a call?"
There was a brief silence, and then a shout went up from the ranks that
drowned the noise of the Falls, and many fell into antics, some throwing
their coonskin hats in the air, and others cursing and scalping Hamilton
in mockery, while I pounded on the drum with all my might. But when we
had broken ranks the rumor was whispered about that the Holston company
had not cheered, and indeed the rest of the day these men went about
plainly morose and discontented,--some saying openly (and with much
justice, though we failed to see it then) that they had their own
families and settlements to defend from the Southern Indians and
Chickamauga bandits, and could not undertake Kentucky's fight at that
time. And when the enthusiasm had burned away a little the disaffection
spread, and some even of the Kentuckians began to murmur against Clark,
for faith or genius was needful to inspire men to his plan. One of the
malcontents from Boonesboro came to our fire to argue.
"He's mad as a medicine man, is Clark, to go into that country with less
than two hundred rifles. And he'll force us, will he? I'd as lief have
the King for a master."
He brought every man in our circle to his feet,--Ray, McCann, Cowan, and
Tom. But Tom was nearest, and words not coming easily to him he fell on
the Boonesboro man instead, and they fought it out for ten minutes in the
firelight with half the regiment around them. At the end of it, when the
malcontents were carrying their champion away, they were stopped suddenly
at the sight of one bursting through the circle into the light, and a
hush fell upon the quarrel. It was Colonel Clark.
"Are you hurt, McChesney?" he demanded.
"I reckon not much, Colonel," said Tom, grinning, as he wiped his face.
"If any man deserts this camp to-night," cried Colonel Clark, swinging
around, "I swear by God to have him chased and brought back and punished
as he deserves. Captain Harrod, set a guard."
I pass quickly over the rest of the incident. How the Holston men and
some others escaped in the night in spite of our guard, and swam the
river on logs. How at dawn we found them gone, and Kenton and Harrod and
brave Captain Montgomery set out in pursuit, with Cowan and Tom and Ray.
All day they rode, relentless, and the next evening returned with but
eight weary and sullen fugitives of all those who had deserted.
The next day the sun rose on a smiling world, the polished reaches of the
river golden mirrors reflecting the forest's green. And we were astir
with the light, preparing for our journey into the unknown country. At
seven we embarked by companies in the flatboats, waving a farewell to
those who were to be left behind. Some stayed through inclination and
disaffection: others because Colonel Clark did not deem them equal to the
task. But Swein Poulsson came. With tears in his little blue eyes he
had begged the Colonel to take him, and I remember him well on that June
morning, his red face perspiring under the white bristles of his hair as
he strained at the big oar. For we must needs pull a mile up the stream
ere we could reach the passage in which to shoot downward to the Falls.
Suddenly Poulsson dropped his handle, causing the boat to swing round in
the stream, while the men damned him. Paying them no attention, he stood
pointing into the blinding disk of the sun. Across the edge of it a
piece was bitten out in blackness.
"Mein Gott!" he cried, "the world is being ended just now."
"The holy saints remember us this day!" said McCann, missing a stroke to
cross himself. "Will ye pull, ye damned Dutchman? Or we'll be the first
to slide into hell. This is no kind of a place at all at all."
By this time the men all along the line of boats had seen it, and many
faltered. Clark's voice could be heard across the waters urging them to
pull, while the bows swept across the current. They obeyed him, but
steadily the blackness ate out the light, and a weird gloaming overspread
the scene. River and forest became stern, the men silent. The more
ignorant were in fear of a cataclysm, the others taking it for an omen.
"Shucks!" said Tom, when appealed to, "I've seed it afore, and it come
all right again."
Clark's boat rounded the shoal: next our turn came, and then the whole
line was gliding down the river, the rising roar of the angry waters with
which we were soon to grapple coming to us with an added grimness. And
now but a faint rim of light saved us from utter darkness. Big Bill
Cowan, undaunted in war, stared at me with fright written on his face.
"And what 'll ye think of it, Davy?" he said.
I glanced at the figure of our commander in the boat ahead, and took
"It's Hamilton's scalp hanging by a lock," I answered, pointing to what
was left of the sun. "Soon it will be off, and then we'll have light
To my surprise he snatched me from the thwart and held me up with a
shout, and I saw Colonel Clark turn and look back.
"Davy says the Ha'r Buyer's sculp hangs by the lock, boys," he shouted,
pointing at the sun.
The word was cried from boat to boat, and we could see the men pointing
upwards and laughing. And then, as the light began to grow, we were in
the midst of the tumbling waters, the steersmen straining now right, now
left, to keep the prows in the smooth reaches between rock and bar. We
gained the still pools below, the sun came out once more and smiled on
the landscape, and the spirits of the men, reviving, burst all bounds.
Thus I earned my reputation as a prophet.
Four days and nights we rowed down the great river, our oars
double-manned, for fear that our coming might be heralded to the French
towns. We made our first camp on a green little island at the mouth of
the Cherokee, as we then called the Tennessee, and there I set about
cooking a turkey for Colonel Clark, which Ray had shot. Chancing to look
up, I saw the Colonel himself watching me.
"How is this, Davy?" said he. "I hear that you have saved my army for me
before we have met the enemy."
"I did not know it, sir," I answered.
"Well," said he, "if you have learned to turn an evil omen into a good
sign, you know more than some generals. What ails you now?"
"There's a pirogue, sir," I cried, staring and pointing.
"Where?" said he, alert all at once. "Here, McChesney, take a crew and
put out after them."
He had scarcely spoken ere Tom and his men were rowing into the sunset,
the whole of our little army watching from the bank. Presently the other
boat was seen coming back with ours, and five strange woodsmen stepped
ashore, our men pressing around them. But Clark flew to the spot, the
men giving back.
"Who's the leader here?" he demanded.
A tall man stepped forward.
"I am," said he, bewildered but defiant.
"John Duff," he answered, as though against his will.
"Hunters," said Duff; "and I reckon we're in our rights."
"I'll judge of that," said our Colonel. "Where are you from?"
"That's no secret, neither. Kaskasky, ten days gone."
At that there was a murmur of surprise from our companies. Clark turned.
"Get your men back," he said to the captains, who stood about them. And
all of them not moving: "Get your men back, I say. I'll have it known
who's in command here."
At that the men retired. "Who commands at Kaskaskia?" he demanded of
"Monseer Rocheblave, a Frenchy holding a British commission," said Duff.
"And the British Governor Abbott has left Post St. Vincent and gone to
Detroit. Who be you?" he added suspiciously. "Be you Rebels?"
"Colonel Clark is my name, and I am in the service of the Commonwealth of
Duff uttered an exclamatory oath and his manner changed. "Be you Clark?"
he said with respect. "And you're going after Kaskasky? Wal, the mility
is prime, and the Injun scouts is keeping a good lookout. But, Colonel,
I'll tell ye something: the Frenchies is etarnal afeard of the Long
Knives. My God! they've got the notion that if you ketch 'em you'll burn
and scalp 'em same as the Red Sticks."
"Good," was all that Clark answered.
"I reckon I don't know much about what the Rebels is fighting for," said
John Duff; "but I like your looks, Colonel, and wharever you're going
there'll be a fight. Me and my boys would kinder like to go along."
Clark did not answer at once, but looked John Duff and his men over
"Will you take the oath of allegiance to Virginia and the Continental
Congress?" he asked at length.
"I reckon it won't pizen us," said John Duff.
"Hold up your hands," said Clark, and they took the oath. "Now, my men,"
said he, "you will be assigned to companies. Does any one among you know
the old French trail from Massacre to Kaskaskia?"
"Why," exclaimed John Duff, "why, Johnny Saunders here can tread it in
the dark like the road to the grogshop."
John Saunders, loose limbed, grinning sheepishly, shuffled forward, and
Clark shot a dozen questions at him one after another. Yes, the trail
had been blazed the Lord knew how long ago by the French, and given up
when they left Massacre.
"Look you," said Clark to him, "I am not a man to stand trifling. If
there is any deception in this, you will be shot without mercy."
"And good riddance," said John Duff. "Boys, we're Rebels now. Steer
clear of the Ha'r Buyer."
For one more day we floated downward on the face of the waters between
the forest walls of the wilderness, and at length we landed in a little
gully on the north shore of the river, and there we hid our boats.
"Davy," said Colonel Clark, "let's walk about a bit. Tell me where you
learned to be so silent?"
"My father did not like to be talked to," I answered, "except when he was
He gave me a strange look. Many the stroll I took with him afterwards,
when he sought to relax himself from the cares which the campaign had put
upon him. This night was still and clear, the west all yellow with the
departing light, and the mists coming on the river. And presently, as we
strayed down the shore we came upon a strange sight, the same being a
huge fort rising from the waterside, all overgrown with brush and
saplings and tall weeds. The palisades that held its earthenwork were
rotten and crumbling, and the mighty bastions of its corners sliding
away. Behind the fort, at the end farthest from the river, we came upon
gravelled walks hidden by the rank growth, where the soldiers of his Most
Christian Majesty once paraded. Lost in thought, Clark stood on the
parapet, watching the water gliding by until the darkness hid it,--nay,
until the stars came and made golden dimples upon its surface. But as we
went back to the camp again he told me how the French had tried once to
conquer this vast country and failed, leaving to the Spaniards the
endless stretch beyond the Mississippi called Louisiana, and this part to
the English. And he told me likewise that this fort in the days of its
glory had been called Massacre, from a bloody event which had happened
there more than three-score years before.
"Threescore years!" I exclaimed, longing to see the men of this race
which had set up these monuments only to abandon them.
"Ay, lad," he answered, "before you or I were born, and before our
fathers were born, the French missionaries and soldiers threaded this
wilderness. And they called this river 'La Belle Riviere,'--the
"And shall I see that race at Kaskaskia?" I asked, wondering.
"That you shall," he cried, with a force that left no doubt in my mind.
In the morning we broke camp and started off for the strange place which
we hoped to capture. A hundred miles it was across the trackless wilds,
and each man was ordered to carry on his back provisions for four days
"Herr Gott!" cried Swein Poulsson, from the bottom of a flatboat, whence
he was tossing out venison flitches, "four day, und vat is it ve eat
"Frenchies, sure," said Terence; "there'll be plenty av thim for a
season. Faith, I do hear they're tinder as lambs."
"You'll no set tooth in the Frenchies," the pessimistic McAndrew put in,
"wi' five thousand redskins aboot, and they lying in wait. The Colonel's
no vera mindful of that, I'm thinking."