Part 3 out of 6
numerous Kentucky Stoners of to-day; and Kasper Mansker, the "Mr.
Mansco" of Tennessee writers. Every old western narrative contains many
allusions to "Dutchmen," as Americans very properly call the Germans.
Their names abound on the muster-rolls, pay-rolls, lists of settlers,
etc., of the day (Blount MSS., State Department MSS., McAfee MSS., Am.
State Papers, etc.); but it must be remembered that they are often
Anglicized, when nothing remains to show the origin of the owners. We
could not recognize in Custer and Herkomer, Kuster and Herckheimer, were
not the ancestral history of the two generals already known; and in the
backwoods, a man often loses sight of his ancestors in a couple of
generations. In the Carolinas the Germans seem to have been almost as
plentiful on the frontiers as the Irish (see Adair, 245, and Smyth's
"Tour," I., 236). In Pennsylvania they lived nearer civilization
(Schoolcraft, 3, 335, "Journey in the West in 1785," by Lewis Brantz),
although also mixed with the borderers, the more adventurous among them
naturally seeking the frontier.
15. Giving to the backwoods society such families as the Seviers and
Lenoirs. The Huguenots, like the Germans, frequently had their names
Anglicized. The best known and most often quoted example is that of the
Blancpied family, part of whom have become Whitefoots, while the others,
living on the coast, have suffered a marvellous sea-change, the name
reappearing as "Blumpy."
16. To the western American, who was not given to nice ethnic
distinctions, both German and Hollander were simply Dutchmen but
occasionally we find names like Van Meter, Van Buskirk, Van Sweanngen,
which carry their origin on their faces (De Haas, 317, 319. Doddridge,
17. The Scandinavian names in an unlettered community, soon become
indistinguishable from those of the surrounding American's--Jansen,
Petersen, etc., being readily Americanized. It is therefore rarely that
they show their parentage. Still, we now and then come across one that
is unmistakable, as Erickson, for instance (see p. 51 of Col. Reuben T.
Durrett's admirable "Life and Writings of John Filson," Louisville and
18. MS. Journal of Matthew Clarkson, 1766. See also "Voyage dans les
Etats-Unis," La Rochefoucauld-Liancourt, Paris, L'an, VII., I., 104.
19. The borderers had the true Calvinistic taste in preaching. Clarkson,
in his journal of his western trip, mentions with approval a sermon he
heard as being "a very judicious and alarming discourse."
20. McAfee MSS.
21. In the McAfee MSS. there is an amusing mention of the skin of a huge
bull elk, killed by the father, which the youngsters christened "old
ellick"; they used to quarrel for the possession of it on cold nights,
as it was very warm, though if the hairside was turned in it became
slippery and apt to slide off the bed.
22. On the mountains the climate, flora, and fauna were all those of the
north, not of the adjacent southern lowlands. The ruffed grouse, red
squirrel, snow bird, various Canadian warblers, and a peculiar species
of boreal field-mouse, the _evotomys_, are all found as far south
as the Great Smokies.
23. Doddridge's "Settlements and Indian Wars," (133) written by an
eyewitness; it is the most valuable book we have on old-time frontier
ways and customs.
24. The land laws differed at different times in different colonies; but
this was the usual size at the outbreak of the Revolution, of the farms
along the western frontier, as under the laws of Virginia, then
obtaining from the Holston to the Alleghany, this amount was allotted
every settler who built a cabin or raised a crop of corn.
25. Beside the right to 400 acres, there was also a preemption right to
1,000 acres more adjoining to be secured by a land-office warrant. As
between themselves the settlers had what they called "tomahawk rights,"
made by simply deadening a certain number of trees with a hatchet. They
were similar to the rights conferred in the west now by what is called a
"claim shack" or hut, built to hold some good piece of land; that is,
they conferred no title whatever, except that sometimes men would pay
for them rather than have trouble with the claimant.
26. McAfee MSS. (particularly Autobiography of Robert McAfee).
27. To this day it is worn in parts of the Rocky Mountains, and even
occasionally, here and there, in the Alleghanies.
28. The above is the description of one of Boon's rifles, now in the
possession of Col. Durrett. According to the inscription on the barrel
it was made at Louisville (Ky.), in 1782, by M. Humble. It is perfectly
plain; whereas one of Floyd's rifles, which I have also seen, is much
more highly finished, and with some ornamentation.
29. For the opinion of a foreign military observer on the phenomenal
accuracy of backwoods markmanship, see General Victor Collot's "Voyage
en Amerique," p. 242.
30. MS. copy of Matthew Clarkson's Journal in 1766.
31. McAfee MSS. (Autobiography of Robert R. McAfee).
33. Memoirs of the Hist. Soc. of Penn., 1826. Account of first
settlements, etc., by John Watson (1804).
34. _Do._ An admirable account of what such a frolic was some
thirty-five years later is to be found in Edward Eggleston's "Circuit
35. Such incidents are mentioned again and again by Watson, Milfort,
Doddridge, Carr, and other writers.
36. McClung's "Western Adventures." All eastern and European observers
comment with horror on the border brawls, especially the eye-gouging.
Englishmen, of course, in true provincial spirit, complacently
contrasted them with their own boxing fights; Frenchmen, equally of
course, were more struck by the resemblances than the differences
between the two forms of combat. Milfort gives a very amusing account of
the "Anglo-Americains d'une espece particuliere," whom he calls
"crakeurs ou gaugeurs," (crackers or gougers). He remarks that he found
them "tous borgnes," (as a result of their pleasant fashion of
eye-gouging--a backwoods bully in speaking of another would often
threaten to "measure the length of his eye-strings,") and that he doubts
if there can exist in the world "des hommes plus mechants que ces
These fights were among the numerous backwoods habits that showed Scotch
rather than English ancestry. "I attempted to keep him down, in order to
improve my success, after the manner of my own country." ("Roderick
39. McAfee MSS.
41. McAfee MSS. See also Doddridge and Watson.
42. Doddridge, 156. He gives an interesting anecdote of one man engaged
in helping such a pack-train, the bell of whose horse was stolen. The
thief was recovered, and whipped as a punishment, the owner exclaiming
as he laid the strokes lustily on: "Think what a rascally figure I
should make in the streets of Baltimore without a bell on my horse." He
had never been out of the woods before; he naturally wished to look well
on his first appearance in civilized life, and it never occurred to him
that a good horse was left without a bell anywhere.
43. An instance of this, which happened in my mother's family, has been
mentioned elsewhere ("Hunting Trips of a Ranchman"). Even the wolves
occasionally attacked man; Audubon gives an example.
44. Doddridge, 194. Dodge, in his "Hunting Grounds of the Great West,"
gives some recent instances. Bears were sometimes dangerous to human
life. Doddridge, 64. A slave on the plantation of my great-grandfather
in Georgia was once regularly scalped by a she-bear whom he had tried to
rob of her cubs, and ever after he was called, both by the other negroes
and by the children on the plantation, "Bear Bob."
45. Schopf, I., 404.
46. The insignificant garrisons at one or two places need not be taken
into account, as they were of absolutely no effect.
47. Brantz Mayer, in "Tah-Gah-Jute, or Logan and Cresap" (Albany, 1867),
ix., speaks of the pioneers as "comparative few in numbers," and of the
Indian as "numerous, and fearing not only the superior weapons of his
foe, but the organization and discipline which together made the
comparatively few equal to the greater number." This sentence embodies a
variety of popular misconceptions. The pioneers were more numerous than
the Indians; the Indians were generally, at least in the northwest, as
well armed as the whites, and in military matters the Indians were
actually (see Smith's narrative, and almost all competent authorities)
superior in organization and discipline to their pioneer foes. Most of
our battles against the Indians of the western woods, whether won or
lost, were fought by superior numbers on our side. Individually, or in
small parties, the frontiersmen gradually grew to be a match for the
Indians, man for man, at least in many cases, but this was only true of
large bodies of them if they were commanded by some one naturally able
to control their unruly spirits.
48. As examples take Clark's last Indian campaign and the battle of Blue
49. Doddridge, 161, 185.
50. At the best such a frontier levy was composed of men of the type of
Leatherstocking, Ishmael Bush, Tom Hutter, Harry March, Bill Kirby, and
Aaron Thousandacres. When animated by a common and overmastering
passion, such a body would be almost irresistible; but it could not hold
together long, and there was generally a plentiful mixture of men less
trained in woodcraft, and therefore useless in forest fighting, while
if, as must generally be the case in any body, there were a number of
cowards in the ranks, the total lack of discipline not only permitted
them to flinch from their work with impunity, but also allowed them, by
their example, to infect and demoralize their braver companions.
51. Haywood, DeHaas, Withers, McClung, and other border annalists, give
innumerable anecdotes about these and many other men, illustrating their
feats of fierce prowess and, too often, of brutal ferocity.
52. McAfee MSS. The story is told both in the "Autobiography of Robert
McAfee," and in the "History of the First Settlement on Salt River."
53. Incidents of this sort are frequently mentioned. Generally the woman
went back to her first husband. "Early Times in Middle Tennessee," John
Carr, Nashville, 1859, p. 231.
54. See "A Short History of the English Colonies in America," by Henry
Cabot Lodge (New York, 1886), for an account of these people.
55. The regulators of backwoods society corresponded exactly to the
vigilantes of the western border to-day. In many of the cases of lynch
law which have come to my knowledge the effect has been healthy for the
community; but sometimes great injustice is done. Generally the
vigilantes, by a series of summary executions, do really good work; but
I have rarely known them fail, among the men whom they killed for good
reason, to also kill one or two either by mistake or to gratify private
56. See Doddridge.
57. McAfee MSS.
59. Said one old Indian fighter, a Col. Joseph Brown, of Tennessee, with
quaint truthfulness, "I have tried also to be a religious man, but have
not always, in a life of so much adventure and strife, been able to act
consistently."--_Southwestern Monthly_, Nashville, 1851, I., 80.
BOON AND THE LONG HUNTERS; AND THEIR HUNTING IN NO-MAN'S-LAND,
The American backwoodsmen had surged up, wave upon wave, till their mass
trembled in the troughs of the Alleghanies, ready to flood the continent
beyond. The peoples threatened by them were dimly conscious of the
danger which as yet only loomed in the distance. Far off, among their
quiet adobe villages, in the sun-scorched lands by the Rio Grande, the
slow Indo-Iberian peons and their monkish masters still walked in the
tranquil steps of their fathers, ignorant of the growth of the power
that was to overwhelm their children and successors; but nearer by,
Spaniard and Creole Frenchman, Algonquin and Appalachian, were all
uneasy as they began to feel the first faint pressure of the American
As yet they had been shielded by the forest which lay over the land like
an unrent mantle. All through the mountains, and far beyond, it
stretched without a break; but towards the mouth of the Kentucky and
Cumberland rivers the landscape became varied with open groves of
woodland, with flower-strewn glades and great barrens or prairies of
long grass. This region, one of the fairest in the world, was the
debatable ground between the northern and the southern Indians. Neither
dared dwell therein, but both used it as their hunting-grounds; and
it was traversed from end to end by the well marked war traces which
they followed when they invaded each other's territory. The whites, on
trying to break through the barrier which hemmed them in from the
western lands, naturally succeeded best when pressing along the line of
least resistance; and so their first great advance was made in this
debatable land, where the uncertainly defined hunting-grounds of the
Cherokee, Creek, and Chickasaw marched upon those of northern Algonquin
Unknown and unnamed hunters and Indian traders had from time to time
pushed some little way into the wilderness; and they had been followed
by others of whom we do indeed know the names, but little more. One
explorer had found and named the Cumberland river and mountains, and the
great pass called Cumberland Gap. Others had gone far beyond the
utmost limits this man had reached, and had hunted in the great bend of
the Cumberland and in the woodland region of Kentucky, famed amongst the
Indians for the abundance of the game. But their accounts excited no
more than a passing interest; they came and went without comment, as
lonely stragglers had come and gone for nearly a century. The backwoods
civilization crept slowly westward without being influenced in its
movements by their explorations.
Finally, however, among these hunters one arose whose wanderings were to
bear fruit; who was destined to lead through the wilderness the first
body of settlers that ever established a community in the far west,
completely cut off from the seaboard colonies. This was Daniel Boon. He
was born in Pennsylvania in 1734, but when only a boy had been
brought with the rest of his family to the banks of the Yadkin in North
Carolina. Here he grew up, and as soon as he came of age he married,
built a log hut, and made a clearing, whereon to farm like the rest of
his backwoods neighbors. They all tilled their own clearings, guiding
the plow among the charred stumps left when the trees were chopped down
and the land burned over, and they were all, as a matter of course,
hunters. With Boon hunting and exploration were passions, and the lonely
life of the wilderness, with its bold, wild freedom, the only existence
for which he really cared. He was a tall, spare, sinewy man, with eyes
like an eagle's, and muscles that never tired; the toil and hardship of
his life made no impress on his iron frame, unhurt by intemperance of
any kind, and he lived for eighty-six years, a backwoods hunter to the
end of his days. His thoughtful, quiet, pleasant face, so often
portrayed, is familiar to every one; it was the face of a man who never
blustered or bullied, who would neither inflict nor suffer any wrong,
and who had a limitless fund of fortitude, endurance, and indomitable
resolution upon which to draw when fortune proved adverse. His
self-command and patience, his daring, restless love of adventure, and,
in time of danger, his absolute trust in his own powers and resources,
all combined to render him peculiarly fitted to follow the career of
which he was so fond.
Boon hunted on the western waters at an early date. In the valley of
Boon's Creek, a tributary of the Watauga, there is a beech tree still
standing, on which can be faintly traced an inscription setting forth
that "D. Boon cilled a bar on (this) tree in the year 1760." On the
expeditions of which this is the earliest record he was partly hunting
on his own account, and partly exploring on behalf of another, Richard
Henderson. Henderson was a prominent citizen of North Carolina, a
speculative man of great ambition and energy. He stood high in the
colony, was extravagant and fond of display, and his fortune being
jeopardized he hoped to more than retrieve it by going into speculations
in western lands on an unheard of scale; for he intended to try to
establish on his own account a great proprietary colony beyond the
mountains. He had great confidence in Boon; and it was his backing which
enabled the latter to turn his discoveries to such good account.
Boon's claim to distinction rests not so much on his wide wanderings in
unknown lands, for in this respect he did little more than was done by a
hundred other backwoods hunters of his generation, but on the fact that
he was able to turn his daring woodcraft to the advantage of his
fellows. As he himself said, he was an instrument "ordained of God to
settle the wilderness." He inspired confidence in all who met him, so
that the men of means and influence were willing to trust adventurous
enterprises to his care; and his success as an explorer, his skill as a
hunter, and his prowess as an Indian fighter, enabled him to bring these
enterprises to a successful conclusion, and in some degree to control
the wild spirits associated with him.
Boon's expeditions into the edges of the wilderness whetted his appetite
for the unknown. He had heard of great hunting-grounds in the far
interior from a stray hunter and Indian trader, who had himself seen
them, and on May 1, 1769, he left his home on the Yadkin "to wander
through the wilderness of America in quest of the country of
Kentucky." He was accompanied by five other men, including his
informant, and struck out towards the northwest, through the tangled
mass of rugged mountains and gloomy forests. During five weeks of severe
toil the little band journeyed through vast solitudes, whose utter
loneliness can with difficulty be understood by those who have not
themselves dwelt and hunted in primaeval mountain forests. Then, early in
June, the adventurers broke through the interminable wastes of dim
woodland, and stood on the threshold of the beautiful blue-grass region
of Kentucky; a land of running waters, of groves and glades, of
prairies, cane-brakes, and stretches of lofty forest. It was teeming
with game. The shaggy-maned herds of unwieldy buffalo--the bison as they
should be called--had beaten out broad roads through the forest, and had
furrowed the prairies with trails along which they had travelled for
countless generations. The round-horned elk, with spreading, massive
antlers, the lordliest of the deer tribe throughout the world, abounded,
and like the buffalo travelled in bands not only through the woods but
also across the reaches of waving grass land. The deer were
extraordinarily numerous, and so were bears, while wolves and panthers
Wherever there was a salt spring the country was fairly thronged with
wild beasts of many kinds. For six months Boon and his companions
enjoyed such hunting as had hardly fallen to men of their race since the
Germans came out of the Hercynian forest.
In December, however, they were attacked by Indians. Boon and a
companion were captured; and when they escaped they found their camp
broken up, and the rest of the party scattered and gone home. About this
time they were joined by Squire Boon, the brother of the great hunter,
and himself a woodsman of but little less skill, together with another
adventurer; the two had travelled through the immense wilderness, partly
to explore it and partly with the hope of finding the original
adventurers, which they finally succeeded in doing more by good luck
than design. Soon afterwards Boon's companion in his first short
captivity was again surprised by the Indians, and this time was
slain--the first of the thousands of human beings with whose
life-blood Kentucky was bought. The attack was entirely unprovoked. The
Indians had wantonly shed the first blood. The land belonged to no one
tribe, but was hunted over by all, each feeling jealous of every other
intruder; they attacked the whites, not because the whites had wronged
them, but because their invariable policy was to kill any strangers on
any grounds over which they themselves ever hunted, no matter what man
had the best right thereto. The Kentucky hunters were promptly taught
that in this no-man's-land, teeming with game and lacking even a
solitary human habitation, every Indian must be regarded as a foe.
The man who had accompanied Squire Boon was terrified by the presence of
the Indians, and now returned to the settlements. The two brothers
remained alone on their hunting-grounds throughout the winter, living in
a little cabin. About the first of May Squire set off alone to the
settlements to procure horses and ammunition. For three months Daniel
Boon remained absolutely alone in the wilderness, without salt, sugar,
or flour, and without the companionship of so much as a horse or a
dog. But the solitude-loving hunter, dauntless and self-reliant,
enjoyed to the full his wild, lonely life; he passed his days hunting
and exploring, wandering hither and thither over the country, while at
night he lay off in the canebrakes or thickets, without a fire, so as
not to attract the Indians. Of the latter he saw many signs, and they
sometimes came to his camp, but his sleepless wariness enabled him to
avoid capture. Late in July his brother returned, and met him according
to appointment at the old camp. Other hunters also now came into the
Kentucky wilderness, and Boon joined a small party of them for a short
time. Such a party of hunters is always glad to have any thing wherewith
to break the irksome monotony of the long evenings passed round the camp
fire; and a book or a greasy pack of cards was as welcome in a camp of
Kentucky riflemen in 1770 as it is to a party of Rocky Mountain hunters
in 1888. Boon has recorded in his own quaint phraseology an incident of
his life during this summer, which shows how eagerly such a little band
of frontiersmen read a book, and how real its characters became to their
minds. He was encamped with five other men on Red River, and they had
with them for their "amusement the history of Samuel Gulliver's travels,
wherein he gave an account of his young master, Glumdelick, careing
[sic] him on a market day for a show to a town called Lulbegrud." In the
party who, amid such strange surroundings, read and listened to Dean
Swift's writings was a young man named Alexander Neely. One night he
came into camp with two Indian scalps, taken from a Shawnese village be
had found on a creek running into the river; and he announced to the
circle of grim wilderness veterans that "he had been that day to
Lulbegrud, and had killed two Brobdignags in their capital." To this day
the creek by which the two luckless Shawnees lost their lives is known
as Lulbegrud Creek.
Soon after this encounter the increasing danger from the Indians drove
Boon back to the valley of the Cumberland River, and in the spring of
1771 he returned to his home on the Yadkin.
A couple of years before Boon went to Kentucky, Steiner, or Stoner, and
Harrod, two hunters from Pittsburg, who had passed through the Illinois,
came down to hunt in the bend of the Cumberland, where Nashville now
stands; they found vast numbers of buffalo, and killed a great many,
especially around the licks, where the huge clumsy beasts had fairly
destroyed most of the forest, treading down the young trees and bushes
till the ground was left bare or covered with a rich growth of clover.
The bottoms and the hollows between the hills were thickset with cane.
Sycamore grew in the low ground, and towards the Mississippi were to be
found the persimmon and cottonwood. Sometimes the forest was open and
composed of huge trees; elsewhere it was of thicker, smaller growth.
Everywhere game abounded, and it was nowhere very wary. Other hunters of
whom we know even the names of only a few, had been through many parts
of the wilderness before Boon, and earlier still Frenchmen had built
forts and smelting furnaces on the Cumberland, the Tennessee, and the
head tributaries of the Kentucky. Boon is interesting as a leader
and explorer; but he is still more interesting as a type. The west was
neither discovered, won, nor settled by any single man. No keen-eyed
statesman planned the movement, nor was it carried out by any great
military leader; it was the work of a whole people, of whom each man was
impelled mainly by sheer love of adventure; it was the outcome of the
ceaseless strivings of all the dauntless, restless backwoods folk to win
homes for their descendants and to each penetrate deeper than his
neighbors into the remote forest hunting-grounds where the perilous
pleasures of the chase and of war could be best enjoyed. We owe the
conquest of the west to all the backwoodsmen, not to any solitary
individual among them; where all alike were strong and daring there was
no chance for any single man to rise to unquestioned preeminence.
In the summer of 1769 a large band of hunters crossed the mountains
to make a long hunt in the western wilderness, the men clad in
hunting-shirts, moccasins, and leggings, with traps, rifles, and dogs,
and each bringing with him two or three horses. They made their way over
the mountains, forded or swam the rapid, timber-choked streams, and went
down the Cumberland, till at last they broke out of the forest and came
upon great barrens of tall grass. One of their number was killed by a
small party of Indians; but they saw no signs of human habitations. Yet
they came across mounds and graves and other remains of an ancient
people who had once lived in the land, but had died out of it long ages
before the incoming of the white men.
The hunters made a permanent camp in one place, and returned to it at
intervals to deposit their skins and peltries. Between times they
scattered out singly or in small bands. They hunted all through the
year, killing vast quantities of every kind of game. Most of it they got
by fair still-hunting, but some by methods we do not now consider
legitimate, such as calling up a doe by imitating the bleat of a fawn,
and shooting deer from a scaffold when they came to the salt licks at
night. Nevertheless, most of the hunters did not approve of "crusting"
the game--that is, of running it down on snow-shoes in the deep
At the end of the year some of the adventurers returned home; others
went north into the Kentucky country, where they hunted for several
months before recrossing the mountains; while the remainder, led by an
old hunter named Kasper Mansker, built two boats and hollowed out of
logs two pirogues or dugouts--clumsier but tougher craft than the light
birch-bark canoes--and started down the Cumberland. At the French Lick,
where Nashville now stands, they saw enormous quantities of buffalo,
elk, and other game, more than they had ever seen before in any one
place. Some of their goods were taken by a party of Indians they met,
but some French traders whom they likewise encountered, treated them
well and gave them salt, flour, tobacco, and taffia, the last being
especially prized, as they had had no spirits for a year. They went down
to Natchez, sold their furs, hides, oil, and tallow, and some returned
by sea, while others, including Mansker, came overland with a drove of
horses that was being taken through the Indian nations to Georgia. From
the length of time all these men, as well as Boon and his companions,
were absent, they were known as the Long Hunters, and the fame of their
hunting and exploring spread all along the border and greatly excited
the young men.
In 1771 many hunters crossed over the mountains and penetrated far into
the wilderness, to work huge havoc among the herds of game. Some of them
came in bands, and others singly, and many of the mountains, lakes,
rivers, and creeks of Tennessee are either called after the leaders
among these old hunters and wanderers, or else by their names perpetuate
the memory of some incident of their hunting trips.
Mansker himself came back, a leader among his comrades, and hunted many
years in the woods alone or with others of his kind, and saw and did
many strange things. One winter he and those who were with him built a
skin house from the hides of game, and when their ammunition gave out
they left three of their number and all of their dogs at the skin house
and went to the settlements for powder and lead. When they returned they
found that two of the men had been killed and the other chased away by
the Indians, who, however, had not found the camp. The dogs, having seen
no human face for three months, were very wild, yet in a few days became
as tame and well trained as ever. They killed such enormous quantities
of buffalo, elk, and especially deer, that they could not pack the hides
into camp, and one of the party, during an idle moment and in a spirit
of protest against fate, carved on the peeled trunk of a fallen
poplar, where it long remained, the sentence: "2300 deer skins lost;
ruination by God!" The soul of this thrifty hunter must have been
further grieved when a party of Cherokees visited their camp and took
away all the camp utensils and five hundred hides. The whites found the
broad track they made in coming in, but could not find where they had
gone out, each wily redskin then covering his own trail, and the whole
number apparently breaking up into several parties.
Sometimes the Indians not only plundered the hunting camps but killed
the hunters as well, and the hunters retaliated in kind. Often the white
men and red fought one another whenever they met, and displayed in their
conflicts all the cunning and merciless ferocity that made forest
warfare so dreadful. Terrible deeds of prowess were done by the mighty
men on either side. It was a war of stealth and cruelty, and ceaseless,
sleepless watchfulness. The contestants had sinewy frames and iron
wills, keen eyes and steady hands, hearts as bold as they were ruthless.
Their moccasined feet made no sound as they stole softly on the camp of
a sleeping enemy or crept to ambush him while he himself still-hunted or
waylaid the deer. A favorite stratagem was to imitate the call of game,
especially the gobble of the wild turkey, and thus to lure the would-be
hunter to his fate. If the deceit was guessed at, the caller was himself
stalked. The men grew wonderfully expert in detecting imitation. One old
hunter, Castleman by name, was in after years fond of describing how an
Indian nearly lured him to his death. It was in the dusk of the evening,
when he heard the cries of two great wood owls near him. Listening
attentively, he became convinced that all was not right. "The woo-woo
call and the woo-woo answer were not well timed and toned, and the
babel-chatter was a failure. More than this, they seemed to be on the
ground." Creeping cautiously up, and peering through the brush, he saw
something the height of a stump between two forked trees. It did not
look natural; he aimed, pulled trigger, and killed an Indian.
Each party of Indians or whites was ever on the watch to guard against
danger or to get the chance of taking vengeance for former wrongs. The
dark woods saw a myriad lonely fights where red warrior or white hunter
fell and no friend of the fallen ever knew his fate, where his sole
memorial was the scalp that hung in the smoky cabin or squalid wigwam of
The rude and fragmentary annals of the frontier are filled with the
deeds of men, of whom Mansker can be taken as a type. He was a wonderful
marksman and woodsman, and was afterwards made a colonel of the frontier
militia, though, being of German descent, he spoke only broken
English. Like most of the hunters he became specially proud of his
rifle, calling it "Nancy"; for they were very apt to know each his
favorite weapon by some homely or endearing nickname. Every forest sight
or sound was familiar to him. He knew the cries of the birds and beasts
so well that no imitation could deceive him. Once he was nearly taken in
by an unusually perfect imitation of a wild gobbler; but he finally
became suspicious, and "placed" his adversary behind a large tree.
Having perfect confidence in his rifle, and knowing that the Indians
rarely fired except at close range--partly because they were poor shots,
partly because they loaded their guns too lightly--he made no attempt to
hide. Feigning to pass to the Indian's right, the latter, as he
expected, tried to follow him; reaching an opening in a glade, Mansker
suddenly wheeled and killed his foe. When hunting he made his home
sometimes in a hollow tree, sometimes in a hut of buffalo hides; for the
buffalo were so plenty that once when a lick was discovered by himself
and a companion, the latter, though on horseback, was nearly
trampled to death by the mad rush of a herd they surprised and
He was a famous Indian fighter; one of the earliest of his recorded
deeds has to do with an Indian adventure. He and three other men were
trapping on Sulphur Fork and Red River, in the great bend of the
Cumberland. Moving their camp, they came on recent traces of Indians:
deer-carcases and wicker frames for stretching hides. They feared to
tarry longer unless they knew something of their foes, and Mansker set
forth to explore, and turned towards Red River, where, from the sign, he
thought to find the camp. Travelling some twenty miles, he perceived by
the sycamore trees in view that he was near the river. Advancing a few
steps farther he suddenly found himself within eighty or ninety yards of
the camp. He instantly slipped behind a tree to watch. There were only
two Indians in camp; the rest he supposed were hunting at a distance.
Just as he was about to retire, one of the Indians took up a tomahawk
and strolled off in the opposite direction; while the other picked up
his gun, put it on his shoulder, and walked directly towards Mansker's
hiding-place. Mansker lay close, hoping that he would not be noticed;
but the Indian advanced directly towards him until not fifteen paces
off. There being no alternative, Mansker cocked his piece, and shot the
Indian through the body. The Indian screamed, threw down his gun, and
ran towards camp; passing it he pitched headlong down the bluff, dead,
into the river. The other likewise ran to camp at the sound of the shot;
but Mansker outran him, reached the camp first, and picked up an old gun
that was on the ground; but the gun would not go off, and the Indian
turned and escaped. Mansker broke the old gun, and returned speedily to
his comrades. The next day they all went to the spot, where they found
the dead Indian and took away his tomahawk, knife, and bullet-bag; but
they never found his gun. The other Indian had come back, had loaded his
horses with furs, and was gone. They followed him all that day and all
night with a torch of dry cane, and could never overtake him. Finding
that there were other bands of Indians about, they then left their
hunting grounds. Towards the close of his life old Mansker, like many
another fearless and ignorant backwoods fighter, became so much
impressed by the fiery earnestness and zeal of the Methodists that he
joined himself to them, and became a strong and helpful prop of the
community whose first foundations he had helped to lay.
Sometimes the hunters met Creole trappers, who sent their tallow, hides,
and furs in pirogues and bateaux down the Mississippi to Natchez or
Orleans, instead of having to transport them on pack-horses through the
perilous forest-tracks across the mountains. They had to encounter
dangers from beasts as well as men. More than once we hear of one who,
in a canebrake or tangled thicket, was mangled to death by the horns and
hoofs of a wounded buffalo. All of the wild beasts were then
comparatively unused to contact with rifle-bearing hunters; they were,
in consequence, much more ferocious and ready to attack man than at
present. The bear were the most numerous of all, after the deer; their
chase was a favorite sport. There was just enough danger in it to make
it exciting, for though hunters were frequently bitten or clawed, they
were hardly ever killed. The wolves were generally very wary; yet in
rare instances they, too, were dangerous. The panther was a much more
dreaded foe, and lives were sometimes lost in hunting him; but even with
the panther, the cases where the hunter was killed were very
The hunters were in their lives sometimes clean and straight, and
sometimes immoral, with a gross and uncouth viciousness. We read of one
party of six men and a woman, who were encountered on the Cumberland
River; the woman acted as the wife of a man named Big John, but deserted
him for one of his companions, and when he fell sick persuaded the whole
party to leave him in the wilderness to die of disease and starvation.
Yet those who left him did not in the end fare better, for they were
ambushed and cut off, when they had gone down to Natchez, apparently by
At first the hunters, with their small-bore rifles, were unsuccessful in
killing buffalo. Once, when George Rogers Clark had long resided in
Kentucky, he and two companions discovered a camp of some forty
new-comers actually starving, though buffalo were plenty. Clark and his
friends speedily relieved their necessities by killing fourteen of the
great beasts; for when once the hunters had found out the knack, the
buffalo were easier slaughtered than any other game.
The hunters were the pioneers; but close behind them came another set of
explorers quite as hardy and resolute. These were the surveyors. The men
of chain and compass played a part in the exploration of the west
scarcely inferior to that of the heroes of axe and rifle. Often, indeed,
the parts were combined; Boon himself was a surveyor. Vast tracts of
western land were continually being allotted either to actual settlers
or as bounties to soldiers who had served against the French and
Indians. These had to be explored and mapped and as there was much risk
as well as reward in the task, it naturally proved attractive to all
adventurous young men who had some education, a good deal of ambition,
and not too much fortune. A great number of young men of good families,
like Washington and Clark, went into the business. Soon after the return
of Boon and the Long Hunters, parties of surveyors came down the
Ohio, mapping out its course and exploring the Kentucky lands that
lay beside it.
Among the hunters, surveyors, and explorers who came into the wilderness
in 1773 was a band led by three young men named McAfee,--typical
backwoodsmen, hardy, adventurous, their frontier recklessness and
license tempered by the Calvinism they had learned in their rough log
home. They were fond of hunting, but they came to spy out the land and
see if it could be made into homes for their children; and in their
party were several surveyors. They descended the Ohio in dugout canoes,
with their rifles, blankets, tomahawks, and fishing-tackle. They met
some Shawnees and got on well with them; but while their leader was
visiting the chief, Cornstalk, and listening to his fair speeches at his
town of Old Chilicothe, the rest of the party were startled to see a
band of young Shawnee braves returning from a successful foray on the
settlements, driving before them the laden pack-horses they had
They explored part of Kentucky, and visited the different licks. One,
long named Big Bone Lick, was famous because there were scattered about
it in incredible quantity the gigantic remains of the extinct mastodon;
the McAfees made a tent by stretching their blankets over the huge
fossil ribs, and used the disjointed vertebrae as stools on which to sit.
Game of many kinds thronged the spaces round the licks; herds of
buffalo, elk, and deer, as well as bears and wolves, were all in sight
at once. The ground round about some of them was trodden down so that
there was not as much grass left as would feed a sheep; and the game
trails were like streets, or the beaten roads round a city. A little
village to this day recalls by its name the fact that it stands on a
former "stamping ground" of the buffalo. At one lick the explorers met
with what might have proved a serious adventure. One of the McAfees and
a companion were passing round its outskirts, when some others of the
party fired at a gang of buffaloes, which stampeded directly towards the
two. While his companion scampered up a leaning mulberry bush, McAfee,
less agile, leaped behind a tree trunk, where he stood sideways till the
buffalo passed, their horns scraping off the bark on either side; then
he looked round to see his friend "hanging in the mulberry bush like a
When the party left this lick they followed a buffalo trail, beaten out
in the forest, "the size of the wagon road leading out of Williamsburg,"
then the capital of Virginia. It crossed the Kentucky River at a riffle
below where Frankfort now stands. Thence they started homewards across
the Cumberland Mountains, and suffered terribly while making their way
through the "desolate and voiceless solitudes"; mere wastes of cliffs,
crags, caverns, and steep hillsides covered with pine, laurel, and
underbrush. Twice they were literally starving and were saved in the
nick of time by the killing, on the first occasion, of a big bull elk,
on the next, of a small spike buck. At last, sun-scorched and
rain-beaten, foot-sore and leg-weary, their thighs torn to pieces by the
stout briars, and their feet and hands blistered and scalded, they
came out in Powell's Valley, and followed the well-worn hunter's trail
across it. Thence it was easy to reach home, where the tale of their
adventures excited still more the young frontiersmen.
Their troubles were ended for the time being; but in Powell's Valley
they met other wanderers whose toil and peril had just begun. There they
encountered the company which Daniel Boon was just leading across
the mountains, with the hope of making a permanent settlement in far
distant Kentucky. Boon had sold his farm on the Yadkin and all the
goods he could not carry with him, and in September, 1773, he started
for Kentucky with his wife and his children; five families, and forty
men besides, went with him, driving their horses and cattle. It was the
first attempt that was made to settle a region separated by long
stretches of wilderness from the already inhabited districts; and it was
doomed to failure. On approaching the gloomy and forbidding defiles of
the Cumberland Mountains the party was attacked by Indians. Six of
the men, including Boon's eldest son, were slain, and the cattle
scattered; and though the backwoodsmen rallied and repulsed their
assailants, yet they had suffered such loss and damage that they
retreated and took up their abode temporarily on the Clinch River.
In the same year Simon Kenton, afterwards famous as a scout and Indian
fighter, in company with other hunters, wandered through Kentucky.
Kenton, like every one else, was astounded at the beauty and fertility
of the land and the innumerable herds of buffalo, elk, and other game
that thronged the trampled ground around the licks. One of his
companions was taken by the Indians, who burned him alive.
In the following year numerous parties of surveyors visited the land.
One of these was headed by John Floyd, who was among the ablest of the
Kentucky pioneers, and afterwards played a prominent part in the young
commonwealth, until his death at the hands of the savages. Floyd was at
the time assistant surveyor of Fincastle County; and his party went out
for the purpose of making surveys "by virtue of the Governor's warrant
for officers and soldiers on the Ohio and its waters."
They started on April 9, 1774,--eight men in all,--from their homes in
Fincastle County. They went down the Kanawha in a canoe, shooting
bear and deer, and catching great pike and catfish. The first survey
they made was one of two thousand acres for "Colo. Washington"; and they
made another for Patrick Henry. On the way they encountered other
parties of surveyors, and learned that an Indian war was threatened; for
a party of thirteen would-be settlers on the upper Ohio had been
attacked, but had repelled their assailants, and in consequence the
Shawnees had declared for war, and threatened thereafter to kill the
Virginians and rob the Pennsylvanians wherever they found them. The
reason for this discrimination in favor of the citizens of the Quaker
State was that the Virginians with whom the Indians came chiefly in
contact were settlers, whereas the Pennsylvanians were traders. The
marked difference in the way the savages looked at the two classes
received additional emphasis in Lord Dunmore's war.
At the mouth of the Kanawha the adventurers found twenty or thirty
men gathered together; some had come to settle, but most wished to
explore or survey the lands. All were in high spirits, and resolute to
go to Kentucky, in spite of Indian hostilities. Some of them joined
Floyd, and raised his party to eighteen men, who started down the Ohio
in four canoes. They found "a battoe loaded with corn," apparently
abandoned, and took about three bushels with them. Other parties joined
them from time to time, as they paddled and drifted down stream; and one
or two of their own number, alarmed by further news of Indian
hostilities, went back. Once they met a party of Delawares, by whom they
were not molested; and again, two or three of their number encountered a
couple of hostile savages; and though no one was hurt, the party were
kept on the watch all the time. They marvelled much at the great
trees--one sycamore was thirty-seven feet in circumference,--and on a
Sunday, which they kept as a day of rest, they examined with interest
the forest-covered embankments of a fort at the mouth of the Scioto, a
memorial of the mound-builders who had vanished centuries before.
When they reached the mouth of the Kentucky they found two Delawares
and a squaw, to whom they gave corn and salt. Here they split up, and
Floyd and his original party spent a week in the neighborhood, surveying
land, going some distance up the Kentucky to a salt lick, where they saw
a herd of three hundred buffalo. They then again embarked, and
drifted down the Ohio. On May 26th they met two Delawares in a canoe
flying a red flag; they had been sent down the river with a pass from
the commandant at Fort Pitt to gather their hunters and get them home,
in view of the threatened hostilities between the Shawnees and
Virginians. The actions of the two Indians were so suspicious, and
the news they brought was so alarming, that some of Floyd's companions
became greatly alarmed, and wished to go straight on down the
Mississippi; but Floyd swore that he would finish his work unless
actually forced off. Three days afterwards they reached the Falls.
Here Floyd spent a fortnight, making surveys in every direction, and
then started off to explore the land between the Salt River and the
Kentucky. Like the others, he carried his own pack, which consisted of
little but his blanket and his instruments. He sometimes had
difficulties with his men; one of them refused to carry the chain one
day, and went off to hunt, got lost, and was not found for thirty-six
hours. Another time it was noticed that two of the hunters had become
sullen, and seemed anxious to leave camp. The following morning, while
on the march, the party killed an elk and halted for breakfast; but the
two hunters walked on, and, says the journal, "we never saw them more";
but whether they got back to the settlements or perished in the
wilderness, none could tell.
The party suffered much hardship. Floyd fell sick, and for three days
could not travel. They gave him an "Indian sweat," probably building
just such a little sweat-house as the Indians use to this day. Others of
their number at different times fell ill; and they were ever on the
watch for Indians. In the vast forests, every sign of a human being was
the sign of a probable enemy. Once they heard a gun, and another time a
sound as of a man calling to another; and on each occasion they
redoubled their caution, keeping guard as they rested, and at night
extinguishing their camp-fire and sleeping a mile or two from it.
They built a bark canoe in which to cross the Kentucky, and on the 1st
of July they met another party of surveyors on the banks of that
stream. Two or three days afterwards, Floyd and three companions
left the others, agreeing to meet them on August 1st, at a cabin built
by a man named Harwood, on the south side of the Kentucky, a few miles
from the mouth of the Elkhorn. For three weeks they surveyed and hunted,
enchanted with the beauty of the country. They then went to the
cabin, several days before the appointed time; but to their surprise
found every thing scattered over the ground, and two fires burning,
while on a tree near the landing was written, "Alarmed by finding some
people killed and we are gone down." This left the four adventurers in a
bad plight, as they had but fifteen rounds of powder left, and none of
them knew the way home. However there was no help for it, and they
started off. When they came to the mountains they found it such hard
going that they were obliged to throw away their blankets and every
thing else except their rifles, hunting-shirts, leggings, and moccasins.
Like the other parties of returning explorers, they found this portion
of their journey extremely distressing; and they suffered much from sore
feet, and also from want of food, until they came on a gang of
buffaloes, and killed two. At last they struck Cumberland Gap, followed
a blazed trail across it to Powell's Valley, and on August 9th came to
the outlying settlements on Clinch River, where they found the settlers
all in their wooden forts, because of the war with the Shawnees.
In this same year many different bodies of hunters and surveyors came
into the country, drifting down the Ohio in pirogues. Some forty men led
by Harrod and Sowdowsky founded Harrodsburg, where they built cabins
and sowed corn; but the Indians killed one of their number, and the rest
dispersed. Some returned across the mountains; but Sowdowsky and another
went through the woods to the Cumberland River, where they built a
canoe, paddled down the muddy Mississippi between unending reaches of
lonely marsh and forest, and from New Orleans took ship to Virginia.
At that time, among other parties of surveyors there was one which had
been sent by Lord Dunmore to the Falls of the Ohio. When the war broke
out between the Shawnees and the Virginians, Lord Dunmore, being very
anxious for the fate of these surveyors, sent Boon and Stoner to pilot
them in; which the two bush veterans accordingly did, making the round
trip of 800 miles in 64 days. The outbreak of the Indian war caused all
the hunters and surveyors to leave Kentucky; and at the end of 1774
there were no whites left, either there or in what is now middle
Tennessee. But on the frontier all men's eyes were turned towards these
new and fertile regions. The pioneer work of the hunter was over, and
that of the axe-bearing settler was about to begin.
1. This is true as a whole; but along the Mississippi, in the extreme
west of the present Kentucky and Tennessee, the Chickasaws held
possession. There was a Shawnee town south of the Ohio, and Cherokee
villages in southeastern Tennessee.
2. The backwoodsmen generally used "trace," where western frontiersmen
would now say "trail."
3. Dr. Thomas Walker, of Virginia. He named them after the Duke of
Cumberland. Walker was a genuine explorer and surveyor, a man of mark as
a pioneer. The journal of his trip across the Cumberland to the
headwaters of the Kentucky in 1750 has been preserved, and has just been
published by William Cabell Rives (Boston: Little, Brown & Co.). It is
very interesting, and Mr. Rives has done a real service in publishing
it. Walker and five companions were absent six months. He found traces
of earlier wanderers--probably hunters. One of his companions was bitten
by a bear; three of the dogs were wounded by bears, and one killed by an
elk; the horses were frequently bitten by rattlesnakes; once a
bull-buffalo threatened the whole party. They killed 13 buffaloes, 8
elks, 53 bears, 20 deer, 150 turkeys and some other game.
4. Hunters and Indian traders visited portions of Kentucky and Tennessee
years before the country became generally known even on the border. (Not
to speak of the French, who had long known something of the country
where they had even made trading posts and built furnaces, as see
Haywood, etc.) We know the names of a few. Those who went down the Ohio,
merely landing on the Kentucky shore, do not deserve mention; the French
had done as much for a century. Whites who had been captured by the
Indians, were sometimes taken through Tennessee or Kentucky, as John
Salling in 1730 and Mrs. Mary Inglis in 1756 (see "Trans-Alleghany
Pioneers," Collis, etc.). In 1654 a certain Colonel Wood was in
Kentucky. The next real explorer was nearly a century later, though
Doherty in 1690, and Adair in 1730, traded with the Cherokees in what is
now Tennessee. Walker struck the head-water of the Kentucky in 1750; he
had been to the Cumberland in 1748. He made other exploring trips.
Christopher Gist went up the Kentucky in 1751. In 1756 and 1758 Forts
Loudon and Chisset were built on the Tennessee head-waters, but were
soon afterwards destroyed by the Cherokees. In 1761, '62, '63 and for a
year or two afterwards a party of hunters under the lead of one Wallen
hunted on the western waters, going continually farther west. In 1765
Croghan made a sketch of the Ohio River. In 1766 James Smith and others
explored Tennessee. Stoner, Harrod, and Lindsay, and a party from South
Carolina were near the present site of Nashville in 1767, in the same
year John Finley and others were in Kentucky, and it was Finley who
first told Boon about it and led him thither.
5. The attempt to find out the names of the men who first saw the
different portions of the western country is not very profitable. The
first visitors were hunters, simply wandering in search of game, not
with any settled purpose of exploration. Who the individual first-comers
were, has generally been forgotten. At the most it is only possible to
find out the name of some one of several who went to a given locality.
The hunters were wandering everywhere. By chance some went to places we
now consider important. By chance the names of a few of these have been
preserved. But the credit belongs to the whole backwoods race, not to
the individual backwoodsman.
6. August 22, 1734 (according to James Parton, in his sketch of Boon).
His grandfather was an English immigrant; his father had married a
Quakeress. When he lived on the banks of the Delaware, the country was
still a wilderness. He was born in Berks Co.
7. The inscription is first mentioned by Ramsey, p. 67. See Appendix C,
for a letter from the Hon. John Allison, at present (1888) Secretary of
State for Tennessee, which goes to prove that the inscription has been
on the tree as long as the district has been settled. Of course it
cannot be proved that the inscription is by Boon; but there is much
reason for supposing that such is the case, and little for doubting it.
8. He was by birth a Virginian, of mixed Scotch and Welsh descent. See
Collins, II., 336; also Ramsey. For Boon's early connection with
Henderson, in 1764, see Haywood, 35.
9. Even among his foes; he is almost the only American praised by
Lt.-Gov. Henry Hamilton of Detroit, for instance (see _Royal
Gazette_, July 15, 1780).
10. John Finley.
11. "The Adventures of Colonel Daniel Boon, formerly a hunter";
nominally written by Boon himself, in 1784, but in reality by John
Filson, the first Kentucky historian,--a man who did history good
service, albeit a true sample of the small hedge-school pedant. The old
pioneer's own language would have been far better than that which Filson
used; for the latter's composition is a travesty of Johnsonese in its
most aggravated form. For Filson see Durrett's admirable "Life" in the
Filson Club Publications.
12. The Nieblung Lied tells of Siegfried's feats with bear, buffalo,
elk, wolf, and deer:
"Danach schlug er wieder einen Buffel und einen Elk
Vier starkes Auer nieder und einen grimmen Schelk,
So schnell trug ihn die Mahre, dasz ihm nichts entsprang;
Hinden und Hirsche wurden viele sein Fang.
....... ein Waldthier furchterlich,
Einen wilden Baren."
Siegfried's elk was our moose; and like the American frontiersmen of
to-day, the old German singer calls the Wisent or Bison a
buffalo--European sportsmen now committing an equally bad blunder by
giving it the name of the extinct aurochs. Be it observed also that the
hard fighting, hard drinking, boastful hero of Nieblung fame used a
"spur hund," just as his representative of Kentucky or Tennessee used a
track hound a thousand years later.
13. His name was John Stewart.
14. His remaining absolutely alone in the wilderness for such a length
of time is often spoken of with wonder; but here again Boon stands
merely as the backwoods type, not as an exception. To this day many
hunters in the Rockies do the same. In 1880, two men whom I knew
wintered to the west of the Bighorns, 150 miles from any human beings.
They had salt and flour, however; but they were nine months without
seeing a white face. They killed elk, buffalo, and a moose; and had a
narrow escape from a small Indian war party. Last winter (1887-88) an
old trapper, a friend of mine in the days when he hunted buffalo, spent
five months entirely alone in the mountains north of the Flathead
15. Deposition of Daniel Boon, September 15, 1796. Certified copy from
Deposition Book No. I, page 156, Clarke County Court, Ky. First
published by Col. John Mason Brown, in "Battle of the Blue Licks," p. 40
(Frankfort, 1882). The book which these old hunters read around their
camp-fire in the Indian-haunted primaeval forest a century and a quarter
ago has by great good-luck been preserved, and is in Col. Durrett's
library at Louisville. It is entitled the "Works of Dr. Jonathan Swift,
London, MDCCLXV," and is in two small volumes. On the title-page is
written "A. Neelly, 1770"
Frontiersmen are often content with the merest printed trash; but the
better men among them appreciate really good literature quite as much as
any other class of people. In the long winter evenings they study to
good purpose books as varied as Dante, Josephus, Macaulay, Longfellow,
Parton's "Life of Jackson," and the Rollo stories--to mention only
volumes that have been especial favorites with my own cowboys and
16. MS. diary of Benj. Hawkins, 1796. Preserved in Nash. Historical Soc.
In 1796 buffalo were scarce; but some fresh signs of them were still
seen at licks.
17. Haywood, p. 75, etc. It is a waste of time to quarrel over who first
discovered a particular tract of this wilderness. A great many hunters
traversed different parts at different times, from 1760 on, each
practically exploring on his own account. We do not know the names of
most of them; those we do know are only worth preserving in county
histories and the like; the credit belongs to the race, not the
18. From twenty to forty. Compare Haywood and Marshall, both of whom are
speaking of the same bodies of men; Ramsey makes the mistake of
supposing they are speaking of different parties; Haywood dwells on the
feats of those who descended the Cumberland; Marshall of those who went
19. The so-called mound builders; now generally considered to have been
simply the ancestors of the present Indian races.
20. Led by one James Knox.
21. His real name was Kasper Mansker, as his signature shows, but he was
always spoken of as Mansco.
22. McAfee MSS. ("Autobiography of Robt. McAfee"). Sometimes the term
Long Hunters was used as including Boon, Finley, and their companions,
sometimes not; in the McAfee MSS. it is explicitly used in the former
23. See Haywood for Clinch River, Drake's Pond, Mansco's Lick, Greasy
Rock, etc., etc.
24. A hunter named Bledsoe; Collins, II., 418.
25. Carr's "Early Times in Middle Tennessee," pp. 52, 54, 56, etc.
26. The hunter Bledsoe mentioned in a previous note.
27. As Haywood, 81.
28. This continued to be the case until the buffalo were all destroyed.
When my cattle came to the Little Missouri, in 1882, buffalo were
plenty; my men killed nearly a hundred that winter, though tending the
cattle; yet an inexperienced hunter not far from us, though a hardy
plainsman, killed only three in the whole time. See also Parkman's
"Oregon Trail" for an instance of a party of Missouri backwoodsmen who
made a characteristic failure in an attempt on a buffalo band.
29. See Appendix.
30. An English engineer made a rude survey or table of distances of the
Ohio in 1766.
31. Collins states that in 1770 and 1772 Washington surveyed small
tracts in what is now northeastern Kentucky; but this is more than
32. All of this is taken from the McAfee MSS., in Colonel Durrett's
33. McAfee MSS. A similar adventure befell my brother Elliott and my
cousin John Roosevelt while they were hunting buffalo on the staked
plains of Texas in 1877.
34. They evidently wore breech-clouts and leggings, not trowsers.
35. McAfee MSS.
36. Filson's "Boon."
37. October 10, 1773, Filson's "Boon." The McAfee MSS. speak of meeting
Boon in Powell's Valley and getting home in September; if so, it must
have been the very end of the month.
38. The account of this journey of Floyd and his companions is taken
from a very interesting MS. journal, kept by one of the party--Thomas
Hanson. It was furnished me, together with other valuable papers,
through the courtesy of Mr. and Mrs. Daniel Trigg, of Abingdon, Va., and
of Dr. George Ben. Johnston, of Richmond, to whom I take this
opportunity of returning my warm thanks.
39. From the house of Col. William Preston, "at one o'clock, in high
spirits." They took the canoe at the mouth of Elk River, on the 16th.
Most of the diary is, of course, taken up with notes on the character
and fertility of the lands, and memoranda of the surveys made. Especial
comment is made on a burning spring by the Kanawha, which is dubbed "one
of the wonders of the world."
40. They received this news on April 17th, and confirmation thereof on
the 19th. The dates should be kept in mind, as they show that the
Shawnees had begun hostilities from a fortnight to a month before
Cresap's attack and the murder of Logan's family, which will be
41. Which they reached on the 20th.
42. On the 22d.
43. On May 13th.
44. There were quarrels among the surveyors. The entry for May 13th
runs: "Our company divided, eleven men went up to Harrad's company one
hundred miles up the Cantucky or Louisa river (n.b. one Capt. Harrad has
been there many months building a kind of Town &c) in order to make
improvements. This day a quarrel arose between Mr. Lee and Mr. Hyte; Lee
cut a Stick and gave Hyte a Whiping with it, upon which Mr. Floyd
demanded the King's Peace which stopt it sooner that it would have ended
if he had not been there."
45. They said that in a skirmish the whites had killed thirteen
Shawnees, two Mingos, and one Delaware (this may or may not mean the
massacres by Cresap and Greathouse; see, _post_, chapter on Lord
46. Where the journal says the land "is like a paradise, it is so good
47. The journal for July 8th says: "The Land is so good that I cannot
give it its due Praise. The undergrowth is Clover, Pea-vine, Cane &
Nettles; intermingled with Rich Weed. It's timber is Honey Locust, Black
Walnut, Sugar Tree, Hickory, Iron-Wood, Hoop Wood, Mulberry, Ash and Elm
and some Oak." And later it dwells on the high limestone cliffs facing
the river on both sides.
48. On July 25th.
49. I have given the account of Floyd's journey at some length as
illustrating the experience of a typical party of surveyors. The journal
has never hitherto been alluded to, and my getting hold of it was almost
There were three different kinds of explorers. Boon represents the
hunters; the McAfees represent the would-be settlers; and Floyd's
party the surveyors who mapped out the land for owners of land grants.
In 1774, there were parties of each kind in Kentucky. Floyd's
experience shows that these parties were continually meeting others
and splitting up; he started out with eight men, at one time was in a
body with thirty-seven, and returned home with four.
The journal is written in a singularly clear and legible hand,
evidently by a man of good education.
50. The latter, from his name presumably of Sclavonic ancestry, came
originally from New York, always a centre of mixed nationalities. He
founded a most respectable family, some of whom have changed their name
to Sandusky; but there seems to be no justification for their claim that
they gave Sandusky its name, for this is almost certainly a corruption
of its old Algonquin title. "American Pioneer" (Cincinnati, 1843), II.,
SEVIER, ROBERTSON, AND THE WATAUGA COMMONWEALTH, 1769-1774.
Soon after the successful ending of the last colonial struggle with
France, and the conquest of Canada, the British king issued a
proclamation forbidding the English colonists from trespassing on Indian
grounds, or moving west of the mountains. But in 1768, at the treaty of
Fort Stanwix, the Six Nations agreed to surrender to the English all the
lands lying between the Ohio and the Tennessee; and this treaty was
at once seized upon by the backwoodsmen as offering an excuse for
settling beyond the mountains. However, the Iroquois had ceded lands to
which they had no more right than a score or more other Indian tribes;
and these latter, not having been consulted, felt at perfect liberty to
make war on the intruders. In point of fact, no one tribe or set of
tribes could cede Kentucky or Tennessee, because no one tribe or set of
tribes owned either. The great hunting-grounds between the Ohio and the
Tennessee formed a debatable land, claimed by every tribe that could
hold its own against its rivals.
The eastern part of what is now Tennessee consists of a great
hill-strewn, forest-clad valley, running from northeast to southwest,
bounded on one side by the Cumberland, and on the other by the Great
Smoky and Unaka Mountains; the latter separating it from North Carolina.
In this valley arise and end the Clinch, the Holston, the Watauga, the
Nolichucky, the French Broad, and the other streams, whose combined
volume makes the Tennessee River. The upper end of the valley lies in
southwestern Virginia, the head-waters of some of the rivers being well
within that State; and though the province was really part of North
Carolina, it was separated therefrom by high mountain chains, while from
Virginia it was easy to follow the watercourses down the valley. Thus,
as elsewhere among the mountains forming the western frontier, the first
movements of population went parallel with, rather than across, the
ranges. As in western Virginia the first settlers came, for the most
part, from Pennsylvania, so, in turn, in what was then western North
Carolina, and is now eastern Tennessee, the first settlers came mainly
from Virginia, and, indeed, in great part, from this same Pennsylvanian
stock. Of course, in each case there was also a very considerable
movement directly westward. They were a sturdy race, enterprising and
intelligent, fond of the strong excitement inherent in the adventurous
frontier life. Their untamed and turbulent passions, and the lawless
freedom of their lives, made them a population very productive of wild,
headstrong characters; yet, as a whole, they were a God-fearing race, as
was but natural in those who sprang from the loins of the Irish
Calvinists. Their preachers, all Presbyterians, followed close behind
the first settlers, and shared their toil and dangers; they tilled their
fields rifle in hand, and fought the Indians valorously. They felt that
they were dispossessing the Canaanites, and were thus working the Lord's
will in preparing the land for a race which they believed was more truly
His chosen people than was that nation which Joshua led across the
Jordan. They exhorted no less earnestly in the bare meeting-houses on
Sunday, because their hands were roughened with guiding the plow and
wielding the axe on week-days; for they did not believe that being
called to preach the word of God absolved them from earning their living
by the sweat of their brows. The women, the wives of the settlers, were
of the same iron temper. They fearlessly fronted every danger the men
did, and they worked quite as hard. They prized the knowledge and
learning they themselves had been forced to do without; and many a
backwoods woman by thrift and industry, by the sale of her butter and
cheese, and the calves from her cows, enabled her husband to give his
sons good schooling, and perhaps to provide for some favored member of
the family the opportunity to secure a really first-class education.
The valley in which these splendid pioneers of our people settled, lay
directly in the track of the Indian marauding parties, for the great war
trail used by the Cherokees and by their northern foes ran along its
whole length. This war trail, or war trace as it was then called, was in
places very distinct, although apparently never as well marked as were
some of the buffalo trails. It sent off a branch to Cumberland Gap,
whence it ran directly north through Kentucky to the Ohio, being there
known as the warriors' path. Along these trails the northern and
southern Indians passed and re-passed when they went to war against each
other; and of course they were ready and eager to attack any white man
who might settle down along their course.
In 1769, the year that Boon first went to Kentucky, the first permanent
settlers came to the banks of the Watauga, the settlement being
merely an enlargement of the Virginia settlement, which had for a short
time existed on the head-waters of the Holston, especially near Wolf
Hills. At first the settlers thought they were still in the domain of
Virginia, for at that time the line marking her southern boundary had
not been run so far west. Indeed, had they not considered the land as
belonging to Virginia, they would probably not at the moment have dared
to intrude farther on territory claimed by the Indians. But while the
treaty between the crown and the Iroquois at Fort Stanwix had
resulted in the cession of whatever right the Six Nations had to the
southwestern territory, another treaty was concluded about the same
time with the Cherokees, by which the latter agreed to surrender
their claims to a small portion of this country, though as a matter of
fact before the treaty was signed white settlers had crowded beyond the
limits allowed them. These two treaties, in the first of which one set
of tribes surrendered a small portion of land, while in the second an
entirely different confederacy surrendered a larger tract, which,
however, included part of the first cession, are sufficient to show the
absolute confusion of the Indian land titles.
But in 1771, one of the new-comers, who was a practical surveyor,
ran out the Virginia boundary line some distance to the westward, and
discovered that the Watauga settlement came within the limits of North
Carolina. Hitherto the settlers had supposed that they themselves were
governed by the Virginian law, and that their rights as against the
Indians were guaranteed by the Virginian government; but this discovery
threw them back upon their own resources. They suddenly found themselves
obliged to organize a civil government, under which they themselves
should live, and at the same time to enter into a treaty on their own
account with the neighboring Indians, to whom the land they were on
The first need was even more pressing than the second. North Carolina
was always a turbulent and disorderly colony, unable to enforce law and
justice even in the long-settled districts; so that it was wholly out of
the question to appeal to her for aid in governing a remote and outlying
community. Moreover, about the time that the Watauga commonwealth was
founded, the troubles in North Carolina came to a head. Open war ensued
between the adherents of the royal governor, Tryon, on the one hand, and
the Regulators, as the insurgents styled themselves, on the other, the
struggle ending with the overthrow of the Regulators at the battle of
As a consequence of these troubles, many people from the back counties
of North Carolina crossed the mountains, and took up their abode among
the pioneers on the Watauga and upper Holston; the beautiful valley
of the Nolichucky soon receiving its share of this stream of
immigration. Among the first comers were many members of the class of
desperate adventurers always to be found hanging round the outskirts of
frontier civilization. Horse-thieves, murderers, escaped bond-servants,
runaway debtors--all, in fleeing from the law, sought to find a secure
asylum in the wilderness. The brutal and lawless wickedness of these
men, whose uncouth and raw savagery was almost more repulsive than that
of city criminals, made it imperative upon the decent members of the
community to unite for self-protection. The desperadoes were often mere
human beasts of prey; they plundered whites and Indians impartially.
They not only by their thefts and murders exasperated the Indians into
retaliating on innocent whites, but, on the other hand, they also often
deserted their own color and went to live among the redskins, becoming
their leaders in the worst outrages.
But the bulk of the settlers were men of sterling worth; fit to be the
pioneer fathers of a mighty and beautiful state. They possessed the
courage that enabled them to defy outside foes, together with the rough,
practical commonsense that allowed them to establish a simple but
effective form of government, so as to preserve order among themselves.
To succeed in the wilderness, it was necessary to possess not only
daring, but also patience and the capacity to endure grinding toil. The
pioneers were hunters and husbandmen. Each, by the aid of axe and brand,
cleared his patch of corn land in the forest, close to some clear,
swift-flowing stream, and by his skill with the rifle won from canebrake
and woodland the game on which his family lived until the first crop was
A few of the more reckless and foolhardy, and more especially of those
who were either merely hunters and not farmers, or else who were of
doubtful character, lived entirely by themselves; but, as a rule, each
knot of settlers was gathered together into a little stockaded hamlet,
called a fort or station. This system of defensive villages was very
distinctive of pioneer backwoods life, and was unique of its kind;
without it the settlement of the west and southwest would have been
indefinitely postponed. In no other way could the settlers have combined
for defence, while yet retaining their individual ownership of the land.
The Watauga forts or palisaded villages were of the usual kind, the
cabins and blockhouses connected by a heavy loop-holed picket. They were
admirably adapted for defence with the rifle. As there was no moat,
there was a certain danger from an attack with fire unless water was
stored within; and it was of course necessary to guard carefully against
surprise. But to open assault they were practically impregnable, and
they therefore offered a sure haven of refuge to the settlers in case of
an Indian inroad. In time of peace, the inhabitants moved out, to live
in their isolated log-cabins and till the stump-dotted clearings. Trails
led through the dark forests from one station to another, as well as to
the settled districts beyond the mountains; and at long intervals men
drove along them bands of pack-horses, laden with the few indispensable
necessaries the settlers could not procure by their own labor. The
pack-horse was the first, and for a long time the only, method of
carrying on trade in the backwoods; and the business of the packer was
one of the leading frontier industries.
The settlers worked hard and hunted hard, and lived both plainly and
roughly. Their cabins were roofed with clapboards, or huge shingles,
split from the log with maul and wedge, and held in place by heavy
stones, or by poles; the floors were made of rived puncheons, hewn
smooth on one surface; the chimney was outside the hut, made of rock
when possible, otherwise of logs thickly plastered with clay that was
strengthened with hogs' bristles or deer hair; in the great fire-place
was a tongue on which to hang pot-hooks and kettle; the unglazed window
had a wooden shutter, and the door was made of great clapboards. The
men made their own harness, farming implements, and domestic utensils;
and, as in every other community still living in the heroic age, the
smith was a person of the utmost importance. There was but one thing
that all could have in any quantity, and that was land; each had all of
this he wanted for the taking,--or if it was known to belong to the
Indians, he got its use for a few trinkets or a flask of whisky. A few
of the settlers still kept some of the Presbyterian austerity of
character, as regards amusements; but, as a rule, they were fond of
horse-racing, drinking, dancing, and fiddling. The corn-shuckings,
flax-pullings, log-rollings (when the felled timber was rolled off the
clearings), house-raisings, maple-sugar-boilings, and the like were
scenes of boisterous and light-hearted merriment, to which the whole
neighborhood came, for it was accounted an insult if a man was not asked
in to help on such occasions, and none but a base churl would refuse his
assistance. The backwoods people had to front peril and hardship without
stint, and they loved for the moment to leap out of the bounds of their
narrow lives and taste the coarse pleasures that are always dear to a
strong, simple, and primitive race. Yet underneath their moodiness and
their fitful light-heartedness lay a spirit that when roused was
terrible in its ruthless and stern intensity of purpose.
Such were the settlers of the Watauga, the founders of the commonwealth
that grew into the State of Tennessee, who early in 1772 decided that
they must form some kind of government that would put down wrong-doing
and work equity between man and man. Two of their number already towered
head and shoulders above the rest in importance and merit especial
mention; for they were destined for the next thirty years to play the
chief parts in the history of that portion of the Southwest which
largely through their own efforts became the State of Tennessee. These
two men, neither of them yet thirty years of age, were John Sevier and
Robertson first came to the Watauga early in 1770. He had then been
married for two years, and had been "learning his letters and to spell"
from his well-educated wife; for he belonged to a backwoods family, even
poorer than the average, and he had not so much as received the
rudimentary education that could be acquired at an "old-field" school.
But he was a man of remarkable natural powers, above the medium
height, with wiry, robust form, light-blue eyes, fair complexion,
and dark hair; his somewhat sombre face had in it a look of
self-contained strength that made it impressive; and his taciturn,
quiet, masterful way of dealing with men and affairs, together with his
singular mixture of cool caution and most adventurous daring, gave him
an immediate hold even upon such lawless spirits as those of the border.
He was a mighty hunter; but, unlike Boon, hunting and exploration were
to him secondary affairs, and he came to examine the lands with the eye
of a pioneer settler. He intended to have a home where he could bring up
his family, and, if possible, he wished to find rich lands, with good
springs, whereto he might lead those of his neighbors who, like himself,
eagerly desired to rise in the world, and to provide for the well-being
of their children.
To find such a country Robertson, then dwelling in North Carolina,
decided to go across the mountains. He started off alone on his
exploring expedition, rifle in hand, and a good horse under him. He
crossed the ranges that continue northward the Great Smokies, and spent
the summer in the beautiful hill country where the springs of the
western waters flowed from the ground. He had never seen so lovely a
land. The high valleys, through which the currents ran, were hemmed in
by towering mountain walls, with cloud-capped peaks. The fertile loam
forming the bottoms was densely covered with the growth of the primaeval
forest, broken here and there by glade-like openings, where herds of
game grazed on the tall, thick grass.
Robertson was well treated by the few settlers, and stayed long enough
to raise a crop of corn, the stand-by of the backwoods pioneer; like
every other hunter, explorer, Indian fighter, and wilderness wanderer,
he lived on the game he shot, and the small quantity of maize he was
able to carry with him. In the late fall, however, when recrossing
the mountain on his way home through the trackless forests, both game
and corn failed him. He lost his way, was forced to abandon his horse
among impassable precipices, and finally found his rifle useless owing
to the powder having become soaked. For fourteen days he lived almost
wholly on nuts and wild berries, and was on the point of death from
starvation, when he met two hunters on horseback, who fed him and let
him ride their horses by turns, and brought him safely to his home.
Such hardships were little more than matter-of-course incidents in a
life like his; and he at once prepared to set out with his family for
the new land. His accounts greatly excited his neighbors, and sixteen
families made ready to accompany him. The little caravan started, under
Robertson's guidance, as soon as the ground had dried after the winter
rains in the spring of 1771. They travelled in the usual style of
backwoods emigrants: the men on foot, rifle on shoulder, the elder
children driving the lean cows, while the women, the young children, and
the few household goods, and implements of husbandry, were carried on
the backs of the pack-horses; for in settling the backwoods during the
last century, the pack-horse played the same part that in the present
century was taken by the canvas-covered emigrant wagon, the white-topped
Once arrived at the Watauga, the Carolina new-comers mixed readily with
the few Virginians already on the ground; and Robertson speedily became
one of the leading men in the little settlement. On an island in the
river he built a house of logs with the bark still on them on the
outside, though hewed smooth within; tradition says that it was the
largest in the settlement. Certainly it belonged to the better class of
backwoods cabins, with a loft and several rooms, a roof of split
saplings, held down by weighty poles, a log veranda in front, and a huge
fire-place, of sticks or stones laid in clay, wherein the pile of
blazing logs roared loudly in cool weather. The furniture was probably
precisely like that in other houses of the class; a rude bed, table,
settee, and chest of drawers, a spinning-jenny, and either three-legged
stools or else chairs with backs and seats of undressed deer hides.
Robertson's energy and his remarkable natural ability brought him to the
front at once, in every way; although, as already said, he had much less
than even the average backwoods education, for he could not read when he
was married, while most of the frontiersmen could not only read but also
write, or at least sign their names.
Sevier, who came to the Watauga early in 1772, nearly a year after
Robertson and his little colony had arrived, differed widely from his
friend in almost every respect save highmindedness and dauntless,
invincible courage. He was a gentleman by birth and breeding, the son of
a Huguenot who had settled in the Shenandoah Valley. He had received a
fair education, and though never fond of books, he was to the end of his
days an interested and intelligent observer of men and things, both in
America and Europe. He corresponded on intimate and equal terms with
Madison, Franklin, and others of our most polished statesmen; while
Robertson's letters, when he had finally learned to write them himself,
were almost as remarkable for their phenomenally bad spelling as for
their shrewd common-sense and homely, straightforward honesty. Sevier
was a very handsome man; during his lifetime he was reputed the
handsomest in Tennessee. He was tall, fair-skinned, blue-eyed,
brown-haired, of slender build, with erect, military carriage and
commanding bearing, his lithe, finely proportioned figure being well set
off by the hunting-shirt which he almost invariably wore. From his
French forefathers he inherited a gay, pleasure-loving temperament, that
made him the most charming of companions. His manners were polished and
easy, and he had great natural dignity. Over the backwoodsmen he
exercised an almost unbounded influence, due as much to his ready tact,
invariable courtesy, and lavish, generous hospitality, as to the skill
and dashing prowess which made him the most renowned Indian fighter of
the Southwest. He had an eager, impetuous nature, and was very
ambitious, being almost as fond of popularity as of Indian-fighting.
He was already married, and the father of two children, when he came to
the Watauga, and, like Robertson, was seeking a new and better home for
his family in the west. So far, his life had been as uneventful as that
of any other spirited young borderer; his business had been that of a
frontier Indian trader; he had taken part in one or two unimportant
Indian skirmishes. Later he was commissioned by Lord Dunmore as a
captain in the Virginia line.
Such were Sevier and Robertson, the leaders in the little frontier
outpost of civilization that was struggling to maintain itself on the
Watauga; and these two men afterwards proved themselves to be, with the
exception of George Rogers Clark, the greatest of the first generation
of Trans-Alleghany pioneers.
Their followers were worthy of them. All alike were keenly alive to the
disadvantages of living in a community where there was neither law nor
officer to enforce it. Accordingly, with their characteristic capacity
for combination, so striking as existing together with the equally
characteristic capacity for individual self-help, the settlers
determined to organize a government of their own. They promptly put
their resolution into effect early in the spring of 1772, Robertson
being apparently the leader in the movement.
They decided to adopt written articles of agreement, by which their
conduct should be governed; and these were known as the Articles of the
Watauga Association. They formed a written constitution, the first ever
adopted west of the mountains, or by a community composed of
American-born freemen. It is this fact of the early independence and
self-government of the settlers along the head-waters of the Tennessee
that gives to their history its peculiar importance. They were the first
men of American birth to establish a free and independent community on
the continent. Even before this date, there had been straggling
settlements of Pennsylvanians and Virginians along the head-waters of
the Ohio; but these settlements remained mere parts of the colonies
behind them, and neither grew into a separate community, nor played a
distinctive part in the growth of the west.
The first step taken by the Watauga settlers, when they had
determined to organize, was to meet in general convention, holding a
kind of folk-thing, akin to the New England town-meeting. They then
elected a representative assembly, a small parliament or "witanagemot,"
which met at Robertson's station. Apparently the freemen of each little
fort or palisaded village, each blockhouse that was the centre of a
group of detached cabins and clearings, sent a member to this first
frontier legislature. It consisted of thirteen representatives, who
proceeded to elect from their number five--among them Sevier and
Robertson--to form a committee or court, which should carry on the
actual business of government, and should exercise both judicial and
executive functions. This court had a clerk and a sheriff, or executive
officer, who respectively recorded and enforced their decrees. The five
members of this court, who are sometimes referred to as arbitrators, and
sometimes as commissioners, had entire control of all matters affecting
the common weal; and all affairs in controversy were settled by the
decision of a majority. They elected one of their number as chairman, he
being also ex-officio chairman of the committee of thirteen; and all
their proceedings were noted for the prudence and moderation with which
they behaved in their somewhat anomalous position. They were careful to
avoid embroiling themselves with the neighboring colonial legislatures;
and in dealing with non-residents they made them give bonds to abide by
their decision, thus avoiding any necessity of proceeding against their
persons. On behalf of the community itself, they were not only permitted
to control its internal affairs, but also to secure lands by making
treaties with a foreign power, the Indians; a distinct exercise of the
right of sovereignty. They heard and adjudicated all cases of difference
between the settlers themselves; and took measures for the common
safety. In fact the dwellers, in this little outlying frontier
commonwealth, exercised the rights of full statehood for a number of
years; establishing in true American style a purely democratic
government with representative institutions, in which, under certain
restrictions, the will of the majority was supreme, while, nevertheless,
the largest individual freedom, and the utmost liberty of individual
initiative were retained. The framers showed the American predilection
for a written constitution or civil compact; and, what was more
important, they also showed the common-sense American spirit that led
them to adopt the scheme of government which should in the simplest way
best serve their needs, without bothering their heads over mere
The court or committee held their sessions at stated and regular times,
and took the law of Virginia as their standard for decisions. They saw
to the recording of deeds and wills, settled all questions of debt,
issued marriage licenses, and carried on a most vigorous warfare against
lawbreakers, especially horse-thieves. For six years their
government continued in full vigor; then, in February, 1778, North
Carolina having organized Washington County, which included all of what
is now Tennessee, the governor of that State appointed justices of the
peace and militia officers for the new county, and the old system came
to an end. But Sevier, Robertson, and their fellow-committeemen were all
members of the new court, and continued almost without change their
former simple system of procedure and direct and expeditious methods of
administering justice; as justices of the peace they merely continued to
act as they acted while arbitrators of the Watauga Association, and in
their summary mode of dealing with evil-doers paid a good deal more heed
to the essence than to the forms of law. One record shows that a
horse-thief was arrested on Monday, tried on Wednesday, and hung on
Friday of the same week. Another deals with a claimant who, by his
attorney, moved to be sworn into his office of clerk, "but the court
swore in James Sevier, well knowing that said Sevier had been elected,"
and being evidently unwilling to waste their time hearing a contested
election case when their minds were already made up as to the equity of
the matter. They exercised the right of making suspicious individuals
leave the county. They also at times became censors of morals, and
interfered with straightforward effectiveness to right wrongs for which
a more refined and elaborate system of jurisprudence would have provided
only cumbersome and inadequate remedies. Thus one of their entries is to
the effect that a certain man is ordered "to return to his family and
demean himself as a good citizen, he having admitted in open court that
he had left his wife and took up with another woman." From the character
of the judges who made the decision, it is safe to presume that the
delinquent either obeyed it or else promptly fled to the Indians for
safety. This fleeing to the Indians, by the way, was a feat often
performed by the worst criminals--for the renegade, the man who had
"painted his face" and deserted those of his own color, was a being as
well known as he was abhorred and despised on the border, where such a
deed was held to be the one unpardonable crime.
So much for the way in which the whites kept order among themselves. The
second part of their task, the adjustment of their relations with their
red neighbors, was scarcely less important. Early in 1772 Virginia made
a treaty with the Cherokee Nation, which established as the boundary
between them a line running west from White Top Mountain in latitude 36
degrees 30'. Immediately afterwards the agent of the British
Government among the Cherokees ordered the Watauga settlers to instantly
leave their lands. They defied him, and refused to move: but feeling
the insecurity of their tenure they deputed two commissioners, of
whom Robertson was one, to make a treaty with the Cherokees. This
was successfully accomplished, the Indians leasing to the associated
settlers all the lands on the Watauga waters for the space of eight
years, in consideration of about six thousand dollars' worth of
blankets, paint, muskets, and the like. The amount advanced was
reimbursed to the men advancing it by the sale of the lands in small
parcels to new settlers, for the time of the lease.
After the lease was signed, a day was appointed on which to hold a great
race, as well as wrestling-matches and other sports, at Watauga. Not
only many whites from the various settlements, but also a number of
Indians, came to see or take part in the sports; and all went well until
the evening, when some lawless men from Wolf Hills, who had been lurking
in the woods round about, killed an Indian, whereat his fellows left
the spot in great anger.
The settlers now saw themselves threatened with a bloody and vindictive
Indian war, and were plunged in terror and despair; yet they were
rescued by the address and daring of Robertson. Leaving the others to
build a formidable palisaded fort, under the leadership of Sevier,
Robertson set off alone through the woods and followed the great war
trace down to the Cherokee towns. His mission was one of the greatest
peril, for there was imminent danger that the justly angered savages
would take his life. But he was a man who never rushed heedlessly into
purposeless peril, and never flinched from a danger which there was an
object in encountering. His quiet, resolute fearlessness doubtless
impressed the savages to whom he went, and helped to save his life;
moreover, the Cherokees knew him, trusted his word, and were probably a
little overawed by a certain air of command to which all men that were
thrown in contact with him bore witness. His ready tact and knowledge of
Indian character did the rest. He persuaded the chiefs and warriors to
meet him in council, assured them of the anger and sorrow with which all
the Watauga people viewed the murder, which had undoubtedly been
committed by some outsider, and wound up by declaring his determination
to try to have the wrong-doer arrested and punished according to his
crime. The Indians, already pleased with his embassy, finally consented
to pass the affair over and not take vengeance upon innocent men. Then
the daring backwoods diplomatist, well pleased with the success of his
mission, returned to the anxious little community.
The incident, taken in connection with the plundering of a store kept by
two whites in Holston Valley at the same time, and the unprovoked
assault on Boon's party in Powell's Valley a year later, shows the
extreme difficulty of preventing the worst men of each color from
wantonly attacking the innocent. There was hardly a peaceable red or
law-abiding white who could not recite injuries he had received from
members of the opposite race; and his sense of the wrongs he had
suffered, as well as the general frontier indifference to crimes
committed against others, made him slow in punishing similar outrages by
his own people. The Watauga settlers discountenanced wrong being done
the Indians, and tried to atone for it, but they never hunted the
offenders down with the necessary mercilessness that alone could have
prevented a repetition of their offences. Similarly, but to an even
greater degree, the good Indians shielded the bad.
For several years after they made their lease with the Cherokees the men
of the Watauga were not troubled by their Indian neighbors. They had to
fear nothing more than a drought, a freshet, a forest fire, or an
unusually deep snow-fall if hunting on the mountains in mid-winter. They
lived in peace, hunting and farming, marrying, giving in marriage, and
rearing many healthy children. By degrees they wrought out of the
stubborn wilderness comfortable homes, filled with plenty. The stumps
were drawn out of the clearings, and other grains were sown besides
corn. Beef, pork, and mutton were sometimes placed on the table, besides
the more common venison, bear meat, and wild turkey. The women wove good
clothing, the men procured good food, the log-cabins, if homely and
rough, yet gave ample warmth and shelter. The families throve, and life
was happy, even though varied with toil, danger, and hardship. Books
were few, and it was some years before the first church,--Presbyterian,
of course,--was started in the region. The backwoods Presbyterians
managed their church affairs much as they did their civil government:
each congregation appointed a committee to choose ground, to build a
meeting-house, to collect the minister's salary, and to pay all charges,
by taxing the members proportionately for the same, the committee being
required to turn in a full account, and receive instructions, at a
general session or meeting held twice every year.
Thus the Watauga folk were the first Americans who, as a separate body,
moved into the wilderness to hew out dwellings for themselves and their
children, trusting only to their own shrewd heads, stout hearts, and
strong arms, unhelped and unhampered by the power nominally their
sovereign. They built up a commonwealth which had many successors;
they showed that the frontiersmen could do their work unassisted; for
they not only proved that they were made of stuff stern enough to hold
its own against outside pressure of any sort, but they also made it
evident that having won the land they were competent to govern both it
and themselves. They were the first to do what the whole nation has
since done. It has often been said that we owe all our success to our
surroundings; that any race with our opportunities could have done as
well as we have done. Undoubtedly our opportunities have been great;
undoubtedly we have often and lamentably failed in taking advantage of
them. But what nation ever has done all that was possible with the
chances offered it? The Spaniards, the Portuguese, and the French, not
to speak of the Russians in Siberia, have all enjoyed, and yet have
failed to make good use of, the same advantages which we have turned to
good account. The truth is, that in starting a new nation in a new
country, as we have done, while there are exceptional chances to be
taken advantage of, there are also exceptional dangers and difficulties
to be overcome. None but heroes can succeed wholly in the work. It is a
good thing for us at times to compare what we have done with what we
could have done, had we been better and wiser; it may make us try in the
future to raise our abilities to the level of our opportunities. Looked
at absolutely, we must frankly acknowledge that we have fallen very far
short indeed of the high ideal we should have reached. Looked at
relatively, it must also be said that we have done better than any other
nation or race working under our conditions.
The Watauga settlers outlined in advance the nation's work. They tamed
the rugged and shaggy wilderness, they bid defiance to outside foes, and
they successfully solved the difficult problem of self-government.
1. Then called the Cherokee.
2. Volumes could be filled--and indeed it is hardly too much to say,
have been filled--with worthless "proofs" of the ownership of Iroquois,
Shawnees, or Cherokees, as the case might be. In truth, it would
probably have been difficult to get any two members of the same tribe to
have pointed out with precision the tribal limits. Each tribe's country
was elastic, for it included all lands from which it was deemed possible
to drive out the possessors. In 1773 the various parties of Long Hunters
had just the same right to the whole of the territory in question that
the Indians themselves had.
3. Campbell MSS.
"The first settlers on Holston River were a remarkable race of people
for their intelligence, enterprise, and hardy adventure. The greater
portion of them had emigrated from the counties of Botetourt, Augusta,
and Frederick, and others along the same valley, and from the upper
counties of Maryland and Pennsylvania were mostly descendants of Irish
stock, and generally where they had any religious opinions, were
Presbyterians. A very large proportion were religious, and many were
members of the church. There were some families, however, and amongst
the most wealthy, that were extremely wild and dissipated in their
"The first clergyman that came among them was the Rev. Charles
Cummings, an Irishman by birth but educated in Pennsylvania. This
gentleman was one of the first settlers, defended his domicile for
years with his rifle in hand, and built his first meeting house on the
very spot where he and two or three neighbors and one of his servants
had had a severe skirmish with the Indians, in which one of his party
was killed and another wounded. Here he preached to a very large and
most respectable congregation for twenty or thirty years. He was a
zealous whig and contributed much to kindle the patriotic fire which
blazed forth among these people in the revolutionary struggle."
This is from a MS sketch of the Holston Pioneers by the Hon. David
Campbell, a son of one of the first settlers. The Campbell family, of
Presbyterian Irish stock, first came to Pennsylvania, and drifted
south. In the revolutionary war it produced good soldiers and
commanders, such as William and Arthur Campbell. The Campbells
intermarried with the Prestons, Breckenridges and other historic
families, and their blood now runs in the veins of many of the noted
men of the States south of the Potomac and Ohio.
4. The first settlers on the Watauga included both Virginians (as
"Captain" William Bean, whose child was the first born in what is now
Tennessee, Ramsey, 94) and Carolinians (Haywood, 37). But many of these
Carolina hill people were, like Boon and Henderson, members of families
who had drifted down from the north. The position of the Presbyterian
churches in all this western hill country shows the origin of that
portion of the people which gave the tone to the rest, and, as we have
already seen, while some of the Presbyterians penetrated to the hills
from Charleston, most came down from the north. The Presbyterian blood
was, of course, Irish or Scotch, and the numerous English from the coast
regions also mingled with the two former kindred stocks, and adopted
their faith. The Huguenots, Hollanders, and many of the Germans being of
Calvinistic creed, readily assimilated themselves to the Presbyterians.
The absence of Episcopacy on the western border, while in part
indicating merely the lack of religion in the backwoods, and the natural
growth of dissent in such a society, also indicates that the people were
not of pure English descent, and were of different stock from those east
5. Campbell MSS.
6. For this settlement see especially "Civil and Political History of
the State of Tennessee," John Haywood (Knoxville, 1823), p. 37; also
"Annals of Tennessee," J. G. M. Ramsey (Charleston, 1853), p. 92,
"History of Middle Tennessee," A. W. Putnam (Nashville, 1859), p. 21,
the "Address" of the Hon. John Allison to the Tennessee Press
Association (Nashville, 1887); and the "History of Tennessee," by James
Phelan (Boston, 1888).
7. Now Abingdon.
8. It only went to Steep Rock.
9. November 5, 1768.
10. October 14, 1768, at Hard Labor, S. C., confirmed by the treaty of
October 18, 1770, at Lockabar, S. C. Both of these treaties acknowledged
the rights of the Cherokees to the major part of these northwestern
11. Anthony Bledson.
12. May 16, 1771.
13. It is said that the greatest proportion of the early settlers came
from Wake County, N. C., as did Robertson; but many of them, like
Robertson, were of Virginian birth; and the great majority were of the
same stock as the Virginian and Pennsylvanian mountaineers. Of the five
members of the "court" or governing committee of Watauga, three were of
Virginian birth, one came from South Carolina, and the origin of the
other is not specified. Ramsey, 107.
14. In Collins, II., 345, is an account of what may be termed a type
family of these frontier barbarians. They were named Harpe; and there is
something revoltingly bestial in the record of their crimes; of how they
travelled through the country, the elder brother, Micajah Harpe, with
two wives, the younger with only one; of the appalling number of murders
they committed, for even small sums of money, of their unnatural
proposal to kill all their children, so that they should not be hampered
in their flight; of their life in the woods, like wild beasts, and the
ignoble ferocity of their ends. Scarcely less sombre reading is the
account of how they were hunted down, and of the wolfish eagerness the
borderers showed to massacre the women and children as well as the men.
15. In "American Pioneers," II., 445, is a full description of the
better sort of backwoods log-cabin.
16. Both were born in Virginia; Sevier in Rockingham County, September
23, 1745, and Robertson in Brunswick County, June 28, 1742.
17. Putnam, p. 21; who, however, is evidently in error in thinking he
was accompanied by Boon, as the latter was then in Kentucky. A recent
writer revives this error in another form, stating that Robertson
accompanied Boon to the Watauga in 1769. Boon, however, left on his
travels on May 1, 1769, and in June was in Kentucky; whereas Putnam not
only informs us definitely that Robertson went to the Watauga for the
first time in 1770, but also mentions that when he went his eldest son
was already born, and this event took place in June, 1769, so that it is
certain Boon and Robertson were not together.
18. The description of his looks is taken from the statements of his
descendants, and of the grandchildren of his contemporaries.
19. The importance of maize to the western settler is shown by the fact
that in our tongue it has now monopolized the title of corn.
20. Putnam, p. 24, says it was after the battle of the Great Alamance,
which took place May 16, 1771. An untrustworthy tradition says March.
21. In examining numerous original drafts of petitions and the like,
signed by hundreds of the original settlers of Tennessee and Kentucky, I
have been struck by the small proportion--not much over three or four
per cent. at the outside--of men who made their mark instead of
22. See, in the collection of the Tenn. Hist. Soc., at Nashville, the
MS. notes containing an account of Sevier, given by one of the old
settlers named Hillsman. Hillsman especially dwells on the skill with
which Sevier could persuade the backwoodsmen to come round to his own
way of thinking, while at the same time making them believe that they
were acting on their own ideas, and adds--"whatever he had was at the
service of his friends and for the promotion of the Sevier party, which
sometimes embraced nearly all the population."
23. Mr. James Gilmore (Edmund Kirke), in his "John Sevier," makes some
assertions, totally unbacked by proof, about his hero's alleged feats,
when only a boy, in the wars between the Virginians and the Indians. He
gives no dates, but can only refer to Pontiac's war. Sevier was then
eighteen years old, but nevertheless is portrayed, among other things,
as leading "a hundred hardy borderers" into the Indian country, burning
their villages and "often defeating bodies of five times his own
numbers." These statements are supported by no better authority than
traditions gathered a century and a quarter after the event and must be
dismissed as mere fable. They show a total and rather amusing ignorance
not only of the conditions of Indian warfare, but also of the history of
the particular contest referred to. Mr. Gilmore forgets that we have
numerous histories of the war in which Sevier is supposed to have
distinguished himself, and that in not one of them is there a syllable
hinting at what he says. Neither Sevier nor any one else ever with a
hundred men defeated "five times his number" of northwestern Indians in
the woods, and during Sevier's life in Virginia, the only defeat ever
suffered by such a body of Indians was at Bushy Run, when Bouquet gained
a hard-fought victory. After the end of Pontiac's war there was no
expedition of importance undertaken by Virginians against the Indians
until 1774, and of Pontiac's war itself we have full knowledge. Sevier
was neither leader nor participant in any such marvellous feats as Mr.
Gilmore describes, on the contrary, the skirmishes in which he may have
been engaged were of such small importance that no record remains
concerning them. Had Sevier done any such deeds all the colonies would
have rung with his exploits, instead of their remaining utterly unknown
for a hundred and twenty-five years. It is extraordinary that any author
should be willing to put his name to such reckless misstatements, in
what purports to be a history and not a book of fiction.
24. The Watauga settlers and those of Carter's Valley were the first to
organize; the Nolichucky people came in later.
25. Putnam, 30.
26. The original articles of the Watauga Association have been lost, and
no copies are extant. All we know of the matter is derived from Haywood,
Ramsey, and Putnam, three historians to whose praiseworthy industry
Tennessee owes as much as Kentucky does to Marshall, Butler, and
Collins. Ramsey, by the way, chooses rather inappropriate adjectives
when he calls the government "paternal and patriarchal."
27. A very good account of this government is given in Allison's
Address, pp. 5-8, and from it the following examples are taken.
28. A right the exercise of which is of course susceptible to great
abuse, but, nevertheless, is often absolutely necessary to the
well-being of a frontier community. In almost every case where I have
personally known it exercised, the character of the individual ordered
off justified the act.
29. Allison's Address.
30. Ramsey, log. Putnam says 36 degrees 35'.
31. Alexander Cameron.
32. Haywood, 43.
33. Meanwhile Carter's Valley, then believed to lie in Virginia, had
been settled by Virginians; the Indians robbed a trader's store, and
indemnified the owners by giving them land, at the treaty of Sycamore
Shoals. This land was leased in job lots to settlers, who, however, kept
possession without paying when they found it lay in North Carolina.
34. A similar but separate lease was made by the settlers on the
Nolichucky, who acquired a beautiful and fertile valley in exchange for
the merchandize carried on the back of a single pack-horse. Among the
whites themselves transfers of land were made in very simple forms, and
conveyed not the fee simple but merely the grantor's claim.
35. Haywood says they were named Crabtree; Putnam hints that they had
lost a brother when Boon's party was attacked and his son killed; but
the attack on Boon did not take place till over a year after this time.
36. Even La Rochefoucauld-Liancourt (8, 95), who loathed the
backwoodsmen--few polished Europeans being able to see any but the
repulsive side of frontier character, a side certainly very often
prominent,--also speaks of the tendency of the worst Indians to go to
the frontier to rob and murder.
37. Salem Church was founded (Allison, 8) in 1777, by Samuel Doak, a
Princeton graduate, and a man of sound learning, who also at the same
time started Washington College, the first real institution of learning
south of the Alleghanies.
38. "Annals of Augusta," 21.
39. See Appendix.
LORD DUNMORE'S WAR, 1774.
On the eve of the Revolution, in 1774, the frontiersmen had planted
themselves firmly among the Alleghanies. Directly west of them lay the
untenanted wilderness, traversed only by the war parties of the red men,
and the hunting parties of both reds and whites. No settlers had yet
penetrated it, and until they did so there could be within its borders
no chance of race warfare, unless we call by that name the unchronicled
and unending contest in which, now and then, some solitary white
woodsman slew, or was slain by, his painted foe. But in the southwest
and the northwest alike, the area of settlement already touched the home
lands of the tribes, and hence the horizon was never quite free from the
cloud of threatening Indian war; yet for the moment the southwest was at
peace, for the Cherokees were still friendly.
It was in the northwest that the danger of collision was most imminent;
for there the whites and Indians had wronged one another for a
generation, and their interests were, at the time, clashing more
directly than ever. Much the greater part of the western frontier was
held or claimed by Virginia, whose royal governor was, at the time, Lord
Dunmore. He was an ambitious, energetic man, who held his allegiance as
being due first to the crown, but who, nevertheless, was always eager to
champion the cause of Virginia as against either the Indians or her
sister colonies. The short but fierce and eventful struggle that now
broke out was fought wholly by Virginians, and was generally known by
the name of Lord Dunmore's war.
Virginia, under her charter, claimed that her boundaries ran across to
the South Seas, to the Pacific Ocean. The king of Britain had graciously
granted her the right to take so much of the continent as lay within
these lines, provided she could win it from the Indians, French, and
Spaniards; and provided also she could prevent herself from being ousted
by the crown, or by some of the other colonies. A number of grants had
been made with the like large liberality, and it was found that they
sometimes conflicted with one another. The consequence was that while
the boundaries were well marked near the coast, where they separated
Virginia from the long-settled regions of Maryland and North Carolina,
they became exceeding vague and indefinite the moment they touched the
mountains. Even at the south this produced confusion, and induced the