Part 5 out of 6
fell by Boon's side when in command at the fatal battle of Blue Licks.
In this year also Clark and Shelby first came to Kentucky; and
many other men whose names became famous in frontier story, and whose
sufferings and long wanderings, whose strength, hardihood, and fierce
daring, whose prowess as Indian fighters and killers of big game, were
told by the firesides of Kentucky to generations born when the elk and
the buffalo had vanished from her borders as completely as the red
Indian himself. Each leader gathered round him a little party of men,
who helped him build the fort which was to be the stronghold of the
district. Among the earliest of these town-builders were Hugh McGarry,
James Harrod, and Benjamin Logan. The first named was a coarse, bold,
brutal man, always clashing with his associates (he once nearly shot
Harrod in a dispute over work). He was as revengeful and foolhardy as he
was daring, but a natural leader in spite of all. Soon after he came to
Kentucky his son was slain by Indians while out boiling sugar from the
maples; and he mercilessly persecuted all redskins for ever after.
Harrod and Logan were of far higher character, and superior to him in
every respect. Like so many other backwoodsmen, they were tall, spare,
athletic men, with dark hair and grave faces. They were as fearless as
they were tireless, and were beloved by their followers. Harrod finally
died alone in the wilderness, nor was it ever certainly known whether he
was killed by Indian or white man, or perchance by some hunted beast.
The old settlers always held up his memory as that of a man ever ready
to do a good deed, whether it was to run to the rescue of some one
attacked by Indians, or to hunt up the strayed plough-horse of a brother
settler less skilful as a woodsman; yet he could hardly read or write.
Logan was almost as good a woodsman and individual fighter, and in
addition was far better suited to lead men. He was both just and
generous. His father had died intestate, so that all of his property by
law came to Logan, who was the eldest son; but the latter at once
divided it equally with his brothers and sisters. As soon as he came to
Kentucky he rose to leadership, and remained for many years among the
foremost of the commonwealth founders.
All this time there penetrated through the sombre forests faint echoes
of the strife the men of the seacoast had just begun against the British
king. The rumors woke to passionate loyalty the hearts of the pioneers;
and a roaming party of hunters, when camped on a branch of the
Elkhorn, by the hut of one of their number, named McConnell, called the
spot Lexington, in honor of the memory of the Massachusetts minute-men,
about whose death and victory they had just heard.
By the end of 1775 the Americans had gained firm foothold in Kentucky.
Cabins had been built and clearings made; there were women and children
in the wooden forts, cattle grazed on the range, and two or three
hundred acres of corn had been sown and reaped. There were perhaps some
three hundred men in Kentucky, a hardy, resolute, strenuous band. They
stood shoulder to shoulder in the wilderness, far from all help,
surrounded by an overwhelming number of foes. Each day's work was
fraught with danger as they warred with the wild forces from which they
wrung their living. Around them on every side lowered the clouds of the
impending death struggle with the savage lords of the neighboring lands.
These backwoodsmen greatly resembled one another; their leaders were but
types of the rank and file, and did not differ so very widely from them;
yet two men stand out clearly from their fellows. Above the throng of
wood-choppers, game-hunters, and Indian fighters loom the sinewy figures
of Daniel Boon and George Rogers Clark.
1. The first permanent settlement was Harrodsburg, then called
Harrodstown, founded in 1774, but soon abandoned, and only permanently
occupied on March 18, 1775, a fortnight before Boon began the erection
of his fort.
2. The whole account of this treaty is taken from the Jefferson MSS.,
5th Series, Vol. VIII.; "a copy of the proceedings of the Virginia
Convention, from June 15 to November 19, 1777, in relation to the
Memorial of Richard Henderson, and others"; especially from the
depositions of James Robertson, Isaac Shelby, Charles Robertson,
Nathaniel Gist, and Thomas Price, who were all present. There is much
interesting matter aside from the treaty; Simon Girty makes depositions
as to Braddock's defeat and Bouquet's fight; Lewis, Croghan, and others
show the utter vagueness and conflict of the Indian titles to Kentucky,
etc., etc. Though the Cherokees spoke of the land as a "dark" or
"bloody" place or ground, it does not seem that by either of these terms
they referred to the actual meaning of the name Kentucky. One or two of
the witnesses tried to make out that the treaty was unfairly made; but
the bulk of the evidence is overwhelmingly the other way.
Haywood gives a long speech made by Oconostota against the treaty; but
this original report shows that Oconostota favored the treaty from the
outset, and that it was Dragging Canoe who spoke against it. Haywood
wrote fifty years after the event, and gathered many of his facts from
tradition; probably tradition had become confused, and reversed the
position of the two chiefs. Haywood purports to give almost the exact
language Oconostota used; but when he is in error even as to who made
the speech, he is exceedingly unlikely to be correct in any thing more
than its general tenor.
3. Then sometimes called the Louisa; a name given it at first by the
English explorers, but by great good-fortune not retained.
4. Collins, II., 498. Letter of Daniel Boon, April 1, 1775. Collins has
done good work for Kentucky history, having collected a perfect mass of
materials of every sort. But he does not discriminate between facts of
undoubted authenticity, and tales resting on the idlest legend; so that
he must be used with caution, and he is, of course, not to be trusted
where he is biassed by the extreme rancor of his political prejudices.
Of the Kentucky historians, Marshall is by far the most brilliant, and
Mann Butler the most trustworthy and impartial. Both are much better
5. Benjamin Logan; there were many of the family in Kentucky. It was a
common name along the border; the Indian chief Logan had been named
after one of the Pennsylvania branch.
6. McAfee MSS.
7. Boon's letter.
8. Richard Henderson's "Journal of an Expedition to Cantucky in 1775"
9. April 5th.
10. It is printed in the Filson Club publications; see "The Wilderness
Road," by Thomas Speed, Louisville, Ky., 1886; one of the best of an
11. It is not necessary to say that "corn" means maize; Americans do not
use the word in the sense in which it is employed in Britain.
12. McAfee MSS. Some of the McAfees returned with Henderson.
13. Boon's letter, Henderson's journal, Calk's diary, McAfee's
autobiography all mention the way in which the early settlers began to
swarm out of the country in April, 1775. To judge from their accounts,
if the movement had not been checked instantly the country would have
been depopulated in a fortnight, exactly as in 1774.
14. It must be remembered that the outrages of the Indians this year in
Kentucky were totally unprovoked; they were on lands where they did not
themselves dwell, and which had been regularly ceded to the whites by
all the tribes--Iroquois, Shawnees, Cherokees, etc.--whom the whites
could possibly consider as having any claim to them. The wrath of the
Kentuckians against all Indians is easily understood.
15. When the block-house and palisade enclosed the farm of a single
settler the "tun," in its still earlier sense, was even more nearly
16. Four hundred acres were gained at the price of $2.50 per 100 acres,
by merely building a cabin and raising a crop of corn; and every settler
with such a "cabin right" had likewise a preemption right to 1,000 acres
adjoining, for a cost that generally approached forty dollars a hundred.
17. In Mr. Phelan's scholarly "History of Tennessee," pp. 202-204, etc.,
there is an admirably clear account of the way in which Tennessee
institutions (like those of the rest of the Southwest) have been
directly and without a break derived from English institutions; whereas
many of those of New England are rather pre-Normanic revivals, curiously
paralleled in England as it was before the Conquest.
18. Boon's deposition, July 29, 1795.
19. Mann Butler, p. 31.
20. Henderson's Journal. The beauty of the elm impressed him very
greatly. According to the list of names eighteen, not seventeen, members
were elected; but apparently only seventeen took part in the
21. Henderson's Journal.
22. "Our game, the only support of life amongst many of us, and without
which the country would be abandoned ere to-morrow." Henderson's
23. Journal of the Proceedings of the House of Delegates or
Representatives of the Colony of Transylvania.
24. Possibly in 1775, certainly in 1776; MS. autobiography of Rev. Wm.
Hickman. In Durrett's library.
25. "Life of Rev. Charles Nerinckx," by Rev. Camillus P. Maes,
Cincinnati, 1880, p. 67.
26. Smyth, p. 330.
27. Gov. James T. Morehead's "address" at Boonsborough, in 1840
(Frankfort, Ky., 1841).
28. _Do._, p. 51. Mrs. Boon, Mrs. Denton, Mrs. McGarry, Mrs. Hogan;
all were from the North Carolina backwoods; their ancestry is shown by
their names. They settled in Boonsborough and Harrodsburg.
29. Like Logan he was born in Pennsylvania, of Presbyterian Irish stock.
He had received a good education.
30. Morehead, p. 52.
31. Shelby's MS. autobiography, in Durrett's Library at Louisville.
32. These frontiersmen called a stream a "run," "branch," "creek," or
"fork," but never a "brook," as in the northeast.
33. "History of Lexington," G. W. Ranck, Cincinnati, 1872, p. 19. The
town was not permanently occupied till four years later.
IN THE CURRENT OF THE REVOLUTION--THE SOUTHERN BACKWOODSMEN OVERWHELM
THE CHEROKEES, 1776.
The great western drift of our people began almost at the moment when
they became Americans, and ceased to be merely British colonists. They
crossed the great divide which sundered the springs of the seaboard
rivers from the sources of the western waters about the time that
American citizens first publicly acted as American freemen, knit
together by common ties, and with interests no longer akin to those of
the mother country. The movement which was to make the future nation a
continental power was begun immediately after the hitherto separate
colonies had taken the first step towards solidification. While the
communities of the sea-coast were yet in a fever heat from the uprising
against the stamp tax, the first explorers were toiling painfully to
Kentucky, and the first settlers were building their palisaded hamlets
on the banks of the Watauga. The year that saw the first Continental
Congress saw also the short, grim tragedy of Lord Dunmore's war. The
early battles of the Revolution were fought while Boon's comrades were
laying the foundations of their commonwealth.
Hitherto the two chains of events had been only remotely connected; but
in 1776, the year of the Declaration of Independence, the struggle
between the king and his rebellious subjects shook the whole land, and
the men of the western border were drawn headlong into the full current
of revolutionary warfare. From that moment our politics became national,
and the fate of each portion of our country was thenceforth in some sort
dependent upon the welfare of every other. Each section had its own work
to do; the east won independence while the west began to conquer the
continent. Yet the deeds of each were of vital consequence to the other.
Washington's Continentals gave the west its freedom; and took in return
for themselves and their children a share of the land that had been
conquered and held by the scanty bands of tall backwoodsmen.
The backwoodsmen, the men of the up-country, were, as a whole, ardent
adherents of the patriot or American side. Yet there were among them
many loyalists or tories; and these tories included in their ranks much
the greatest portion of the vicious and the disorderly elements. This
was the direct reverse of what obtained along portions of the seaboard,
where large numbers of the peaceable, well-to-do people stood loyally by
the king. In the up-country, however, the Presbyterian Irish, with their
fellows of Calvinistic stock and faith, formed the back-bone of the
moral and order-loving element; and the Presbyterian Irish were
almost to a man staunch and furious upholders of the Continental
Congress. Naturally, the large bands of murderers, horse-thieves, and
other wild outlaws, whom these grim friends of order hunted down with
merciless severity, were glad to throw in their lot with any party that
promised revenge upon their foes. But of course there were lawless
characters on both sides; in certain localities where the crop of
jealousies, always a rank backwoods growth, had been unusually large,
and had therefore produced long-standing and bitter feuds, the rival
families espoused opposite sides from sheer vindictive hatred of one
another. As a result, the struggle in the backwoods between tories and
whigs, king's-men and congress-men, did not merely turn upon the
questions everywhere at stake between the American and British parties.
It was also in part a fight between the law-abiding and the lawless, and
in part a slaking of savage personal animosities, wherein the borderers
glutted their vengeance on one another. They exercised without restraint
the right of private warfare, long abandoned in more civilized regions.
It was natural that such a contest should be waged with appalling
Nevertheless this very ferocity was not only inevitable, but it was in a
certain sense proper; or, at least, even if many of its manifestations
were blamable, the spirit that lay behind them was right. The
backwoodsmen were no sentimentalists; they were grim, hard,
matter-of-fact men, engaged all their lives long in an unending struggle
with hostile forces, both human and natural; men who in this struggle
had acquired many unamiable qualities, but who had learned likewise to
appreciate at their full value the inestimable virtues of courage and
common-sense. The crisis demanded that they should be both strong and
good; but, above all things, it demanded that they should be strong.
Weakness would have ruined them. It was needful that justice should
stand before mercy; and they could no longer have held their homes, had
they not put down their foes, of every kind, with an iron hand. They did
not have many theories; but they were too genuinely liberty-loving not
to keenly feel that their freedom was jeopardized as much by domestic
disorder as by foreign aggression.
The tories were obnoxious under two heads: they were the allies of a
tyrant who lived beyond the sea, and they were the friends of anarchy at
home. They were felt by the frontiersmen to be criminals rather than
ordinary foes. They included in their ranks the mass of men who had been
guilty of the two worst frontier crimes--horse-stealing and murder; and
their own feats were in the eyes of their neighbors in no way
distinguishable from those of other horse-thieves and murderers.
Accordingly the backwoodsmen soon grew to regard toryism as merely
another crime; and the courts sometimes executed equally summary justice
on tory, desperado, and stock-thief, holding each as having forfeited
The backwoodsmen were engaged in a threefold contest. In the first
place, they were occasionally, but not often, opposed to the hired
British and German soldiers of a foreign king. Next, they were engaged
in a fierce civil war with the tories of their own number. Finally, they
were pitted against the Indians, in the ceaseless border struggle of a
rude, vigorous civilization to overcome an inevitably hostile savagery.
The regular British armies, marching to and fro in the course of their
long campaigns on the seaboard, rarely went far enough back to threaten
the frontiersmen; the latter had to do chiefly with tories led by
British chiefs, and with Indians instigated by British agents.
Soon after the conflict with the revolted colonists became one of arms
as well as one of opinions the British began to rouse the Indian tribes
to take their part. In the northwest they were at first unsuccessful;
the memory of Lord Dunmore's war was still fresh in the minds of the
tribes beyond the Ohio, and they remained for the most part neutral. The
Shawnees continued even in 1776 to send in to the Americans white
prisoners collected from among their outlying bands, in accordance with
the terms of the treaty entered into on the Pickaway plains.
But the southwestern Indians were not held in check by memories of
recent defeat, and they were alarmed by the encroachments of the whites.
Although the Cherokees had regularly ceded to the Watauga settlers their
land, they still continued jealous of them; and both Creeks and
Cherokees were much irritated at the conduct of some of the lawless
Georgian frontiersmen. The colonial authorities tried to put a stop
to this lawlessness, and one of the chief offenders was actually seized
and hung in the presence of two Indians. This had a momentary effect
on the Creeks, and induced them for the time being to observe a kind of
nominal neutrality, though they still furnished bodies of warriors to
help the British and Cherokees.
The latter, however, who were the nearest neighbors of the Americans,
promptly took up the tomahawk at the bidding of the British. The royal
agents among these southern Indians had so far successfully followed
the perfectly cold-blooded though perhaps necessary policy of exciting
the tribes to war with one another, in order that they might leave the
whites at peace; but now, as they officially reported to the British
commander, General Gage, they deemed this course no longer wise, and,
instead of fomenting, they endeavored to allay, the strife between the
Chickasaws and Creeks, so as to allow the latter to turn their full
strength against the Georgians. At the same time every effort was
made to induce the Cherokees to rise, and they were promised
gunpowder, blankets, and the like although some of the promised stores
were seized by the Americans while being forwarded to the Indians.
In short, the British were active and successful in rousing the war
spirit among Creeks, Cherokees, Chocktaws, and Chickasaws, having
numerous agents in all these tribes. Their success, and the
consequent ravages of the Indians, maddened the American frontiersmen
upon whom the blow fell, and changed their resentment against the
British king into a deadly and lasting hatred, which their sons and
grandsons inherited. Indian warfare was of such peculiar atrocity that
the employment of Indians as allies forbade any further hope of
reconciliation. It is not necessary to accept the American estimate of
the motives inspiring the act in order to sympathize fully with the
horror and anger that it aroused among the frontiersmen. They saw their
homes destroyed, their wives outraged, their children captured, their
friends butchered and tortured wholesale by Indians armed with British
weapons, bribed by British gold, and obeying the orders of British
agents and commanders. Their stormy anger was not likely to be allayed
by the consideration that Congress also had at first made some effort to
enlist Indians in the patriot forces, nor were they apt to bear in mind
the fact that the British, instead of being abnormally cruel, were in
reality less so than our former French and Spanish opponents.
Looking back it is easy to see that the Indians were the natural foes of
the American people, and therefore the natural allies of the British
Government. They had constantly to fear the advance of the Americans,
while from the fur traders, Indian agents, and army officers who alone
represented Britain, they had nothing but coveted treasures of every
kind to expect. They seemed tools forged for the hands of the royal
commanders, whose own people lay far beyond the reach of reprisals in
kind; and it was perhaps too much to expect that in that age such tools
should not be used. We had less temptation to employ them, less
means wherewith to pay them, and more cause to be hostile to and dread
them; and moreover our skirts are not quite clear in the matter, after
all, for we more than once showed a tendency to bid for their support.
But, after all is said, the fact remains that we have to deal, not with
what, under other circumstances, the Americans _might_ have done,
but with what the British actually _did;_ and for this there can be
many apologies, but no sufficient excuse. When the commissioners to the
southern Indians wrote to Lord George Germain, "we have been
indefatigable in our endeavors to keep up a constant succession of
parties of Indians to annoy the rebels," the writers must have well
known, what the king's ministers should also have made it their business
to know, that the war-parties whom they thus boasted of continually
sending against the settlements directed their efforts mainly, indeed
almost exclusively, not against bodies of armed men, but against the
husbandmen as they unsuspectingly tilled the fields, and against the
women and children who cowered helplessly in the log-cabins. All men
knew that the prisoners who fell into Indian hands, of whatever age or
sex, often suffered a fate hideous and revolting beyond belief and
beyond description. Such a letter as that quoted above makes the
advisers of King George the Third directly responsible for the manifold
and frightful crimes of their red allies.
It is small wonder that such a contest should have roused in the breasts
of the frontiersmen not only ruthless and undying abhorrence of the
Indians, but also a bitterly vindictive feeling of hostility towards
Great Britain; a feeling that was all-powerful for a generation
afterwards, and traces of which linger even to the present day.
Moreover, the Indian forays, in some ways, damaged the loyalist cause.
The savages had received strict instructions not to molest any of the
king's friends; but they were far too intent on plunder and rapine
to discriminate between whig and tory. Accordingly their ravages drove
the best tories, who had at first hailed the Indian advance with joy,
into the patriot ranks, making the frontier almost solidly whig; save
for the refugees, who were willing to cast in their lot with the
While the Creeks were halting and considering, and while the Choctaws
and Chickasaws were being visited by British emissaries, the Cherokees
flung themselves on the frontier folk. They had been short of
ammunition; but when the British agents sent them fifty horse-loads by a
pack-train that was driven through the Creek towns, they no longer
hesitated. The agents showed very poor generalship in making them
rise so early, when there were no British troops in the southern States,
and when the Americans were consequently unhampered and free to deal
with the Indians. Had the rising been put off until a British army
was in Georgia, it might well have proved successful.
The Cherokee villages stood in that cluster of high mountain chains
which mark the ending of the present boundaries of Georgia and both
Carolinas. These provinces lay east and southeast of them. Directly
north were the forted villages of the Watauga pioneers, in the valley of
the upper Tennessee, and beyond these again, in the same valley, the
Virginian outpost settlements. Virginia, North and South Carolina, and
Georgia were alike threatened by the outbreak, while the Watauga people
were certain to be the chief sufferers. The Cherokees were so near the
settlements that their incursions were doubly dangerous. On the other
hand, there was not nearly as much difficulty in dealing them a
counter-blow as in the case of the northern Indians, for their towns lay
thickly together and were comparatively easy of access. Moreover, they
were not rated such formidable fighters. By comparing Lord Dunmore's war
in 1774 with this struggle against the Cherokees in 1776, it is easy to
see the difference between a contest against the northern and one
against the southern tribes. In 1776 our Indian foes were more numerous
than in 1774, for there were over two thousand Cherokee
warriors--perhaps two thousand five hundred,--assisted by a few Creeks
and tories; they were closer to the frontier, and so their ravages were
more serious; but they did not prove such redoubtable foes as
Cornstalk's warriors, their villages were easier reached, and a more
telling punishment was inflicted.
The Cherokees had been showing signs of hostility for some time. They
had murdered two Virginians the previous year; and word was brought
to the settlements, early in the summer of '76, that they were
undoubtedly preparing for war, as they were mending guns, making
moccasins and beating flour for the march. In June their ravages
began. The Otari, or Overhill Cherokees, had sent runners to the
valley towns, asking their people to wait until all were ready before
marching, that the settlements might be struck simultaneously; but some
of the young braves among the lower towns could not be restrained, and
in consequence the outlying settlers of Georgia and the Carolinas were
the first to be assailed.
The main attack was made early in July, the warriors rushing down from
their upland fastnesses in fierce and headlong haste, the different
bands marching north, east, and southeast at the same moment. From the
Holston to the Tugelou, from southwestern Virginia to northwestern
Georgia, the back-county settlements were instantly wrapped in the
sudden horror of savage warfare.
The Watauga people, the most exposed of all, received timely warning
from a friendly squaw, to whom the whites ever after showed respect
and gratitude. They at once began to prepare for the stroke; and in all
the western world of woodsmen there were no men better fitted for such a
death grapple. They still formed a typical pioneer community; and their
number had been swelled from time to time by the arrival of other bold
and restless spirits. Their westernmost settlement this year was in
Carter's valley; where four men had cleared a few acres of corn-land,
and had hunted buffalo for their winter's meat.
As soon as they learned definitely that the Otari warriors, some seven
hundred in number, were marching against them, they took refuge in their
wooden forts or stations. Among the most important of these were the one
at Watauga, in which Sevier and Robertson held command, and another
known as Baton's Station, placed just above the forks of the
Holston. Some six miles from the latter, near the Long Island or Big
Island of the Holston, lay quite a large tract of level land, covered
with an open growth of saplings, and known as the Island flats.
The Indians were divided into several bands; some of their number
crossed over into Carter's valley, and after ravaging it, passed on up
the Clinch. The settlers at once gathered in the little stockades; those
who delayed were surprised by the savages, and were slain as they fled,
or else were captured, perhaps to die by torture,--men, women, and
children alike. The cabins were burnt, the grain destroyed, the cattle
and horses driven off, and the sheep and hogs shot down with arrows; the
Indians carried bows and arrows for this express purpose, so as to avoid
wasting powder and lead. The bolder war-parties, in their search for
scalps and plunder, penetrated into Virginia a hundred miles beyond the
frontier, wasting the country with tomahawk and brand up to the
Seven-Mile Ford. The roads leading to the wooden forts were crowded
with settlers, who, in their mortal need of hurry, had barely time to
snatch up a few of the household goods, and, if especially lucky, to
mount the women and children on horses; as usual in such a flight, there
occurred many deeds of cowardly selfishness, offset by many feats of
courage and self-sacrifice. Once in the fort, the backwoodsmen often
banded into parties, and sallied out to fall on the Indians. Sometimes
these parties were worsted; at other times they overcame their foes
either by ambush or in fair fight. One such party from the Wolf Hills
fort killed eleven Indian warriors; and on their return they hung the
scalps of their slain foes, as trophies of triumph, from a pole over the
fort gate. They were Bible-readers in this fort, and they had their
Presbyterian minister with them, having organized a special party to
bring in the books he had left in his cabin; they joined in prayer and
thanksgiving for their successes; but this did not hinder them from
scalping the men they killed. They were too well-read in the merciless
wars of the Chosen People to feel the need of sparing the fallen; indeed
they would have been most foolish had they done so; for they were
battling with a heathen enemy more ruthless and terrible than ever was
Canaanite or Philistine. The two largest of the invading Indian
bands moved, one by way of the mountains, to fall on the Watauga
fort and its neighbors, and the other, led by the great war chief,
Dragging Canoe, to lay waste the country guarded by Eaton's Station.
The white scouts--trained woodsmen, whose lives had been spent in the
chase and in forest warfare--kept the commanders or headmen of the forts
well informed of the Indian advance. As soon as it was known what part
was really threatened, runners were sent to the settlements near by,
calling on the riflemen to gather at Eaton's Station; whither they
accordingly came in small bodies, under their respective militia
No man was really in command; the senior captain exercised a vague kind
of right of advice over the others, and the latter in turn got from
their men such obedience as their own personal influence was able to
procure. But the levy, if disorderly, was composed of excellent marksmen
and woodsmen, sinewy, hardy, full of fight, and accustomed to act
together. A council was held, and it was decided not to stay cooped up
in the fort, like turkeys in a pen, while the Indians ravaged the fields
and burnt the homesteads, but to march out at once and break the shock
by a counter-stroke.
Accordingly, on the morning of the twentieth of July, they filed out of
the fort, one hundred and seventy strong, and bent their steps towards
the Island Flats. Well versed in woodland warfare, the frontier riflemen
marched as well as fought on a system of their own, much more effective
for this purpose than the discipline of European regulars. The men of
this little levy walked strung out in Indian file, in two parallel
lines, with scouts in front, and flankers on each side. Marching
thus they could not be surprised, and were ready at any moment to do
battle with the Indians, in open order and taking shelter behind the
trees; while regulars, crowded together, were helpless before the
savages whom the forest screened from view, and who esteemed it an easy
task to overcome any number of foes if gathered in a huddle.
When near the Flats the whites, walking silently with moccasined feet,
came suddenly on a party of twenty Indians, who, on being attacked, fled
in the utmost haste, leaving behind ten of their bundles--for the
southern warriors carried with them, when on the war-path, small bundles
containing their few necessaries.
After this trifling success a council was held, and, as the day was
drawing to a close, it was decided to return to the fort. Some of the
men were dissatisfied with the decision, and there followed an incident
as characteristic in its way as was the bravery with which the battle
was subsequently fought. The discontented soldiers expressed their
feelings freely, commenting especially upon the supposed lack of courage
on the part of one of the captains. The latter, after brooding over the
matter until the men had begun to march off the ground towards home,
suddenly halted the line in which he was walking, and proceeded to
harangue the troops in defence of his own reputation. Apparently no one
interfered to prevent this remarkable piece of military
self-justification; the soldiers were evidently accustomed openly to
criticise the conduct of their commanders, while the latter responded in
any manner they saw fit. As soon as the address was over, and the lines
once more straightened out, the march was renewed in the original order;
and immediately afterwards the scouts brought news that a considerable
body of Indians, misled by their retreat, was running rapidly up to
assail their rear.
The right file was promptly wheeled to the right and the left to the
left, forming a line of battle a quarter of a mile long, the men taking
advantage of the cover when possible. There was at first some confusion
and a momentary panic, which was instantly quelled, the officers and
many of the men joining to encourage and rally the few whom the
suddenness of the attack rendered faint-hearted. The Otari warriors,
instead of showing the usual Indian caution, came running on at headlong
speed, believing that the whites were fleeing in terror; while still
some three hundred yards off they raised the war-whoop and charged
without halting, the foremost chiefs hallooing out that the white men
were running, and to come on and scalp them. They were led by Dragging
Canoe himself, and were formed very curiously, their centre being
cone-shaped, while their wings were curved outward; apparently they
believed the white line to be wavering and hoped to break through its
middle at the same time that they outflanked it, trusting to a single
furious onset instead of to their usual tactics. The result showed
their folly. The frontiersmen on the right and left scattered out still
farther, so that their line could not be outflanked; and waiting coolly
till the Otari were close up, the whites fired into them. The long
rifles cracked like four-horse whips; they were held in skilful hands,
many of the assailants fell, and the rush was checked at once. A short
fight at close quarters ensued here and there along the line, Dragging
Canoe was struck down and severely wounded, and then the Indians fled in
the utmost confusion, every man for himself. Yet they carried off their
wounded and perhaps some of their dead. The whites took thirteen scalps,
and of their own number but four were seriously hurt; they also took
many guns and much plunder.
In this battle of the Island Flats the whites were slightly
superior in number to their foes; and they won without difficulty,
inflicting a far heavier loss than they received. In this respect it
differs markedly from most other Indian fights of the same time; and
many of its particulars render it noteworthy. Moreover, it had a very
good effect, cheering the frontiersmen greatly, and enabling them to
make head against the discouraged Indians.
On the same day the Watauga fort was attacked by a large force at
sunrise. It was crowded with women and children, but contained only
forty or fifty men. The latter, however, were not only resolute and
well-armed, but were also on the alert to guard against surprise; the
Indians were discovered as they advanced in the gray light, and were at
once beaten back with loss from the loopholed stockade. Robertson
commanded in the fort, Sevier acting as his lieutenant. Of course, the
only hope of assistance was from Virginia, North Carolina being
separated from the Watauga people by great mountain chains; and Sevier
had already notified the officers of Fincastle that the Indians were
advancing. His letter was of laconic brevity, and contained no demand
for help; it was merely a warning that the Indians were undoubtedly
about to start, and that "they intended to drive the country up to New
River before they returned"--so that it behooved the Fincastle men to
look to their own hearthsides. Sevier was a very fearless, self-reliant
man, and doubtless felt confident that the settlers themselves could
beat back their assailants. His forecast proved correct; for the
Indians, after maintaining an irregular siege of the fort for some three
weeks, retired, almost at the moment that parties of frontiersmen came
to the rescue from some of the neighboring forts.
While the foe was still lurking about the fort the people within were
forced to subsist solely on parched corn; and from time to time some of
them became so irritated by the irksome monotony of their confinement,
that they ventured out heedless of the danger. Three or four of them
were killed by the Indians, and one boy was carried off to one of their
towns, where he was burnt at the stake; while a woman who was also
captured at this time was only saved from a like fate by the exertions
of the same Cherokee squaw already mentioned as warning the settlers.
Tradition relates that Sevier, now a young widower, fell in love with
the woman he soon afterwards married during the siege. Her name was Kate
Sherrill. She was a tall girl, brown-haired, comely, lithe and supple
"as a hickory sapling." One day while without the fort she was almost
surprised by some Indians. Running like a deer, she reached the
stockade, sprang up so as to catch the top with her hands, and drawing
herself over, was caught in Sevier's arms on the other side; through a
loop-hole he had already shot the headmost of her pursuers.
Soon after the baffled Otari retreated from Robertson's fort the other
war parties likewise left the settlements. The Watauga men together with
the immediately adjoining Virginian frontiersmen had beaten back their
foes unaided, save for some powder and lead they had received from the
older settlements; and moreover had inflicted more loss than they
suffered. They had made an exceedingly vigorous and successful
The outlying settlements scattered along the western border of the
Carolinas and Georgia had been attacked somewhat earlier; the Cherokees
from the lower towns, accompanied by some Creeks and Tories, beginning
their ravages in the last days of June. A small party of Georgians
had, just previously, made a sudden march into the Cherokee country.
They were trying to capture the British agent Cameron, who, being
married to an Indian wife, dwelt in her town, and owned many negroes,
horses, and cattle. The Cherokees, who had agreed not to interfere,
broke faith and surprised the party, killing some and capturing others
who were tortured to death.
The frontiers were soon in a state of wild panic; for the Cherokee
inroad was marked by the usual features. Cattle were driven off, houses
burned, plantations laid waste, while the women and children were
massacred indiscriminately with the men. The people fled from their
homes and crowded into the stockade forts; they were greatly hampered by
the scarcity of guns and ammunition, as much had been given to the
troops called down to the coast by the war with Britain. All the
southern colonies were maddened by the outbreak; and prepared for
immediate revenge, knowing that if they were quick they would have time
to give the Cherokees a good drubbing before the British could
interfere. The plan was that they should act together, the
Virginians invading the Overhill country at the same time that the
forces from North and South Carolina and Georgia destroyed the valley
and lower towns. Thus the Cherokees would be crushed with little danger.
It proved impossible, however, to get the attacks made quite
The back districts of North Carolina suffered heavily at the outset;
however, the inhabitants showed that they were able to take care of
themselves. The Cherokees came down the Catawba murdering many people;
but most of the whites took refuge in the little forts, where they
easily withstood the Indian assaults. General Griffith Rutherford raised
a frontier levy and soon relieved the besieged stations. He sent word to
the provincial authorities that if they could only get powder and lead
the men of the Salisbury district were alone quite capable of beating
off the Indians, but that if it was intended to invade the Cherokee
country he must also have help from the Hillsborough men. He was
promised assistance, and was told to prepare a force to act on the
offensive with the Virginians and South Carolinians.
Before he could get ready the first counter-blow had been struck by
Georgia and South Carolina. Georgia was the weakest of all the colonies,
and the part it played in this war was but trifling. She was threatened
by British cruisers along the coast, and by the Tories of Florida; and
there was constant danger of an uprising of the black slaves, who
outnumbered the whites. The vast herds of cattle and great rice
plantations of the south offered a tempting bait to every foe. Tories
were numerous in the population, while there were incessant bickerings
with the Creeks, frequently resulting in small local wars, brought on as
often by the faithlessness and brutality of the white borderers as by
the treachery and cruelty of the red. Indeed the Indians were only kept
quiet by presents, it being an unhappy feature of the frontier troubles
that while lawless whites could not be prevented from encroaching on the
Indian lands, the Indians, in turn could only be kept at peace with the
law-abiding by being bribed.
Only a small number of warriors invaded Georgia. Nevertheless they
greatly harassed the settlers, capturing several families and fighting
two or three skirmishes with varying results. By the middle of July
Col. Samuel Jack took the field with a force of two hundred rangers,
all young men, the old and infirm being left to guard the forts. The
Indians fled as soon as he had embodied his troops, and towards the end
of the month he marched against one or two of their small lower towns,
which he burned, destroying the grain and driving off the cattle. No
resistance was offered, and he did not lose a man.
The heaviest blow fell on South Carolina, where the Cherokees were led
by Cameron himself, accompanied by most of his tories. Some of his
warriors came from the lower towns that lay along the Tugelou and
Keowee, but most were from the middle towns, in the neighborhood of the
Tellico, and from the valley towns that lay well to the westward of
these, among the mountains, along the branches of the Hiawassee and
Chattahoochee rivers. Falling furiously on the scattered settlers, they
killed them or drove them into the wooden forts, ravaging, burning, and
murdering as elsewhere, and sparing neither age nor sex. Col. Andrew
Williamson was in command of the western districts, and he at once began
to gather together a force, taking his station at Picken's Fort, with
forty men, on July 3d. It was with the utmost difficulty that he
could get troops, guns, or ammunition; but his strenuous and unceasing
efforts were successful, and his force increased day by day. It is worth
noting that these lowland troops were for the most part armed with
smoothbores, unlike the rifle-bearing mountaineers. As soon as he could
muster a couple of hundred men he left the fort and advanced towards
the Indians, making continual halts, so as to allow the numerous
volunteers that were flocking to his standard to reach him. At the same
time the Americans were much encouraged by the repulse of an assault
made just before daylight on one of the forts. The attacking party
was some two hundred strong, half of them being white men, naked and
painted like the Indians; but after dark, on the evening before the
attack, a band of one hundred and fifty American militia, on their way
to join Williamson, entered the fort. The assault was made before dawn;
it was promptly repulsed, and at daybreak the enemy fled, having
suffered some loss; thirteen of the tories were captured, but the more
nimble Indians escaped.
By the end of July, Williamson had gathered over eleven hundred
militia (including two small rifle companies), and advanced against
the Indian towns, sending his spies and scouts before him. On the last
day of the month he made a rapid night march, with three hundred and
fifty horsemen, to surprise Cameron, who lay with a party of tories and
Indians, encamped at Oconoree Creek, beyond the Cherokee town of
Eseneka, which commanded the ford of the river Keowee. The cabins and
fenced gardens of the town lay on both sides of the river. Williamson
had been told by his prisoners that the hither bank was deserted, and
advanced heedlessly, without scouts or flankers. In consequence he fell
into an ambush, for when he reached the first houses, hidden Indians
suddenly fired on him from front and flank. Many horses, including that
of the commander, were shot down, and the startled troops began a
disorderly retreat, firing at random. Col. Hammond rallied about twenty
of the coolest, and ordering them to reserve their fire, he charged the
fence from behind which the heaviest hostile fire came. When up to it,
they shot into the dark figures crouching behind it, and jumping over
charged home. The Indians immediately fled, leaving one dead and three
wounded in the hands of the whites. The action was over; but the
by-no-means-reassured victors had lost five men mortally and thirteen
severely wounded, and were still rather nervous. At daybreak Williamson
destroyed the houses near by, and started to cross the ford. But his
men, in true militia style, had become sulky and mutinous, and refused
to cross, until Col. Hammond swore he would go alone, and plunged into
the river, followed by three volunteers, whereupon the whole army
crowded after. The revulsions in their feelings was instantaneous; once
across they seemed to have left all fear as well as all prudence behind.
On the hither side there had been no getting them to advance; on the
farther there was no keeping them together, and they scattered
everywhere. Luckily the Indians were too few to retaliate; and besides
the Cherokees were not good marksmen, using so little powder in their
guns that they made very ineffective weapons. After all the houses had
been burned, and some six thousand bushels of corn, besides peas and
beans, destroyed, Williamson returned to his camp. Next day he renewed
his advance, and sent out detachments against all the other lower towns,
utterly destroying every one by the middle of August, although not
without one or two smart skirmishes. His troops were very much
elated, and only the lack of provisions prevented his marching against
the middle towns. As it was, he retired to refit, leaving a garrison of
six hundred men at Eseneka, which he christened Fort Rutledge. This
ended the first stage of the retaliatory campaign, undertaken by the
whites in revenge for the outbreak. The South Carolinians, assisted
slightly by a small independent command of Georgians, who acted
separately, had destroyed the lower Cherokee towns, at the same time
that the Watauga people repulsed the attack of the Overhill warriors.
The second and most important movement was to be made by South Carolina,
North Carolina, and Virginia jointly, each sending a column of two
thousand men, the two former against the middle and valley, the
latter against the Overhill towns. If the columns acted together the
Cherokees would be overwhelmed by a force three times the number of all
their warriors. The plan succeeded well, although the Virginia division
was delayed so that its action, though no less effective, was much later
than that of the others, and though the latter likewise failed to act in
Rutherford and his North Carolinians were the first to take the
field. He had an army of two thousand gunmen, besides pack-horsemen
and men to tend the drove of bullocks, together with a few Catawba
Indians,--a total of twenty-four hundred. On September 1st he left
the head of the Catawba, and the route he followed was long known by
the name of Rutherford's trace. There was not a tent in his army, and
but very few blankets; the pack-horses earned the flour, while the beef
was driven along on the hoof. Officers and men alike wore homespun
hunting-shirts trimmed with colored cotton; the cloth was made from
hemp, tow, and wild-nettle bark.
He passed over the Blue Ridge at Swananoa Gap, crossed the French Broad
at the Warriors' Ford, and then went through the mountains to the
middle towns, a detachment of a thousand men making a forced march in
advance. This detachment was fired at by a small band of Indians from an
ambush, and one man was wounded in the foot; but no further resistance
was made, the towns being abandoned. The main body coming up,
parties of troops were sent out in every direction, and all of the
middle towns were destroyed. Rutherford had expected to meet Williamson
at this place, but the latter did not appear, and so the North Carolina
commander determined to proceed alone against the valley towns along the
Hiawassee. Taking with him only nine hundred picked men, he attempted to
cross the rugged mountain chains which separated him from his
destination; but he had no guide, and missed the regular pass--a
fortunate thing for him, as it afterwards turned out, for he thus
escaped falling into an ambush of five hundred Cherokees who were
encamped along it. After in vain trying to penetrate the tangle of
gloomy defiles and wooded peaks, he returned to the middle towns at
Canucca on September 18th. Here he met Williamson, who had just arrived,
having been delayed so that he could not leave Fort Rutledge until the
13th. The South Carolinians, two thousand strong, had crossed the
Blue Ridge near the sources of the Little Tennessee.
While Rutherford rested Williamson, on the 19th, pushed on through
Noewee pass, and fell into the ambush which had been laid for the
former. The pass was a narrow, open valley, walled in by steep and lofty
mountains. The Indians waited until the troops were struggling up to the
outlet, and then assailed them with a close and deadly fire. The
surprised soldiers recoiled and fell into confusion; and they were for
the second time saved from disaster by the gallantry of Colonel Hammond,
who with voice and action rallied them, endeavoring to keep them firm
while a detachment was sent to clamber up the rocks and outflank the
Indians. At the same time Lieutenant Hampton got twenty men together,
out of the rout, and ran forward, calling out: "Loaded guns advance,
empty guns fall down and load." Being joined by some thirty men more he
pushed desperately upwards. The Indians fled from the shock; and the
army thus owed its safety solely to two gallant officers. Of the whites
seventeen were killed and twenty-nine wounded; they took fourteen
Although the distance was but twenty odd miles, it took Williamson five
days of incredible toil before he reached the valley towns. The troops
showed the utmost patience, clearing a path for the pack-train along the
sheer mountain sides and through the dense, untrodden forests in the
valleys. The trail often wound along cliffs where a single misstep of a
pack-animal resulted in its being dashed to pieces. But the work, though
fatiguing, was healthy; it was noticed that during the whole expedition
not a man was laid up for any length of time by sickness.
Rutherford joined Williamson immediately afterwards, and together they
utterly laid waste the valley towns; and then, in the last week of
September, started homewards. All the Cherokee settlements west of the
Appalachians had been destroyed from the face of the earth, neither
crops nor cattle being left; and most of the inhabitants were obliged to
take refuge with the Creeks.
Rutherford reached home in safety, never having experienced any real
resistance; he had lost but three men in all. He had killed twelve
Indians, and had captured nine more, besides seven whites and four
negroes. He had also taken piles of deerskins, a hundred-weight of
gunpowder and twenty-five hundred pounds of lead; and, moreover, had
wasted and destroyed to his heart's content.
Williamson, too, reached home without suffering further damage, entering
Fort Rutledge on October 7th. In his two expeditions he had had
ninety-four men killed and wounded, but he had done much more harm than
any one else to the Indians. It was said the South Carolinians had taken
seventy-five scalps; at any rate, the South Carolina Legislature had
offered a reward of L75 for every warrior's scalp, as well as L100 for
every Indian, and L80 for every tory or negro, taken prisoner. But
the troops were forbidden to sell their prisoners as slaves--not a
needless injunction, as is shown by the fact that when it was issued
there had already been at least one case in Williamson's own army where
a captured Indian was sold into bondage.
The Virginian troops had meanwhile been slowly gathering at the Great
Island of the Holston, under Colonel William Christian, preparatory to
assaulting the Overhill Cherokees. While they were assembling the
Indians threatened them from time to time; once a small party of braves
crossed the river and killed a soldier near the main post of the army,
and also killed a settler; a day or two later another war-party slipped
by towards the settlements, but on being pursued by a detachment of
militia faced about and returned to their town. On the first of
October the army started, two thousand strong, including some troops
from North Carolina, and all the gunmen who could be spared from the
little stockaded hamlets scattered along the Watauga, the Holston, and
the Clinch. Except a small force of horse-riflemen the men were on foot,
each with tomahawk, scalping-knife, and long, grooved flint-lock; all
were healthy, well equipped, and in fine spirits, driving their
pack-horses and bullocks with them. Characteristically enough a
Presbyterian clergyman, following his backwoods flock, went along with
this expedition as chaplain. The army moved very cautiously, the night
encampments being made behind breastworks of felled timbers. There was
therefore no chance for a surprise; and their great inferiority in
number made it hopeless for the Cherokees to try a fair fight. In their
despair they asked help from the Creeks; but the latter replied that
they had plucked the thorn of warfare from their (the Creeks') foot, and
were welcome to keep it.
The Virginians came steadily on until they reached the Big Island of
the French Broad. Here the Cherokees had gathered their warriors,
and they sent a tory trader across with a flag of truce. Christian well
knowing that the Virginians greatly outnumbered the Indians, let the man
go through his camp at will, and sent him back with word that the
Cherokee towns were doomed, for that he would surely march to them and
destroy them. That night he left half of his men in camp, lying on their
arms by the watch-fires, while with the others he forded the river below
and came round to surprise the Indian encampment from behind; but he
found that the Indians had fled, for their hearts had become as water,
nor did they venture at any time, during this expedition, to molest the
white forces. Following them up, Christian reached the towns early in
November, and remained two weeks, sending out parties to burn the
cabins and destroy the stores of corn and potatoes. The Indians sent
in a flag to treat for peace, surrendering the horses and prisoners they
had taken, and agreeing to fix a boundary and give up to the settlers
the land they already had, as well as some additional territory.
Christian made peace on these terms and ceased his ravages, but he
excepted the town of Tuskega, whose people had burned alive the boy
taken captive at Watauga. This town he reduced to ashes.
Nor would the chief Dragging Canoe accept peace at all; but gathering
round him the fiercest and most unruly of the young men, he left the
rest of the tribe and retired to the Chickamauga fastnesses.
When the preliminary truce had been made Christian marched his forces
homeward, and disbanded them a fortnight before Christmas, leaving a
garrison at Holston, Great Island. During the ensuing spring and summer
peace treaties were definitely concluded between the Upper Cherokees and
Virginia and North Carolina at the Great Island of the Holston, and
between the Lower Cherokees and South Carolina and Georgia at De Witt's
Corners. The Cherokees gave up some of their lands; of the four seacoast
provinces South Carolina gained most, as was proper, for she had done
and suffered most.
The Watauga people and the westerners generally were the real gainers by
the war. Had the Watauga settlements been destroyed, they would no
longer have covered the Wilderness Road to Kentucky; and so Kentucky
must perforce have been abandoned. But the followers of Robertson and
Sevier stood stoutly for their homes; not one of them fled over the
mountains. The Cherokees had been so roughly handled that for several
years they did not again go to war as a body; and this not only gave the
settlers a breathing time, but also enabled them to make themselves so
strong that when the struggle was renewed they could easily hold their
own. The war was thus another and important link in the chain of events
by which the west was won; and had any link in the chain snapped during
these early years, the peace of 1783 would probably have seen the
trans-Alleghany country in the hands of a non-American power.
1. Mr. Phelan, in his "History of Tennessee," deserves especial praise
for having so clearly understood the part played by the Scotch-Irish.
2. The Campbell MSS. contain allusions to various such feuds, and
accounts of the jealousies existing not only between families, but
between prominent members of the same family.
3. See Milfort, Smyth, etc., as well as the native writers.
4. Executions for "treason," murder, and horse-stealing were very
common. For an instance where the three crimes were treated alike as
deserving the death penalty the perpetrators being hung, see Calendar of
Virginia State Papers, Vol. III., p. 361.
5. "American Archives," 4th Series, Vol. VI., p. 541. But parties of
young braves went on the war-path from time to time.
6. _Do._, Vol III., p. 790.
7. _Do._, Vol. VI., p. 1228.
8. See Milfort, pp. 46, 134, etc.
9. "American Archives," 4th Series, Vol. I., p. 1094, for example of
fight between Choctaws and Creeks.
10. _Do._, Vol. IV., p. 317. Letter of Agent John Stuart to General
Gage, St. Augustine, Oct. 3, 1775.
11. State Department MSS. No. 71, Vol. II., p. 189. Letter of David
Taitt, Deputy Superintendent (of British) in Creek Nation.
12. "American Archives," Vol. III., p. 218, August 21, 1775. _Do.,_
p. 790 September 25, 1775.
13. State Department MSS., No. 51, Vol. II., p. 17 (volume of
"Intercepted Letters"). Letters of Andrew Rainsford, John Mitchell, and
Alex McCullough, to Rt. Hon. Lord George Germain.
14. No body of British troops in the Revolution bore such a dark stain
on its laurels as the massacre at Fort William Henry left on the banners
of Montcalm; even the French, not to speak of the Spaniards and
Mexicans, were to us far more cruel foes than the British, though
generally less formidable. In fact the British, as conquerors and rulers
in America, though very disagreeable, have not usually been either
needlessly cruel nor (relatively speaking) unjust, and compare rather
favorably with most other European nations.
15. Though it must be remembered that in our own war with Mexico we
declined the proffered--and valuable--aid of the Comanches.
16. State Department MSS. "Intercepted Letters," Pensacola, July 12,
18. "Am. Archives," 5th Series, I., 610.
19. Stuart and Cameron; the latter dwelt among them, and excited them to
war. "Am. Archives," 5th Series, III., 649.
20. The only British attempt made at that time against the southern
colonies was in too small force, and failed.
21. "American Archives," 4th Series, Vol. III., p. 1112.
22. _Do.,_ 5th Series, Vol. I., p. III.
23. _Do.,_ 4th Series, Vol. VI., p. 1229.
24. Her name was Nancy Ward. Campbell MSS., Haywood, etc.
25. Ramsey, 144. The buffalo were killed (winter of 1775-1776) twelve
miles northeast of Carter's valley.
26. Haywood and his followers erroneously call it Heaton's: in the
Campbell MSS., as well as the "Am. Archives," 5th Series, I., p. 464, it
is called Eaton's or Amos Eaton's. This is contemporary authority. Other
forts were Evan Shelby's, John Shelby's, Campbell's, the Wommack Fort,
27. "Am. Archives," 5th Series, I., 973.
28. "American Pioneers," I., 534. Letter of Benjamin Sharp, who was in
the fort at the time as a boy fourteen years old.
29. Many writers speak as if all the Indians were in these two bands,
which was not so. It is impossible to give their numbers exactly;
probably each contained from 150 to 300 warriors.
30. James Thompson, James Shelby, William Buchanan, John Campbell,
William Cocke, and Thomas Madison. See their letter of August 2, 1776,
"Am. Archives," 5th Series, I., 464. Haywood, relying on tradition, says
five companies gathered; he is invaluable as an authority, but it must
be kept in mind that he often relies on traditional statement.
31. The report of the six captains says "two divisions"; from Haywood we
learn that the two divisions were two lines, evidently marching side by
side, there being a right line and a left line.
32. See James Smith, _passim._
33. Among the later Campbell MSS. are a number of copies of papers
containing traditional accounts of this battle. They are mostly very
incorrect, both as to the numbers and losses of the Indians and whites,
and as to the battle itself very little help can be derived from them.
34. Campbell MSS.
35. Campell MSS.
36. Tennessee historians sometimes call it the battle of Long Island;
which confuses it with Washington's defeat of about the same date.
37. The captains' report says the Indians were "not inferior" in
numbers; they probably put them at a maximum. Haywood and all later
writers greatly exaggerate the Indian numbers; as also their losses,
which are commonly placed at "over 40," of "26 being left dead on the
ground." In reality only 13 were so left; but in the various skirmishes
on the Watauga about this time, from the middle of July to the middle of
August, the backwoodsmen took in all 26 scalps, and one prisoner
("American Archives," 5th Series, I., 973). This is probably the origin
of the "26 dead" story; the "over 40" being merely a flourish. Ramsey
gives a story about Isaac Shelby rallying the whites to victory, and
later writers of course follow and embellish this; but Shelby's MS.
autobiography (see copy in Col. Durrett's library at Louisville) not
only makes no mention of the battle, but states that Shelby was at this
time in Kentucky; he came back in August or September, and so was
hundreds of miles from the place when the battle occurred. Ramsey gives
a number of anecdotes of ferocious personal encounters that took place
during the battle. Some of them are of very doubtful value--for instance
that of the man who killed six of the most daring Indians himself (the
total number killed being only thirteen), and the account of the Indians
all retreating when they saw another of their champions vanquished. The
climax of absurdity is reached by a recent writer, Mr. Kirke, who, after
embodying in his account all the errors of his predecessors and adding
several others on his own responsibility, winds up by stating that "two
hundred and ten men under Sevier and [Isaac] Shelby ... beat back ...
fifteen thousand Indians." These numbers can only be reached by
comparing an exaggerated estimate of all the Cherokees, men, women, and
children, with the white men encountered by a very small proportion of
the red warriors in the first two skirmishes. Moreover, as already
shown, Shelby was nowhere near the scene of conflict, and Sevier was
acting as Robertson's subaltern.
38. Another fort, called Fort Lee, had been previously held by Sevier
but had been abandoned; see Phelan, p. 42.
39. "American Archives," 5th Series, I., 973; 500 women and children.
40. Campbell MSS. Haywood says that the first help came from Evan
Shelby; Col. Russell, at Baton's Station proving dilatory. In the
Campbell MSS. are some late letters written by sons of the Captain
Campbell who took part in the Island Flats fight, denying this
41. "American Archives," 5th Series, I., 973. Of the Watauga settlers
eighteen men, two women, and several children had been killed; two or
three were taken captive. Of the Indians twenty-six were scalped;
doubtless several others were slain. Of course these figures only apply
to the Watauga neighborhood.
42. _Do.,_ p 611.
43. "History of Georgia," Hugh McCall, Savannah, 1816, p. 76.
44. "Am. Archives," 5th Series, I., 610.
45. _Do.,_ 4th Series, VI, 1228.
46. _Do.,_ 5th Series, I., 613.
47. _Do.,_ 5th Series, I., 7, and III., 649. The Georgia
frontiersmen seem to have been peculiarly brutal in their conduct to the
Creeks; but the latter were themselves very little, if at all, better.
48. McCall; five families captured, in three skirmishes eight whites
were killed and six Indian scalps taken.
49. McCall; the Tennessee historians erroneously assign the command to
50. "View of South Carolina," John Drayton, Charleston, 1802, p. 231. A
very good book.
51. More exactly two hundred and twenty-two, on the 8th of July.
52. _E.g._, at Hogskin Creek and Barker's Creek.
53. Lyndley's Fort, on Rayborn Creek.
54. Eleven hundred and fifty-one, of whom one hundred and thirty were
riflemen. He was camped at Twenty-three Mile Creek.
55. At Tomassee, where he put to flight a body of two or three hundred
warriors, he lost eight killed and fifteen wounded, and at Tugelou, four
wounded. Besides these two towns, he also destroyed Soconee, Keowee,
Ostatay, Cherokee, Eustustie, Sugaw Town, and Brass Town.
56. All militia of course, with only the training they had received on
the rare muster days; but a warlike set, utterly unlike ordinary
militia, and for woodland work against savages in many respects much
superior to European regulars. This campaign against the Cherokees was
infinitely more successful than that waged in 1760 against the same foe
by armies of grenadiers and highlanders.
57. That is, after the return of the South Carolinians from their
destruction of the lower towns.
58. "Historical Sketches of North Carolina," John H. Wheeler, Phil.,
1851, p. 383.
59. "Am. Archives," 5th Series, Vol. II., p. 1235.
60. Up Hominy Creek, across the Pigeon, up Richland Creek, across
Tuckaseigee River, over Cowee Mount.
61. "Am. Archives," 5th Series, II., p. 1235.
63. Drayton. There was a good deal of jealousy between the two armies
and their reports conflict on some points.
64. There is some conflict in the accounts of the destruction of the
valley towns; after carefully comparing the accounts in the "American
Archives," Drayton, White, Ramsey, etc., I believe that the above is
substantially accurate. However it is impossible to reconcile all of the
accounts of the relative order of Rutherford's and Williamson's marches.
65. Drayton; the "Am. Archives" say only twelve killed and twenty
wounded. In another skirmish at Cheowee three South Carolinians were
66. "Am. Archives," 5th Series, II., p. 1235.
68. _Do._, p. 990; Drayton puts the total Cherokee loss at two
69. _Do._, Vol III., p. 33.
70. These two events took place on September 26th and 29th; "Am.
Archives," 5th Series, Vol. II., p. 540. Ramsey is thus wrong in saying
no white was killed on this expedition.
71. McAfee MSS.; one of the McAfees went along and preserved a rough
diary of dates.
72. "History of Virginia," John Burke (continued by L. H. Girardin),
Petersburg, 1816, p. 176.
73. After camping a few days at Double Springs, the head-waters of Lick
Creek, to let all the Watauga men come up.
74. They sent spies in advance. The trail led through forests and marshy
canebrakes; across Nolichucky, up Long Creek and down Dunplin Creek to
the French Broad. Haywood and Ramsey.
75. McAfee MSS.
76. Nov. 5th. _Do._
77. Nov. 8th. _Do._
78. The boundary then established between the Cherokees and Watauga
people was known as Brown's Line.
79. As a very rough guess after a careful examination of all the
authorities, it may be said that in this war somewhat less than two
hundred Indians were slain, all warriors. The loss of the whites in war
was probably no greater; but it included about as many more women and
children. So that perhaps two or three times as many whites as Indians
were killed, counting in every one.
GROWTH AND CIVIL ORGANIZATION OF KENTUCKY, 1776.
By the end of 1775 Kentucky had been occupied by those who were
permanently to hold it. Stouthearted men, able to keep what they had
grasped moved in, and took with them their wives and children. There was
also of course a large shifting element, composing, indeed, the bulk of
the population: hunters who came out for the season; "cabinners," or men
who merely came out to build a cabin and partially clear a spot of
ground, so as to gain a right to it under the law; surveyors, and those
adventurers always to be found in a new country, who are too restless,
or too timid, or too irresolute to remain.
The men with families and the young men who intended to make permanent
homes formed the heart of the community, the only part worth taking into
account. There was a steady though thin stream of such immigrants, and
they rapidly built up around them a life not very unlike that which they
had left behind with their old homes. Even in 1776 there was marrying
and giving in marriage, and children were born in Kentucky. The
new-comers had to settle in forts, where the young men and maidens had
many chances for courtship. They married early, and were as fruitful as
they were hardy. Most of these marriages were civil contracts, but
some may have been solemnized by clergymen, for the commonwealth
received from the outset occasional visits from ministers.
These ministers belonged to different denominations, but all were sure
of a hearing. The backwoodsmen were forced by their surroundings to
exercise a grudging charity towards the various forms of religious
belief entertained among themselves--though they hated and despised
French and Spanish Catholics. When off in the wilderness they were
obliged to take a man for what he did, not for what he thought. Of
course there were instances to the contrary, and there is an amusing and
authentic story of two hunters, living alone and far from any
settlement, who quarrelled because one was a Catholic and the other a
Protestant. The seceder took up his abode in a hollow tree within
speaking distance of his companion's cabin. Every day on arising they
bade each other good-morning; but not another word passed between them
for the many months during which they saw no other white face. There
was a single serious and important, albeit only partial, exception to
this general rule of charity. After the outbreak of the Revolution, the
Kentuckians, in common with other backwoodsmen, grew to thoroughly
dislike one religious body which they already distrusted; this was the
Church of England, the Episcopal Church. They long regarded it as merely
the persecuting ecclesiastical arm of the British Government. Such of
them as had been brought up in any faith at all had for the most part
originally professed some form of Calvinism; they had very probably
learnt their letters from a primer which in one of its rude cuts
represented John Rogers at the stake, surrounded by his wife and seven
children, and in their after lives they were more familiar with the
"Pilgrim's Progress" than with any other book save the Bible; so that it
was natural for them to distrust the successors of those who had
persecuted Rogers and Bunyan. Still, the border communities were, as
times then went very tolerant in religious matters; and of course most
of the men had no chance to display, or indeed to feel, sectarianism of
any kind, for they had no issue to join, and rarely a church about which
By the time Kentucky was settled the Baptists had begun to make headway
on the frontier, at the expense of the Presbyterians. The rough
democracy of the border welcomed a sect which was itself essentially
democratic. To many of the backwoodsmen's prejudices, notably their
sullen and narrow hostility towards all rank, whether or not based on
merit and learning, the Baptists' creed appealed strongly. Where their
preachers obtained foothold, it was made a matter of reproach to the
Presbyterian clergymen that they had been educated in early life for the
ministry as for a profession. The love of liberty, and the defiant
assertion of equality, so universal in the backwoods, and so excellent
in themselves, sometimes took very warped and twisted forms, notably
when they betrayed the backwoodsmen into the belief that the true
democratic spirit forbade any exclusive and special training for the
professions that produce soldiers, statesmen, or ministers.
The fact that the Baptist preachers were men exactly similar to their
fellows in all their habits of life, not only gave them a good standing
at once, but likewise enabled them very early to visit the farthest
settlements, travelling precisely like other backwoodsmen; and once
there, each preacher, each earnest professor, doing bold and fearless
missionary work, became the nucleus round which a little knot of true
believers gathered. Two or three of them made short visits to Kentucky
during the first few years of its existence. One, who went thither in
the early spring of 1776, kept a journal of his trip. He travelled
over the Wilderness Road with eight other men. Three of them were
Baptists like himself, who prayed every night; and their companions,
though they did not take part in the praying, did not interrupt it.
Their journey through the melancholy and silent wilderness resembled in
its incidents the countless other similar journeys that were made at
that time and later.
They suffered from cold and hunger and lack of shelter; they became
footsore and weary, and worn out with driving the pack-horses. On the
top of the lonely Cumberland Mountains they came upon the wolf-eaten
remains of a previous traveller, who had recently been killed by
Indians. At another place they met four men returning--cowards, whose
hearts had failed them when in sight of the promised land. While on the
great Indian war-trail they killed a buffalo, and thenceforth lived on
its jerked meat. One night the wolves smelt the flesh, and came up to
the camp-fire; the strong hunting-dogs rushed out with clamorous barking
to drive them away, and the sudden alarm for a moment made the sleepy
wayfarers think that roving Indians had attacked them. When they reached
Crab Orchard their dangers were for the moment past; all travellers grew
to regard with affection the station by this little grove of wild
apple-trees. It is worthy of note that the early settlers loved to build
their homes near these natural orchards, moved by the fragrance and
beauty of the bloom in spring.
The tired Baptist was not overpleased with Harrodstown, though he there
listened to the preaching of one of his own sect. He remarked "a poor
town it was in those days," a couple of rows of smoky cabins, tenanted
by dirty women and ragged children, while the tall, unkempt frontiersmen
lounged about in greasy hunting-shirts, breech-clouts, leggings, and
moccasins. There was little or no corn until the crops were gathered,
and, like the rest, he had to learn to eat wild meat without salt. The
settlers,--as is always the case in frontier towns where the people are
wrapped up in their own pursuits and rivalries, and are obliged to talk
of one another for lack of outside interests,--were divided by
bickering, gossiping jealousies; and at this time they were quarrelling
as to whether the Virginian cabin-rights or Henderson's land-grants
would prove valid. As usual, the zealous Baptist preacher found that the
women were the first to "get religion," as he phrased it. Sometimes
their husbands likewise came in with them; at other times they remained
indifferent. Often they savagely resented their wives and daughters
being converted, visiting on the head of the preacher an anger that did
not always find vent in mere words; for the backwoodsmen had strong,
simple natures, powerfully excited for good or evil, and those who were
not God-fearing usually became active and furious opponents of all
It is curious to compare the description of life in a frontier fort as
given by this undoubtedly prejudiced observer with the equally
prejudiced, but golden- instead of sombre-hued, reminiscences of
frontier life, over which the pioneers lovingly lingered in their old
age. To these old men the long-vanished stockades seemed to have held a
band of brothers, who were ever generous, hospitable, courteous, and
fearless, always ready to help one another, never envious, never
flinching from any foe. Neither account is accurate; but the last is
quite as near the truth as the first. On the border, as elsewhere, but
with the different qualities in even bolder contrast, there was much
both of good and bad, of shiftless viciousness and resolute honesty.
Many of the hunters were mere restless wanderers, who soon surrendered
their clearings to small farming squatters, but a degree less shiftless
than themselves; the latter brought the ground a little more under
cultivation, and then likewise left it and wandered onwards, giving
place to the third set of frontiersmen, the steady men who had come to
stay. But often the first hunters themselves stayed and grew up as
farmers and landed proprietors. Many of the earliest pioneers,
including most of their leaders, founded families, which took root in
the land and flourish to this day, the children, grandchildren, and
great-grandchildren of the old-time Indian fighters becoming Congressmen
and judges, and officers in the regular army and in the Federal and
Confederate forces during the civil war. In fact the very first
comers to a wild and dangerous country are apt to be men with fine
qualities of heart and head; it is not until they have partly tamed the
land that the scum of the frontier drifts into it.
In 1776, as in after years, there were three routes that were taken by
immigrants to Kentucky. One led by backwoods trails to the Greenbriar
settlements, and thence down the Kanawha to the Ohio; but the travel
over this was insignificant compared to that along the others. The two
really important routes were the Wilderness Road, and that by water,
from Fort Pitt down the Ohio River. Those who chose the latter way
embarked in roughly built little flat-boats at Fort Pitt, if they came
from Pennsylvania, or else at the old Redstone Fort on the Monongahela,
if from Maryland or Virginia, and drifted down with the current. Though
this was the easiest method, yet the danger from Indians was so very
great that most immigrants, the Pennsylvanians as well as the
Marylanders, Virginians, and North Carolinians, usually went
overland by the Wilderness Road. This was the trace marked out by Boon,
which to the present day remains a monument to his skill as a practical
surveyor and engineer. Those going along it went on foot, driving their
horses and cattle. At the last important frontier town they fitted
themselves out with pack-saddles; for in such places two of the leading
industries were always those of the pack-saddle maker and the artisan in
deer leather. When there was need, the pioneer could of course make a
rough pack-saddle for himself, working it up from two forked branches of
a tree. If several families were together, they moved slowly in true
patriarchal style. The elder boys drove the cattle, which usually headed
the caravan; while the younger children were packed in crates of hickory
withes and slung across the backs of the old quiet horses, or else were
seated safely between the great rolls of bedding that were carried in
similar fashion. The women sometimes rode and sometimes walked, carrying
the babies. The men, rifle on shoulder, drove the pack-train, while some
of them walked spread out in front, flank, and rear, to guard against
the savages. A tent or brush lean-to gave cover at night. Each
morning the men packed the animals while the women cooked breakfast and
made ready the children. Special care had to be taken not to let the
loaded animals brush against the yellow-jacket nests, which were always
plentiful along the trail in the fall of the year; for in such a case
the vicious swarms attacked man and beast, producing an immediate
stampede, to the great detriment of the packs. In winter the fords
and mountains often became impassable, and trains were kept in one place
for weeks at a time, escaping starvation only by killing the lean
cattle; for few deer at that season remained in the mountains.
Both the water route and the wilderness road were infested by the
savages at all times, and whenever there was open war the sparsely
settled regions from which they started were likewise harried. When the
northwestern tribes threatened Fort Pitt and Fort Henry--or Pittsburg
and Wheeling, as they were getting to be called,--they threatened one of
the two localities which served to cover the communications with
Kentucky; but it was far more serious when the Holston region was
menaced, because the land travel was at first much the more important.
The early settlers of course had to suffer great hardship even when they
reached Kentucky. The only two implements the men invariably carried
were the axe and rifle, for they were almost equally proud of their
skill as warriors, hunters, and wood-choppers. Next in importance came
the sickle or scythe. The first three tasks of the pioneer farmer were
to build a cabin, to make a clearing--burning the brush, cutting down
the small trees, and girdling the large--and to plant corn. Until the
crop ripened he hunted steadily, and his family lived on the abundant
game, save for which it would have been wholly impossible to have
settled Kentucky so early. If it was winter-time, however, all the wild
meat was very lean and poor eating, unless by chance a bear was found in
a hollow tree, when there was a royal feast, the breast of the wild
turkey serving as a substitute for bread. If the men were suddenly
called away by an Indian inroad, their families sometimes had to live
for days on boiled tops of green nettles. Naturally the children
watched the growth of the tasselled corn with hungry eagerness until the
milky ears were fit for roasting. When they hardened, the grains were
pounded into hominy in the hominy-block, or else ground into meal in the
rough hand-mill, made of two limestones in a hollow sycamore log. Until
flax could be grown the women were obliged to be content with lint made
from the bark of dead nettles. This was gathered in the spring-time by
all the people of a station acting together, a portion of the men
standing guard while the rest, with the women and children, plucked the
dead stalks. The smart girls of Irish ancestry spun many dozen cuts of
linen from this lint, which was as fine as flax but not so strong.
Neither hardship nor danger could render the young people downhearted,
especially when several families, each containing grown-up sons and
daughters, were living together in almost every fort. The chief
amusements were hunting and dancing. There being no permanent ministers,
even the gloomy Calvinism of some of the pioneers was relaxed. Long
afterwards one of them wrote, in a spirit of quaint apology, that
"dancing was not then considered criminal," and that it kept up the
spirits of the young people, and made them more healthy and happy; and
recalling somewhat uneasily the merriment in the stations, in spite of
the terrible and interminable Indian warfare, the old moralist felt
obliged to condemn it, remarking that, owing to the lack of ministers of
the gospel, the impressions made by misfortune were not improved.
Though obliged to be very careful and to keep their families in forts,
and in spite of a number of them being killed by the savages, the
settlers in 1776 were able to wander about and explore the country
thoroughly, making little clearings as the basis of "cabin claims,"
and now and then gathering into stations which were for the most part
broken up by the Indians and abandoned. What was much more
important, the permanent settlers in the well-established stations
proceeded to organize a civil government.
They by this time felt little but contempt for the Henderson or
Transylvania government. Having sent a petition against it to the
provincial authorities, they were confident that what faint shadow of
power it still retained would soon vanish; so they turned their
attention to securing a representation in the Virginia convention. All
Kentucky was still considered as a part of Fincastle County, and the
inhabitants were therefore unrepresented at the capital. They determined
to remedy this; and after due proclamation, gathered together at
Harrodstown early in June, 1776. During five days an election was held,
and two delegates were chosen to go to Williamsburg, then the seat of
This was done at the suggestion of Clark, who, having spent the winter
in Virginia had returned to Kentucky in the spring. He came out alone
and on foot, and by his sudden appearance surprised the settlers not a
little. The first to meet him was a young lad, who had gone a few
miles out of Harrodstown to turn some horses on the range. The boy had
killed a teal duck that was feeding in a spring, and was roasting it
nicely at a small fire, when he was startled by the approach of a fine
soldierly man, who hailed him: "How do you do my little fellow? What is
your name? Ar'n't you afraid of being in the woods by yourself?" The
stranger was evidently hungry, for on being invited to eat he speedily
finished the entire duck; and when the boy asked his name he answered
that it was Clark, and that he had come out to see what the brave
fellows in Kentucky were doing, and to help them if there was need. He
took up his temporary abode at Harrodstown--visiting all the forts,
however, and being much in the woods by himself,--and his commanding
mind and daring, adventurous temper speedily made him, what for ten
critical years he remained, the leader among all the bold "hunters of
Kentucky"--as the early settlers loved to call themselves.
He had advised against delegates to the convention being chosen,
thinking that instead the Kentuckians should send accredited agents to
treat with the Virginian government. If their terms were not agreed to,
he declared that they ought to establish forthwith an independent state;
an interesting example of how early the separatist spirit showed itself
in Kentucky. But the rest of the people were unwilling to go quite as
far. They elected two delegates, Clark of course being one. With them
they sent a petition for admission as a separate county. They were
primarily farmers, hunters, Indian fighters--not scholars; and their
petition was couched in English that was at times a little crooked; but
the idea at any rate was perfectly straight, and could not be
misunderstood. They announced that if they were admitted they would
cheerfully cooperate in every measure to secure the public peace and
safety, and at the same time pointed out with marked emphasis "how
impolitical it would be to suffer such a Respectable Body of Prime
Riflemen to remain in a state of neutrality" during the then existing
Armed with this document and their credentials, Clark and his companion
set off across the desolate and Indian-haunted mountains. They travelled
very fast, the season was extremely wet, and they did not dare to kindle
fires for fear of the Indians; in consequence they suffered torments
from cold, hunger, and especially from "scalded" feet. Yet they hurried
on, and presented their petition to the Governor and Council--the
Legislature having adjourned. Clark also asked for five hundred-weight
of gunpowder, of which the Kentucky settlement stood in sore and
pressing need. This the Council at first refused to give; whereupon
Clark informed them that if the country was not worth defending, it was
not worth claiming, making it plain that if the request was not granted,
and if Kentucky was forced to assume the burdens of independence, she
would likewise assume its privileges. After this plain statement the
Council yielded. Clark took the powder down the Ohio River, and got it
safely through to Kentucky; though a party sent under John Todd to
convey it overland from the Limestone Creek was met at the Licking and
defeated by the Indians, Clark's fellow delegate being among the killed.
Before returning Clark had attended the fall meeting of the Virginia
Legislature, and in spite of the opposition of Henderson, who was
likewise present, he procured the admission of Kentucky as a separate
county, with boundaries corresponding to those of the present State.
Early in the ensuing year, 1777, the county was accordingly organized;
Harrodstown, or Harrodsburg, as it was now beginning to be called, was
made the county seat, having by this time supplanted Boonsborough in
importance. The court was composed of the six or eight men whom the
governor of Virginia had commissioned as justices of the peace; they
were empowered to meet monthly to transact necessary business, and had a
sheriff and clerk. These took care of the internal concerns of the
settlers. To provide for their defence a county lieutenant was created,
with the rank of colonel, who forthwith organized a militia
regiment, placing all the citizens, whether permanent residents or not,
into companies and battalions. Finally, two burgesses were chosen to
represent the county in the General Assembly of Virginia. In later
years Daniel Boon himself served as a Kentucky burgess in the Virginia
Legislature; a very different body from the little Transylvanian
parliament in which he began his career as a law-maker. The old
backwoods hero led a strange life: varying his long wanderings and
explorations, his endless campaigns against savage men and savage
beasts, by serving as road-maker, town-builder, and commonwealth-founder,
sometimes organizing the frontiersmen for foreign war, and again doing
his share in devising the laws under which they were to live and prosper.
But the pioneers were speedily drawn into a life-and-death struggle
which engrossed their whole attention to the exclusion of all merely
civil matters; a struggle in which their land became in truth what the
Indians called it--a dark and bloody ground, a land with blood-stained
It was impossible long to keep peace on the border between the
ever-encroaching whites and their fickle and blood-thirsty foes. The
hard, reckless, often brutalized frontiersmen, greedy of land and
embittered by the memories of untold injuries, regarded all Indians with
sullen enmity, and could not be persuaded to distinguish between the
good and the bad. The central government was as powerless to
restrain as to protect these far-off and unruly citizens. On the other
hand, the Indians were as treacherous as they were ferocious; Delawares,
Shawnees, Wyandots, and all. While deceiving the commandants of the
posts by peaceful protestations, they would steadily continue their
ravages and murders; and while it was easy to persuade a number of the
chiefs and warriors of a tribe to enter into a treaty, it was impossible
to make the remainder respect it. The chiefs might be for peace, but
the young braves were always for war, and could not be kept back.
In July, 1776, the Delawares, Shawnees, and Mingo chiefs assembled at
Fort Pitt and declared for neutrality; the Iroquois ambassadors, who
were likewise present, haughtily announced that their tribes would
permit neither the British nor the Americans to march an army through
their territory. They disclaimed any responsibility for what might be
done by a few wayward young men; and requested the Delawares and
Shawnees to do as they had promised, and to distribute the Iroquois
"talk" among their people. After the Indian fashion, they emphasized
each point which they wished kept in mind by the presentation of a
string of wampum.
Yet at this very time a party of Mingos tried to kill the American
Indian agents, and were only prevented by Cornstalk, whose noble and
faithful conduct was so soon to be rewarded by his own brutal murder.
Moreover, while the Shawnee chief was doing this, some of his warriors
journeyed down to the Cherokees and gave them the war belt, assuring
them that the Wyandots and Mingos would support them, and that they
themselves had been promised ammunition by the French traders of Detroit
and the Illinois. On their return home this party of Shawnees
scalped two men in Kentucky near the Big Bone Lick, and captured a
woman; but they were pursued by the Kentucky settlers, two were killed
and the woman retaken.
Throughout the year the outlook continued to grow more and more
threatening. Parties of young men kept making inroads on the
settlements, especially in Kentucky; not only did the Shawnees,
Wyandots, Mingos, and Iroquois act thus, but they were even joined
by bands of Ottawas, Pottawatomies, and Chippewas from the lakes, who
thus attacked the white settlers long ere the latter had either the will
or the chance to hurt them.
Until the spring of 1777 the outbreak was not general, and it was
supposed that only some three or four hundred warriors had taken up the
tomahawk. Yet the outlying settlers were all the time obliged to
keep as sharp a look-out as if engaged in open war. Throughout the
summer of 1776 the Kentucky settlers were continually harassed. Small
parties of Indians were constantly lurking round the forts, to shoot
down the men as they hunted or worked in the fields, and to carry off
the women. There was a constant and monotonous succession of unimportant
forays and skirmishes.
One band of painted marauders carried off Boon's daughter. She was in a
canoe with two other girls on the river near Boonsborough when they were
pounced on by five Indians. As soon as he heard the news Boon went
in pursuit with a party of seven men from the fort, including the three
lovers of the captured girls. After following the trail all of one day
and the greater part of two nights, the pursuers came up with the
savages, and, rushing in, scattered or slew them before they could
either make resistance or kill their captives. The rescuing party then
returned in triumph to the fort.
Thus for two years the pioneers worked in the wilderness, harassed by
unending individual warfare, but not threatened by any formidable
attempt to oust them from the lands that they had won. During this
breathing spell they established civil government, explored the country,
planted crops, and built strongholds. Then came the inevitable struggle.
When in 1777 the snows began to melt before the lengthening spring days,
the riflemen who guarded the log forts were called on to make head
against a series of resolute efforts to drive them from Kentucky.
1. Imlay, p. 55, estimated that from natural increase the population of
Kentucky doubled every fifteen years,--probably an exaggeration.
2. Hale's "Trans-Alleghany Pioneers," p. 251.
3. "Pioneer Life in Kentucky," Daniel Drake, Cincinnati, 1870, p. 196
(an invaluable work).
4. MS. autobiography of Rev. William Hickman. He was born in Virginia,
February 4, 1747. A copy in Col. Durrett's library at Louisville, Ky.
5. There were at least three such "Crab-Orchard" stations in Virginia,
Kentucky, and Tennessee. The settlers used the word "crab" precisely as
6. A Mr. Finley. Hickman MS.
7. McAfee MSS.
8. McAfee MSS.
9. Such was the case with the Clarks, Boons, Seviers, Shelbys,
Robertsons, Logans, Cockes, Crocketts, etc.; many of whose descendants
it has been my good-fortune personally to know.
10. This is as true to-day in the far west as it was formerly in
Kentucky and Tennessee; at least to judge by my own experience in the
Little Missouri region, and in portions of the Kootenai, Coeur d'Alene,
and Bighorn countries.
11. McAfee MSS. See also "Trans-Alleghany Pioneers," p. III. As Mr. Hale
points out, this route, which was travelled by Floyd, Bullitt, the
McAfees, and many others, has not received due attention, even in
Colonel Speed's invaluable and interesting "Wilderness Road."
12. Up to 1783 the Kentucky immigrants came from the backwoods of
Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, and North Carolina, and were of almost
precisely the same character as those that went to Tennessee. See Imlay,
p. 168. At the close of the Revolutionary war, Tennessee and Kentucky
were almost alike in population. But after that time the population of
Kentucky rapidly grew varied, and the great immigration of upper-class
Virginians gave it a peculiar stamp of its own. By 1796, when Logan was
defeated for governor, the control of Kentucky had passed out of the
hands of the pioneers; whereas in Tennessee the old Indian fighters
continued to give the tone to the social life of the State, and remained
in control until they died.
13. McAfee MSS. Just as the McAfee family started for Kentucky, the wife
of one of their number, George, was confined. The others had to leave
her; but at the first long halt the husband hurried back, only to meet
his wife on the way; for she had ridden after them just three days after
her confinement, taking her baby along.
14. "Pioneer Biography," James McBride (son of a pioneer who was killed
by the Indians in 1789 in Kentucky), p. 183, Cincinnati, 1869. One of
the excellent series published by Robert Clarke & Co., to whom American
historians owe a special and unique debt of gratitude.
15. McAfee MSS.
16. McBride, II., 197.
17. McAfee MSS.
19. Morehead, App. Floyd's letter.
20. They retained few Indian names; Kentucky in this respect differing
from most other sections of the Union. The names were either taken from
the explorers, as Floyd's Fork; or from some natural peculiarity, as the
Licking, so called from the number of game licks along its borders; or
else they commemorated some incident. On Dreaming Creek Boon fell asleep
and dreamed he was stung by yellow-jackets. The Elkhorn was so named
because a hunter, having slain a monstrous bull elk, stuck up its horns
on a pole at the mouth. At Bloody Run several men were slain. Eagle
Branch was so called because of the many bald eagles round it. See
21. Marshall, 45.
22. Afterwards General William Ray. Butler, p. 37.
23. Petition of the committee of West Fincastle, dated June 20, 1776. It
is printed in Col. John Mason Brown's "Battle of the Blue Licks"
24. Patrick Henry.
25. Among their number were John Todd (likewise chosen burgess--in these
early days a man of mark often filled several distinct positions at the
same time), Benj. Logan, Richard Galloway, John Bowman, and John Floyd;
the latter was an educated Virginian, who was slain by the Indians
before his fine natural qualities had time to give him the place he
would otherwise assuredly have reached.
26. The first colonel was John Bowman.
27. John Dodd and Richard Calloway. See Diary of Geo. Rogers Clark, in
1776. Given by Morehead, p. 161.
28. Butler, 166.
29. The Iroquois, as well as the Cherokees, used these expressions
concerning portions of the Ohio valley. Heckewelder, 118.
30. State Department MSS., No. 147, Vol. VI., March 15, 1781.
31. As one instance among many see Haldimand MSS., letter of Lt. Col.
Hamilton, August 17, 1778, where Girty reported, on behalf of the
Delawares, the tribe least treacherous to the Americans, that even these
Indians were only going in to Fort Pitt and keeping up friendly
relations with its garrison so as to deceive the whites, and that as
soon as their corn was ripe they would move off to the hostile tribes.
32. State Department MSS., No. 150, Vol. I., p. 107. Letter of Captain
33. State Department MSS., No. 150, Vol. I., p. 115. Examination of John
34. "Am. Archives," 5th Series, Vol. I., p. 36.
35. "The Olden Time," Neville B. Craig, II., p. 115.
36. "Am. Archives," 5th Series, Vol. I., p. 111.
37. _Do_., p. 137.
38. _Do._, Vol. II., pp. 516, 1236.
39. When Cornstalk was so foully murdered by the whites; although the
outbreak was then already started.
40. Madison MSS. But both the American statesmen and the Continental
officers were so deceived by the treacherous misrepresentations of the
Indians that they often greatly underestimated the numbers of the
Indians on the war-path; curiously enough, their figures are frequently
much more erroneous than those of the frontiersmen. Thus the Madison
MSS. and State Department MSS. contain statements that only a few
hundred northwestern warriors were in the field at the very time that
two thousand had been fitted out at Detroit to act along the Ohio and
Wabash; as we learn from De Peyster's letter to Haldimand of May 17,
1780 (in the Haldimand MSS.).
41. On July 14, 1776. The names of the three girls were Betsy and Fanny
Callaway and Jemima Boon, See Boon's Narrative, and Butler, who gives
the letter of July 21, 1776, written by Col. John Floyd, one of the
The names of the lovers, in their order, were Samuel Henderson (a
brother of Richard), John Holder, and Flanders Callaway. Three weeks
after the return to the fort Squire Boon united in marriage the eldest
pair of lovers, Samuel Henderson and Betsey Callaway. It was the first
wedding that ever took place in Kentucky. Both the other couples were
likewise married a year or two later.
The whole story reads like a page out of one of Cooper's novels. The two
younger girls gave way to despair when captured, but Betsey Callaway was
sure they would be followed and rescued. To mark the line of their
flight she broke off twigs from the bushes, and when threatened with the
tomahawk for doing this, she tore off strips from her dress. The Indians
carefully covered their trail, compelling the girls to walk apart, as
their captors did, in the thick cane, and to wade up and down the little
Boon started in pursuit the same evening. All next day he followed the
tangled trail like a bloodhound, and early the following morning came on
the Indians, camped by a buffalo calf which they had just killed and
were about to cook. The rescue was managed very adroitly, for had any
warning been given the Indians would have instantly killed their
captives, according to their invariable custom. Boon and Floyd each shot
one of the savages, and the remaining three escaped almost naked,
without gun, tomahawk, or scalping-knife. The girls were unharmed, for
the Indians rarely molested their captives on the journey to the home
towns, unless their strength gave out, when they were tomahawked without
APPENDIX A--TO CHAPTER IV.
It is greatly to be wished that some competent person would write a full
and true history of our national dealings with the Indians. Undoubtedly
the latter have often suffered terrible injustice at our hands. A number
of instances, such as the conduct of the Georgians to the Cherokees in
the early part of the present century, or the whole treatment of Chief
Joseph and his Nez Perces, might be mentioned, which are indelible blots
on our fair fame; and yet, in describing our dealings with the red men
as a whole, historians do us much less than justice.
It was wholly impossible to avoid conflicts with the weaker race, unless
we were willing to see the American continent fall into the hands of
some other strong power; and even had we adopted such a ludicrous
policy, the Indians themselves would have made war upon us. It cannot be
too often insisted that they did not own the land; or, at least, that
their ownership was merely such as that claimed often by our own white
hunters. If the Indians really owned Kentucky in 1775, then in 1776 it
was the property of Boon and his associates; and to dispossess one party
was as great a wrong as to dispossess the other. To recognize the Indian
ownership of the limitless prairies and forests of this continent--that
is, to consider the dozen squalid savages who hunted at long intervals
over a territory of a thousand square miles as owning it
outright--necessarily implies a similar recognition of the claims of
every white hunter, squatter, horse-thief, or wandering cattle-man. Take
as an example the country round the Little Missouri. When the
cattle-men, the first actual settlers, came into this land in 1882, it
was already scantily peopled by a few white hunters and trappers. The
latter were extremely jealous of intrusion; they had held their own in
spite of the Indians, and, like the Indians, the inrush of settlers and
the consequent destruction of the game meant their own undoing; also,
again like the Indians, they felt that their having hunted over the soil
gave them a vague prescriptive right to its sole occupation, and they
did their best to keep actual settlers out. In some cases, to avoid
difficulty, their nominal claims were bought up; generally, and rightly,
they were disregarded. Yet they certainly had as good a right to the
Little Missouri country as the Sioux have to most of the land on their
present reservations. In fact, the mere statement of the case is
sufficient to show the absurdity of asserting that the land really
belonged to the Indians. The different tribes have always been utterly
unable to define their own boundaries. Thus the Delawares and Wyandots,
in 1785, though entirely separate nations, claimed and, in a certain
sense, occupied almost exactly the same territory.
Moreover, it was wholly impossible for our policy to be always
consistent. Nowadays we undoubtedly ought to break up the great Indian
reservations, disregard the tribal governments, allot the land in
severally (with, however, only a limited power of alienation), and
treat the Indians as we do other citizens, with certain exceptions,
for their sakes as well as ours. But this policy, which it would be
wise to follow now, would have been wholly impracticable a century
since. Our central government was then too weak either effectively to
control its own members or adequately to punish aggressions made upon
them; and even if it had been strong, it would probably have proved
impossible to keep entire order over such a vast, sparsely-peopled
frontier, with such turbulent elements on both sides. The Indians
could not be treated as individuals at that time. There was no
possible alternative, therefore, to treating their tribes as nations,
exactly as the French and English had done before us. Our difficulties
were partly inherited from these, our predecessors, were partly caused
by our own misdeeds, but were mainly the inevitable result of the
conditions under which the problem had to be solved; no human wisdom
or virtue could have worked out a peaceable solution. As a nation, our
Indian policy is to be blamed, because of the weakness it displayed,
because of its shortsightedness, and its occasional leaning to the
policy of the sentimental humanitarians; and we have often promised
what was impossible to perform; but there has been little wilful
wrong-doing. Our government almost always tried to act fairly by the
tribes; the governmental agents (some of whom have been dishonest, and
others foolish, but who, as a class, have been greatly traduced), in
their reports, are far more apt to be unjust to the whites than to the
reds; and the Federal authorities, though unable to prevent much of
the injustice, still did check and control the white borderers very
much more effectually than the Indian sachems and war-chiefs
controlled their young braves. The tribes were warlike and
bloodthirsty, jealous of each other and of the whites; they claimed
the land for their hunting grounds, but their claims all conflicted
with one another; their knowledge of their own boundaries was so
indefinite that they were always willing, for inadequate compensation,
to sell land to which they had merely the vaguest title; and yet, when
once they had received the goods, were generally reluctant to make
over even what they could; they coveted the goods and scalps of the
whites, and the young warriors were always on the alert to commit
outrages when they could do it with impunity. On the other hand, the
evil-disposed whites regarded the Indians as fair game for robbery and
violence of any kind; and the far larger number of well-disposed men,
who would not willingly wrong any Indian, were themselves maddened by
the memories of hideous injuries received. They bitterly resented the
action of the government, which, in their eyes, failed to properly
protect them, and yet sought to keep them out of waste, uncultivated
lands which they did not regard as being any more the property of the
Indians than of their own hunters. With the best intentions, it was
wholly impossible for any government to evolve order out of such a
chaos without resort to the ultimate arbitrator--the sword.
The purely sentimental historians take no account of the difficulties
under which we labored, nor of the countless wrongs and provocations
we endured, while grossly magnifying the already lamentably large
number of injuries for which we really deserve to be held responsible.
To get a fair idea of the Indians of the present day, and of our
dealings with them, we have fortunately one or two excellent books,
notably "Hunting Grounds of the Great West," and "Our Wild Indians,"
by Col. Richard I. Dodge (Hartford, 1882), and "Massacres of the
Mountains," by J. P. Dunn (New York, 1886). As types of the opposite
class, which are worse than valueless, and which nevertheless might
cause some hasty future historian, unacquainted with the facts, to
fall into grievous error, I may mention, "A Century of Dishonor," by
H. H. (Mrs. Helen Hunt Jackson), and "Our Indian Wards," (Geo. W.
Manypenny). The latter is a mere spiteful diatribe against various
army officers, and neither its manner nor its matter warrants more
than an allusion. Mrs. Jackson's book is capable of doing more harm
because it is written in good English, and because the author, who had
lived a pure and noble life, was intensely in earnest in what she
wrote, and had the most praiseworthy purpose--to prevent our
committing any more injustice to the Indians. This was all most
proper; every good man or woman should do whatever is possible to make
the government treat the Indians of the present time in the fairest
and most generous spirit, and to provide against any repetition of
such outrages as were inflicted upon the Nez Perces and upon part of
the Cheyennes, or the wrongs with which the civilized nations of the
Indian territory are sometimes threatened. The purpose of the book is
excellent, but the spirit in which it is written cannot be called even
technically honest. As a polemic, it is possible that it did not do
harm (though the effect of even a polemic is marred by hysterical
indifference to facts.) As a history it would be beneath criticism,
were it not that the high character of the author and her excellent
literary work in other directions have given it a fictitious value and
made it much quoted by the large class of amiable but maudlin fanatics
concerning whom it may be said that the excellence of their intentions
but indifferently atones for the invariable folly and ill effect of
their actions. It is not too much to say that the book is thoroughly
untrustworthy from cover to cover, and that not a single statement it
contains should be accepted without independent proof; for even those
that are not absolutely false, are often as bad on account of so much
of the truth having been suppressed. One effect of this is of course
that the author's recitals of the many real wrongs of Indian tribes
utterly fail to impress us, because she lays quite as much stress on
those that are non-existent, and on the equally numerous cases where
the wrong-doing was wholly the other way. To get an idea of the value
of the work, it is only necessary to compare her statements about
almost any tribe with the real facts, choosing at random; for
instance, compare her accounts of the Sioux and the plains tribes
generally, with those given by Col. Dodge in his two books; or her
recital of the Sandy Creek massacre with the facts as stated by Mr.
Dunn--who is apt, if any thing, to lean to the Indian's side.
These foolish sentimentalists not only write foul slanders about their
own countrymen, but are themselves the worst possible advisers on any
point touching Indian management. They would do well to heed General
Sheridan's bitter words, written when many Easterners were clamoring
against the army authorities because they took partial vengeance for a
series of brutal outrages: "I do not know how far these humanitarians