It had been explored by Boone, who had passed entire seasons alone in its solitudes, and also by other enterprising pioneers. Reports of the inexhaustible fertility of its soil spread like wildfire, and soon parties of emigrants were flocking in from the older settlements.
James Harrod, "tall, erect, and resolute," a skilful hunter and woodsman, built, in 1774, the first log-cabin in Kentucky on the site of Harrodsburg, and early in the following spring the stockade fort of Boonesborough was built. The habitations of the early settlers had to serve for forts as well. Nowhere on the American continent did the Indians display fiercer hostility to the white settlers than in Kentucky. They made frequent and bloody raids upon them, and more than once seemed about to accomplish their destruction.
Foremost among their active assailants were the Shawnees, who, after having been driven south by the Iroquois, had returned north, and spread themselves over the fertile Miami Valley. Kentucky was their especial hunting-ground, and they made desperate efforts to keep intruding white men out. They had large villages at Logstown, Chillicothe, and Piqua, from whence they could easily swoop down upon the settlements or attack the emigrants descending the Ohio. They were regarded as a courageous, powerful, and faithless race, and have been involved in numerous bloody wars with other tribes. In all our wars with France and England, the Shawnees were found fighting against us. In one respect this tribe is peculiar. Its tradition is that their ancestors came from a foreign land, whereas the general belief of the Indians is that their ancestors came out of the ground.
No name is better known in the pioneer annals of America than that of Daniel Boone. He was of medium height, with a bright eye and a robust and athletic frame, fitted by habit and temperament for endurance. He was now forty years of age—just in the prime of life—and his reputation as a hunter and explorer, his sagacity, judgment, and intrepidity, as well as his calm determination of manner, were widely known, and inspired confidence in those who embarked with him in his perilous enterprises. Gentleness of manner and a humane disposition were also noticeable features of his character.
Boone was the type and precursor of the American backwoodsmen—a remarkable class of men, singular and unique in character, and who found their greatest happiness only when they were in a boundless forest filled with game, with a pack of dogs behind them and a rifle on their shoulders. Though frequently reckless, they were generally as remarkable for high notions of honor and generosity as for hardihood, endurance, and bravery.
The outer garment of these forest rangers was a hunting-shirt—a loose, open frock made of dressed deerskin. Leggings or drawers of the same material covered the lower extremities, to which were appended a pair of moccasins for the feet. The cape or collar of the hunting shirt and the seams of the leggings were adorned with fringes and tassels. The colors employed resembled the hues of the wood, with a view to concealment. The undergarments were of coarse cotton. A leather belt encircled the body; on the right side was suspended the hatchet; on the left side were the hunting-knife, powder-horn, bullet-pouch, and other appendages indispensable to a hunter. Each bore his trusty rifle.
"It was on the 1st of May," says Boone, "in the year 1769, that I resigned my domestic happiness for a time, and left my family and peaceful habitation on the Yadkin, in North Carolina, to wander through the wilderness of America in quest of the country of Kentucky, in company with John Finley, John Stewart, Joseph Holden, James Money, and William Cool. After a, long and fatiguing journey through a mountain wilderness, in a westward direction, on the 7th day of June following we found ourselves on Red River, where Finley had formerly traded with the Indians, and from the top of an eminence saw with pleasure the beautiful land of Kentucky.
"At this place we camped, and begun to hunt and reconnoitre the country. We found abundance of game of all sorts. The buffalo were more plenty than the cattle in the settlements; the numbers about the salt springs were amazing.
"We hunted with great success until the 22nd day of December. This day John Stewart and I had a pleasing ramble, but fortune changed the scene in the close of it. Near the Kentucky River, as we ascended the brow of a small hill, a number of Indians rushed out of a thick canebrake upon us and made us prisoners. They plundered us of what we had, and kept us in confinement seven days, treating us with common savage usage.
"During this time we discovered no uneasiness or desire to escape, which made them less suspicious of us, but in the dead of night, when they were asleep, I awoke my companion and we departed. At this time my brother, Squire Boone, who had come to find me, accidentally came upon our camp. This fortunate meeting gave us the utmost satisfaction. Finding a needle in a hay-mow would seem an easier task. Stewart was soon afterwards killed by the savages.
"On the 1st day of May, 1770, my brother returned home for a new recruit of horses and ammunition, leaving me by myself without bread, salt, or sugar, without company of my fellow-creatures, or even a horse or dog."
In this lonely situation Boone was constantly exposed to danger and death. To dispel its gloom and melancholy he made frequent explorations of the country. He did not confine his lodging to his camp, but often reposed in thick canebrakes to avoid the savages who, as he believed, often visited his camp, but, fortunately for him, always in his absence. At the end of three months his brother returned, and in the following spring both set out for North Carolina to bring their families to Kentucky.
In the fall of 1773 the emigrants left their homes for the wilderness, and at Powell's Valley were joined by five other families. The encampment of these parties of emigrants at night was near some spring or watercourse, where temporary shelters were made by placing poles in a sloping position, with one end resting on the ground, the other elevated in forks. On these tent-cloth, prepared for the purpose, or articles of bed-covering, was stretched. The fire was kindled in front against a fallen tree or log, towards which the feet were placed while sleeping. The clothing worn during the day was seldom removed at night.
Near the Cumberland Gap an Indian attack cut off six young men of Boone's party, among them his eldest son. This calamity caused the return of the remainder and the abandonment of the enterprise.
It seems surprising to us, looking back from our peaceful homes upon these pioneer settlers, men, women, and children, to think that they could thus take their lives in their hands, and journey so faraway from their native country and home, to encounter the horrors of Indian warfare. In their cabins, and while cultivating their fields, they were constantly exposed to this peril. Yet the population continued to increase by immigration, and many small settlements were begun. The more solitary of these, however, could not withstand the attacks of the Indians, and were all deserted during the first year of Indian hostilities.
How near and how real these perils were, an incident of this early period will serve to show.
One warm July afternoon, three young girls, one a daughter of Boone, the others daughters of Colonel Calloway, carelessly crossed the river opposite to Boonesborough in a canoe, and were playing and splashing the water with their paddles, the canoe meanwhile drifting near the shore. Five Indians were lying here concealed, one of whom, reaching the rope that hung from the bow of the boat, turned its course up the stream and in a direction to be hidden from the view of those in the fort. The loud shrieks of the captured girls were heard, but too late for their rescue. Both Boone and Calloway were absent, and night set in before they returned and arrangements could be made for pursuit.
Next morning at daylight, Boone, with eight others, were on the track, but found it obscure, the Indians having walked some distance apart through the thickest canes they could find. Observing their general course by signs known only to experienced woodsmen, they travelled in the direction thus indicated upward of thirty miles; then crossing their trace they soon found their tracks in a buffalo path, and ten miles farther on overtook them, just as they were kindling a fire to cook their evening meal.
Each party discovered the other at the same moment. Four of Boone's party fired, killing two of the Indians, and all immediately rushed in, in order to give them no time to murder the captives. The Indians fled, leaving guns, knives, prisoners, and everything in their hasty flight. Boone and his friends were too much elated at recovering their broken hearted little girls to think of further pursuit. The joy of the parents on thus recovering their lost darlings may be imagined, it cannot be described.
The repulse of the savages from Boonesborough and Harrod's Station was followed by an attack on Logan's fort, which contained fifteen persons The forts of Boone and Harrod were about equidistant from Logan's, but as they were also menaced, no aid could be expected from them. The little garrison suffered greatly, but was sustained by the dauntless bravery of Logan. The savages, disappointed in their attacks upon the other two forts, seemed all the more determined to wreak their vengeance upon this.
At the moment of attack, the women were without the fort, milking the cows, the men guarding them. From the cover of a thick canebreak the approaching Indians fired upon them, killing two and wounding a third; the remainder reached the fort unhurt.
A thrilling incident now occurred. Harrison, one of the men who had fallen, was still alive, and was seen to be making ineffectual struggles to drag himself to the fort, from which his distressed family witnessed the harrowing struggle. The sight moved the intrepid Logan to make an effort for his rescue. So perilous seemed the attempt, that one man only could be induced to accompany him, and he, a tried soldier, recoiled at the gate. Left alone, Logan saw the poor fellow, after crawling a short distance, sink to the earth exhausted. Taking his life in his hand he darted forth, raised the wounded man in his arms, and bore him amidst a shower of balls safely to the fort.
Logan's courage, sagacity, and endurance were now to be put to a severer test. The ammunition of the little garrison was well-nigh exhausted. None could be had nearer than Rolston. Through the forest and over the Cumberland Mountains, by an untrodden route, he led a little party of volunteers to this remote settlement, and in ten days returned with the necessary means of repelling the besiegers, who were finally driven off by a relieving force under Colonel Bowman.
Benjamin Logan, who built this fort near the present site of Stanford, about the time Boone's fort was erected, was by birth a Virginian. By the death of his father he was left, at the age of fourteen, with the care of a large family. The nobleness of his nature was shown at this early period. Though entitled by law to the whole landed estate of his father, he shared it equally with his brothers and sisters. In 1775, as we have seen, he settled in Kentucky. Boone's, Harrod's, and Logan's stations were for a long time the grand rallying points for the solitary settlers dispersed over the country; thenceforward Logan was identified with the military and civil history of Kentucky. In 1785 he conducted a successful expedition against the north-western tribes, and four years later was a member of the convention that framed the constitution of the State.
Early in 1778, Boone, while making salt at the Lower Blue Licks, was captured by the Indians and taken to Detroit. Colonel Hamilton, the British commandant, offered his captors a ransom of £100, which was refused. They knew the value of their prisoner, and compelled him to return with them to Chillicothe. He was soon afterwards adopted into the family of Black Fish, one of the principal chiefs of the Shawnee tribe, and wisely appeared to be reconciled to his situation, and to accommodate himself to his new mode of life; he thus succeeded in winning their confidence and affection.
In his narrative he says:
"I often went hunting with them, and frequently gained their applause for my shooting. I was careful not to excel many of them at this sport, for no people are more envious than they. I could observe in their countenances and gestures the greatest expression of joy when they excelled me, and, when the reverse happened, of envy. The Shawnee king took great notice of me, and treated me with profound respect and entire friendship, often trusting me to hunt at my liberty. I made him frequent presents from the game I had secured."
Although Boone was allowed to hunt, the Indians did not wholly trust him. They counted his bullets, and he was obliged to show what game he had shot, and thus prove that he had not concealed any ammunition to be used in effecting an escape. But Boone had an artfulness beyond that of the Indian, for he divided the balls into halves and used light charges of powder.
Learning one day that an expedition against Boonesborough was preparing, and that its defences were in a dilapidated state, he determined to escape. No opposition was made to his taking his usual hurt on the 16th of June. He rose very early, took his gun, and secreted some venison, so as not to be entirely destitute of food.
He had one hundred and sixty miles to travel, through forests and swamps, and across numerous rivers. All his skill and tact as a woodsman were required to throw the Indians off the trail. He was not an expert swimmer, and he anticipated serious difficulty in crossing the Ohio, swollen at this time by continuous rains, and running with a strong current. Fortunately he found an old canoe, which he repaired, and which bore him safely to the Kentucky shore. He was less than five days on the journey, eating but one regular meal on the way, which was a turkey he shot after crossing the Ohio. His reappearance at Boonesborough was hailed with delight, and he was looked upon as one risen from the dead. The fort was at once repaired and strengthened, and in ten days was ready for a siege.
This work was a parallelogram, enclosing nearly an acre. In a trench four or five feet deep, large pickets were planted so as to form a compact wall from ten to twelve feet above the level of the ground. These pickets were of hard timber and about a foot in diameter. At the angles of the fort there were small, projecting squares of still stronger material and planting, technically called flankers, with oblique port-holes, so that the sentinel could rake the external front of the work without being himself exposed. Two immense folding gates were the means of communication from without.
As Boonesborough was the first fort built in that region, it at once excited the jealous fears of the Indians, and became the special object of their hatred. The settlement around it was incessantly harassed by marauding parties. Few dared venture beyond the immediate vicinity of the fort. A first attack had been easily repelled; another, and much fiercer one, a few weeks later, had a similar result.
Boone himself had, on one occasion, a narrow escape. Two men at work in the fields were fired upon, and one of them was tomahawked and scalped within sight of the fort. Simon Kenton, who was on the lookout, shot this savage dead and gave chase to the others. Boone, hearing the alarm, rushed out with ten men and engaged the enemy, but soon found himself intercepted by a large body of them. He and his men charged the Indians at once, but were received with a volley that wounded him and six of his companions. Boone's leg was broken, and an Indian was in the act of tomahawking him when Kenton's rifle brought him down. The party, including all the wounded, succeeded in gaining the fort.
Boonesborough had now to encounter the most formidable force ever sent against it. Four hundred and fifty Indians under Black Fish, the chief who had adopted Boone, together with a few Canadians, the whole commanded by a French officer, Captain Du Quesne, appeared before the fort and demanded its surrender. The garrison consisted of sixty-five men. Boone demanded two days in which to consider the proposition. During the time thus gained the garrison collected their horses and cattle and brought them into the fort, the women also being actively employed in bringing water from the spring.
At the end of the two days, Boone, standing upon one of the bastions, returned to Du Quesne the final answer of the garrison. The latter portion of it must have sounded a little ironical to the French officer, who listened attentively to this uncommonly long speech from the taciturn backwoodsman.
"We are determined," said Boone, "to defend our fort while a man is living. We laugh at all your formidable preparations, but thank you for giving us notice and time to provide for our defence."
Du Quesne, who seems not to have been very sanguine as to his success, then proposed that the garrison should send out nine of its chosen men to make a treaty, which, if concluded, would terminate the siege and end in the peaceable return of the besiegers to their homes. Boone says, "This sounded grateful in our ears, and we agreed to the proposal." We can only wonder that men so familiar with Indian treachery should have seriously entertained such a proposition. They seem to have believed in the sincerity of Du Quesne, but fortunately did not omit to take certain wise precautions.
The conference took place within sixty yards of the fort, under the cover of the trusty rifles of the garrison. Liberal terms were offered and accepted, the articles were drawn up and signed in due form, and the commissioners prepared to withdraw. But the farce had been played out and it was time for business. Under pretence of a friendly hand-shake at parting, two stout Indians grasped each of Boone's party. They had mistaken their men, however. The stalwart pioneers easily shook them of, and succeeded in regaining the fort in safety amid a general discharge from the savages, but protected by the rifles of their friends in the fort.
For nine days and nights the savages persisted in the attack, employing all means known to them to effect their purpose—setting the fort on fire, and even attempting, though unsuccessfully, to undermine it. They decamped on the tenth day, having lost thirty killed and a much larger number wounded. After their departure one hundred and twenty-five pounds of bullets were picked up, besides what stuck in the logs of the fort; "certainly a great proof of their industry," as Boone humorously remarks.
Of the defenders of the fort, one was killed and one wounded by a negro deserter, a good marksman, who fired from the top of a neighboring tree. Boone perceiving this watched him, and, when he saw his head, fired. The man was found after the battle with a ball in his head, the shot being made at the distance of one hundred and seventy-five yards. This was a feat worthy of the renowned Leatherstocking.
A desperate encounter at Ricket's Fort, in Western Virginia, between an elderly man, named Morgan, and two Indians is worth recording.
Pursued by them, and losing ground in the race, he stepped behind a tree to get a shot. The Indians did the same. One of them, not being sufficiently covered, was shot by Morgan, who then resumed his flight, his gun being now unloaded. The remaining Indian followed, and, gaining rapidly upon him, fired, but missed him. Then canoe a hand-to-hand struggle for life. Morgan struck with his gun. The Indian threw his tomahawk, which cut off one finger and otherwise wounded Morgan's hand, at the same time striking his gun from his grasp. They closed, and Morgan, who was an expert wrestler, threw the Indian, but was soon overturned and beneath his more powerful foe, who uttered the fearful Indian yell of assured victory. A woman's apron, which, with savage fondness for adornment, the Indian had tied around his waist, hindered him while feeling for his knife. His adversary in the mean time had not been idle, and had succeeded in seizing the fingers of one of the Indian's hands between his teeth. The latter at length got hold of his knife, but so near the blade that Morgan was able to grasp the handle. Closing his teeth still more firmly upon the imprisoned hand, causing the other to relax a little of its force, Morgan by a desperate effort succeeded in drawing the knife through the hand of the savage. Its possession enabled him speedily and victoriously to end the desperate contest.
"Truth is often stranger than fiction;" the following is a well-authenticated instance in proof of this saying:
In the autumn of 1779, a party, under Major Rodgers, while ascending the Ohio River in flat-boats, were decoyed on shore near the mouth of the Licking River, and totally defeated, a few only escaping. Among the wounded was Captain Robert Benham, who had been shot through both hips. Fortunately, a large fallen tree lay near the spot where he fell. Painfully dragging himself into its concealing foliage, he escaped the notice of the Indians. On the evening of the second day he shot a raccoon, hoping to devise some way of reaching it, so that he could kindle a fire and make a meal.
Scarcely had his gun cracked, however, when he heard a human cry. Supposing it to be an Indian, he hastily reloaded his gun and remained silent, expecting the approach of an enemy. Again he heard the voice, but this time it was much nearer. A third halloo was quickly heard, followed by the exclamation,
"Whoever you are, for God's sake answer me?"
Benham, who, as we have seen, had been shot through both legs, replied, and the man who now appeared had escaped from the same conflict with both arms broken. Each was thus enabled to supply what the other wanted. Benham, having the free use of his arms, could load his gun and kill game with great readiness, while his companion, having the use of his legs, could kick the game to the spot where Benham sat, who was able to cook it. He also fed his comrade and dressed his wounds, as well as his own, tearing up both of their shirts for this purpose. To obtain water, Benham placed the rim of his hat between the teeth of his companion, who would then wade into the river lip to his neck, and by lowering his head would fill it with water.
In a few days they had killed and eaten all the birds and squirrels within reach, and the man with the broken arms was sent out to drive game within gunshot of Benham. Fortunately, wild turkeys were abundant, and Benham seldom failed to kill two or three of each flock. In this manner they supported themselves until they were able to travel, when they camped at the month of the Licking, where they anxiously awaited the approach of some boat which might take them to the Falls of the Ohio.
One day, late in November, they espied a flat-boat moving leisurely down the river. Benham hoisted his hat upon a stick and hallooed loudly for help. The crew, supposing that they were Indians endeavoring to decoy them ashore, passed on as rapidly as possible. Benham beheld them receding, with a sensation of utter despair, for the place was one that was much frequented by the Indians, and the approach of winter threatened them with death unless they could speedily be relieved.
The boat had passed him nearly half a mile, when he saw a canoe put off from it and cautiously approach the Kentucky shore. He called loudly to them for assistance, mentioned his name, and made known his condition. After a long parley, and with great reluctance on the part of the crew, the canoe at length touched the shore, and Benham and his friend were taken on board.
Their appearance was certainly suspicions. They were almost naked, and their faces were garnished with six weeks' growth of beard. The one was barely able to hobble on crutches, and the other had a partial use of but one hand. They were taken to the Falls of the Ohio, now Louisville, Kentucky, where their wounds were properly attended to, and after a few weeks were entirely healed. Benham afterwards served through the campaigns of Harmar, Wilkinson, St. Clair, and Wayne.
Elizabeth Zane's heroism during the attack on Wheeling, near the Kentucky border, deserves especial praise. The house of her brother, Colonel Ebenezer Zane, at a little distance from the fort, contained a supply of ammunition, and was garrisoned by seven or eight persons, male and female, besides his own family. Before firing upon the fort, the Indians demanded the surrender of the house. A well-directed fire was the reply. The women moulded bullets, charged the guns, and handed them to the men, enabling them to keep up so constant a discharge as to cause the assailants to recoil in dismay.
At night they attempted to fire the house. A savage crawled to the kitchen, and while endeavoring to set it on fire with a burning brand, received a shot from a black man which sent him away yelling.
Fortunately, as it turned out, for the garrison in the fort, the Indians had captured a boat laden with cannon-balls. All they wanted now was a cannon with which to batter down the palisades of the fort. Indian ingenuity soon supplied the, want. A hollow log was found; to render this new kind of ordnance safe, they procured chains from a neighboring blacksmith's shop, and twisted them strongly around the improvised cannon. It was then heavily charged, pointed towards the palisade, and fired. It burst into a thousand fragments, killed some, wounded others, and convinced the survivors of their folly in meddling with the white man's inventions.
Exasperated by this failure, they returned to the assault of the house. A deadly fire again compelled them to retire. Meanwhile, the long continuance of the siege had used up the ammunition in the fort. Powder must be brought from Zane's house, in which there was a good supply. It was a forlorn hope, but plenty of volunteers offered. Zane's young sister, just from a boarding-school in Philadelphia, was of the number.
When reminded of the advantage which a man would have over her in fleetness and force, the heroine replied:
"Should he fall, his loss will be more severely felt. You have not a man to spare; a woman will not be missed in the defence of the fort." Her services were accepted. Arranging her dress for the purpose, she bounded from the fort. The Indians gazed in amazement at her daring, only exclaiming, "a squaw! a squaw!" and making no attempt to stop her. With a tablecloth filled with powder bound round her waist, she returned safely to the fort, escaping untouched amid a volley of balls several of which passed through her clothes. The fort was soon after wards relieved and the siege raised.
About six hundred Indians, led by Simon Girty, appeared at daybreak one summer morning before Bryant's Station. The previous night had been spent by the little garrison in preparations to march to the assistance of their neighbors, who had applied to them for aid. They were on the point of opening their gates to march, when the crack of rifles and discordant yells told them how narrowly they had escaped.
Rushing to the loop-holes, they saw about one hundred red men firing and gesticulating in full view of the fort. The younger men of the garrison wished to sally out and attack them; the older heads suspected a trick, and believed that the main body of the enemy was concealed on the opposite side of the fort. Girty intended, by an attack on one side with a small force, to draw out the garrison, and then with the main body to fall upon the other side and gain the fort. The overacting of Girty's savage allies, and the sagacity of his opponents, defeated his well-conceived plan.
A serious difficulty with the garrison was the want of water. The spring was at some distance, near a thicket in which the enemy lay concealed. A bold and sagacious expedient was hit upon. Supposing that the Indians would not show themselves until they had reason to believe their trick had succeeded, and the garrison had left the fort on the other side, all the females went in a body to the spring, directly under five hundred rifles, filled their buckets, and returned in such a manner as not to suggest to the quick-sighted Indians that their presence in the thicket was suspected.
This done, a small number of the garrison was sent out against the party in front, while the main body placed themselves so as to repel the anticipated rush of those in concealment. The plan succeeded perfectly. The Indians rushed from their ambush on hearing the firing from the opposite side of the fort, and were received with a well-directed discharge from all the rifles left within the station. Chagrined and panic-stricken the assailants fled, leaving a number of their slain behind them. Disconcerted by their failure, and discouraged by the arrival of reinforcements for the garrison, the Indians abandoned the siege and withdrew.
The disastrous battle of the Blue Licks which now occurred spread mourning throughout Kentucky. Girty and his Indians, after having been repulsed from Bryant's Station, were pursued across the Licking River by a body of one hundred and eighty Kentuckians, who had gathered in haste to relieve the fort, under Colonels Todd, Trigg and Boone.
A council of the leaders was held. Boone advised waiting for Colonel Logan, who was on the way to join them. Had his advice been taken, the result would have been very different. The enemy whom they had overtaken was before them, and a rapid retreat, or a battle against fearful odds, was inevitable.
Rash councils unhappily prevailed. The hot-headed Major McGary spurred his horse forward into the stream, and waving his hat, shouted,
"Let all who are not cowards follow me! I will show you where the Indians are!"
Dashing into the deep ford, the gallant but ill-fated band crossed the stream, and pressed forward through ravines in which lay hundreds of concealed Indians. Suddenly a murderous fire was poured into their ranks by an unseen foe, by which their right wing was broken, the enemy rushing up with great intrepidity and gaining their rear.
Fierce as was the onset it was met with heroic courage. Colonel Todd remained on his horse, with the blood flowing from mortal wounds. Boone defended his position—the left—with desperate energy, while Major Harlan could find but three of his men spared by the rifle. The horsemen generally escaped, but the foot, particularly those who had advanced farthest into the trap, were almost wholly destroyed.
When at length the Kentuckians gave way, the Indians pursued them with relentless energy, spreading destruction and death among the fugitives. The river was difficult to cross, and many were killed on entering it or while crossing and ascending the opposite bank. A stand made here by a few brave men arrested the slaughter and enabled others to cross in safety.
Boone, after witnessing the fall of a son and of many of his dearest friends, finding himself almost surrounded, plunged into the ravine between him and the ford, and escaped by swimming. He made an effort to bear away the body of his son, but was compelled to leave him by the stronger instinct of self-preservation. While attempting to carry off the body a large savage sprang towards him with uplifted tomahawk. Relinquishing his burden he shot the Indian dead. Boone's last days were passed in Missouri, where he died, in 1820, at the advanced age of eighty-six.
This was the last terrible blow struck by the Indian for the recovery of his Kentucky hunting-grounds. It brought upon his head speedy retribution. The expedition of Colonel George Rogers Clarke was exterminating in its character. The Chillicothe towns on the Scioto were reduced to ashes, their plantations were laid waste, and peace was secured for Kentucky, no formidable war party ever after crossing her border.
With all these fearful perils there was a blending of romance. The night after the battle, twelve prisoners were stripped by the Indians and painted black—the signal for torture. With one exception they were slaughtered, the twelfth having been, after a long powwow, spared—why, he never knew. His faithful wife was the only person who did not believe him dead. So strong was this belief that, when wooed by another, she postponed the nuptials from time to time until, moved by the expostulations of friends, she at length fixed the day. Just before it dawned, the crack of a rifle was beard near her solitary home. At the familiar sound she leaped out like a liberated fawn, exclaiming, as she sprang, "That's John's gun!" Sure enough, it was John's gun, and in another moment she was once more in her husband's arms.
There is still another phase to this romance. Nine years later that husband fell at St. Clair's defeat, and the same disappointed but persevering lover renewed his suit, and at last the widow became his wife.
With the name of Daniel Boone, that of Simon Kenton, one of his companions, will ever be associated in the pioneer annals of Kentucky. At the age of sixteen, Kenton had a rough-and-tumble fight with a rival suitor for the affections of a girl. Thinking the had killed his rival, Kenton fled from civilization, changed his name, and, plunging into the forest, led thenceforth a life of bold and adventurous daring, constantly surrounded by danger. He was unequalled as a spy and ranger, and the early history of the State is filled with his exploits. Reckless in bravery, and perfectly familiar with Indian strategy, he was present in most of the encounters with the western Indians, everywhere inspiring confidence, and always in the fore-front of the battle.
He had experienced a full measure of Indian cruelty. Eight times he was compelled to run the gauntlet—one of their most dreaded forms of vengeance—three times he was tied to the stake, and once nearly killed by a blow from an axe.
On one occasion he had taken an Indian's horse, and soon afterwards had the ill-luck to fall into their hands. After beating him till their arms were too tired to indulge in that gratifying recreation any longer, they secured him for the night. Placing him on his back upon the ground, they drew his legs apart and lashed each foot firmly to stakes or saplings driven into the earth. A pole was then laid across his breast, and his hands tied to each end, his arms lashed around it with thongs, which were passed under his body, so as to keep the pole stationary. After all this, another thong was passed around his neck, and the end of it secured to a stake in the ground, his head being stretched back, so as not entirely to choke him.
Next morning they amused themselves by fastening Kenton to the wildest horse in the camp, tying him hand and foot, all the while yelping and screeching around him, and asking him if he wanted to steal more Indian horses.
Turning the horse loose, he reared and plunged, and then dashed through the woods with his burden, to the infinite amusement of his Indian tormentors. After the horse had run, plunged, reared, and kicked until he was tired, to rid himself of his burden, he quieted down and peaceably followed the party to Chillicothe.
Here Kenton had to run the gauntlet. He had not gone far before he discovered an Indian with his knife drawn ready to plunge it into him. Breaking through the line, he made with all speed for the council-house, where, in accordance with Indian usage, he would be safe. Just as he entered the town he was met by an Indian coming from it, who seized him, and in his exhausted condition easily threw him down.
In another moment his pursuers were upon him. They kicked and beat him, and tore off his clothes, leaving him naked and exhausted. As soon as he recovered they took him to the council to determine his fate. Death was the decree, and the execution was to take place in a distant village. While he was on the way to this place he made a bold push for freedom, and was soon out of sight of his pursuers. His usual ill-luck again attended him. When about two miles from the town, he encountered some Indians on horseback, who recaptured him. He now, for the first time in his life, gave up, believing his case hopeless.
There was a general rejoicing when he was returned to the village. He was pinioned, and given over to the young Indians, who dragged him into the creek, tumbled him into the water, and rolled him in the sand until he was nearly suffocated. In this way they amused themselves with him until he was nearly drowned. He now thought God had forsaken him. No wonder he thought so, for it did not seem possible for him to avoid the doom which, according to Indian ideas, he most richly deserved.
In the crowd that gathered about him at the stake was the notorious Tory renegade, Simon Girty. Girty and Kenton had been bosom companions in youth. On hearing his name, Girty, who, though a hardened wretch, had a spark of human feeling remaining, threw himself into Kenton's arms, embraced, and wept aloud over him, calling him his dear and esteemed friend. With much difficulty he succeeded in prevailing upon the Indians to leave him in his charge, thus affording him a timely reprieve. Kenton was finally rescued from their hands through the instrumentality of the great and good chief, Logan, and was taken as a prisoner to Detroit.
At this point in his career a tinge of romance touched and sweetened this wild and reckless life. Kenton was now twenty-four years of age. He was six feet in height, well formed, handsome, and graceful, with a fair complexion and laughing gray eyes. He owed his freedom on this occasion—as many a handsome young fellow has done before and since, and will do in future—to a woman, the wife of an Indian trader, whose sympathies had been enlisted in behalf of this bold, manly, and good-looking backwoodsman.
Seizing a favorable opportunity, when the Indians, whose guns were stacked near her house, were having a drunken spree, she stole out after dark, selected three of their best rifles, and then notified Kenton and his two companions. She had previously prepared food, ammunition, and clothing for them, which she had secreted in a hollow tree well known to Kenton. At the appointed hour they climbed into the garden, received the guns from their benefactress, and, heaping thanks and blessings upon her, hastened away. Kenton never saw her afterwards, but to his latest hour he never forgot her, and delighted in recalling and expatiating upon the courage and goodness of the trader's wife.
In 1824 the old pioneer appeared at Frankfort in tattered garments, to petition the legislature of Kentucky to release the claim of the State upon some land owned by him. His appearance at first excited ridicule, but, on being recognized, he was treated with distinction and the lands released. The cut on the following page is from a painting of the old veteran made at this time. Congress subsequently gave him a pension, which he enjoyed until his death in 1836. Kenton was a pleasant companion and honest in his dealings, but so credulous that the same man might cheat him twenty times, and if he professed friendship he might cheat him still.
Out of many interesting narratives of single combat between the Indian and the white man we select the following:
Two brothers named Poe, both remarkable for size, strength, and courage, joined, in the summer of 1782, a party in pursuit of some Indian marauders, between Wheeling and Fort Pitt. Andrew Poe, fearing an ambuscade, left the others, crossed the Ohio, and cautiously crept along the bank. He soon espied, within a few steps of him, a Wyandot chief, a large and powerful man, and a smaller Indian, both so intent upon the movements of his party as not to have noticed him.
Poe took aim at the large chief, but his gun missed fire, and the click of the lock betrayed him. Too near to retreat, he sprang upon them, grasped the chief with one arm, and the smaller Indian round the neck with the other, and threw them down upon the shelving bank. The latter freed himself from Poe's grasp, and aimed his tomahawk at his head. A kick, opportunely applied, staggered him, and shook the tomahawk from his hand. This failure upon his part brought out an exclamation of contempt from the larger Indian. Recovering his weapon, the exulting Indian approached more cautiously, flourishing it over Poe's head as a prelude to the impending blow. By throwing up his arm, Poe saved his head, but received a blow on the wrist. Freeing himself at the same moment by a powerful effort from the grasp of the chief, who was meanwhile attempting to throw him, he snatched up one of the Indian's guns, and shot the small Indian dead, as he for the third time ran up to tomahawk him.
By this time the chief was erect, and seizing Poe by the leg and shoulder at the same moment prostrated him. Poe bounded to his feet in an instant, and closed in a struggle, which, owing to the slippery state of the bank, plunged both into the Ohio. The object now of these powerful and well-matched combatants was to drown each other. First one, and then the other, was thrust under the water by alternate successful efforts.
At length Poe seized the chief by the long black scalp-lock on the crown of his head, and held him so long submerged that he believed him to be, beyond a doubt, food for fishes. This was only an Indian trick. His foe was once more erect., and grappling again, they were carried by the current beyond their depth and obliged to swim. Both aimed for the shore, each straining every nerve to reach it first and obtain one of the guns lying there.
Soon perceiving that the Indian was the better swimmer, Poe made for the middle of the stream, hoping to avoid the shot of his foe by diving. Fortunately the gun that the Indian took up was empty, and Poe gained a little precious time. At this moment two of his party came up, and mistaking Poe for an Indian, fired, and wounded him in the shoulder. He turned, and swam bleeding towards the shore, and recognizing his brother Adam, called out to him:
"Shoot the big Indian on the shore."
But his brother's gun was also empty. The contest now was as to who could load first. Very fortunately for Adam, the Indian in loading drew the ramrod from the gun with such violence that it slipped from his hand and fell a little way off. Quickly recovering it, however, he rammed down his bullet. This slight delay gave Adam the advantage. He shot the Indian as he was raising his gun to take aim at him, and then assisted his brother to the shore. Meantime the wounded Indian, to save his scalp, plunged into the deep water, and sunk to rise no more.
One other incident, illustrating the perils of the border, also shows that even the children imbibed fearlessness with their mother's milk.
Two boys named Johnson, one aged eleven, the other thirteen, living on the west bank of the Ohio, while at play were captured by two Indians. Their captors lay down for the night, each holding one of the boys in his arms. When all was still the elder boy, who felt no desire to sleep, arose, and by stirring the fire and other movements, satisfied himself that the Indians were in a profound sleep. Gently awaking his brother, he whispered in his ear,
"We had better go home now."
"They will follow and catch us," said the younger.
"Never fear," replied the other; "we will take care of that." With some difficulty he persuaded the younger to aid him in killing their captors. The Indians had but one gun between them, and near it lay their tomahawks. The elder placed the gun, levelled on a log, with the muzzle close to the ear of one of the Indians, cocked it, and stationed his brother, with his finger on the trigger, telling him to pull it at his signal. He then stood over the other Indian, tomahawk in hand.
Brandishing the weapon, as the signal for pulling the trigger, the gun was discharged, and the tomahawk fell at the same moment. The first blow was not fatal, and the savage attempted to rise, but fresh blows, vigorously plied by the young hero, soon brought him down again.
Leaving their captors dead, the boys joyfully set off for home, where they arrived at early dawn. As they entered they heard the plaintive voice of their mother bewailing their fate, and exclaiming:
"Poor little fellows, they are killed or taken prisoners!"
"No!" they shouted, as they rushed into her arms; "here we are, mother, safe and sound!"
The Story of the Backwoodsmen of Kentucky
This Story of the Backwoodsmen of Kentucky is featured in the book entitled the Indian History for Young Folks by FrancIs F. Drake and was published by Harper Brothers in New York and London in 1919.