"Fair was the scene that lay Before the little band, Which paused upon its toilsome way, To view this new found land.
Field, stream and valley spread, Far as the eye could gaze, With summer's beauty o'er them shed, And sunlight's brightest rays.
Flowers of the fairest dyes, Trees clothed in richest green; And brightly smiled the deep-blue skies, O'er this enchanting scene.
Such was Kentucky then, With wild luxuriance blest; Where no invading hand had been, The garden of the West."
THE FIRST WHITE MAN OF THE WEST,
LIFE AND EXPLOITS OF COL. DAN'L. BOONE, THE FIRST SETTLER OF KENTUCKY;
INTERSPERSED WITH INCIDENTS IN THE EARLY ANNALS OF THE COUNTRY.
BY TIMOTHY FLINT.
Birth of Daniel Boone—His early propensities—His pranks at school—His first hunting expedition—And his encounter with a panther.—Removal of the family to North Carolina—Boone becomes a hunter—Description of fire hunting, in which he was near committing a sad mistake—Its fortunate result—and his marriage.
Boone removes to the head waters of the Yadkin river—He meets with Finley, who had crossed the mountains into Tennessee—They agree to explore the wilderness west of the Alleghanies together.
Boone, with Finley and others, start on their exploring expedition—Boone kills a panther in the night—Their progress over the mountains—They descend into the great valley—Description of the new country—Herds of buffaloes—Their wanderings in the wilderness.
The exploring party divide into different routes—Boone and Stewart taken prisoners by the Indians, and their escape—Boone meets with his elder brother and another white man in the woods—Stewart killed by the Indians, and the companion of the elder Boone destroyed by wolves—The elder brother returns to North Carolina, leaving Boone alone in the wilderness.
Boone is pursued by the Indians, and eludes their pursuit—He encounters and kills a bear—The return of his brother with ammunition—They explore the country—Boone kills a panther on the back of a buffalo—They return to North Carolina.
Boone starts with his family to Kentucky—Their return to Clinch river—He conducts a party of surveyors to the Falls of Ohio—He helps build Boonesborough, and removes his family to the fort—His daughter and two of Col. Calloway's daughters taken prisoners by the Indians—They pursue the Indians and rescue the captives.
Settlement of Harrodsburgh—Indian mode of besieging and warfare—Fortitude and privation of the Pioneers—The Indians attack Harrodsburgh and Boonesborough—Description of a Station—Attack of Bryant's Station.
Boone being attacked by two Indians near the Blue Licks, kills them both—Is afterwards taken prisoner and marched to Old Chillicothe—Is adopted by the Indians—Indian ceremonies.
Boone becomes a favorite among the Indians—Anecdotes relating to his captivity—Their mode of tormenting and burning prisoners—Their fortitude under the infliction of torture—Concerted attack on Boonesborough—Boone escapes.
Six hundred Indians attack Boonesborough—Boone and Captain Smith go out to treat with the enemy under a flag of truce, and are extricated from a treacherous attempt to detain them as prisoners—Defence of the fort—The Indians defeated—Boone goes to North Carolina to bring back his family.
A sketch of the character and adventures of several other pioneers—Harrod, Kenton, Logan, Ray, McAffee, and others.
Boone's brother killed, and Boone himself narrowly escapes from the Indians—Assault upon Ashton's station—and upon the station near Shelbyville—Attack upon McAffee's station.
Disastrous battle near the Blue Licks—General Clarke's expedition against the Miami towns—Massacre of McClure's family—The horrors of Indian assaults throughout the settlements—General Harmar's expedition—Defeat of General St. Clair—Gen. Wayne's victory, and a final peace with the Indians.
Rejoicings on account of the peace—Boone indulges his propensity for hunting—Kentucky increases in population—Some account of their conflicting land titles—Progress of civil improvement destroying the range of the hunter—Litigation of land titles—Boone loses his lands—Removes from Kentucky to the Kanawha—Leaves the Kanawha and goes to Missouri, where he is appointed Commandant.
Anecdotes of Colonel Boone, related by Mr. Audubon—A remarkable instance of memory.
Progress of improvement in Missouri—Old age of Boone—Death of his wife—He goes to reside with his son—His death—His personal appearance and character.
Our eastern brethren have entered heartily into the pious duty of bringing to remembrance the character and deeds of their forefathers. Shall we of the west allow the names of those great men, who won for us, from the forest, the savages, and wild beasts, our fair domain of fertile fields and beautiful rivers, to fade into oblivion? They who have hearts to admire nobility imparted by nature's great seal—fearlessness, strength, energy, sagacity, generous forgetfulness of self, the delineation of scenes of terror, and the relation of deeds of daring, will not fail to be interested in a sketch of the life of the pioneer and hunter of Kentucky, Daniel Boone. Contemplated in any light, we shall find him in his way and walk, a man as truly great as Penn, Marion, and Franklin, in theirs. True, he was not learned in the lore of books, or trained in the etiquette of cities. But he possessed a knowledge far more important in the sphere which Providence called him to fill. He felt, too, the conscious dignity of self-respect, and would have been seen as erect, firm, and unembarrassed amid the pomp and splendor of the proudest court in Christendom, as in the shade of his own wilderness. Where nature in her own ineffaceable characters has marked superiority, she looks down upon the tiny and elaborate acquirements of art, and in all positions and in all time entitles her favorites to the involuntary homage of their fellow-men. They are the selected pilots in storms, the leaders in battles, and the pioneers in the colonization of new countries.
Such a man was Daniel Boone, and wonderfully was he endowed by Providence for the part which he was called to act. Far be it from us to undervalue the advantages of education: It can do every thing but assume the prerogative of Providence. God has reserved for himself the attribute of creating. Distinguished excellence has never been attained, unless where nature and education, native endowment and circumstances, have concurred. This wonderful man received his commission for his achievements and his peculiar walk from the sign manual of nature. He was formed to be a woodsman, and the adventurous precursor in the first settlement of Kentucky. His home was in the woods, where others were bewildered and lost. It is a mysterious spectacle to see a man possessed of such an astonishing power of being perfectly familiar with his route and his resources in the depths of the untrodden wilderness, where others could as little divine their way, and what was to be done, as mariners on mid-ocean, without chart or compass, sun, moon, or stars. But that nature has bestowed these endowments upon some men and denied them to others, is as certain as that she has given to some animals instincts of one kind, fitting them for peculiar modes of life, which are denied to others, perhaps as strangely endowed in another way.
The following pages aim to present a faithful picture of this singular man, in his wanderings, captivities, and escapes. If the effort be successful, we have no fear that the attention of the reader will wander. There is a charm in such recitals, which lays its spell upon all. The grave and gay, the simple and the learned, the young and gray-haired alike yield to its influence.
We wish to present him in his strong incipient manifestations of the development of his peculiar character in boyhood. We then see him on foot and alone, with no companion but his dog, and no friend but his rifle, making his way over trackless and unnamed mountains, and immeasurable forests, until he explores the flowering wilderness of Kentucky. Already familiar, by his own peculiar intuition, with the Indian character, we see him casting his keen and searching glance around, as the ancient woods rung with the first strokes of his axe, and pausing from time to time to see if the echoes have startled the red men, or the wild beasts from their lair. We trace him through all the succeeding explorations of the Bloody Ground, and of Tennessee, until so many immigrants have followed in his steps, that he finds his privacy too strongly pressed upon; until he finds the buts and bounds of legal tenures restraining his free thoughts, and impelling him to the distant and unsettled shores of the Missouri, to seek range and solitude anew. We see him there, his eyes beginning to grow dim with the influence of seventy winters—as he can no longer take the unerring aim of his rifle—casting wistful looks in the direction of the Rocky Mountains and the western sea; and sadly reminded that man has but one short life, in which to wander.
No book can be imagined more interesting than would have been the personal narrative of such a man, written by himself. What a new pattern of the heart he might have presented! But, unfortunately, he does not seem to have dreamed of the chance that his adventures would go down to posterity in the form of recorded biography. We suspect that he rather eschewed books, parchment deeds, and clerkly contrivances, as forms of evil; and held the dead letter of little consequence. His associates were as little likely to preserve any records, but those of memory, of the daily incidents and exploits, which indicate character and assume high interest, when they relate to a person like the subject of this narrative. These hunters, unerring in their aim to prostrate the buffalo on his plain, or to bring down the geese and swans from the clouds, thought little of any other use of the gray goose quill, than its market value.
Had it been otherwise, and had these men themselves furnished the materials of this narrative, we have no fear that it would go down to futurity, a more enduring monument to these pioneers and hunters, than the granite columns reared by our eastern brethren, amidst assembled thousands, with magnificent array, and oratory, and songs, to the memory of their forefathers. Ours would be the record of human nature speaking to human nature in simplicity and truth, in a language always impressive, and always understood. Their pictures of their own felt sufficiency to themselves, under the pressure of exposure and want; of danger, wounds, and captivity; of reciprocal kindness, warm from the heart; of noble forgetfulness of self, unshrinking firmness, calm endurance, and reckless bravery, would be sure to move in the hearts of their readers strings which never fail to vibrate to the touch.
But these inestimable data are wanting. Our materials are comparatively few; and we have been often obliged to balance between doubtful authorities, notwithstanding the most rigorous scrutiny of newspapers and pamphlets, whose yellow and dingy pages gave out a cloud of dust at every movement, and the equally rigid examination of clean modern books and periodicals.
Birth of Daniel Boone—His early propensities—His pranks at school—His first hunting expedition—And his encounter with a panther. Removal of the family to North Carolina—Boone becomes a hunter—Description of fire hunting, in which he was near committing a sad mistake—Its fortunate result—and his marriage.
Different authorities assign a different birth place to DANIEL BOONE. One affirms that he was born in Maryland, another in North Carolina, another in Virginia, and still another during the transit of his parents across the Atlantic. But they are all equally in error. He was born in the year 1746, in Bucks county, Pennsylvania, near Bristol, on the right bank of the Delaware, about twenty miles from Philadelphia. His father removed, when he was three years old, to the vicinity of Reading, on the head waters of the Schuylkill. From thence, when his son was thirteen years old, he migrated to North Carolina, and settled in one of the valleys of South Yadkin.
The remotest of his ancestors, of whom there is any recorded notice, is Joshua Boone, an English Catholic. He crossed the Atlantic to the shores of the Chesapeake Bay, with those who planted the first germ of the colony of Maryland. A leading motive to emigration with most of these colonists, was to avoid that persecution on account of their religion, which however pleasant to inflict, they found it uncomfortable to endure. Whether this gentleman emigrated from this inducement, as has been asserted, or not, it is neither possible, nor, as we deem, important to settle; for we cannot find, that religious motives had any direct influence in shaping the character and fortunes of the hero of the woods. Those who love to note the formation of character, and believe in the hereditary transmission of peculiar qualities, naturally investigate the peculiarities of parents, to see if they can find there the origin of those of the children. Many—and we are of the number—consider transmitted endowment as the most important link in the chain of circumstances, with which character is surrounded. The most splendid endowments in innumerable instances, have never been brought to light, in defect of circumstances to call them forth. The ancestors of Boone were not placed in positions to prove, whether he did or did not receive his peculiar aptitudes a legacy from his parents, or a direct gift from nature. He presents himself to us as a new man, the author and artificer of his own fortunes, and showing from the beginning rudiments of character, of which history has recorded no trace in his ancestors. The promise of the future hunter appeared in his earliest boyhood. He waged a war of extermination, as soon as he could poise a gun, with squirrels, raccoons, and wild cats, at that time exceedingly annoying to the fields and barn-yards of the back settlers.
No scholar ever displayed more decided pre-eminence in any branch of learning, than he did above the boys of his years, in adroitness and success in this species of hunting. This is the only distinct and peculiar trait of character recorded of his early years. The only transmitted fact of his early training is presented in the following anecdote.
In that section of the frontier settlement to which Boone had removed, where unhewn log cabins, and hewn log houses, were interspersed among the burnt stumps, surrounded by a potato patch and cornfield, as the traveller pursued his cow-path through the deep forest, there was an intersection, or more properly concentration of wagon tracks, called the "Cross Roads,"—a name which still designates a hundred frontier positions of a post office, blacksmith's shop, and tavern. In the central point of this metropolis stood a large log building, before which a sign creaked in the wind, conspicuously lettered "Store and Tavern."
To this point, on the early part of a warm spring morning, a pedestrian stranger was seen approaching in the path leading from the east. One hand was armed with a walking stick, and the other carried a small bundle inclosed in a handkerchief. His aspect was of a man, whose whole fortunes were in his walking stick and bundle. He was observed to eye the swinging sign with a keen recognition, inspiring such courage as the mariner feels on entering the desired haven.
His dialect betrayed the stranger to be a native of Ireland. He sat down on the stoup, and asked in his own peculiar mode of speech, for cold water. A supply from the spring was readily handed him in a gourd. But with an arch pause between remonstrance and laughter, he added, that he thought cold water in a warm climate injurious to the stomach and begged that the element might be qualified with a little whisky.
The whisky was handed him, and the usual conversation ensued, during which the stranger inquired if a school-master was wanted in the settlement—or, as he was pleased to phrase it, a professor in the higher branches of learning? It is inferred that the father of Boone was a person of distinction in the settlement, for to him did the master of the "Store and Tavern" direct the stranger of the staff and bundle for information.
The direction of the landlord to enable him to find the house of Mr. Boone, was a true specimen of similar directions in the frontier settlements of the present; and they have often puzzled clearer heads than that of the Irish school-master.
"Step this way," said he, "and I will direct you there, so that you cannot mistake your way. Turn down that right hand road, and keep on it till you cross the dry branch—then turn to your left, and go up a hill—then take a lane to your right, which will bring you to an open field—pass this, and you will come to a path with three forks—take the middle fork, and it will lead you through the woods in sight of Mr. Boone's plantation."
The Irishman lost his way, invoked the saints, and cursed his director for his medley of directions many a time, before he stumbled at length on Mr. Boone's house. He was invited to sit down and dine, in the simple backwoods phrase, which is still the passport to the most ample hospitality.
After dinner, the school-master made known his vocation, and his desire to find employment. To obtain a qualified school-master in those days, and in such a place, was no easy business. This scarcity of supply precluded close investigation of fitness. In a word, the Irishman was authorized to enter upon the office of school-master of the settlement. We have been thus particular in this description, because it was the way in which most teachers were then employed.
It will not be amiss to describe the school-house; for it stood as a sample of thousands of west country school-houses of the present day. It was of logs, after the usual fashion of the time and place. In dimension, it was spacious and convenient. The chimney was peculiarly ample, occupying one entire side of the whole building, which was an exact square. Of course, a log could be "snaked" to the fire-place as long as the building, and a file of boys thirty feet in length, could all stand in front of the fire on a footing of the most democratic equality. Sections of logs cut out here and there, admitted light and air instead of windows. The surrounding forest furnished ample supplies of fuel. A spring at hand, furnished with various gourds, quenched the frequent thirst of the pupils. A ponderous puncheon door, swinging on substantial wooden hinges, and shutting with a wooden latch, completed the appendages of this primeval seminary.
To this central point might he seen wending from the woods, in every direction of the compass, flaxen-headed boys and girls, clad in homespun, brushing away the early dews, as they hied to the place, where the Hibernian, clothed in his brief authority, sometimes perpetrated applications of birch without rhyme or reason; but much oftener allowed his authority to be trampled upon, according as the severe or loving humor prevailed. This vacillating administration was calculated for any result, rather than securing the affectionate respect of the children. Scarcely the first quarter had elapsed, before materials for revolt had germinated under the very throne of the school-master.
Young Boone, at this time, had reached the second stage of teaching the young idea how to shoot. His satchel already held paper marked with those mysterious hieroglyphics, vulgarly called pot-hooks, intended to be gradually transformed to those clerkly characters, which are called hand-writing.
The master's throne was a block of a huge tree, and could not be said, in any sense, to be a cushion of down. Of course, by the time he had heard the first lessons of the morning, the master was accustomed to let loose his noisy subjects, to wanton and bound on the grass, while he took a turn abroad to refresh himself from his wearying duties. While he was thus unbending his mind, the observant urchins had remarked, that he always directed his walk to a deep grove not far distant. They had, possibly, divined that the unequal tempers of his mind, and his rapid transitions from good nature to tyrannical moroseness, and the reverse, were connected with these promenades. The curiosity of young Boone had been partially excited. An opportunity soon offered to gratify it.
Having one day received the accustomed permission to retire a few minutes from school, the darting of a squirrel across a fallen tree, as he went abroad, awakened his ruling passion. He sprang after the nimble animal, until he found himself at the very spot, where he had observed his school-master to pause in his promenades. His attention was arrested by observing a kind of opening under a little arbor, thickly covered with a mat of vines. Thinking, perhaps, that it was the retreat of some animal, he thrust in his hand, and to his surprise drew forth a glass bottle, partly full of whisky. The enigma of his master's walks and inequalities of temper stood immediately deciphered. After the reflection of a moment, he carefully replaced the bottle in its position, and returned to his place in school. In the evening he communicated his discovery and the result of his meditations to the larger boys of the school on their way home. They were ripe for revolt, and the issue of their caucus follows:
They were sufficiently acquainted with fever and ague, to have experimented the nature of tartar emetic. They procured a bottle exactly like the master's, filled with whisky, in which a copious quantity of emetic had been dissolved. Early in the morning, they removed the school-master's bottle, and replaced it by theirs, and hurried back to their places, panting with restrained curiosity, and a desire to see what results would come from their medical mixture.
The accustomed hour for intermission came. The master took his usual promenade, and the children hastened back with uncommon eagerness to resume their seats and their lessons. The countenance of the master alternately red and pale, gave portent of an approaching storm.
"Recite your grammar lesson," said he, in a growling tone, to one of the older boys.
"How many parts of speech are there?"
"Seven, sir," timidly answered the boy.
"Seven, you numscull! is that the way you get your lesson?" Forthwith descended a shower of blows on his devoted head.
"On what continent is Ireland?" said he, turning from him in wrath to another boy. The boy saw the shower pre-determined to fall, and the medicine giving evident signs of having taken effect. Before he could answer, "I reckon on the continent of England," he was gathering an ample tithe of drubbing.
"Come and recite your lesson in arithmetic?" said he to Boone, in a voice of thunder. The usually rubicund face of the Irishman was by this time a deadly pale. Slate in hand, the docile lad presented himself before his master.
"Take six from nine, and what remain?"
"True. That will answer for whole numbers, now for your fractions. Take three-quarters from an integer, and what remains?"
"You blockhead! you numscull!" exclaimed the master, as the strokes fell like a hail shower; "let me hear you demonstrate that."
"If I subtract one bottle of whisky, and replace it with one in which I have mixed an emetic, will not the whole remain, if nobody drinks it?"
By this time the medicine was taking fearful effect. The united acclamations and shouts of the children, and the discovery of the compounder of his medicament, in no degree tended to soothe the infuriated master. Young Boone, having paid for his sport by an ample drubbing, seized the opportune moment, floored his master, already weak and dizzy, sprang from the door, and made for the woods. The adventure was soon blazoned. A consultation of the patrons of the school was held. Though young Boone was reprimanded, the master was dismissed.
This is all the certain information we possess, touching the training of young Boone, in the lore of books and schools. Though he never afterwards could be brought back to the restraint of the walls of a school, it is well known, that in some way, in after life, he possessed himself of the rudiments of a common education. His love for hunting and the woods now became an absorbing passion. He possessed a dog and a fowling piece, and with these he would range whole days alone through the woods, often with no other apparent object, than the simple pleasure of these lonely wanderings.
One morning he was observed as usual, to throw the band, that suspended his shot bag, over one shoulder, and his gun over the other, and go forth accompanied by his dog. Night came, but to the astonishment and alarm of his parents, the boy, as yet scarcely turned of fourteen, came not. Another day and another night came, and passed, and still he returned not. The nearest neighbors, sympathizing with the distressed parents, who considered him lost, turned out, to aid in searching for him. After a long and weary search, at a distance of a league from any plantation, a smoke was seen arising from a temporary hovel of sods and branches, in which the astonished father found his child, apparently most comfortably established is his new experiment of house-keeping. Numerous skins of wild animals were stretched upon his cabin, as trophies of his hunting prowess. Ample fragments of their flesh were either roasting or preparing for cookery. It may be supposed, that such a lad would be the theme of wonder and astonishment to the other boys of his age.
At this early period, he hesitated not to hunt wolves, and even bears and panthers. His exploits of this kind were the theme of general interest in the vicinity. Many of them are recorded. But we pass over most of them, in our desire to hasten to the exploits of his maturer years. We select a single one of the most unquestionable character, as a sample for the rest.
In company with some of his young companions, he undertook a hunting excursion, at a considerable distance from the settlements. Near night-fall, the group of young Nimrods were alarmed with a sharp cry from the thick woods. A panther! whispered the affrighted lads, in accents scarcely above their breath, through fear, that their voice would betray them. The scream of this animal is harsh, and grating, and one of the most truly formidable of forest sounds.
The animal, when pressed, does not shrink from encountering a man, and often kills him, unless he is fearless and adroit in his defence. All the companions of young Boone fled from the vicinity, as fast as possible. Not so the subject of our narrative. He coolly surveyed the animal, that in turn eyed him, as the cat does a mouse, when preparing to spring upon it. Levelling his rifle, and taking deliberate aim, he lodged the bullet in the heart of the fearful animal, at the very moment it was in the act to spring upon him. It was a striking instance of that peculiar self-possession, which constituted the most striking trait in his character in after life.
Observing these early propensities for the life of a hunter in his son, and land having become dear and game scarce in the neighborhood where he lived, Boone's father formed the design of removing to remote forests, not yet disturbed by the sound of the axe, or broken by frequent clearings; and having heard a good account of the country bordering upon the Yadkin river, in North Carolina, he resolved to remove thither. This river, which is a stream of considerable size, has its source among the mountains in the north-east part of North Carolina, and pursues a beautiful meandering course through that state until it enters South Carolina. After watering the eastern section of the latter state, it reaches the ocean a few miles above the mouth of the Santee.
Having sold his plantation, on a fine April morning he set forth for the land of promise—wife, children, servants, flocks, and herds, forming a patriarchal caravan through the wilderness. No procession bound to the holy cities of Mecca or Jerusalem, was ever more joyful; for to them the forest was an asylum. Overhung by the bright blue sky, enveloped in verdant forests full of game, nought cared they for the absence of houses with their locks and latches. Their nocturnal caravansary was a clear cool spring; their bed the fresh turf. Deer and turkeys furnished their viands—hunger the richest sauces of cookery; and fatigue and untroubled spirits a repose unbroken by dreams. Such were the primitive migrations of the early settlers of our country. We love to meditate on them, for we have shared them. We have fed from this table in the wilderness. We have shared this mirth. We have heard the tinkle of the bells of the flocks and herds grazing among the trees. We have seen the moon rise and the stars twinkle upon this forest scene; and the remembrance has more than once marred the pleasure of journeyings in the midst of civilization and the refinements of luxury.
The frontier country in which the family settled was as yet an unbroken forest; and being at no great distance from the eastern slope of the Alleghanies, in the valleys of which game was abundant, it afforded fine range both for pasture and hunting. These forests had, moreover, the charm of novelty, and the game had not yet learned to fear the rifles of the new settlers. It need hardly be added that the spirits of young Boone exulted in this new hunter's paradise. The father and the other sons settled down quietly to the severe labor of making a farm, assigning to Daniel the occupation of his rifle, as aware that it was the only one he could be induced to follow; and probably from the experience, that in this way he could contribute more effectually to the establishment, than either of them in the pursuits of husbandry.
An extensive farm was soon opened. The table was always amply supplied with venison, and was the seat of ample and unostentatious hospitality. The peltries of the young hunter yielded all the money which such an establishment required, and the interval between this removal and the coming of age of young Boone, was one of health, plenty, and privacy.
But meanwhile this settlement began to experience the pressure of that evil which Boone always considered the greatest annoyance of life. The report of this family's prosperity had gone abroad. The young hunter's fame in his new position, attracted other immigrants to come and fix themselves in the vicinity. The smoke of new cabins and clearings went up to the sky. The baying other dogs, and the crash of distant falling trees began to be heard; and painful presentiments already filled the bosom of young Boone, that this abode would shortly be more pressed upon than that he had left. He was compelled, however, to admit, that if such an order of things brings disadvantages, it has also its benefits.
A thriving farmer, by the name of Bryan, had settled at no great distance from Mr. Boone, by whose establishment the young hunter, now at the period of life when other thoughts than those of the chase of wild game are sometimes apt to cross the mind, was accustomed to pass.
This farmer had chosen a most beautiful spot for his residence. The farm occupied a space of some hundred acres on a gentle eminence, crested with yellow poplars and laurels. Around it rolled a mountain stream. So beautiful was the position and so many its advantages, that young Boone used often to pause in admiration, on his way to the deeper woods beyond the verge of human habitation. Who can say that the same dreamy thoughts that inspired the pen of the eloquent Rousseau, did not occupy the mind of the young hunter as he passed this rural abode? We hope we shall not be suspected of a wish to offer a tale of romance, as we relate, how the mighty hunter of wild beasts and men was himself subdued, and that by the most timid and gentle of beings. We put down the facts as we find them recorded, and our conscience is quieted, by finding them perfectly natural to the time, place, and circumstances.
Young Boone was one night engaged in a fire hunt, with a young friend. Their course led them to the deeply timbered bottom that skirted the stream which wound round this pleasant plantation. That the reader may have an idea what sort of a pursuit it was that young Boone was engaged in, during an event so decisive of his future fortunes, we present a brief sketch of a night fire hunt. Two persons are indispensable to it. The horseman that precedes, bears on his shoulder what is called a fire pan, full of blazing pine knots, which casts a bright and flickering glare far through the forest. The second follows at some distance, with his rifle prepared for action. No spectacle is more impressive than this of pairs of hunters, thus kindling the forest into a glare. The deer, reposing quietly in his thicket, is awakened by the approaching cavalcade, and instead of flying from the portentous brilliance, remains stupidly gazing upon it, as if charmed to the spot. The animal is betrayed to its doom the gleaming of its fixed and innocent eyes. This cruel mode of securing a fatal shot, is called in hunter's phrase, shining the eyes.
The two young men reached a corner of the farmer's field at an early hour in the evening. Young Boone gave the customary signal to his mounted companion preceding him, to stop, an indication that he had shined the eyes of a deer. Boone dismounted, and fastened his horse to a tree. Ascertaining that his rifle was in order, he advanced cautiously behind a covert of bushes, to reach the right distance for a shot. The deer is remarkable for the beauty of its eyes when thus shined. The mild brilliance of the two orbs was distinctly visible. Whether warned by a presentiment, or arrested by a palpitation, and strange feelings within, at noting a new expression in the blue and dewy lights that gleamed to his heart, we say not. But the unerring rifle fell, and a rustling told him that the game had fled. Something whispered him it was not a deer; and yet the fleet step, as the game bounded away, might easily be mistaken for that of the light-footed animal. A second thought impelled him to pursue the rapidly retreating game; and he sprang away in the direction of the sound, leaving his companion to occupy himself as he might. The fugitive had the advantage of a considerable advance of him, and apparently a better knowledge of the localities of the place. But the hunter was perfect in all his field exercises, and scarcely less fleet footed than a deer; and he gained rapidly on the object of his pursuit, which advanced a little distance parallel with the field-fence, and then, as if endowed with the utmost accomplishment of gymnastics, cleared the fence at a leap. The hunter, embarrassed with his rifle and accoutrements, was driven to the slow and humiliating expedient of climbing it. But an outline of the form of the fugitive, fleeting through the shades in the direction of the house, assured him that he had mistaken the species of the game. His heart throbbed from a hundred sensations; and among them an apprehension of the consequences that would have resulted from discharging his rifle, when he had first shined those liquid blue eyes. Seeing that the fleet game made straight in the direction of the house, he said to himself, "I will see the pet deer in its lair;" and he directed his steps to the same place. Half a score of dogs opened their barking upon him, as he approached the house, and advertised the master that a stranger was approaching. Having hushed the dogs, and learned the name of his visitant, he introduced him to his family, as the son of their neighbor, Boone.
Scarce had the first words of introduction been uttered, before the opposite door opened, and a boy apparently of seven, and a girl of sixteen, rushed in, panting for breath and seeming in affright.
"Sister went down to the river, and a painter chased her, and she is almost scared to death," exclaimed the boy.
The ruddy, flaxen-haired girl stood full in view of her terrible pursuer, leaning upon his rifle, and surveying her with the most eager admiration. "Rebecca, this is young Boone, son of our neighbor," was their laconic introduction. Both were young, beautiful, and at the period when the affections exercise their most energetic influence. The circumstances of the introduction were favorable to the result, and the young hunter felt that the eyes of the deer had shined his bosom as fatally as his rifle shot had ever the innocent deer of the thickets. She, too, when she saw the high, open, bold forehead; clear, keen, and yet gentle and affectionate eye—the firm front, and the visible impress of decision and fearlessness of the hunter—when she interpreted a look, which said as distinctly as looks could say it, "how terrible it would have been to have fired!" can hardly be supposed to have regarded him with indifference. Nor can it be wondered at that she saw in him her beau ideal of excellence and beauty. The inhabitants of cities, who live in mansions, and read novels stored with unreal pictures of life and the heart, are apt to imagine that love, with all its golden illusions, is reserved exclusively for them. It is a most egregious mistake. A model of ideal beauty and perfection is woven in almost every youthful heart, of the brightest and most brilliant threads that compose the web of existence. It may not be said that this forest maiden was deeply and foolishly smitten at first sight. All reasonable time and space were granted to the claims of maidenly modesty. As for Boone, he was incurably wounded by her, whose eyes he had shined, and as he was remarkable for the backwoods attribute of never being beaten out of his track, he ceased not to woo, until he gained the heart of Rebecca Bryan. In a word, he courted her successfully, and they were married.
Boone removes to the head waters of the Yadkin river—He meets with Finley, who had crossed the mountains into Tennessee—They agree to explore the wilderness west of the Alleghanies together.
After his marriage, Boone's first step was to consider where he should find a place, in which he could unite the advantages of fields to cultivate, and range for hunting. True to the impulse of his nature, he plunged deeper into the wilderness, to realize this dream of comfort and happiness. Leaving his wife, he visited the unsettled regions of North Carolina, and selected a spot near the head waters of the Yadkin, for his future home.
The same spirit that afterwards operated to take Mrs. Boone to Kentucky, now led her to leave her friends, and follow her husband to a region where she was an entire stranger. Men change their place of abode from ambition or interest; women from affection. In the course of a few months, Daniel Boone had reared comfortable cabins upon a pleasant eminence at a little distance from the river bank, inclosed a field, and gathered around him the means of abundance and enjoyment. His dwelling, though of rude exterior, offered the weary traveller shelter, a cheerful fire, and a plentiful board, graced with the most cordial welcome. The faces that looked on him were free from the cloud of care, the constraint of ceremony, and the distrust and fear, with which men learn to regard one another in the midst of the rivalry, competition, and scramble of populous cities. The spoils of the chase gave variety to his table, and afforded Boone an excuse for devoting his leisure hours to his favorite pursuit. The country around spread an ample field for its exercise, as it was almost untouched by the axe of the woodsman.
The lapse of a few years—passed in the useful and unpretending occupations of the husbandman—brought no external change to Daniel Boone, deserving of record. His step was now the firm tread of sober manhood; and his purpose the result of matured reflection. This influence of the progress of time, instead of obliterating the original impress of his character, only sunk it deeper. The dwellings of immigrants were springing up in all directions around. Inclosures again began to surround him on every hand, shutting him out from his accustomed haunts in the depths of the forest shade. He saw cultivated fields stretching over large extents of country; and in the distance, villages and towns; and was made sensible of their train of forms, and laws, and restrictions, and buts, and bounds, gradually approaching his habitation. Be determined again to leave them far behind. His resolve was made, but he had not decided to what point he would turn. Circumstances soon occurred to terminate his indecision.
As early as 1760, the country west of the Cumberland mountains was considered by the inhabitants of Carolina and Virginia, as involved in something of the same obscurity which lay over the American continent, after its first discovery by Columbus. Those who spread their sails to cross the sea, and find new skies, a new soil, and men in a new world, were not deemed more daring by their brethren at home, than the few hardy adventurers, who struck into the pathless forests stretching along the frontier settlements of the western country, were estimated by their friends and neighbors. Even the most informed and intelligent, where information and intelligence were cultivated, knew so little of the immense extent of country, now designated as the "Mississippi Valley," that a book, published near the year 1800, in Philadelphia or New York, by a writer of talent and standing, speaks of the many mouths of the Missouri, as entering the Mississippi far below the Ohio.
The simple inmates of cabins, in the remote region bordering on the new country, knew still less about it; as they had not penetrated its wilderness, and were destitute of that general knowledge which prevents the exercise of the exaggerations of vague conjecture. There was, indeed, ample room for the indulgence of speculation upon the features which the unexplored land was characterized. Its mountains, plains, and streams, animals, and men, were yet to be discovered and named. It might be found the richest land under the sun, exhaustless in fertility, yielding the most valuable productions, and unfailing in its resources. It was possible it would prove a sterile desert. Imagination could not but expatiate in this unbounded field and unexplored wilderness; and there are few persons entirely secure from the influence of imagination. The real danger attending the first exploration of a country filled with wild animals and savages; and the difficulty of carrying a sufficient supply of ammunition to procure food, during a long journey, necessarily made on foot, had prevented any attempt of the kind. The Alleghany mountains had hitherto stood an unsurmounted barrier between the Atlantic country and the shores of the beautiful Ohio.
Not far from this period, Dr. Walker, an intelligent and enterprising Virginian, collected a small party, and actually crossed the mountains at the Cumberland Gap, after traversing Powell's valley. One of his leading inducements to this tour, was the hope of making botanical discoveries. The party crossed Cumberland river, and pursued a north-east course over the highlands, which give rise to the sources of the lesser tributaries of the important streams that water the Ohio valley. They reached Big Sandy, after enduring the privations and fatigue incident to such an undertaking. From this point they commenced their return home. On reaching it, they showed no inclination to resume their attempt, although the information thus gained respecting the country, presented it in a very favorable light. These first adventurers wanted the hardihood, unconquerable fortitude, and unwavering purpose, which nothing but death could arrest, that marked the pioneers, who followed in their footsteps. Some time elapsed before a second exploring expedition was set on foot. The relations of what these men had seen on the other side of the mountains had assumed the form of romance, rather than reality. Hunters, alone or in pairs, now ventured to extend their range into the skirts of the wilderness, thus gradually enlarging the sphere of definite conceptions, respecting the country beyond it.
In 1767, a backwoodsman of the name of Finley, of North Carolina, in company with a few kindred spirits resembling him in character, advanced still farther into the interior of the land of promise. It is probable, they chose the season of flowers for their enterprise; as on the return of this little band, a description of the soil they had trodden, and the sights they had seen, went abroad, that charmed all ears, excited all imaginations, and dwelt upon every tongue. Well might they so describe. Their course lay through a portion of Tennessee. There is nothing grand or imposing in scenery—nothing striking or picturesque in cascades and precipitous declivities of mountains covered with woods—nothing romantic and delightful in deep and sheltered valleys, through which wind clear streams, which is not found in this first region they traversed. The mountains here stretch along in continuous ridges—and there shoot up into elevated peaks. On the summits of some, spread plateaus, which afford the most commanding prospects, and offer all advantages for cultivation, overhung by the purest atmosphere. No words can picture the secluded beauty of some of the vales bordering the creeks and small streams, which dash transparent as air over rocks, moss-covered and time-worn—walled in by the precipitous sides of mountains, down which pour numberless waterfalls.
The soil is rich beyond any tracts of the same character in the west. Beautiful white, gray, and red marbles are found here; and sometimes fine specimens of rock-crystals. Salt springs abound. It has lead mines; and iron ore is no where more abundant. Its salt-petre caves are most astonishing curiosities. One of them has been traced ten miles. Another, on a high point of Cumberland mountain, has a perpendicular descent, the bottom of which has never been sounded. They abound in prodigious vaulted apartments and singular chambers, the roofs springing up into noble arches, or running along for miles in regular oblong excavations. The gloomy grandeur, produced by the faint illumination of torches in these immense subterranean retreats, may be imagined, but not described. Springs rise, and considerable streams flow through them, on smooth limestone beds.
This is the very home of subterranean wonders, showing the noblest caves in the world. In comparison with them, the celebrated one at Antiparos is but a slight excavation. Spurs of the mountains, called the "Enchanted Mountains," show traces impressed in the solid limestone, of the footsteps of men, horses, and other animals, as distinctly as though they had been made upon clay mortar. In places the tracks are such as would be made by feet, that had slidden upon soft clay in descending declivities.
Prodigious remains of animals are found near the salines. Whole trees are discovered completely petrified; and to crown the list of wonders, in turning up the soil, graves are opened, which contain the skeletons of figures, who must have been of mature age. Paintings of the sun, moon, animals, and serpents, on high and apparently inaccessible cliffs, out of question the work of former ages, in colors as fresh as if recently laid on, and in some instances, just and ingenious in delineation, are a subject of untiring speculation. Even the streams in this region of wonders have scooped out for themselves immensely deep channels hemmed in by perpendicular walls of limestone, sometimes springing up to a height of three or four hundred feet. As the traveller looks down upon the dark waters rolling so far beneath him, seeming to flow in a subterranean world, he cannot but feel impressions of the grandeur of nature stealing over him.
It is not to be supposed, that persons, whose sole object in entering the country was to explore it, would fail to note these surprising traces of past races, the beautiful diversity of the aspect of the country, or these wonders of nature exhibited on every hand. Being neither incurious nor incompetent observers, their delineations were graphic and vivid.
"Their teachers had been woods and rills, The silence, that is in the starry sky; The sleep, that is among the lonely hills."
They advanced into Kentucky so far, as to their imaginations with the fresh and luxuriant beauty of its lawns, its rich cane-brakes and flowering forests. To them it was a terrestrial paradise for it was full of game. Deer, elk, bears, buffaloes, panthers, wolves, wild-cats, and foxes, abounded in the thick tangles of the green cane; and in the open woods, pheasants, partridges, and turkeys, were as plenty as domestic fowls in the old settlements.
Such were the materials, from which these hunters, on their return formed descriptions that fixed in the remembrance, and operated upon the fancy of all who heard. A year after Finley's return, his love of wandering led him into the vicinity of Daniel Boone. They met, and the hearts of these kindred spirits at once warmed towards each other. Finley related his adventures, and painted the delights of Kain-tuck-kee—for such was its Indian name. Boone had but few hair-breath escapes to recount, in comparison with his new companion. But it can readily be imagined, that a burning sensation rose in his breast, like that of the celebrated painter Correggio, when low-born, untaught, poor and destitute of every advantage, save that of splendid native endowment, he stood before the work of the immortal Raphael, and said, "I too am a painter!" Boone's purpose was fixed. In a region, such as Finley described, far in advance of the wearying monotony of a life of inglorious toil, he would have space to roam unwitnessed, undisturbed by those of his own race, whose only thought was to cut down trees, at least for a period of some years. We wish not to be understood to laud these views, as wise or just. In the order of things, however, it was necessary, that men like Finley and Boone, and their companions, should precede in the wilderness, to prepare the way for the multitudes who would soon follow. It is probable, that no motives but those ascribed to them, would have induced these adventurers to face the hardships and extremes of suffering from exposure and hunger, and the peril of life, which they literally carried in their hand.
No feeling, but a devotion to their favorite pursuits and modes of life, stronger than the fear of abandonment, in the interminable and pathless woods, to all forms of misery and death, could ever have enabled them to persist in braving the danger and distress that stared them in the face at every advancing step.
Finley was invited by Boone permanently to share the comfort of his fire-side,—for it was now winter. It needs no exercise of fancy to conjecture their subjects of conversation during the long evening. The bitter wintry wind burst upon their dwelling only to enhance the cheerfulness of the blazing fire in the huge chimneys, by the contrast of the inclemency of nature without.
It does not seem natural, at first thought, that a season, in which nature shows herself stern and unrelenting, should be chosen, as that in which plans are originated and matured for settling the destiny of life. But it was during this winter, that Boone and Finley arranged all the preliminaries of their expedition, and agreed to meet on the first of May in the coming spring; and with some others, whom they hoped to induce to join them for greater strength and safety, to set forth together on an expedition into Kentucky.
Boone's array of arguments, to influence those whom he wished to share this daring enterprise with him, was tinctured with the coloring of rude poetry. "They would ascend," he said, "the unnamed mountains, whose green heads rose not far from their former hunting-grounds, since fences and inclosures had begun to surround them on all sides, shutting up the hunter from his free range and support. The deer had fled from the sound of the axe, which levelled the noble trees under whose shade they could repose from the fatigues of pursuit. The springs and streams among the hills were bared to the fierce sun, and would soon dry up and disappear. Soon 'the horn would no more wake them up in the morn.' The sons of their love and pride, instead of being trained hunters, with a free, bold step, frank kindness, true honor, and a courage that knew not fear, would become men to whom the pleasures and dangers of their fathers would seem an idle tale." The prospect spreading on the other side of the mountains, he pictured as filled with all the images of abundance and freedom that could enter the thoughts of the hunter. The paintings were drawn from nature, and the words few and simple, that spoke to the hearts of these sons of the forest. "The broad woods," he pursued, "would stretch beneath their eyes, when the mountain summits were gained, one extended tuft of blossoms. The cane was a tangle of luxuriance, affording the richest pastures. The only paths through it were those made by buffaloes and bears. In the sheltered glades, turkeys and large wild birds were so abundant, that a hunter could supply himself in an hour for the wants of a week. They would not be found like the lean and tough birds in the old settlements, that lingered around the clearings and stumps of the trees, in the topmost of whose branches the fear of man compelled them to rest, but young and full fed. The trees in this new land were of no stinted or gnarled growth, but shot up tall, straight, and taper. The yellow poplar here threw up into the air a column of an hundred feet shaft in a contest with the sycamore for the pre-eminence of the woods. Their wives and children would remain safe in their present homes, until the first dangers and fatigues of the new settlement had been met and overcome. When their homes were selected, and their cabins built, they would return and bring them out to their new abodes. The outward journey could be regulated by the uncontrolled pleasure of their more frail travellers. What guardians could be more true than their husbands with their good rifles and the skill and determination to use them? They would depend, not upon circumstances, but upon themselves. The babes would exult in the arms of their mothers from the inspiring influence of the fresh air; and at night a cradle from the hollow tree would rock them to a healthful repose. The older children, training to the pursuits and pleasures of a life in the woods, and acquiring vigor of body and mind with every day, in their season of prime, would feel no shame that they had hearts softened by the warm current of true feeling. When their own silver hairs lay thin upon the brow, and their eye was dim, and sounds came confused on their ear, and their step faltered, and their form bent, they would find consideration, and care, and tenderness from children, whose breasts were not steeled by ambition, nor hardened by avarice; in whom the beautiful influences of the indulgence of none but natural desires and pure affections would not be deadened by the selfishness, vanity, and fear of ridicule, that are the harvest of what is called civilized and cultivated life." Such at least, in after life, were the contrasts that Boone used to present between social life and that of the woodsman.
Boone, with Finley and others, start on their exploring expedition—Boone kills a panther in the night—Their progress over the mountains—They descend into the great valley—Description of the new country—Herds of buffaloes—Their wanderings in the wilderness.
The first of May, 1769, Finley and Boone, with four others, whose names were Stewart, Holden, Mooney, and Cool, and who had pledged themselves to the undertaking, were assembled at the house of Boone, in readiness to commence their journey. It may be imagined that all the neighbors gathered to witness their departure. A rifle, ammunition, and a light knapsack were all the baggage with which they dared encumber themselves. Provisions for a few days were bestowed along with the clothing deemed absolutely necessary for comfort upon the long route. No shame could attach to the manhood and courage of Daniel Boone from the fact that tears were said to have rushed to his eyes, as he kissed his wife and children before he turned from his door for the last time for months, and perhaps forever. The nature of the pioneer was as gentle and affectionate as it was firm and persevering. He had power, however, to send back the unbidden gush to its source, and forcibly to withdraw his mind from enervating thoughts.
Beside, the natural elasticity of his temperament and the buoyancy of his character came to his aid. The anticipation of new and strange incidents operated to produce in the minds of the travellers, from the commencement of the enterprise, a kind of wild pleasure.
With alert and vigorous steps they pursued a north-west course, and were soon beyond the reach of the most distant view of their homes. This day and night, and the succeeding one, the scenes in view were familiar; but in the course of the four or five that followed, all vestiges of civilized habitancy had disappeared. The route lay through a solitary and trackless wilderness. Before them rose a line of mountains, shooting up against the blue of the horizon, in peaks and elevations of all forms. The slender store of food with which they had set out, was soon exhausted. To obtain a fresh supply was the first and most pressing want. Accordingly, a convenient place was selected, and a camp constructed of logs and branches of trees, to keep out the dew and rain. The whole party joined in this preliminary arrangement. When it was so far completed, as to enable a part to finish it before night-fall, part of the company took their rifles and went in different directions in pursuit of game. They returned in time for supper, with a couple of deer and some wild turkeys. Those, whose business it was to finish the camp, had made a generous fire and acquired keen appetites for the coming feast. The deer were rapidly dressed, so far at least as to furnish a supper of venison. It had not been long finished, and the arrangements for the night made, before the clouds, which had been gathering blackness for some hours, rolled up in immense folds from the point, whence was heard the sudden burst of a furious wind. The lightning darted from all quarters of the heavens. At one moment every object stood forth in a glare of dazzling light. The next the darkness might almost be felt. The rain fell in torrents, in one apparently unbroken sheet from the sky to the earth. The peals of thunder rolled almost unheard amid this deafening rush of waters. The camp of the travellers, erected with reference to the probability of such an occurrence, was placed under the shelter of a huge tree, whose branches ran out laterally, and were of a thickness of foliage to be almost impervious to the rain. To this happy precaution of the woodsmen, they owed their escape from the drenching of the shower. They were not, perhaps, aware of the greater danger from lightning, to which their position had exposed them.
As was the universal custom in cases like theirs, a watch was kept by two, while the others slept. The watches were relieved several times during the night. About midnight, Boone and Holden being upon the watch, the deep stillness abroad was broken by a shrill scream, resembling the shriek of a frightened woman or child more nearly than any other sound. The two companions had been sitting in a contemplative mood, listening to the deep breathing of the sleepers, when this cry came upon their ears. Both sprang erect. "What is that?" exclaimed Holden, who was not an experienced backwoodsman, in comparison with the others. "Hush!" answered Boone; "do not wake the rest. It is nothing but the cry of a panther. Take your gun and come with me."
They stole gently from the camp and listened in breathless silence for a repetition of the cry. It was soon repeated, indicating the place where the animal was. Groping cautiously through the bushes in its direction, frequently stopping to look around, and holding their rifles ready for an instantaneous shot, they drew near the formidable animal. At length they discovered at a little distance before them, two balls that glared with an intense brightness, like that of living coals of fire. Boone, taking deliberate aim, in the best manner that the darkness would permit, discharged his rifle. The yell of pain from the animal, as it was heard leaping among the undergrowth in an opposite direction, satisfied Boone that his shot had taken sufficient effect to prevent a second disturbance from it, at least for that night, and he returned to the camp with his companion. The sleepers, aroused by the report of the gun, were awaiting him. The account of the adventure afforded speculation, touching the point, whether the animal had been killed or would return again. Early the next morning, some were dispatched to bring in more game, while others prepared and dried what had already been obtained. The whole day was spent in this way and the night following passed without any disturbance.
With the first light of the sun on the succeeding morning, they threw their knapsacks over their shoulders, and leaving their temporary shelter to benefit any who might come after them, resumed their route. They had not proceeded far before an animal stretched on the ground attracted attention. It was a dead panther. By comparing the size of the ball, which had killed it, with those used by Boone, the party were satisfied that this was the same animal he had shot the night after the storm.
During the day they began the ascent of the ridge of the Alleghany, that had for some days bounded their view. The mountainous character of the country, for some miles, before the highest elevations rose to sight, rendered the travelling laborious and slow. Several days were spent in this toilsome progress. Steep summits, impossible to ascend, impeded their advance, compelling them to turn aside, and attain the point above by a circuitous route. Again they were obliged to delay their journey for a day, in order to obtain a fresh supply of provisions. This was readily procured, as all the varieties of game abounded on every side.
The last crags and cliffs of the middle ridges having been scrambled over, on the following morning they stood on the summit of Cumberland mountain, the farthest western spur of this line of heights. From this point the descent into the great western valley began. What a scene opened before them! A feeling of the sublime is inspired in every bosom susceptible of it, by a view from any point of these vast ranges, of the boundless forest valleys of the Ohio. It is a view more grand, more heart-stirring than that of the ocean. Illimitable extents of wood, and winding river courses spread before them like a large map. "Glorious country!" they exclaimed. Little did Boone dream that in fifty years, immense portions of it would pass from the domain of the hunter—that it would contain four millions of freemen, and its waters be navigated by nearly two hundred steam boats, sweeping down these streams that now rolled through the unbroken forests before them. To them it stood forth an unexplored paradise of the hunter's imagination.
After a long pause, in thoughts too deep for words, they began the descent, which was made in a much shorter time than had been required for the opposite ascent; and the explorers soon found themselves on the slopes of the subsiding hills. Here the hunter was in his element. To all the party but Finley, the buffaloes incidentally seen in small numbers in the valleys, were a novel and interesting sight. It had as yet been impossible to obtain a shot at them, from their distance or position. It may be imagined with what eagerness Boone sought an opportunity to make his first essay in this exciting and noble species of hunting.
The first considerable drove came in sight on the afternoon of the day on which the travellers reached the foot of the mountains. The day had been one of the most beautiful of spring. The earth was covered with grass of the freshest green. The rich foliage of the trees, in its varied shading, furnished its portion of the loveliness of the surrounding landscape. The light of the declining sun lay full on the scene of boundless solitude. The party had descended into a deep glen, which wound through the opening between the highlands, still extending a little in advance of them. They pursued its course until it terminated in a beautiful little plain. Upon advancing into this, they found themselves in an area of considerable extent, almost circular in form, bounded on one half its circumference by the line of hills, from among which they had just emerged. The other sections of the circle were marked by the fringe of wood that bordered a stream winding from the hills, at a considerable distance above. The buffaloes advanced from the skirt of wood, and the plain was soon filled by the moving mass of these huge animals.
The exploring adventurers perceived themselves in danger of what has more than once happened in similar situations. The prospect seemed to be that they would be trampled under the feet of the reckless and sweeping body, in their onward course.
"They will not turn out for us," said Finley; "and If we do not conduct exactly right, we shall be crushed to death."
The inexperienced adventurers bade him direct them in the emergency. Just as the front of the phalanx was within short rifle distance, he discharged his rifle and brought down one of the bulls, that seemed to be a file leader, by a ball between the horns. The unwieldy animal fell. The mass raised a deafening sort of bellow, and became arrested, as if transfixed to the spot. A momentary confusion of the mass behind ensued. But, borne along by the pressure of the multitudes still in the rear, there was a gradual parting of the herd direct from the front, where the fallen buffalo lay. The disruption once made, the chasm broadened, until when the wings passed the travellers, they were thirty yards from the divisions on either hand. To prevent the masses yet behind from closing their lines, Finley took the rifle of one of his companions, and levelled another. This changed the pace of the animals to a rout. The last masses soon thundered by, and left them gazing in astonishment, not unmixed with joy, in realizing their escape, "Job of Uz," exclaimed Boone, "had not larger droves of cattle than we. In fact, we seem to have had in this instance an abundance to a fault."
As this was an era in their adventures, and an omen of the abundance of the vast regions of forests which they had descried from the summits of the mountains, they halted, made a camp, and skinned the animals, preserving the skins, fat, tongues, and choice pieces. No epicures ever feasted higher than these athletic and hungry hunters, as they sat around their evening fire, and commented upon the ease with which their wants would be supplied in a country thus abounding with such animals.
After feasting again in the morning on the spoils of the preceding day, and packing such parts of the animals as their probable necessities suggested, they commenced their march; and in no great distance reached Red river, a branch of the Cumberland. They followed the meanders of this river for some miles, until they reached, on the 7th day of June, Finley's former station, where his preceding explorations of the western country had terminated.
Their journey to this point had lasted more than a month; and though the circumstances in which they had made it, had been generally auspicious, so long a route through unknown forests, and over precipitous mountains, hitherto untrodden by white men, could not but have been fatiguing in the extreme. None but such spirits could have sustained their hardships without a purpose to turn back, and leave their exploration unaccomplished.
They resolved in this place to encamp, and remain for a time sufficient to recruit themselves for other expeditions and discoveries. The weather had been for some time past, and still remained, rainy and unpleasant; and it became necessary that their station should be of such a construction, as to secure them a dry sleeping place from the rain. The game was so abundant, that they found it a pleasure, rather than a difficulty, to supply themselves with food. The buffaloes were seen like herds of cattle, dispersed among the cane-brakes, or feeding on the grass, or ruminating in the shade. Their skins were of great utility, in furnishing them with moccasins, and many necessary articles indispensable to their comfortable subsistence at their station.
What struck them with unfailing pleasure was, to observe the soil, in general, of a fertility without example on the other side of the mountains. From an eminence in the vicinity of their station, they could see, as far as vision could extend, the beautiful country of Kentucky. They remarked with astonishment the tall, straight trees, shading the exuberant soil, wholly clear from any other underbrush than the rich cane-brakes, the image of verdure and luxuriance, or tall grass and clover. Down the gentle slopes murmured clear limestone brooks. Finley, who had some touch of scripture knowledge, exclaimed in view of this wilderness-paradise, so abundant in game and wild fowls, "This wilderness blossoms as the rose; and these desolate places are as the garden of God."
"Ay," responded Boone; "and who would remain on the sterile pine hills of North Carolina, to hear the screaming of the jay, and now and then bring down a deer too lean to be eaten? This is the land of hunters, where man and beast will grow to their full size."
They ranged through various forests, and crossed the numerous streams of the vicinity. By following the paths of the buffaloes, bears, deer, and other animals, they discovered the Salines or Licks, where salt is made at the present day. The paths, in approaching the salines, were trodden as hard and smooth, as in the vicinity of the farm-yards of the old settlements. Boone, from the principle which places the best pilot at the helm in a storm, was not slow to learn from innumerable circumstances which would have passed unnoticed by a less sagacious woodsman, that, although the country was not actually inhabited by Indians, it was not the less a scene of strife and combat for the possession of such rich hunting grounds by a great number of tribes. He discovered that it was a common park to these fierce tribes; and none the less likely to expose them to the dangers of Indian warfare, because it was not claimed or inhabited by any particular tribe. On the contrary, instead of having to encounter a single tribe in possession, he foresaw that the jealousy of all the tribes would be united against the new intruders.
These fearless spirits, who were instinctively imbued with an abhorrence of the Indians, heeded little, however, whether they had to make war on them, or the wild beasts. They felt in its fullest force that indomitable elasticity of character, which causes the possessor, every where, and in all forms of imagined peril, to feel sufficient to themselves. Hence the lonely adventurers continued fearlessly to explore the beautiful positions for settlements, to cross and name the rivers, and to hunt.
By a happy fatality, through all the summer they met with no Indians, and experienced no impediment in the way of the most successful hunting. During the season, they had collected large quantities of peltries, and meeting with nothing to excite apprehension or alarm, they became constantly more delighted with the country.
So passed their time, until the 22d of December. After this period adventures of the most disastrous character began to crowd upon them. We forthwith commence the narrative of incidents which constitute the general color of Boone's future life.
The exploring party divide into different routes—Boone and Stewart taken prisoners by the Indians, and their escape—Boone meets with his elder brother and another white man in the woods—Stewart killed by the Indians, and the companion of the elder Boone destroyed by wolves—The elder brother returns to North Carolina, leaving Boone alone in the wilderness.
In order to extend the means of gaining more exact information with regard to this beautiful country, the party divided, and took different directions. Boone and Stewart formed one division, and the remaining three the other. The two former had as yet seen few thick forests. The country was much of it of that description, now known by the name of "Barrens," or open woods, which had the appearance of having been planted out with trees at wide and regular distances from each other, like those of an orchard, allowing the most luxuriant growth of cane, grass, or clover beneath them. They now passed a wide and deep forest, in which the trees were large and thick. Among them were many of the laurel tribe, in full verdure in mid winter. Others were thick hung with persimmons, candied by the frost, nutritive, and as luscious as figs. Others again were covered with winter grapes. Every thing tended to inspire them with exalted notions of the natural resources of the country, and to give birth to those extravagant romances, which afterwards became prevalent, as descriptions of Kentucky. Such were Finley's accounts of it—views which went abroad, and created even in Europe an impression of a kind of new El Dorado, or rather rural paradise. Other and very different scenes, in no great length of time, disenchanted the new paradise, and presented it in the sober traits of truth.
They were never out of sight of buffaloes, deer, and turkeys. At night-fall they came in view of Kentucky river, and admired in unsated astonishment, the precipices three hundred feet high, at the foot of which, as in a channel cut out of the solid limestone, rolled the dark waters of the beautiful stream. A lofty eminence was before them. Thinking it would afford them a far view of the meanderings of the river, they ascended it. This expectation was realized. A large extent of country stretched beneath them. Having surveyed it, they proposed to commence their return to rejoin their companions. As they were leisurely descending the hill, little dreaming of danger, the Indian yell burst upon their ears. A numerous party of Indians sprang from the cane-brake, surrounded, vanquished, and bound them, before they had time to have recourse to their arms. The Indians proceeded to plunder them of their rifles, and every thing in their possession but the most indispensable articles of dress. They then led them off to their camp, where they confined them in such a manner as effectually to prevent their escape.
Not knowing a word of the speech of their captors, who knew as little of theirs, they were wholly ignorant of what fate awaited them. The Indians next day marched them off rapidly towards the north, compelling them to travel at a rate which was excessively annoying to captives in their predicament-manacled, in momentary apprehension of death, and plunging deeper into the wilderness in advancing towards the permanent abode of their savage masters. It was well for them that they were more athletic than the savages, equally capable of endurance, and alike incapable of betraying groans, fear, or even marks of regret in their countenance. They knew enough of savage modes to beware that the least indications of weariness, and inability to proceed, would have brought the tomahawk and scalping-knife upon their skulls—weapons with which they were thus early supplied from Detroit. They therefore pushed resolutely on, with cheerful countenances, watching the while with intense earnestness, to catch from the signs and gestures of the Indians, what was their purpose in regard to their fate. By the second day, they comprehended the words of most frequent recurrence in the discussion, that took place respecting them. Part, they perceived, were for putting them to death to prevent their escape. The other portion advocated their being adopted into the tribe, and domesticated. To give efficacy to the counsels of these last, the captives not only concealed every trace of chagrin, but dissembled cheerfulness, and affected to like their new mode of life; and seemed as happy, and as much amused, as the Indians themselves.
Fortunately, their previous modes of life, and in fact their actual aptitudes and propensities wonderfully qualified them, along with their reckless courage and elasticity of character, to enact this difficult part with a success, which completely deceived the Indians, and gave the entire ascendency to the advice of those who proposed to spare, and adopt them into their tribe. Lulled by this semblance, the captors were less and less strict in their guard. On the seventh night of their captivity, the savages, having made a great fire, and fed plentifully, all fell into a sound sleep, leaving their prisoners, who affected to be as deeply asleep as themselves, wholly unguarded.
It need hardly be said, that the appearance of content they had worn, was mere outward show; and that they slept not. Boone slowly and cautiously raised himself to a sitting posture, and thus remained a few moments to mark, if his change of position had been observed. One of the sleepers turned in his sleep. Boone instantly dropped back to his recumbent posture and semblance of sleep. So he remained fifteen minutes, when he once more raised himself, and continued sitting for some time, without noting a movement among the slumberers around him. He then ventured to communicate his purpose to his companion.
The greatest caution was necessary to prevent disturbing the savages, as the slightest noise would awake them, and probably bring instant death upon the captives. Stewart succeeded in placing himself upon his feet without any noise. The companions were not far apart, but did not dare to whisper to each other the thought that occurred alike to both—that, should they escape without rifles and ammunition, they must certainly die of hunger. The place where their rifles stood had been carefully noted by them, and by groping their way with the utmost care, they finally reached them. Fortunately, the equipments, containing the usual supply of powder and ball, were near the rifles. The feelings with which Boone and Stewart stole forth from the circle of their captors may be imagined. They made their way into the woods through the darkness, keeping close together for some time, before they exchanged words.
It was not far from morning when they began their attempt at escape; but they had made considerable progress from the Indian encampment before the dawn. They took their course with the first light, and pursued it the whole day, reaching their camp without meeting with any accident. As the sun was declining, forms were seen approaching the camp in the distance. The uncertain light in which they were first visible, rendered it impossible for Boone and Stewart to determine whether they were whites or Indians; but they grasped their rifles, and stood ready for defence. The forms continued to approach cautiously and slowly, until they were within speaking distance. Boone then hailed them with the challenge, "Who comes there?" The delight may be imagined with which Boone and Stewart heard the reply of "White men and friends!" "Come on then," said Boone. The next moment he found himself in the arms of his brother, who, accompanied by a single companion, had left North Carolina, and made his way all the distance from the Yadkin to the Cumberland. They had been wandering many days in the woods, in pursuit of Boone and his party, and had thus providentially fallen upon them.
Notwithstanding the damp which it must cast on the spirits of these new adventurers to hear of the recent captivity of Boone and Stewart, and the uncertain fate of the rest of the company, this joyous meeting of brothers and friends in the wilderness, and this intelligence from home, filled the parties with a joy too sincere and unalloyed to be repressed by apprehensions for the future.
The four associates commenced the usual occupation of hunting, but were soon alarmed by signs of the vicinity of Indians, and clear proofs that they were prowling near them in the woods. These circumstances strongly admonished them not to venture singly to any great distance from each other. In the eagerness of pursuing a wounded buffalo, Boone and Stewart, however, allowed themselves to be separated from their companions. Aware of their imprudence, and halting to return, a party of savages rushed from the cane-brake, and discharged a shower of arrows upon them, one of which laid Stewart dead on the spot. The first purpose of Boone was to fire upon them, and sell his life as dearly as possible. But rashness is not bravery; and seeing the numbers of the foe, the hopelessness of resistance, and the uselessness of bartering his own life for the revenge of inflicting a single death—reflecting, moreover, on the retaliation it would probably bring down on the remainder of his companions, he retreated, and escaped, amidst a flight of arrows, in safety to the camp.
One would have supposed that this party would have needed no more monition to keep them together, and always on their guard. But, forgetful of the fate of Stewart, the partner of the elder Boone, who had recently arrived, allowed himself to be beguiled away from the two Boone's, as they were hunting together. The object of his curiosity was of little importance. In pursuit of it, he wandered into a swamp, and was lost. The two brothers sought him, long and painfully, to no purpose. Discouraged, and perhaps exasperated in view of his careless imprudence, they finally concluded he had chosen that method of deserting them, and had set out on his return to North Carolina. Under such impressions, they relinquished the search, and returned to camp. They had reason afterwards to repent their harsh estimate of his intentions. Fragments of his clothes, and traces of blood were found on the opposite side of the swamp. A numerous pack of wolves had been heard to howl in that direction the evening on which he had been lost. Circumstances placed it beyond a doubt, that, while wandering about in search of his companions, these terrible animals had come upon him and torn him in pieces. He was never heard of afterwards.
The brothers were thus left alone in this wide wilderness, the only white men west of the mountains; as they concluded the remainder of the original party had returned to North Carolina. But they were neither desponding nor indolent. They held pleasant communion together—hunted by day, cooked their game, sat by their bright fires, and sung the airs of their country by night, as though in the midst of the gayest society. They devoted, beside, much of their time and labor to preparing a comfortable cabin to shelter them during the approaching winter.
They were in want of many things. Clothing and moccasins they might supply. With bread, sugar, and salt, though articles of the first necessity, they could dispense. But ammunition, an article absolutely indispensable, was failing them. They concluded, too, that horses would be of essential service to them. They finally came to the resolution that the elder Boone should return to North Carolina, and come out to the new country with ammunition, horses, and supplies.