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Episodes from The Winning of the West
Chapter Three: Boone and the Long Hunters


The American backwoodsmen had surged up, wave upon wave, till their mass trembled in the troughs of the Alleghanies, ready to flood the continent beyond. The peoples threatened by them were dimly conscious of the danger which as yet only loomed in the distance. Spaniard and Creole Frenchman, Algonquin and Appalachian, were all uneasy as they began to feel the first faint pressure of the American advance.

As yet they had been shielded by the forest which lay over the land like an unrent mantle. All through the mountains, and far beyond, it stretched without a break; but towards the mouth of the Kentucky and Cumberland rivers the landscape became varied with open groves of woodland, with flower-strewn glades and great barrens or prairies of long grass. This region, one of the fairest in the world, was the debatable ground between the northern and the southern Indians. Neither dared dwell therein, but both used it as their hunting-grounds; and it was traversed from end to end by the well marked war traces which they, followed, when they invaded each, other's territory. The whites, on trying to break through the barrier which hemmed them in from the western lands, naturally succeeded best when pressing along the line of least resistance; and so their first great advance was made into this debatable land, the hunting-grounds of the Cherokee, Creek, and Chickasaw, and of the northern Algonquin and Wyandot.

Unknown and unnamed hunters and Indian traders had from time to time pushed some little way into the wilderness. One explorer had found and named the Cumberland river and mountains, and the great pass called Cumberland Gap. Others had hunted in the great bend of the Cumberland and in the woodland region of Kentucky, famed amongst the Indians for the abundance of the game. But their accounts excited no more than a passing interest; they came and went without comment, as lonely stragglers had come and gone for nearly a century. The backwoods civilization crept slowly westward without being influenced in its movements by their explorations.

Finally, however, among these hunters one arose whose wanderings were to bear fruit; who was destined to lead through the wilderness the first body of settlers that ever established a community in the far west, completely cut off from the seaboard colonies. This was Daniel Boone. He was born in Pennsylvania in 1734, but when only a boy had been brought with the rest of his family to the banks of the Yadkin in North Carolina. Here he grew up, and as soon as he came of age he married, built a log hut, and made a- clearing, whereon to farm like the rest of his backwoods neighbors.

With Boone hunting and exploration were passions, and the lonely life of the wilderness; with its bold, wild freedom, the only existence for which he really cared He was a tall, spare, sinewy man, with eyes like as eagle's, and muscles that never tired; the toil and hardship of his life made no impress on his iron frame, unhurt by intemperance of any kind, and he lived for eighty-six years, a backwoods hunter to the end of his days. His thoughtful, quiet, pleasant face was the face of a man who never blustered or bullied, who would neither inflict nor suffer any wrong, and who had a limitless fund of fortitude, endurance, and indomitable resolution upon which to draw when fortune proved adverse. His self-command and patience, his daring, restless love of adventure, and, in time of danger, his absolute trust in his own powers and resources, all combined to render him peculiarly fitted to follow the career of which he was so fond.

Boone hunted in the edges of the wilderness, just over the mountains, at an early date. In the valley of Boone's Creek, a tributary of the Watauga, there is a beech tree still standing, on which can be faintly traced an inscription setting forth that "D. Boone cilled a bar on (this) tree in the year 1760."

His expeditions whetted his appetite for the unknown. He had heard of great hunting-grounds in the far interior, and on May 1 1769, he left his home on the Yadkin "to wander through the wilderness of America in quest of the country of Kentucky." Accompanied by five men he struck out towards the northwest, through the tangled mass of rugged mountains and gloomy forests. After five weeks of severe toil the little band stood on the threshold of the beautiful blue-grass region of Kentucky; a land of running waters, of groves and glades, of prairies, cane-brakes, and stretches of lofty forest, teeming with game. The shaggy-maned herds of unwieldy buffalo -- the bison, as they should be called -- had beaten out broad trails along, which they had travelled for countless generations. The round-horned elk, with spreading, massive antlers, the lordliest of the deer tribe throughout the world, abounded, and like the buffalo travelled in bands not only through the woods but also across the reaches of waving grass land. The deer were extra ordinarily numerous, and so were bears, while wolves and panthers were plentiful. In December, after six months of successful hunting, the party was attacked by Indians, and Boone and a companion were captured. When they escaped, they found their camp broken up, and their party gone home. By good luck, about this time, Boone was joined by his brother, Squire Boone, who had set out to find him and to explore this same region. Soon afterwards Daniel's companion in captivity was killed by the Indians, while Squire's companion was frightened -back to the settlements by the sight of red men. The two brothers remained alone on their hunting- grounds throughout the winter, living in a little cabin. About the first of May Squire set off alone to the settlements to procure horses and ammunition; while for three months Daniel Boone remained absolutely alone in the wilderness, without salt, sugar, or flour, and without the companionship of so much as a. horse or a dog. But the solitude-loving hunter, dauntless and self-reliant, enjoyed to the full his wild, lonely life; he passed his days hunting and exploring wandering hither and thither over the country while at night he lay off in the canebrakes or thickets, without a fire, so as not to attract the Indians. Of the latter he saw many signs, and they sometimes came to his camp, but his sleepless wariness enabled him to avoid capture.

Late in July his brother returned, and met him according to appointment at the old camp. Other hunters also now came into the Kentucky wilderness, and Boone joined a small party of them for a short time. Soon after this, however, the increasing danger from the Indians drove Boone back to the valley of the Cumberland River, and in the spring of 1771 he returned to his home on the Yadkin.

In the summer of 1769, the same year that Boone started, a large band of hunters crossed the mountains to make a long hunt in the western wilderness with traps, rifles, and dogs, each bringing with him two or three horses. They made their way down the Cumberland until they came to the great barrens of tall grass, where they made a permanent camp, and. returned to it at intervals to deposit their skins and peltries.

At the end of the year some of the adventurers returned home; others went north into the Kentucky country, where they hunted for several mouths before recrossing the mountains; while the remainder, led by an old hunter named Kasper Mansker, built two boats and hollowed out of logs two pirogues or dugouts -- clumsier but tougher craft than the light birch-bark canoes -- and started down the Cumberland. At the French Lick, where Nashville now stands, they saw enormous quantities of buffalo, elk, and other game, more than they had ever seen before in any one place. Some of their goods were taken by a party of Indians they met, but some French traders, whom they likewise encountered, treated them well and gave them salt, flour, tobacco, and taffia, the last being especially prized, as they had had no spirits for a year. They went down to Natchez, sold their furs, hides, oil, and tallow, and some returned by sea, while others, including Mansker, came overland with a drove of horses through the Indian nations to Georgia. On account of the length of time that all these men, as well as Boone and his companions, were absent, they were called the Long Hunters, and the fame of their hunting and exploring spread all along the border and greatly excited the young men.

Soon after the return of Boone and the Long Hunters, parties of surveyors came down the Ohio, mapping out its course and exploring the Kentucky lands that lay beside it. There were several surveyors also in a band that came into the wilderness in 1773, led by three young men named McAfee, -- typical backwoods men, hardy and adventurous. They descended the Ohio and explored part of Kentucky, visiting the different licks. At one of these, famous because there were scattered about it the gigantic remains of the extinct mastodon, the McAfees made a tent by stretching their blankets over the huge fossil ribs using the disjointed vertebrae as stools on which to sit. At another the explorers met with what might have proved a serious adventure. One of the McAfees and a companion were passing round its outskirts, when some others of the party fired at a gang of buffalos; which stampeded directly towards the two. While his companions scampered up a leaning mulberry bush, McAfee, less agile, leaped behind a tree trunk, where he stood sideways till the buffalo passed, their horns scraping off the bark on either side; then he looked round to see his friend "hanging in the mulberry bush like a coon."

When the party started homewards across the Cumberland Mountains, it suffered terribly while making its way through the "desolate solitudes." At last, sun-scorched and rain-beaten, foot-sore and leg-weary, they came out in Powell's Valley, and followed the well-worn hunter's trail thence to their homes.

In Powell's Valley they met the company which Daniel Boone was just leading across the mountains, with the hope of making a permanent settlement in far distant Kentucky. Boone had sold his farm on the Yadkin and all the goods he could not carry with him, and in September, 1773, he started for Kentucky with his wife and his children; five families, and forty men besides, went with him, driving their horses and cattle. On approaching the defiles of the Cumberland Mountains the party was attacked by Indians. Six men, including Boone's eldest son, were slain, and the cattle scattered; and though the backwoodsmen rallied and repulsed their assailants, yet they had suffered such loss and damage that they retreated and took up their abode temporarily on the Clinch River.

In the following year numerous parties of surveyors visited the land. One of these -- eight men in all -- headed by John Floyd, started on April 9, 1774, down the Kanawha in a canoe. They first surveyed two thousand acres for "Colo. Washington," and laid out another tract for Patrick Henry. On the way they encountered other parties of surveyors, and learned that an Indian war was threatened; for a party of thirteen settlers on the upper Ohio had been attacked, but had repelled their assailants, and in consequence the Shawnees had declared for war, and threatened thereafter to kill the Virginians and rob the Pennsylvanians wherever they found them. The reason for this discrimination in favor of the citizens of the Quaker State was that the Virginians with whom the Indians came chiefly in contact were settlers, whereas the Pennsylvanians were traders.

At the mouth of the Kanawha the adventurers found twenty or thirty men gathered together. Some of them joined Floyd, and raised his party to eighteen men, who started down the Ohio in four canoes. When they reached the Kentucky, they split up. Floyd and his original party, after spending a week in the neighborhood, again embarked, and drifted down the Ohio. On May 26th they met two Delawares who had been sent down the river from Fort Pitt to gather their hunters and get them home, in view of the threatened hostilities between the Shawnees and Virginians. The news they brought was so alarming, that some of Floyd's companions became greatly alarmed, and wished to go straight on down the Mississippi; but Floyd swore that he would -finish his work unless actually forced off. Three days afterwards they reached the Falls (now Louisville), where Floyd spent a fortnight, making surveys in every direction, and then started off to explore the land between the Salt River and the Kentucky.

Soon afterwards, Floyd and three companions left the others, agreeing to meet them on August 1st, at a cabin on the south side of the Kentucky, a few miles from the mouth of the Elkhorn. After surveying for three weeks, they then went to the cabin, several days before the appointed time; but to their surprise found everything scattered over the ground, while on a trees near the landing was written, " Alarmed by finding some people killed and we are gone down."

This left the four adventurers in a bad plight, as, they had but fifteen rounds of powder left, and none of them knew the way home. However there was no help for it, and they started off. At last they struck Cumberland Gap, followed a blazed trail across it to Powell's valley, and on August 9th came to the outlying settlements on Clinch River, where they found the settlers all in their wooden forts, because of the war with the Shawnees.