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Daniel Boone In Southwest Virginia
"The Story as Told by Lyman Coleman Draper"
Edited by James William Hagy


James Boone
Frontiersman, Stateman, Hunter

In the middle of the 19th century Lyman Copeland Draper hurried about the United States collecting manuscripts promising to use them in writing about frontier history. Draper collected a tremendous volume of documents but he could never give up the search and settle down to writing for any length of time. He was always searching for one more document, one more eyewitness account. The people who entrusted Draper with the documents were, of course, highly upset when the promised volumes never appeared - and the documents were not returned. Draper did succeed in writing his long "King's Mountain and Its Heroes" which was published in 1881. A second word which he never finished was his "Life of Boone." Consequently this work has never been published but has been invaluable in helping such writers as John Bakeless whose "Daniel Boone" is the most comprehensive account of the life of this frontiersman.
    All of Draper's manuscripts ended up at the Wisconsin Historical Society where they have been of tremendous aid for research in frontier history. The manuscripts can be obtained on microfilm and though this medium is of great importance in making documents available to many people, microfilm is maddening to read for any length of time. Furthermore, one has to be at a library where there is a microfilm reader. Therefore the story of Boone in Southwest Virginia, which is certainly one of the most important periods of his life, is being presented here in order that a wider audience might appreciate the work of Draper who, had he finished his book, would have been the authority on Daniel Boone.
    The "Life of Boone" is a handwritten manuscript which frequently wanders from the subject. Therefore a few passages have been edited out. Also the footnotes have been slightly altered so that the sources mentioned by Draper might be located, and a few changes have been made in grammar and punctuation. But for the most part the story reads as Draper wrote it.
    The early part of the manuscript deals with the Boone family coming from England, their life in Pennsylvania, their removal to North Carolina, and Daniel Boone's frequent hunts in Kentucky. The part of the story which deals with Southwest Virginia begins at the middle of a page in Chapter IX (3B91). Boone has recently returned from a trip to Kentucky.
    How he spent the ensuing two and a half years after returning from his extended ramblings in Kentucky, his own scanty narrative is entirely silent. He was however, busily employed during the cropping season at home, assisted by his sons James and Israel, while the remainder of each year found him searching the western wilderness for game and a suitable country for a new settlement. During this period, one Joe Robertson, and old weaver who had a famous pack of bear dogs and was devoted to the chase, often accompanied Boone into the Brushy Mountain, and over to the Watauga, securing loads of bear skins, which they packed to the settlements and sold. On one of their adventurous trips, they penetrated as far as the French Lick on Cumberland, and found several French hunters there. (1)
    In May, 1772, Isaac Shelby, then a young man, met Boone below the Holston settlement alone - such was his passion for adventure; and rehearsed to his new acquaintance the story of his former Kentucky exploration, and robbery by the Indians (2). There is also reason to believe, that about the year 1772, Boone removed his family to Watauga, and there resided awhile; and then, from some cause, returned to his old place on the Yadkin. (2)
    Early in 1773, Daniel Boone, Benjamin Cutbirth, and a few others, explored Kentucky and were greatly pleased with the country. Boone then, for a period, reoccupied his old cave on the right bank of Little Hickman Creek, in what is now Jessamine County, Kentucky, in which he had, probably three years before taken up his temporary abode; there he carved the initials of his name and the year on the side of the cavern - "D. B." - 1773", and also, in like manner, on several beach trees near the mouth of the cave. Tradition has not preserved the particulars of this journey, and hence we may infer that only incidents of common occurrence attended the adventurers. So gratified were they with Kentucky, that they resolved at once to remove and settle permanently in the country. (4) 
    It would appear, that Boone, on his way home, made the acquaintance of Captain William Russell, then residing near Castle's Woods on Clinch River, who entered so heartily into Boone's views with reference to settling Kentucky, that he agreed to join him in the enterprise. Somewhere in this region, the McAfee company, on their way home from Kentucky, met Boone, about the 12th of August, then making preparations to migrate to that country. (5) Returning to the Yadkin Boone paid a visit to the Bryan Settlement, sixty miles southeast of his residence, where his brother-in- law, William Bryan, several other members of the Bryan connection, together with Benjamin Cutbirth and other hardy adventurers, consented to try their fortunes in the wilderness. It was arranged, that the Bryan party, who could cross the mountains more conveniently to the eastward of Boone's intended route, should join Boone's company in Powell's Valley on a specified day, and pass the most dangerous part of the journey together. Hastening home, Boone sold his farm, and such household goods, produce and farming utensils as he could not well convey so great a distance, when joined by five other families, they "bade farewell to friends," as Boone tells us in his Narrative, and took their departure for Kentucky on September 25th, 1773. Fifty-six years before Squire Boone, with his parents, had bid adieu to friends and kindred in England, and set sail for the New World; thirty-three years later, Squire Boone with his family, including his son Daniel, set out from Pennsylvania for the Yadkin country; and now, after a lapse of twenty-three years, we find Daniel Boone, true to the instincts of his family, at the head of a little band of poor, but fearless, enterprising men seeking quiet homes in a distant wilderness. Such were the founders - and such the inception of the first earnest attempt at the settlement of Kentucky.
    The Bryan party, numbering forty men, overtook the van as agreed on; those of them having families, had left them at home, designing to commence a settlement, and, should circumstances favor, remove their families and effects out afterwards. This reinforcement was not exclusively composed of men from the Valley of South Yadkin, for several had joined them in the Fort Chiswell and Holston Valley regions, among whom were Michael Stoner, William Bush and Edmund Jennings. They had successively passed Clinch Mountain and river, Powell's Mountain and Walden's Ridge, and fairly entered Powell's Valley. Boone pronounced the aspect of those several mountain cliffs "wild and horrid." Yet, it must be confessed, that there is a grandeur in beholding the mighty growth of forest trees, rising in gradual succession one above another from the base to the mountain's summit, their leaves presenting the varied tints of autumn, with here and there an old gray rock jutting from the foliage, or a bank of moss peeping through, with the earth beneath covered with a luxuriant growth of herbs and wildgrass.
     Here, at or near the western base of Walden's Ridge, where Powell's River flows along a lovely vale, Boone and his party pitched their camp, and awaited the arrival of the rear. James Boone, and two brothers named John and Richard Mendinall, from Guilford County, North Carolina, had been dispatched from the main company, probably at the Wolf Hills, now Abingdon, across the country to Captain Russell's at Castle's woods, for the double purpose of notifying him of the advance of Boone's Kentucky adventurers, and procuring a quantity of flour. Pack loads of flour were provided, and Captain Russell sent forward his oldest son Henry, a youth of seventeen, two Negroes names Charles and Adam, together with Isaac Crabtree and a youth named Drake, with several horses ladened with farming utensils, provisions, and other needful articles, and a few books. A small drove of cattle was also sent under their charge. Captain Russell himself remained behind to arrange his business, and then with Captain David Gass to hasten forward and overtake the others. His intention was to erect a comfortable domicile and open a plantation during the autumn and winter, put in a crop in the spring, and return for his family. Had these plans succeeded, William Russell would doubtless have become one of the most distinguished of the primitive settlers of Kentucky.
    It was now the 9th of October, and, after dreaming, of danger, the party under young Boone and young Russell pushed on cheerfully, and as rapidly as possible, endeavoring to reach the advance party that evening. Night overtaking them, and probably not aware that the company in front was only three miles distant, they encamped on the northern bank of Walden's Creek, at the old ford near the head of that stream, a southern tributary of Powell's River. Unknown to this little band, a party of stealthy Indians had that day dogged them a considerable distance; and, during the evening, while young Boone and companions were seated around their blazing campfire, they heard the howl of wolves, or a successful imitation on the part of the Indians, when the Mendinalls, unused to such frontier serenades, dropped some expressions of fear. Crabtree, a regular backwoodsman, laughed heartily at their apprehensions, and jeeringly told them that they would hear as well the bellowing of buffaloes as the howling of the wolves in the treetops in Kentucky.
     Locked in the sweet embrace of balmy sleep, all unconscious of danger, this little band of emigrants was attacked about daybreak next morning (6) by the Indians, who, creeping close to camp, fired upon their unsuspecting victims, killing some and wounding others. A heart rending scene ensued. Young Russell was shot through both hips, and was unable to attempt an escape. As the Indians would rush up with their knives to stab him, he would seize the naked blade with his hands, and thus had them badly mangled, and was finally tortured in a most barbarous manner. Young Boone was also shot through the hips, breaking them both, and rendering him helpless. He recognized among the Indians Big Jim, a Shawnee warrior, who had often shared the hospitalities of his father's house. His unusually high cheek bones and broad face, with a singular peculiar chin, rendered it almost impossible for anyone, who had ever known him, to fail instantly to recognize his remarkable features. James Boone implored him by name to spare his life, but former friendship, past favors, nor present misfortunes made any sensible impression on the adamantine heart of the blood thirsty warrior. The Indians tortured the young Boone by pulling out his toe and finger nails, when he besought Big Jim at once to put him out of his misery. At the same time young Russell was suffering similar tortures, when Boone remarked to him that he presumed his parents, brothers and sisters were all killed by the Indians. At length both the young sufferers were severely stabbed, and probably tomahawked when death, like an angel of mercy, came to their relief.
     Both of the Mendinalls and young Drake were among the slain, one of whom at the time ran off, and was neither found nor heard of at that period; but many years after, some of the family of Mr. John Sharp, residing nearby, found the bones of a man between two high ledges of rocks, about an eighth of a mile above the defeated camp, which were supposed to have been those of the missing man, who had probably been mortally wounded, in the attack, fled as far as he could, crawled between the ledges and died. The Negro Adam fortunately escaped unhurt, hid himself in some driftwood on the bank of the creek close at hand, and was an unwilling spectator of the painful scene enacted at the camp. Crabtree, though wounded, also effected his escape, and first reached the settlements; while Adam, getting lost, was eleven days in making his way to the frontier inhabitants. The other Negro, Charles, older and less active than Adam, was taken prisoner by the Indians, who carried him off with the horses and every article they esteemed of any value. When they had gone about forty miles, getting into a dispute about the ownership of the Negro, the leader of the party put an end to the quarrel by tomahawking the poor captive.
    In the advance camp was a young fellow who had been detected in pilfering from his comrades, and had become the butt of contempt and ridicule of the camp to such an extent, that he resolved secretly to abandon the party and return to the settlements. He took his silent departure awhile before day on the morning of the fatal 10th of October; and, on the way, stole some deerskins which Daniel Boone had left hung up beside the trail for the rear to bring along. Reaching the ford at Walden's Creek when the Indians could have but a few minutes before decamped, he came upon the mangled remains of the unfortunate slain; when, dropping the skins, he hastened back to the main camp, where he arrived, about sunrise, with the unhappy intelligence. Fear, sorrow and confusion more or less agitated every breast, and could be seen depicted on almost every countenance. While a small party under Squire Boone was sent back to bury the dead, recover whatever property the Indians may not have carried off, and ascertain their strength by their sing. Daniel Boone remained with the most of the men, ready to repel any attack that might be made on the main camp; and as they, at first, had no means of knowing the strength of the Indians who had made the fatal onslought on the rear, they set themselves about making a rude fortification, probably by falling trees around their encampment. 
     When Squire Boone's burial party reached the defeated camp, they found Captains Russell and Gases already arrived there, viewing the melancholy scene. In young Russell's body, which was mangled in an unhuman manner, was left sticking a dart arrow; and beside all the bodies were left several painted hatchets and war clubs, a sort of Indian declaration of war. Mrs. Daniel Boone had sent sheets for shrouds, and young Boone and Russell were wrapped in the same winding sheet and buried together. Like Saul and Jonathan, they were lovely and pleasant in their lives, and in their death they were not divided. The other two slain were also decently interred. The bodies of all were ripped open, but none of them were scalped, as the Indians would not venture to take white scalps to their towns in time of professed peace. The Indians had taken all the plunder, and the cattle were much scattered.
    Squire Boone and party, with Captains Russell and Gases, returned to the main camp, where a general council was held. Though it was Daniel Boone's wish to continue the journey, the most of the emigrants were so much disheartened by the check they had received, and thought that only repetitions of Indian cruelty could be expected should they persevere in their attempt, that it was deemed best to abandon the enterprise and return. By this time the cattle had become considerably dispersed, and when collected, and the emigrants satisfied that the Indians, who had done the mischief, were only a small party and had departed, they commenced retracing their footsteps with indescribable feelings of sorrow and disappointment. With Boone the blow was doubly severe, the loss of his oldest son, and the postponement, perhaps forever, of his daring plan of rescuing Kentucky from the grasp of the savage and the wilderness. Such a heavy loss sustained, and such long and deeply cherished hopes deferred, made his very heart sick. But while the others wended their way to their former homes in Virginia and Carolina, Boone accepted the invitation of Captain Gases to take up his temporary abode in a cabin on his farm, about seven or eight miles below Captain Russell's at Castle's Woods, and a little south of Clinch River. Boone was, most likely, induced to this step by the hope of being joined, the ensuing spring, by Captains Gases and Russell in another attempt to permanently occupy Kentucky.
    It was a matter of much public concern to learn, with certainty, to what Indian tribes the perpetrators of this Powell's Valley tragedy belonged, and the causes that produced its commission. A considerable time elapsed before these facts were clearly ascertained. It then appeared, that two Cherokee chiefs were concerned in it, and the others were Shawnees. When Governor Dunmarra made a demand upon the Cherokees for satisfaction, John Stuart, Superintendent of Indian Affairs, dispatched his deputy, Alexander Cameron, to Chotee, where he arrived in the beginning of September ensuing, and succeeded, after much opposition from the young warriors, in having the chief principally implicated in the murder, named Nottawagua, put to death. The executioners first appointed to carry the sentence into effect wounded the culprit in several places and left him for dead; but recovering, and almost out of danger from his wounds, Mr. Cameron renewed his requisition, and with much difficulty and danger to himself, prevailed upon the principal chiefs to go in person and finish him, which they executed with much resolution in spite of all the threats and opposition of his numerous relations and followers; and made several spirited harangues to their people on this occasion, warning them not to follow the example of Nottawagua, lest they should meet the same disgraceful fate, and reprimanding them in sharp terms, for their bad behavior on that and other occasions, which brought the young warriors to make their humble submission to their chiefs, and presenting, as a token thereof, several string of white beads. The other Cherokee chief concerned in this tragedy, was also condemned, but found means to make his escape to the Chickasaws; but was, not long after, caught, confined, and ultimately paid the forfeit for crime. Governor Dunmarra, in a proclamation issued shortly after, pronounced this conduct on the part of the Cherokees, a "remarkable instance of good faith and strict regard to justice."
    In his speech at Fort Pitt, Dunmarra charged the murder of young Russell and his companions as having been chiefly perpetrated by the perfidious Shawnees, and enumerated it among the chief causes that led to the Indian War of 1774. At Dunmarra's treaty at Camp Charlotte, some of the plundered property belonging to Captain Russell, consisting of books and farming implements, was delivered up; but the horses which had also been taken to the Shawnee towns, had been sold to some Pennsylvania traders. How Big Jim, the hard hearted Shawnee warrior met a merited fate thirteen years after the butchery of young Boone and his companions, will be told in its appropriate place. The cause of this cruel murder, may unquestionably be found in the growing jealousy of the Indians in consequence of the rapid extension of the white settlements, circumscribing the limits of their hunting grounds; pleading, in extenuation of the act, the permission or order of Cameron to rob all white intruders on their lands, by which the prolifigate portion of the savages became both their judges and executioners. (7)
    Boone, as we have seen, retired forty miles to Clinch River, and made preparations for winter. For the support of his family, he must have relied mainly on his stock of cattle and his well tried rifle. A living eyewitness thus describes his appearance at that time: "I have a distinct recollection of seeing Boone at my father's camp, on Reedy Creek on Holston, in company with a tall young man named Crabtree, and some others - I think it must have been in 1773. Boone was dressed in deer-skin colored black, and had his hair plaited and clubbed up, and was on his way to or from Powell's Valley." (8)
    Alas, exclaims a faithful writer on western history - alas for our woodman! Another year of quiet, stupid repose and farm labor seemed destined to try his patience. Dozing in security under his stoop by the westward flowing stream, he sighed for the howl of the wolf, and the stealthy, scarce-leaf-rustling tread of the Shawnees. He dozed, but dreamed not how rapidly, since he left them, his fellow white men had desecrated the solemn forest temples he had wandered and worshiped in. (9)
    How the winter of 1773-1774, passed away with Boone, we must leave the reader to judge. Hunting, however, must have been his chief occupation for the supply of his family with meat, and the procurement of other necessaries by the sale or barter of pelts and furs. He used to relate this hunting adventure, which occurred at that period and in the Clinch region, with the parties to which he was well acquainted. One Green and a brother-in-law, who resided near Blackmore's on Clinch, about fifteen miles below Captain Gases' place, where Boone was sojourning, went out some considerable distance among the mountains to hunt. They selected a good hunting range, erected a cabin, and laid up in store some jerked bear meat. One day when Green was alone, his companion being absent on the chase, a large bear made his appearance near camp, upon which Green shot and wounded the animal, which at the moment chanced to be in a sort of sink hole at the base of a hill. Taking a circuit to get above and head the bear, there being a slight snow upon the ground covered with sleet, Green's feet slipped from under him, he partly slid and partly rolled down the declivity till he found himself in the sink hole, when the wounded bear, enraged by his pain, flew at poor Green, tore and mangled his body in a shocking manner, totally destroying one of his eyes. When the bear had sufficiently gratified his revenge by gnawing his unresisting victim as long as he wished, he sullenly departed, leaving the unfortunate hunter in a helpless and deplorable condition, all exposed, with his clothing torn in tatters, to the severities of the season.
     His comrade at length returning, found and took him to camp. After a while, thinking it impossible for Green to recover, his companion went out on pretense of hunting for fresh meat, and unfeelingly abandoned poor Green to his fate, reporting in the settlements that he had been killed by a bear. His little fire soon died away from his inability to provide fuel. Digging, with his knife, a hole or nest beside him in the ground floor of his cabin, he managed to reach some wild turkey feathers which had been saved, and with them lined the excavation and made himself quite a comfortable bed; and with the knife fastened to the end of a stick, he cut down, from time to time, bits of dried bear meat hanging overhead, and upon this he sparingly subsisted. Recovering slowly, he could at length manage to get about. When spring opened, a party, of whom Boone is believed to have been one, went from Blackmore's Settlement to bury Green's remains, with the brute of a brother-in-law for a guide; and, to their utter astonishment, they met Green plodding his way towards home, and learned from him the sad story of his sufferings and desertion. The party were so indignant that they could scarcely refrain from laying violent hands on a wretch guilty of so much inhumanity to a helpless companion. Green, though greatly disfigured, lived many years. (10)
    At this point, Chapter IX of Draper's Manuscript ends. The succeeding chapter deals with Boone's participation in Dunmore's War.

(1) Manuscript notes of conversations with Colonel Nathan Boone and the late Henry Rutherford, of Tennessee. Soon after the Revolutionary War, Robertson resided in the family of Mr. Rutherford's father, General Griffith Rutherford, of Rowan County, North Carolina, and used to speak of his hunting and exploring with Boone. 
(2) Bradford, "Notes on Kentucky", Stipp's edition, 12, 13. 
(3) Conversations with Colonel Nathan Boone and lady. Letter of Daniel Pennington, a nephew of Daniel Boone, Haywood, "The Civil and Political History of the State of Tennessee", p. 40. 
(4) Letters of Duke Hamilton and Samuel M. Duncan, of Jessamine County, Kentucky, and of the late Elijah Callaway, of North Carolina. 
(5) General R. B. McAfee's "Sketches of the Settlement of Kentucky," in the "Frankfort Commonwealth," June 1, 1841. 
(6) A newspaper writer, hailing from the Redstone country in West Pennsylvania, whose article, published a year after the transaction, and far distant from the scene of his occurrence, is copied into the first volume of "American Archives," Fourth Series, folio 1015, indeed says that this tragedy happened on the 15th of October, 1773, and also makes other misstatements. We have preferred to follow the date in Boone's "Narrative," corroborated by his original Family Record, now before us, in his own handwriting, in which occurs this entry: "James Boone, son of Daniel and Rebecca Boone, born May 3d, 1757, was killed October 73 10th, 1773, by the Indians." 
(7) The account of this Powell's Valley affair is made up from the following sources: Boone's "Narrative", "Cape Fear Mercury", Wilmington, North Carolina, December 1, 1773, "Virginia Gazette," December 23, 1773, "American Archives", Fourth Series I, folios 278, 707, 873, 974, 1015, 1169. Letters of General Hugh Mercer, January 8, 1774, and of Major Arthur Campbell, about June 20th, June 22nd, July 9th, and October 16th, 1774, in the Preston Papers. Statements of the late Daniel Bryan, Major Benjamin Sharp, and Elijah Callaway. Statements of, and notes of conversations with, Colonel Nathan Boone and lady, Captain John Gases, Mrs. Chloe Saunders, a daughter, Mrs. Tabitha Moore, a granddaughter and R. S. Russell, a descendant of Captain William Russell; also from Reverend T. M. Allen, Willis A. Bush, the late Colonel Robert Weakley, and others. (The narrative from the middle of page 3B103 to the middle of page 3B106 is a digression and is therefore omitted.) 
(8) Letter of the venerable Colonel George Christian, August 25th, 1853. 
(9) The narrative from the middle of page 3B107 to this last paragraph on page 3B108 is omitted. 
(10) Notes of conversation with Colonel Nathan Boone, and the late Colonel William Martin of Tennessee. The venerable Captain John Carr, of Sumner County, Tennessee, writes that he has heard from a boy, the story of Green's bear fight and desertion and knew Green's son, Zachariah, who settled in Sumner County, and died there

HSSV Sketches No 9, 1975      Pages 45 to 53