Boone Goes to Kentucky
But when, in June, they reached the blue-grass region of Kentucky, a beautiful land of stretching prairies, lofty forests, and running streams, they felt well repaid for all the hardships of their long journey. It was indeed as the Indian had said, alive with game. Buffaloes, wolves, bears, elk, deer, and wild beasts of many kinds abounded, making truly a hunter’s paradise.
They at once put up a log shelter, and for six months they hunted to their hearts’ content. Then one day two of the party, Boone himself and a man named Stewart, while off on a hunting expedition, were captured by an Indian band. For several days the dusky warriors carefully guarded the two white captives. But on the seventh night, having eaten greedily of game they had killed during the day, they fell into a sound sleep.
Then Boone, who had been watching for this chance, arose quietly from his place among the sleeping Indians and gently wakened Stewart. The two crept stealthily away until out of hearing of the Indians, when, rising to their feet, they bounded off like deer through the dark woods to their own camp. But they found no one there, for the rest of the party had fled back home.
However, Boone and Stewart stayed on, and some weeks later they were pleasantly surprised when Daniel’s brother, Squire Boone, also a woodsman, unexpectedly arrived with another man and joined the camp. The four were quite contented, living and hunting together, until one day Stewart was shot by an Indian and killed. His death so frightened the man who had come over the mountains with Squire Boone, that the woods lost their charm for the poor fellow and he went back home.
So only the two brothers were left. They remained together three months longer in a little cabin in the forest. Then, as their powder and lead were getting low, Squire Boone returned to North Carolina for a fresh supply, leaving his brother to hold the hunting-ground.
Now Boone was left all alone. His life was continually in danger from the Indians. For fear of being surprised, he dared not sleep in camp, but hid himself at night in the cane-brake or thick underbrush, not even kindling a fire lest he should attract the Indians.
During these weeks of waiting for his brother, he led a very lonely life. In all that time he did not speak to a single human being, nor had he even a dog, cat, or horse for company. Without salt, sugar, or flour, his sole food was the game he shot or caught in traps.
How gladly he must have welcomed his brother, who returned at the end of two months, bringing the needed supplies! Other hunters also came from time to time, and Boone joined one party of them for a while.
After two years of his life in the woods he returned to his home on the Yadkin to bring out his wife and children.
By September, 1773, he had sold his farm and was ready with his family to go and settle in Kentucky. He had praised the new land so much that many others wished to go with him. So when he started there were, besides his wife and children, five families and forty men driving their horses and cattle before them. This group was the first to attempt settlement far out in the wilderness, away from the other settlers.
But while still on its way, the little company was set upon by a band of Indians near a narrow and difficult pass in the mountains. Six men were killed, among them Boone’s eldest son, and the cattle were scattered. This misfortune brought such gloom upon the party that all turned back for a time to a settlement on the Clinch River.
But Daniel Boone was one of those who would not give up. He said of himself that he was “ordained of God to settle the wilderness,” and in the end he carried out his unflinching purpose to make his home in the beautiful Kentucky region.
This region had already become well known by report east of the mountains. The Indians called it “a dark and bloody ground,” for, as an old chief told Boone, many tribes hunted and fought there, and the Indians had roamed over it for hundreds of years.
But none of the tribes really owned the land. So it was not possible to buy any part of it outright. Yet, to avoid strife, a friend of Boone’s, Richard Henderson, and a few others made treaties with the most powerful tribe, the Cherokees, who said that they might settle there.
As soon as it became certain that the Indians would not make trouble, Henderson sent Boone, in charge of thirty men, to open a pathway from the Holston River through Cumberland Gap to the Kentucky River.
With their axes the men chopped out a path through the dense undergrowth and cane-brakes broad enough for a pack-horse. You will be interested to know that this bridle-path was the beginning of the famous “Wilderness Road,” as it is still called. Later the narrow trail was widened into a highway for wagons, and it was along this way, rightly called a “wilderness road,” that in later years so many thousand settlers led their pack-trains over the mountains into Kentucky and Tennessee.
But that is taking a long look ahead! Just now we are thinking about the very first of these settlers, Daniel Boone and his company.