The Kentucky Settlers at Boonesborough
When they reached the Kentucky River, Boone and his followers built a fort on the left bank of the stream and called it Boonesborough. Its four walls consisted in part of the outer sides of log cabins, and in part of a stockade, some twelve feet high, made by setting deep into the ground stout posts with pointed tops. In all the cabins there were loopholes through which to shoot, and at each corner of the fort stood a loophole blockhouse. There were also two strong wooden gates on opposite sides of the fort.
After the fort was built, Boone went back to the Clinch River and brought on his wife and children. When they settled, it was springtime, and Kentucky was at its best. Trees were in leaf, the beautiful dogwood was in flower, and the woods were fragrant with the blossoms of May. Do you wonder that they loved their new home?
At first the cattle and horses were always driven into the fort at night. Later, however, every settler had a cabin in his own clearing, where he lived with his family and took care of his own stock. But even then in time of great danger all went to the fort, driving their animals inside its walls. This fort, with the outlying cabins, made the first permanent settlement in Kentucky.
Boone was a man you would have liked to know. Even the Indians admired him. He was tall and slender, with muscles of iron, and so healthy and strong that he could endure great hardship. Though quiet and serious, his courage never shrank in the face of danger, and men believed in him because he believed in himself, while at the same time his kind heart and tender sympathy won him lasting friendships. These vigorous and sterling qualities commanded respect everywhere.
As a rule he wore the Indian garb of fur cap, fringed hunting-shirt, moccasins and leggings, all made from the skins of wild animals he had taken. This dress best suited the wilderness life.
Of course, this life in a new country would not be without its exciting adventures. One day, some months after Boone’s family had come to Boonesborough, Boone’s daughter, with two girl friends, was on the river floating in a boat near the bank. Suddenly five Indians darted out of the woods, seized the three girls, and hurried away with them. In their flight the Indians observed the eldest of the girls breaking twigs and dropping them in their trail. They threatened to tomahawk her unless she stopped it. But, watching her chance, from time to time she tore off strips of her dress and dropped them as a clew for those she knew would come to rescue them.
When the capture became known, Boone, accompanied by the three lovers of the captured maidens and four other men from the fort, started upon the trail and kept up the pursuit until, early on the second morning, they discovered the Indians sitting around a fire cooking breakfast. Suddenly the white men fired a volley, killing two of the Indians and frightening the others so badly that they beat a hasty retreat without harming the girls.
Another exciting experience, which nearly caused the settlement to lose its leader, came about through the settlers’ need of salt. We can get salt so easily that it is hard to imagine the difficulty which those settlers, living far back from the ocean, had in obtaining this necessary part of their food. They had to go to “salt-licks,” as they called the grounds about the salt-water springs. The men would get the salt water from the springs and boil it until all the water evaporated and left the salt behind.
Boone with twenty-nine other men had gone, early in 1778, to the Blue Licks to make salt for the settlement. They were so successful that in a few weeks they were able to send back a load so large that it took three men to carry it. Hardly had they started, however, when the men remaining, including Boone, were surprised by eighty or ninety Indians, captured, and carried off to the English at Detroit.
For we must not forget that all this time, while we have been following Boone’s fortunes west of the Alleghanies, on the east side of those mountains the Revolution was being fought, and the Indians west of the Alleghanies were fighting on the English side. They received a sum of money for handing over to the English at Detroit any Americans they might capture, and that is why the Indians took Boone and his companions to that place.
But, strangely enough, the Indians decided not to give Boone up, although the English, realizing that he was a prize, offered five hundred dollars for him. The Indians admired him because he was a mighty hunter, and they liked him because he was cheerful. So they adopted him into the tribe and took him to their home.
Boone remained with them two months, making the best of the life he had to lead. But when he overheard the Indians planning to make an attack upon Boonesborough, he made up his mind to escape if possible and give his friends warning.
His own words tell the brave story in a simple way: “On the 16th of June, before sunrise, I departed in the most secret manner, and arrived in Boonesborough on the 20th, after a journey of one hundred and sixty miles, during which I had but one meal.” He could not get any food, for he dared not use his gun nor build a fire for fear his foes might find out where he was. He reached the fort in safety, and was of great service in beating off the attacking party. This is only one of the many narrow escapes of this fearless backwoodsman.
Another incident illustrates his quick wit. One day, while he was in a shed looking after some tobacco, four Indians with loaded guns appeared at the door. They said: “Now, Boone, we got you. You no get away any more. You no cheat us any more.” While they were speaking Boone had gathered up in his arms a number of dry tobacco leaves. Rubbing them to dust, he suddenly flung it into the faces of the Indians, filling their eyes and nostrils. Then, while they were coughing, sneezing, and rubbing their eyes, he escaped.
These are but a few of Boone’s dangerous adventures. From them all he came out safe and for years continued to be the able leader of the settlers at Boonesborough.
There he remained until after Kentucky was admitted as a State into the Union (1791). Four years later he moved still farther west, led on by love for the wild, lonely life of the forest, a life which never lost its charm for him, even down to his last days.
He died in 1820, eighty-five years old, his long life covering a period of very great change in the growth of our country. By that time we had become a nation with broadly expanded boundaries.
It has been said that but for Daniel Boone the settlement of Kentucky could not have been made for several years. However this may be, we know that he was one of those fearless and daring men whose courage helped to establish that part of our country long known as “the West.”