Robertson a Brave Leader
Such was the life of these early woodsmen and their families, and to this life Robertson and those who went out with him soon became accustomed. On their arrival at the Watauga River the newcomers mingled readily with the Virginians already on the ground.
Robertson soon became one of the leading men. His cabin of logs stood on an island in the river, and is said to have been the largest in the settlement. It had a log veranda in front, several rooms, a loft, and best of all, a huge fireplace made of sticks and stones laid in clay, in which a pile of blazing logs roared on cold days, making it a centre of good cheer as well as of heat. To us it would have been a most inviting spot for a summer holiday.
Robertson was very prosperous and successful at Watauga; but in 1799, after ten years of leadership at this settlement, a restless craving for change and adventure stole over him, and he went forth once more into the wilderness to seek a new home still deeper in the forest.
The place he chose was the beautiful country lying along the great bend of the Cumberland River, where Nashville now stands. Many bold settlers were ready and even eager to join Robertson in the new venture, for he was a born leader.
A small party went ahead early in the spring to plant corn, so that the settlers might have food when they arrived in the autumn. Robertson and eight other men, who made up the party, left the Watauga by the Wilderness Road through Cumberland Gap, crossing the Cumberland River. Then, following the trail of wild animals in a southwesterly direction, they came to a suitable place.
Here they put up cabins and planted corn, and then, leaving three men to keep the buffaloes from eating the corn when it came up, the other six returned to Watauga.
In the autumn two parties started out for the new settlement. One of these, made up mostly of women and children, went by water in flatboats, dugouts, and canoes, a route supposed to be easier though much the longer of the two. Whether it was easier, we shall see. The other party, including Robertson himself, went by land, hoping thus to reach the place of settlement in time to make ready for those coming by water.
Robertson and his men arrived about Christmas. Then began a tedious four months of waiting for the others. It was springtime again, April 24, when they at last arrived. Their roundabout route had taken them down the Tennessee River, then up the Ohio, and lastly up the Cumberland. The Indians in ambush on the river banks had attacked them many times during their long and toilsome journey, and the boats were so slow and clumsy that it was impossible for them to escape the flights of arrows.
But when they arrived, past troubles were soon forgotten, and with good heart, now that all were together, the settlers took up the work of making homes.
However, difficulties with the Indians were not over. The first company of settlers that arrived had been left quite unmolested. But now, as spring opened, bands of Indian hunters and warriors began to make life wretched for them all. There is no doubt that the red men did not like to have the settlers kill the game, or scare it off by clearing up the land; but the principal motive for the attacks was the desire for scalps and plunder, just as it was in assailing other Indian tribes.
The Indians became a constant terror. They killed the settlers while working in the clearings, hunting game, or getting salt at the licks. They loved to lure on the unwary by imitating the gobbling of a turkey or the call of some wild beast, and then pounce upon their human prey.
As the corn crop, so carefully planned, had been destroyed by heavy freshets in the autumn, the settlers had to scour the woods for food, living on nuts and game. By the time winter had set in, they had used up so much of their powder and bullets that Robertson resolved to go to Kentucky for more.