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The Adventures of Daniel Boone: the Kentucky rifleman By Francis L. Hawks Characters: 20373

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


Y young friends all know where the state of Kentucky is situated. It is hardly necessary for me to say, that at the time of which I am writing, that region was an unbroken wilderness.

It was in the year 1754 that a white man first visited the country of Kentucky. This was James M'Bride. In company with several others during that year, he was passing down the Ohio, when he discovered the mouth of Kentucky river, and made a landing. Near the spot where he landed, he cut upon a tree the first letters of his name; and these letters, it is said, could be seen and distinctly read for many years afterward. With his companions, he wandered through the wilderness; the country struck them all as being remarkably beautiful. It is not wonderful, then, that when they returned home, they were filled with fine stories about the new region. They declared that it was "the best tract of land in North America, and probably in the world."

In spite of their pleasant stories, however, it was a long time before any one was disposed to follow in their track. At length, Doctor Walker, of Virginia, with a number of friends, started upon a western tour of discovery. Some say that he was in search of the Ohio river particularly; others that he went merely to collect strange plants and flowers. Be this as it may, he with his party wandered through Powell's Valley, and passed the mountains at what is called the Cumberland Gap. They then crossed the Cumberland river, and roaming on through the forests, at length, after much fatigue and suffering, reached the Big Sandy. The country was beautiful, yet they were too much worn out to go further, and from this point began to return homeward. They had suffered more than M'Bride, and therefore their story was not so bright as his; yet they gave a very pleasant account of the new country.

No one yet, however, seemed ready to make his home in Kentucky; and accident at last seems to have thrown one man into that country, whose story, upon his return, made some anxious to go there. This was John Finley, a backwoodsman of North Carolina. He was in the habit of roving about and trading with the Indians. In the year 1767, he, with certain companions as fearless as himself, led on from place to place by the course of trade, wandered far into Kentucky. Here he remained for some time. It was a very beautiful, yet, as he learned also, a very dangerous country. No Indian tribe lived there, but all the tribes roamed over it as a hunting-ground. Upon these hunts, the fierce and warlike people would often meet and wage their bloody battles. These fights were so frequent and so awful, that the region was known by the name of the "Dark and Bloody Ground." In spite of danger, Finley lived there, until at last the traders and the Indians began to quarrel, and, for safety's sake, he was forced to run off. He returned to North Carolina, filled with wonderful stories. Sights like those on the "Dark and Bloody Ground," were nowhere to be seen. The land was rich, and covered with trees and flowers; there were lofty mountains, beautiful valleys, and clear streams, throughout it. Then he spoke of the strange caves in the mountains; of curious salt springs; of the footprints of men to be seen distinctly upon the solid rocks; of the strange figures of huge animals on the sides of the high cliffs. Game of all sorts was abundant, from the buffalo down to the partridge. There was no country (he declared) like Kain-tuck-kee. [1] His tale was so wonderful, that people could not well help listening to it.

Whether John Finley was led there by a knowledge of the man's character, or whether it was an accident, it so happened, that about a year after his return, he wandered into the neighborhood of Daniel Boone's home. It was not long before he fell in with Boone, and completely charmed him with his stories. Boone had known some sport in the forests himself, but the adventures of Finley were to him marvellous. He was so much pleased with the man, that he invited him, as it was now winter, to come to his house, and make his home there through the season. The invitation was gladly accepted; and in the cabin of Boone, again and again was the wild beauty of the "Dark and Bloody Ground" laid before him. There was no end to Finley's stories of this region. The wind whistled without, but the fire blazed cheerfully within; and here they sat, on many a night, almost till dawn, Finley talking, and Boone listening. The end of all this was, that they determined, when spring opened, to go to Kentucky. Boone knew that there were hardships and perils in the way, and Finley had practically felt them; but what were dangers or difficulties to these fearless men? The first of May was agreed upon as the day for starting, and Finley was then again to meet Boone at his house.

It is not strange that other bold men, who heard Finley's stories, were seized with the same desire for going west. Indeed, Boone helped to give them that desire, knowing that a few brave spirits would be of great service in the new country. He talked, therefore, warmly of the comforts of a new home in the forest, where there was an abundance of game, and a complete absence of towns and villages. Accordingly, on the first of May, 1769, when Finley repaired to Boone's house, he found four others ready for the adventure: these were John Stewart, Joseph Holden, James Monay, and William Cool. The people in the neighborhood, learning what was going on, had likewise gathered to look with surprise upon these six men. What could prompt men to leave the comforts of their quiet homes, and wander off into the wilderness? They surely were crazy. Boone was much beloved as a kind neighbor, and they mourned most over his madness. Nothing daunted by all this, they were then ready for a start, and were now on the point of leaving. We are told that, with tears in his eyes, Daniel Boone kissed his wife and children; and if the story be true, I love him the more for it. His spirit was beating for his new hunting-forests; he could face all the dangers of the "Dark and Bloody Ground," but then it was doubtful whether he was not parting with his wife and children for ever. At all events, he was leaving them for months, perhaps for years-he knew not how long-and who can wonder that tears stood in his eyes? Each man shouldered his rifle, shot-bag, powder-horn, and knapsack, and off they started-every neighbor straining his eyes after them as far as he could see, as the men upon whom he was looking for the last time.

For two or three days they saw nothing new, for they were passing over their old hunting-grounds. After this, they came to a wild and trackless region, and saw from time to time the lofty ridge of mountains which separated them from the western country. In two days more, the provisions with which they had started gave out, and the first thing to be done was to find a fresh supply. Accordingly they halted, chose a suitable spot for their camp, and part of them commenced building it of logs and branches; the others went into the woods in search of game. It was impossible for such men to starve in such a region; game was abundant. The hunters returned toward night, with several deer and wild turkeys. The camp was finished, a bright fire was burning, and in a little time the venison was dressed, cooked, and eaten. The supper was scarcely finished, when they saw dark clouds gathering, and presently they were visited by a tremendous thunder-storm. The sharp lightning flashed through the woods, and the rain poured down in torrents; yet, in their camp they fearlessly sheltered themselves, the branches covering them from the rain. A man can scarcely be placed during a thunder-storm in a more dangerous place than a forest: every tree is a mark for the lightning; yet these men were calm and self-possessed, and were mercifully protected.

The storm having passed over, they made their arrangements for the night. For safety's sake, two men were to keep a constant watch, while the others slept; and in this duty of watching, they were to take turns. About midnight, while Boone and Holden were keeping the watch, a sharp shrill cry was heard in the woods. They sprang to their feet. "What noise is that?" said Holden. The sound was familiar to Boone. "Be still," said he; "it is only a panther; come along with me." Moving cautiously from the camp, they listened again for the cry. Once more they heard it. Creeping through the woods in the direction of the sound, they at length saw through the darkness the wild, glaring eyes of the animal. Boone levelled his rifle with steady aim, and fired. With a wild yell the panther fell to the ground, and began to retreat. Both were satisfied that the ball had struck him, and returned again to the camp. The crack of the rifle had waked their companions; the adventure was made known to them, and they went quietly to sleep again, satisfied that for the rest of the night at least that panther would not disturb them.

The next day was a very busy one. Finding game so plenty in the neighborhood, they determined to lay in a good supply. Part of them were therefore out in the woods, hunting, while the rest were in the camp, smoking, drying, and packing the venison for the journey. Fatigued with these labors, when night came they gladly laid themselves down, and, like wearied men, slept soundly.

By the first ray of the morning's light the camp was stirring. Shouldering their rifles and knapsacks, they started on their way. In a little time they found a dead panther. Boone declared that this was his panther; the animal was killed with one ball, and by comparing that ball with those in his shot-bag, he found they were of the same size. In two or three days they reached the foot of the mountains, and began to ascend. Their journey was now rough and wearisome, and they made slow progress. To any men but these, the mountains might have proved impassable; but they were bent upon finding the new hunting-grounds of Kentucky, and nothing could keep them back. After climbing the hills day after day, they found once more that their provisions were gone, and

were again forced to halt. Their camp was built on the side of the mountain, and their rifles easily supplied their wants. The journey was rigorously renewed, and after many days of further struggling, they at length found themselves on one of the tops of the Allegany ridge. Here they were, upon Cumberland mountain. At this place they halted once more, to look down upon the magnificent prospect which was spread out before them. This was their first view of the new region, and they felt that it was all that Finley had described it to be. It was indeed a glorious country. The land was covered with trees and flowers; there were the rolling hills, and the beautiful valleys, and the clear sparkling streams, of which he had spoken.

The prospect was too beautiful to allow them to tarry long: they panted to be in that country. With more earnest desires than ever, they commenced descending the mountains. This part of the journey was comparatively easy. In a few days now they reached the western base of the hills, and entered a lovely plain. Here, for the first time, the new hunters saw the finest of western game-a herd of buffaloes. From the skirt of the wood at the end of the plain, a countless troop of these animals came rushing over it. The men were delighted; they had heard of these noble beasts of the forest, but none of them, except Finley, had ever seen one. As the mass came tramping toward them, they stood gazing in astonishment. Finley, who knew that men were sometimes trampled to death by these moving troops, kept his eye steadily upon the herd until the foremost was within rifle-shot; he then levelled his gun, and the leader fell dead. With a wild bellow the herd parted on each side of the fallen animal, and went scampering through the plain. There seemed no end to the number, as they still came rushing from the wood. The mass appeared closing again in a solid body, when he seized Holden's rifle, and shot another. Now they were completely routed; branching off on the two sides of the plain, they went bellowing and tearing past them. "An amazing country, this!" cried Boone; "who ever beheld such an abundance?" The camp was once more soon built, a blazing fire made, and, for the first time in their lives, five of these men sat down to a supper of buffalo-meat. They talked of their new country, the quantity of game, and how joyously they would roam through the huge forests, until the night had worn far away.

The next morning, after breakfast, they packed up such portions of the animals as they could readily carry, and resumed their march. In a little time they reached Red river. Here Finley began to feel more at home, for on this river he had lived. Following the course of the stream, ere long they came to the place which had been his trading-post with the Indians. They had been more than a month reaching this point, and, naturally enough, were wearied. Finley, too, could no longer guide them; and here, for the present, they determined to halt again. It was now the seventh day of June.

As this was to be their headquarters for some time, they built at once a substantial log cabin. They were now fairly in the wilds of Kentucky; and remembering that the whole region was the fighting-ground of the wandering Indians, the cabin was built not only to protect them from the weather, but to answer as a sort of fort against the savages. This shelter being provided, their whole time now was given to hunting and exploring the country. Hunting was a pastime indeed, the game was so abundant. They could look out upon herds of buffaloes scattered through the canebrakes, browsing upon the leaves of the cane, or cropping the tall grass; the deer bounded fearlessly by the very door of their hut, and wild turkeys were to be found everywhere. Everything was in a state of nature; the animals had not yet learned to be afraid of man. Of course, they did not suffer with hunger: provisions of the finest kind were ever in their cabin. But the buffaloes provided them with more than food. From time to time, as they needed moccasins for their feet, his skin supplied them; and when at night they felt the dampness of the weather, his hide was the blanket in which they wrapped themselves and slept soundly.

The country, as they wandered through it, struck them as beautiful indeed. There were the lofty trees of the forest, with no undergrowth except the cane, the grass, and the flowers. They seemed to have been planted by the hand of man at regular distances. Clear streams were seen winding through lovely meadows, surrounded by the gently-sloping hills; and the fearless buffalo and deer were their companions every hour. In their wanderings they came several times to hard and well-tramped roads. It was by following these that they discovered many of the salt springs or licks where salt is made even now. The roads to these were worn thus hard by the buffaloes and other animals that were in the habit of visiting the springs.

The place of Finley's old trading-post, where their cabin now stood, seems to have been chosen by him not only as a central point for trade: it was on the side of a finely-sloping hill, and commanded a good view of the country below. The situation was beautiful. Perhaps he chose it when he was a lonely white man in the wilderness, because thence he might readily see the approach of Indians, and make his escape, or perhaps it was the very beauty of the spot that charmed him. He had a love for the beautiful. One day, he and Boone were standing by the door of the cabin. The wind was sighing in the tops of the forest, and while they were listening to the music, they were looking out upon the beautiful region below; the grass was green, and the bright flowers turned up their leaves to the sun. "Glorious country!" cried Finley; "this wilderness does indeed blossom like the rose."-"Yes," replied Boone, "and who would live amid the barren pine-hills of North Carolina, to hear the screaming of the jay, and now and then shoot a deer too lean to be eaten? This is the land for hunters. Here man and beast may grow to their full size."

In this way, for more than six months, these men fearlessly hunted and roamed through the woods. Contrary to their expectations, through the whole summer they saw no Indians, nor did they meet with any remarkable adventure. The precaution of a nightly watch was adopted, but they met with no disturbance from man or beast. They had glorious sport by day, and slept quietly at night. After this, as you will see, they began to meet difficulties.

On the 22d of December, Boone and Stewart started off, as they had often done before, upon an exploring tour. After wandering several miles, they pressed their way through a piece of thick woods, and came out upon a boundless open forest. Here they found quantities of persimmon-trees, loaded with ripe fruit, while clusters of wild grapes covered the vines that were hanging from the lofty branches. Flowers were still in bloom, and scented the air; herds of animals might be seen through the forest in every direction: add to this that the day was beautiful, and you will not be surprised to learn that they continued to wander-indeed, that they wandered much further than they supposed. It was nearly dark when they reached the Kentucky river, and stood looking upon its rippling waters. Perceiving a hill close by, they climbed it, that they might take a better view of the course of the stream. They were now descending, on their way homeward, when suddenly they heard an Indian yell, and out rushed from the canebrake a party of savages. They had no time for resistance-indeed, time was nothing; they were overpowered by numbers. The savages seized them, took away their rifles and ammunition, bound them, and marched them off to their camp. The next morning they started off with their prisoners, the poor fellows not knowing where they were going, or what was to be done to them. They did not know one word of their language, and could therefore learn nothing: this much, however, they very well understood-that it would not do to show any signs of fear to the Indians; and therefore they went on cheerfully. In a little time they became better acquainted with their captors, and judged, from certain signs, that the Indians themselves had not determined what was to be done. Part seemed to be for sparing them, part for killing; still their cheer fulness was the same. This apparent fearlessness deceived the Indians; they supposed the prisoners were well pleased with their condition, and did not watch them closely. On the seventh night of their march, the savages, as usual, made their camp, and all laid down to sleep. About midnight, Boone touched Stewart, and waked him: now or never was their time. They rose, groped their way to the rifles, and stole from the camp. They hardly dared to look behind them; every sound startled them, even the snapping of the twigs under their feet. Fortunately, it was dark, even if the Indians pursued. They wandered all that night and the whole of the next day, when at last, without meeting a man, they reached their own camp. But what was their surprise on finding the camp plundered, and not one of their companions to be seen? What had become of them? Perhaps they were prisoners; possibly they were murdered; or it might be that they had started back for North Carolina. They were safe, but where were their comrades? Wearied in body, and tormented with fears for their friends, they commenced preparing for the night. A sound was now heard. They seized their rifles, and stood ready, expecting the Indians. Two men were seen indistinctly approaching. "Who comes there?" cried Boone. "White men and friends," was the answer. Boone knew the voice. In an instant more, his brother Squire Boone, with another man, entered the cabin. These two men had set out from Carolina for the purpose of reaching them, and had for days been wandering in search of their camp. It was a joyous meeting-the more joyous, because unexpected. Big tears were again in Daniel Boone's eyes when he heard, from his brother, that his wife and children were well.

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