Settlers along the Wilderness Road, part 2

From the Mountains

In the summer of 1773 Daniel Boone and captain William Russell led a party of seven families along Wilderness Road on their way to begin a new settlement in Kentucky.

Boone and his family and five others set out on September 25 with all of the belongings from their Yadkin River home in North Carolina. When they reached the area that is now Abingdon, Virginia Daniel sent his 17 year-old son James along with John and Richard Mendenhall northward to Captain Russell’s at Castle Woods to obtain flour and farming tools. Daniel and the others continued along the wilderness trail through Big Moccasin Gap and across Walden’s Ridge before camping in Powell Valley. They would remain there until young James and his party caught up with them.

Henry Russell, the 17-year-old son of Captain Russell joined James’ party along with Isaac Crabtree and two black slaves named Charles and Adam. Captain Russell had work to do before leaving. He and Captain David Gass would catch up with them when it became possible.

James Boone and his party set out on October 8 along the Fincastle Trail and crossed the Clinch River at Hunter’s Ford, (now Dungannon). They passed through Rye Cove and then followed the Wilderness Trail over Powell Mountain to the headwaters of Wallen’s Creek.

They began seeing signs that were probably made by his father’s group. He knew that they would meet up with them within a few miles but decided to camp when darkness overtook them as they feared they may lose their way otherwise. They tried to sleep after building a campfire and eating a scant meal but sleep was hard coming because of the howling of wolves. They thought the wolves were probably disturbed by the light of their fire.

“Oooooeeeeee, oooooeeeee,” Crabtree intoned sarcastically. “You boys might be mistaken for cowards. You’d better get used to it because in Kentucky even the buffaloes howl from the treetops.”

The light of the fire dimmed and the howling of the wolves faded deeper into the woods. Soon it was dawn and a hush fell over the area except for the murmuring of Wallen’s Creek and the whisper of the wind in the trees.

Suddenly the quietness was pierced by the war whoops of a band of Indians as they rushed into James’ party of men with raised knife blades and discharging guns.

Henry Russell fell with a shot through his hip and an Indian stabbed him several times. In an effort to protect himself Henry repeatedly grabbed the knife blade with his bare hand but after being wounded he was no match for the young warrior. He soon lay dead. James Boone and the others were cruelly tortured before being murdered by the band of Cherokees and Shawnees who were supposedly under a truce. It was felt that the Indians were enraged by the plans of the settlers to settle on the land where their forefathers lived and hunted for many years.

Isaac Crabtree hid in the woods and witnessed the attack. The black named Adam escaped with his life when he hid among a pile of driftwood. He later became lost in the forest for several days before finding his way back to Castlewood. Adam was freed from slavery by Madam Russell years later because of her sympathy for him.

The other black (Charles) was taken prisoner and was forced to accompany the Indians. The Indians were aware of the value of blacks as slaves and often took them north to sell them. Charles was even less fortunate as two Indians had a continual squabble over who was entitled to the prisoner. The leader of the Indian party settled the quarrel by striking Charles with his tomahawk killing him.

Meanwhile Crabtree returned to Castlewood following the departure of the wild band of Indians. He didn’t know of Daniel Boone’s whereabouts. The entire Daniel Boone party, had a simple ceremony and buried their dead.

Boone wanted to continue their journey into Kentucky following the Indian massacre of his son and others in 1773. He had sold his property on the Yadkin River in North Carolina and could not return. Captain Russell persuaded him to abandon the exodus until the warlike behavior of the Indians eased.

Captain John Stuart, the British Indian agent, urged the Cherokees to give up the murderers. One chief was executed and another fled. It was later learned that some of the attacking band were Shawnees. Isaac Crabtree was the lone white survivor of the massacre. His life was filled with a continual rage against all Indians. He vowed to kill every Indian he encountered. While attending a horse race in the Watauga settlement (now Elizabethton) he shot and killed Cherokee Billy, a friendly Indian who was a mere bystander watching the races. Two other Indians, one a squaw, were saved from Crabtree only with much difficulty. Unfortunately, Cherokee Billy was kin to the influential Cherokee Chief Oconostota and a renewed killing fervor was feared. Several settlers were able to avert a further bloodletting by expressing their disapproval of Crabtree’s conduct and by issuing a reward of 50 English pounds for his arrest. Governor Dunsmore of Virginia pledged an additional reward of 100 pounds.

Several could have collected the reward but they knew individuals who had suffered from Indian attacks and refused to turn Crabtree over to authorities.

Sometime later Crabtree heard of three Cherokees hunting nearby and hurried out, gun in hand, with intentions of attacking them. He hastily returned when he found a party of 37 instead of three. Crabtree was persuaded to join the border guard in order to avert further troubles.

Daniel Boone, Rebecca, and the family settled down for the winter in a cabin in the Sinking Creek area, located between Dungannon and Castle’s Woods. It belonged to Captain Gass. Daniel supported his family by hunting. His son Israel accompanied him on almost every trip.

“You’re nearly grown Israel,” Daniel told his son one day. “I need you to watch over your mama and the rest for me while I go to Kentucky.”

“When are you taking us to Kentucky,” Israel asked his father?

“When it is safe son. It’s more dangerous now than it was before. Captain Russell has heard of settlers swarming down the Ohio River and the Indians are fighting war on every path. They are unhappy about losing their hunting grounds. Also, that Crabtree man who was with James when he was killed, he’s murdered a Cherokee down on the Watauga and the Cherokee nation is threatening to join all the northern tribes against us. It’s not a good time to take you all and all the others.

“But I hafta go for these very reasons. Some people have received grants in Kentucky and John Floyd and his men are surveying it. Governor Dunsmore wrote captain Russell that war was breaking out and that someone has to tell Floyd and his men. Captain Russell believes that Michael Stoner and I can find them and warn them of their danger.

“I need your help Israel. Watch out for the family for me. If the Indians start striking too close you must see that your mother and the children get to Moore’s Fort.”

On June 27, 1774, Israel and the remainder of the family bid Daniel and Stoner goodbye as they set off down the Pellissippi, which is what the Indians called the Clinch River.

“Will we ever see them again?” Israel’s sister, Jemima, asked with tears in her eyes.

Chief Logan turns against the white man following the murder of his family next week in Jadon’s story From the Mountains. Thanks to Lincoln Memorial University, Alice Lloyd College and the Museum of Appalachia for their assistance.