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Excerpt from Life and Adventures of Colonel Daniel Boon (1769–1778)


Daniel Boone, born in 1734, was famous for his leadership before and during the War of American Independence in settling Kentucky. Boone made his living as a hunter; on long hunts he explored the Appalachian Mountains and rediscovered the Cumberland Gap through the mountains. In 1773, he led his and other families through the Gap to Kentucky, encountering resistance from the Shawnees along the way. The forests of Kentucky teemed with wildlife, and the soil was especially rich, which promised good lives for American settlers—if they could foil Indian resistance. The settlement and fortress of Boonesborough was founded in 1775 to protect their wives and children and to serve as a vanguard of penetration into Kentucky. The fort was under frequent attack, which led to such incidents as the kidnapping of Boone's daughter and subsequent rescue, and Boone's own capture and adoption into an Indian family. Boone served in the Revolution with distinction, rising to the rank of colonel. After the war, Kentucky had so many settlers that Boone decided to move further west, settling on the Ohio River, and eventually crossing the Mississippi to the Missouri River, where he died in 1820.

Boone's fame derived from a brief biography that was appended to John Filson's Discovery, Settlement and Present State of Kentucke, published in 1784. Filson interviewed Boone, who told the author the basics of his life, which Filson embellished into an amazing story of courage and adventure. One may assume that the general incidents described by Filson are true. But Boone—a frontiersman rather than a philosopher—would hardly have employed such romantic eloquence in his description of his life and the lands he settled. Hence, this document describes John Filson's Daniel Boone, a hero of imagination built up from the true struggles, victories, and defeats of daily life.

Bacone College

See also Expeditions and Explorations: U. S. ; Frontier .

It was on the first of May 1769, that I resigned my domestic happiness, and left my family and peaceable habitation of the Yadkin river, in North Carolina, to wander through the wilderness of America, in quest of the country of Kentucky, in company with John Finley, John Stuart, Joseph Holden, James Money, and William Cool.

On the 7th of June, after travelling through a mountainous wilderness, in a western direction, we found ourselves on Red River, where John Finley had formerly been trading with the Indians, and, from the top of an eminence, saw with pleasure the beautiful level of Kentucky. For some time we had experienced the most uncomfortable weather. We now encamped, made a shelter to defend us from the inclement season, and began to hunt and reconnoitre the country. We found abundance of wild beasts in this vast forest.…The buffaloes were more numerous than cattle on other settlements, browzing on the leaves of the cane, or cropping the herbage on those extensive plains. We saw hundreds in a drove; and the numbers about the salt springs were amazing. In the forest, the habitation of beasts of every American kind, we hunted with great success until December.

On the 22d of December, John Stuart and I had a pleasing ramble; but fortune changed the day at the close of it. We had passed through a great forest, in which stood myriads of trees, some gay with blossoms, others rich with fruits. Nature was here a series of wonders and a fund of delight. Here she displayed her ingenuity and industry in a variety of flowers and fruits, beautifully coloured, elegantly shaped, and charmingly flavored; and we were diverted with numberless animals, presenting themselves perpetually to our view. In the decline of the day, near Kentucky river, as we ascended the brow of a small hill, a number of Indians rushed out of a thick cane brake, and made us prisoners. The Indians plundered us, and kept us in confinement seven days.… During this, we discovered no uneasiness or desire to escape, which made them less suspicious; but in the dead of night, as we lay by a large fire, in a thick cane brake, when sleep had locked up their senses, my situation not disposing me to rest, I gently awoke my companion. We seized this favorable opportunity, and departed, directing our course towards our old camp, but found it plundered, and our company dispersed or gone home.

About this time my brother, Squire Boon, with another adventurer, who came to explore the country shortly after us, was wandering through the forest, and accidentally found our camp. Notwithstanding our unfortunate circumstances, and our dangerous situation, surrounded with hostile savages, our meeting fortunately in the wilderness, gave us the most sensible satisfaction.

Soon after this, my companion in captivity, John Stuart, was killed by the savages: and the man that came with my brother returned home by himself. We were then in a dangerous, helpless situation, exposed daily to perils and death, among savages and wild beasts, not a white man in the country but ourselves.

Thus many hundred miles from our families in the howling wilderness, we did not continue in a state of indolence, but hunted every day, and prepared a little cottage to defend us from the winter storms. We met with no disturbance through the winter.

On the first of May 1770, my brother returned home by himself, for a new recruit of horses and ammunition, leaving me alone, without bread, salt, or sugar, or even a horse or dog. I passed a few days uncomfortably. The idea of a beloved wife and family, and their anxiety on my account, would have disposed me to melancholy, if I had further indulged the thought.

One day I undertook a tour through the country, when the diversity and beauties of nature I met with, in this charming season, expelled every gloomy thought. Just at the close of day, the gentle gales ceased; a profound calm ensued; not a breath shook the tremulous leaf. I had gained the summit of a commanding ridge, and looking round with astonishing delight, beheld the ample plains and beautious tracts below. On one hand I surveyed the famous Ohio, rolling in silent dignity, and marking the western boundary of Kentucky with inconceivable grandeur. At a vast distance, I beheld the mountains lift their venerable brows, and penetrate the clouds. All things were still. I kindled a fire, near a fountain of sweet water, and feasted on the loin of a buck, which a few hours before I had killed. The shades of night soon overspread the hemisphere, and the earth seemed to gasp after the howering moisture. My excursion had fatigued my body, and amused my mind. I laid me down to sleep, and awoke not until the sun had chased away the night. I continued this tour, and in a few days explored a considerable part of the country, each day equally pleased as at first after which I returned to my old camp, which had not been disturbed in my absence. I did not confine my lodging to it, but often reposed in thick cane brakes to avoid the savages, who, I believe, often visited my camp, but, fortunately for me, in my absence. No populous city, with all the varieties of commerce and stately structures, could afford so much pleasure to my mind, as the beauties of nature I found in this country.

Until the 27th of July, I spent the time in an uninterrupted scene of sylvan pleasures, when my brother, to my great felicity, met me according to appointment, at our old camp. Soon after we left the place, and proceeded to Cumberland river, reconnoitring that part of the country, and giving names to the different rivers.

In March 1771, I returned home to my family, being determined to bring them as soon as possible, at the risk of my life and fortune, to reside in Kentucky, which I esteemed a second paradise.

On my return I found my family in happy circumstances. I sold my farm at Yadkin, and what goods we could not carry with us; and, On the 25th of September 1773, we bade farewell to our friends, and proceeded on our journey to Kentucky, in company with five more families, and forty men that joined us in Powell's Valley, which is 150 miles from the now settled parts of Kentucky, but this promising beginning was soon over-cast with a cloud of adversity.

On the 10th of October, the rear of our company was attacked by a number of Indians, who killed six and wounded one man. Of these my eldest son was one that fell in the action. Though we repulsed the enemy, yet this unhappy affair scattered our cattle, brought us into extreme difficulty, and so discouraged the whole company, that we retreated forty miles to Clench river. We had passed over two mountains, Powell's and Walden's, and were approaching Cumberland mountain, when this adverse fortune overtook us. These mountains are in the wilderness, in passing from the old settlements in Virginia to Kentucky, are ranged in a south-west and north-east direction, are of great length and breadth, and, not far distant from each other. Over them nature hath formed passes less difficult than might be expected from the view of such huge piles. The aspect of these cliffs is so wild and horrid, that it is impossible to behold them without terror.

Until the sixth of June, 1774, I remained with my family on the Clench when I and Michael Stoner were solicited by governor Dunmore, of Virginia, to conduct a number of surveyors to the falls of Ohio. This was a tour of near eight hundred miles, and took us sixty-two days.

On my return, governor Dunmore gave me the command of three garrisons, during the campaign against the Shawanese.

In March, 1775, at the solicitation of a number of gentlemen, of North-Carolina, I attended their treaty at Wataga, with the Cherokee Indians, to purchase the lands on the south-side of Kentucky river. After this, I undertook to mark out a road in the best passage from the settlements, through the wilderness to Kentucky.

Having collected a number of enterprizing men, well armed, I soon began this work. We proceeded until we came within fifteen miles of where Boonsborough now stands, where the Indians attacked us, and killed two, and wounded two more.

This was the 20th of March, 1775. There days after, they attacked us again; we had two killed and three wounded. After this we proceeded on to Kentucky river without opposition.

On the 1st of April, we began to erect the fort of Boons-borough, at a salt-lick, sixty yards from the river, on the south side.

On the 4th, they killed one of our men.

On the 14th of June, having finished the fort, I returned to my family, on the Clench. Soon after I removed my family to the fort; we arrived safe; my wife and daughter being the first white women that stood on the banks of Kentucky river.

December 24th. The Indians killed one man, and wounded another, seeming determined to persecute us for erecting this fort.

July 14th 1776. Two of col. Calway's daughters, and one of mine, were taken prisoners near the fort. I immediately pursued the Indians, with only 18 men.

On the 16th, I overtook them, killed two of them, and recovered the girls.

The Indians had divided themselves into several parties, and attacked, on the same day, all our settlements and forts, doing a great deal of mischief. The husbandman was shot dead in the field, and most of the cattle were destroyed. They continued their hostilities until The 15th of April, 1777, when a party of 100 of them attacked Boonsborough and killed one man, and wounded four.

July 4th, they attacked it again with 200 men, and killed us one and wounded two. They remained 48 hours, during which we killed seven of them. All the settlements were attacked at the same time.

July 19th. Col. Logan's fort was besieged by 200 Indians: they did much mischief; there were only fifteen men in the fort; they killed two, and wounded four of them. Indians' loss unknown.

July 25. Twenty-five men came from Carolina. About August 20th, colonel Bowman arrived with 100 men from Virginia. Now we began to strengthen, and had skirmishes with the Indians almost every day. The savages now learned the superiority of the LONG KNIFE, as they call the Virginians; being outgeneraled in almost every battle. Our affairs began to wear a new aspect; the enemy did not now venture open war, but practised secret mischief.

January 1, 1778. I went with thirty men to the Blue Licks, on Licking river, to make salt for the different garrisons.

February 7th. Hunting by myself, to procure meat for the company, I met a party of 102 Indians and two Frenchmen, marching against Boonsborough. They pursued and took me; and next day I capitulated for my men, knowing they could not escape. They were 27 in number, three having gone home with salt. The Indians, according to the capitulation, used us generously. They carried us to Old Chelicothe, the principal Indian town on Little Miami.

On the 18th of February we arrived there, after an uncomfortable journey, in very severe weather.

On the 10th of March, I and ten of my men were conducted to Detroit.

On the 30th, we arrived there, and were treated by governour Hamilton, the British commander at that post, with great humanity. The Indians had such an affection for me, that they refused 1001. sterling offered them by the governor, if they would leave me with the others, on purpose that he might send me home on my parole. Several English gentlemen there, sensible of my adverse fortune, and touched with sympathy, generously offered to supply my wants, which I declined with many thanks, adding that I never expected it would be in my power to recompence such unmerited generosity. The Indians left my men in captivity with the British at Detroit.

On the 10th of April, they brought me towards Old Chelicothe, where we arrived on the 25th day of the same month. This was a long and fatiguing march, through an exceeding fertile country, remarkable for fine springs and streams of water. At Chelicothe, I spent my time as comfortable as I could expect; was adopted, according to their custom, into a family, where I became a son, and had a great share in the affection of my new parents, brothers, sisters, and friends. I was exceedingly familiar and friendly with them, always appearing as cheerful and satisfied as possible, and they put great confidence in me. I often went a hunting with them, and frequently gained their applause for my activity at our shooting matches. I was careful not to exceed many of them in shooting; for no people are more envious than they in this sport. I could observe in their countenance and gestures the greatest expressions of joy when they exceeded me; and, when the reverse happened, of envy. The Shawanese king took great notice of me, and treated me with profound respect, and entire friendship, often entrusting me to hunt at my liberty. I frequently returned with the spoils of the woods, and as often presented some of what I had taken to him, expressive of duty to my sovereign. My food and lodging was in common with them, not so good indeed as I could desire; but necessity made everything acceptable.

I now began to meditate an escape, but carefully avoided giving suspicion.

Until the 1st day of June I continued at Old Chelicothe, and then was taken to the salt springs on Sciota, and kept their ten days making salt. During this time, I had hunted with them, and found the land, for a great extent above this river, to exceed the soil of Kentucky, if possible, and remarkably well watered.

On my return to Chelicothe, four hundred and fifty of the choicest Indian warriors were ready to march against Boonsborough, painted and armed in a fearful manner. This alarmed me, and I determined to escape.

On the 16th of June, before sunrise, I went off secretly, and reaching Boonsborough on the 20th, a journey of one hundred and sixty miles, during which I had only one meal. I found our fortress in a bad state, but we immediately repaired our flanks, gates, posterns, and formed double bastions, which we completed in ten days. One of my fellow prisoners escaping after me, brought advice, that on account of my flight, the Indians had put off their expedition for three weeks.

About August 1st, I set out with 19 men to surprise Point Creek Town on Sciota. Within 4 miles we fell in with 30 Indians going against Boonsborough. We fought, and the enemy gave way. We suffered no loss. The enemy had 1 killed, and 2 wounded. We took 3 horses and all their baggage. The Indians having evacuated their town and gone all together against Boonsborough, we returned, passed them on the 6th day, and on the 7th arrived safe at Boonsborough.

On the 8th, the Indian army, 444 in number, commanded by capt. Duquesne, and 11 other Frenchmen, and their own chiefs, came and summoned the fort. I requested two days consideration, which they granted. During this, we brought in through the posterns all the horses and other cattle we could collect.

On the 9th, in the evening, I informed their commander, that we were determined to defend the fort, while a man was living. They then proposed a treaty, and said if we sent out 9 men to conclude it, they would withdraw. The treaty was held within 60 yards of the fort, as we suspected the savages. The articles were agreed to and signed; when the Indians told us, it was their custom for 2 Indians to shake hands with every white man in the treaty, as an evidence of friendship. We agreed to this also. They immediately grappled us to take us prisoners, but we cleared ourselves of them, though surrounded by hundreds, and gained the fort safe, except one that was wounded by a heavy fire from their army. On this they began to undermine the fort, beginning at the water-mark of Kentucky river, which is 60 yards from the fort. We discovered this by the water being made muddy with the clay and countermined them by cutting a trench across their subteranean passage. The enemy discovering this, by the clay we threw out of the fort, desisted.

On the 20th of August, they raised the siege.

During this dreadful siege, we had 2 men killed, and 4 wounded. We lost a number of cattle. We killed 37 of the enemy, and wounded a great number. We picked up 125 pounds of their bullets, besides what struck in the logs of the fort.

Soon after this I went into the settlement, and nothing worthy of notice passed for some time.

SOURCE: Filson, John. The Discovery, Settlement and Present State of Kentucke. Wilmington, Del.: James Adams, 1784.

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