The Kentucky Pioneers
THE traveller who stops for a day at the
pleasant and picturesque little city of Frankfort, Kentucky, will be rewarded
with the view of a landscape of surpassing loveliness. From the brow of a
lofty hill, reached by a broad smooth turnpike that has replaced the ancient
buffalo trace, he will look down upon the thriving town that fills the valley.
A railway, crowded with busy trains, skirts the base of the eminence.
To the right and the left extends the limpid blue Kentucky River, losing itself
on either hand in graceful curves behind the wooded hills, and in the distance
fields and pastures terminate the view. The observer stands at the
grave of Daniel Boone. Here was the favorite resort of the famous pioneer
of Kentucky, and here was he in 1845 interred. His bones were brought back
to the State which he founded, and laid in this last resting-place. The outlook
from his grave is toward the west, in keeping with the adventurous story of
his life. The modest monument that marks the place is carved with scenes of
pioneer life---the hunter's camp, the settler's cabin, the Indian combat;
and around it the trees grow, secluding the spot from the military cemetery
that lies beyond.
The story of Boone and the Kentucky pioneers has passed almost into the domain of romance. They are thought of and spoken of, when remembered, in a vague way as Indian fighters and hunters. They are scarcely ever credited with an idea or aspiration higher than the lust of the chase, or with a nobler quality than personal courage. It is too often forgotten how they framed, unassisted, the Constitution and policy of a State, how they conquered for their parent commonwealth, Virginia, the great Northwest Territory, and how they endured through unexampled trials the hardships of the frontier.
The entrance of the pioneers into Kentucky must be by one or the other of two routes. The parallel ranges of the Alleghany and Cumberland mountains, and the wild precipitous country between, made a march directly westward and across them impossible. It is still beyond attempt. From the frontier settlements of Virginia the pioneer would take his way southwestward, following the trend of the mountains and the valleys, till East Tennessee and the valley of the Holston were reached. Then an arduous journey across the Cumberland Gap and the rugged hills beyond it brought him, as he kept toward the northwest, to the waters of the Kentucky and of Salt River, and to that pleasant land of the Kentuckian, the "Bluegrass." But the journey was one of quite six hundred miles, and it traversed an inhospitable and dangerous region. No white inhabitant was to be found in all its length. From the Holston River to the Kentucky hostile Indians were numerous. There was no road, and the direction of the trail was only indicated by occasional choppings made upon the trees. It was in 1775 that this "marking the road" was done by Boone, to serve for others' use. For him neither marks nor compass nor directions were necessary. His instinct served him better than any such aids.
It was by this route that Boone and his comrades entered Kentucky, and by it came most of the early pioneers. It was aptly called, by a name that still adheres to the excellent thoroughfares that have supplied its place, the Wilderness Road.
The other mode of reaching the Kentucky hunting grounds was one less convenient and even more dangerous. It was to proceed from the interior settlements to Fort Pitt, and from that place float down the Ohio in a flat-boat of rude construction. Such journeys were once or twice made, without serious loss, as far as to the falls of the Ohio (Louisville), but they generally ended, if the adventurers succeeded, at Limestone, where Maysville now is built. Thence by overland march through the canebrakes the emigrant would, if not waylaid by Indians, join the little settlements at Boonesborough, or Harrodstown, or St. Asaph. This river route was, however, exceedingly hazardous. The Indians who occupied Southeast Ohio watched the banks for plunder and scalps. The flat-boats were necessarily small, and could not be sufficiently manned to repel attack, and were so rudely framed that they could not be manounvred to escape the swift canoes paddled by full crews of well-armed warriors.
The great "Warriors' Path" of the Shawnees extended through eastern Kentucky, from Chickamauga to the Scioto, and along its length war parties incessantly moved.
The hunter who had safely passed these dangers, and reached the beginnings of the settlements, found return to Virginia quite as dangerous as it was to remain in his new home. He was thrown upon his own resources for everything, and necessity developed him into soldier, politician, farmer, and lawyer.
The pioneers were in many instances men of much more information and culture than is generally supposed. Boone was much more than a mere deer-slayer and Indian hunter. He was just and kindly, faithful to friend and fair to foe.
Although his name is the synonym for adventure, his bravery was never that of violence. The Indians admitted that, Boone, their most skilful foe, had no malignant revenge in his nature. They several times captured him, and always treated him with a certain rough kindness and distinction. He was the greatest of the hunters, yet he never killed game needlessly. His singular nature was a compound of bravery without rashness, adventure without personal ambition constant conflict without a trace of cruelty. He possessed a placid and gentle mind that often showed the poetic temperament. He spelled badly, and wrote an ill-formed hand; but he enjoyed reading, and expressed himself with grace and facility. It was in 1769 that he first entered Kentucky, and these are his own words in speaking of the event:
The mistakes of names and orthography
may be pardoned the old hunter, deposing from memory twenty-six years after
the event. The name thus used by young Neely has clung to the locality. A
creek that waters one of the most beautiful parts of Kentucky still bears
the name of Lulbegrud, and the lands along its borders are still called the
Indian Old Fields. They are the site of what was almost certainly the last
fixed town that the Indians occupied in Kentucky. Long years after the pioneer
days were over, an aged chief, the renowned Catahecassa, or Blackhoof, came
to revisit the scenes of his youth. He had been born at the Shawnee town on
the Lulbegrud, and had marched when far past middle manhood to take part in
the fight where Braddock was defeated and slain. He was threescore when Boone
first saw Kentucky, yet he survived the entire generation of the first pioneers,
his old foes, and died in 1831, at the great age of one hundred and twenty
years. The sons of the pioneers received him with honor and hospitality, and
the old chief was made a welcome guest in the home of his childhood. His people
were gone, the vestiges of their former occupancy obliterated, and the names
of places and braves forgotten. A chance word from a chance book had
given a new and strange name to the place of his birth and the long-ago home
of his people.
John Floyd, the early companion of Boone, was a typical pioneer. He was educated, brave, and adventurous. Himself and two brothers fell by the Indian's rifle. Two of his brothers-in-law shared the same fate. At twenty-four years of age he was with Boone in Kentucky, and next year took part in the deliberations at Booneshorough. He hastened back to Virginia in the autumn of 1776, and with perfect confidence in his own resources fitted out a privateer and cruised as its commander. His checkered career brought him to Dartmouth as a prisoner of war, thence, by a daring escape, to Paris, where, as he afterward said, he wandered unknown, and wondered "if there was in all the world a man so lonely as he." Franklin met him, and conceived a strong esteem for the bold and handsome and courtly young hunter. He was received with marked interest at Versailles, and was the lion of the hour. Again he found his way back to Virginia, and rejoined Boone and Harrod in Kentucky in 1779, to lose his life soon afterward by a bullet from an ambuscade.
Another of the group was that great soldier George Rogers Clark, whose genius foresaw the importance of the Northwest, and whose prowess and skill conquered for the new republic that empire where now are established the great States of Indiana, Illinois, and Michigan. The magnitude of the conception was preciated by none but himself and the compreheusive mind of Jefferson. The achievement is a romance of war yet to be adequately told. His younger brother was of the same mold, and will be remembered for the marvelous expedition which, commanded by himself and his brother officer Lewis, crossed the continent to the mouth of the Columbia River.
The most accomplished of the pre-Revolutionary pioneers was doubtless Colonel John Todd, who fell afterward at the battle of the Blue Licks. Besides being a thorough woodsman, he was a classical scholar, had been trained to the law, and had seen service as a soldier. Though only thirty-two years of age at the time of his death, in 1782, he had assisted in subduing the Northwest, and filled the position of Military Governor of the Illinois.
He had also inaugurated a scheme for the extirpation of slavery, and first conceived the great ordinance of 1787, and devised, in the midst of frontier alarms, a comprehensive system of public aid to schools by grants of lands.
He and Boone and Floyd, with others, among them Parson Lythe, an adventurous preacher, were members of the first legislative body that met west of the Alleghany Mountains. It gathered at the stockade called Boonesborough, on the banks of the Kentucky, in May, 1775, and seventeen pioneers took part. The deliberations were opened with divine service, and the sessions were held under a great elm. The curious record has been preserved, and shows such characteristic entries as these: "On motion of Mr. Daniel Boone, leave is given to bring in a bill for preserving game" "On motion of Mr. Lythe, leave is given to bring in a bill to prevent profane swearing and Sabbath-breaking." Mr. Lythe, as has been mentioned, was the preacher-hunter. The two bills were perfected, and were the first laws of the new community. Along with them were resolutions looking to the establishment of courts of justice, and the organizing of a militia.
The Kentuckian, as has often been good-humoredly remarked, is nothing if not parliamentary. He loves debate and the forms of debate, and best of all political debate. It was even so with his progenitors. The orderly and strictly parliamentary way in which the little convention at Boonesborough proceeded with its business is quite surprising when the surrounding dangers and the remoteness of the spot from all civilized aid are remembered. During all the years up to the separation from Virginia there was indispensable need of a certain self-constituted authority. The parent commonwealth was remote and feeble, its officials too often careless of the struggling and distant community. Yet every form of law and procedure was scrupulously observed. The heads of settlements would recommend the militia officers to cause delegates to be chosen from their companies, and these would convene in due form, and call on the people to choose representatives in a legislative body, by whom the affairs of the district could be considered, and proper action recommended. Thus delegates to the Virginia Assembly were selected, provisions for future conventions made, and the common interest cared for. It may safely be asserted that the gravity, moderation, and patience which were exhibited are unsurpassed in the early history of any of the commonwealths.
It is strange to picture this curious phase of the pioneers' history. Their daily life was one of danger, and combat with a foe that gave no quarter. They were adventurers upon the limitless West, and the animating spirit of each was that of personal independence. There was no organized force or sanction of law. Those that first came had not even a recognition from King George's Governors, nor a charter of permission. Yet these men, usually esteemed so rude, and scarce one of whom had ever witnessed a legislative session, instinctively laid the foundation of their occupancy in a well considered and admirably expressed treaty, by which right of occupancy was formally secured, and upon that basis commenced of their own motion a political organization. When the Revolution dissolved their English allegiance, and private treaties with Indians were repudiated by Virginia, they carefully established by chosen delegates their relations with Virginia, and scrupulously sought lawful commissions to issue to the few officials required for their simple yet urgent needs. As they emerged from the hunter life, and agriculture began to flourish and accumulations for commerce to grow, they never lost sight of the lawful forms of procedure; and in a matter of such vital importance as the navigation of the Mississippi they held their hand, in constant deference to the constituted power of the land, though tempted by every consideration that could sway men to take by strong arm the rights so essential to their prosperity and comfort. That they showed capacity for organization is not to be so much wondered at such is the English characteristic; but that they should have restrained their organization so strictly by the forms of traditional law, under circumstances of so great and long-continued discouragement, is wonderful.
The public opinion of the settlers was stronger than any statute. Their relations were for years those of assent to a common law of the country, which no man presumed to violate or thought of questioning. So simple and obvious were its necessary points that they were not even codified. Its chief and essential principle was that every man should assist in the common defence, and render prompt aid to his neighbor. Debts there were none, for property had not yet accumulated. There was no use for money, and consequently no money-lenders. Land was not as yet the fruitful source of litigation, for it lay free to all who were hardy enough to take and hold it. The authority of the militia officers, and the supremacy of the County Lieutenant, as he was called in the Virginia law, were the most important matters of public concern, and to the orders and suggestions of these uniform deference was paid. For the redress of purely personal grievances their public appliances were inadequate, and the habit of self-reliance seemed to make them unsuitable. Men were left to maintain by their own strong arms many rights which in older and quieter communities were vindicated by money damages at the hands of a jury. Public opinion committed the honor of females to the keeping of their armed kinsmen, and would have scouted appeal to a court for redress upon a wrong-doer. Each was competent to protect himself and that which personally concerned him, and was expected to do so; and this received notion gained such general and sure footing that an almost ceremonious regard for others' feelings and others' persons became universal. The violent were better restrained by the certainty of condign punishment at the hands of the outraged than they would have been by any mulot or fine. Contrary to what the moralist might perhaps have predicted, the idea worked well. The result was, for the public, prompt and well-concerted response to public duty; for the individual, great self-reliance in all that concerned his family or his honor, and an unwillingness to trouble the neighborhood with a trial of any infringement of his personal rights as distinguished from property rights. Some of the inherited results of this peculiar society are observable to this day. Among those who aspire to be considered the better class, suits for slander are unknown. In the history of the State there has not been a crim. con. trial. The slayer of a seducer has never been punished. And this remark applies to the best population of Kentucky, as distinguished from a class that is degraded and inferior, so often confounded with it, but which is in no sense of pioneer origin.
The little fort at Boonesborough was in an almost constant state of attack, and the increasing numbers and strength of the Indian war parties caused Boone and his comrades to enlarge it to such proportions as would give a refuge for those who ventured to clear land and plant corn in the vicinity. It may well be considered as the central point of early pioneer life in Kentucky. The walls of the fort were in part composed of the log cabins in which the pioneers lived, and constructed partly of tall palisades. At the four corners the cabins pojected like bastions, and enabled the defenders to resist attempts to scale or burn the defences.
Within the enclosure, as in the other earliest settlements, there was collected the little wealth of the adventurers. The pots and pans rought with such toil from Virginia upon the pack-horse were, next to the gun and axe, their most valued possessions. They came along with the first wives and daughters of the pioneers, of whom there were as many as seven families within the area of Kentucky in 1775. These brought, too, the spinning-wheel, with which coarse yarns were made from buffalo wool; and it was not long before a few rude looms were improvised, that served for weaving a rough cloth suitable for the men's winter wear. The name of William Poague, who first made noggins and buckets, has been preserved, coupled with that of his ingenious daughter, who discovered that a fiber for-weaving could be beaten from nettles and woven in the loom which her father made. Buckskin was the usual outer garb of the men as well from choice as necessity. Their rough marches through thickets and cane would soon have destroyed a less strong -material. The cotton cloth for underclothing was painfully brought from Virginia along with the occasional supplies of ammunition. The wives and daughters of the pioneers were more carefully provided for. They were apparelled in woollens and cottons, and wore shoes, brought over the Wilderness Road. Withal there was comfort and plenty. The list of luxuries was a short one; the comforts were substantial.
Greatly prized among them was the cheerful fiddle that enlivened the long winter evenings, and relieved the tedium of their lonely life. For him who could make music with their favorite instrument there was always the heartiest welcome and the choicest seat near the great log fire that supplied alike warmth and light. The accomplishment was a rare one, and the merits of the best fiddlers were well known throughout the different settlements. The use of the fiddle and ndulgence in the dance were general with all of the first settlers. For old and young like it was the approved recreation. The prevailing religious sentiment was Presbyterian or Baptist, for most of the pioneers were from Rockbridge, or Augusta, or Botetourt, in Virginia, or the strong Dissenter communities of Pennsylvania. They were rigid in their theology and strict in their observances, but their strictness seems never to have found fault with the innocent gayety of the neighborhood dance or the quilting party. Old Father Rice gave Presbyterian sanction by his presence, if not his participation; and so did the earlier Baptists, represented by Squire Boone and such preachers. Upon the subject of psalmody there was a serious and much debated difference throughout the settlements. Very many of the first pioneers would never sing Watts's version, and made the rugged lines of Rouse a test of orthodoxy. But all allowed the dance and fiddle to the young and the gay, and cheered their own troubles with the sight and sound of innocent merriment. It is a curious fact that so sudden and radical a change should have occurred as marked the state of public opinion at the end of Kentucky's first twenty years. The French Revolution had then brought emigres even to Kentucky. The agents of the Directory were fomenting political discontent at Lexington and Danville. By a queer freak, the French divided public opinion politically and religiously. Those who shared the enthusiasm of the time for republican France became largely advocates of the infidelity then professed by representative Frenchmen, and imitators of their fashions and habits. And the social gayety of French manners became so thoroughly identified in the common mind with disbelief, that the innocent fiddle and the harmless dance were denounced as incompatible with avowed religious convictions. It was about the year 1794 that the religious organizations made dancing a subject of discipline. The rule was not relaxed in the sterner denominations until a time well within the memory of men not yet old. And as a parallel fact it may be noted that from 1794 up to the wonderful religious excitement of 1803-4 there was, according to a most reliable contemporary, such general departure from the early ways that but a single lawyer in the State avowed a religious belief. In a MS. autobiography that has fortunately survived, a brave and useful and eminently pious old pioneer recounts the happy escape of a party of settlers, male and female, from an ambuscade of Indians. The Indians made a "blind," or hiding-place of bushes, behind which they lay in wait for the whites who were to pass along the path. The young people went up a different ridge, in quest of wild plums, and so escaped the danger. "This event was always thereafter" (says the narrator) "regarded as an extraordinary interposition of Providence in their favour. For which many heart-felt thanks were returned to Almighty God by the Parents of these Young people, who amidst all their dangers did not forget to Dance and Amuse themselves in the station whenever they could get the opportunity."
But the strict old Presbyterian elder in another place tells, with an almost regret for those days of his youth, how the young people in the stations "enjoyed themselves with dancing several times each week. It was not then considered criminal, and it kept up their spirits and cheerfulness, in the wilds of the West, and it must be admitted that it added to the health and happiness of the young People, and indeed it was not believed to be inconsistent with their religions duties. But after-times proved the necessity of limiting this amusement." But these "after-times," as has been intimated, were not until the time of the French excitement.
Their favorite dance was the reel-the Virginia Reel, as it is still called, and as it is yet danced in undiminished popularity throughout rural Kentucky. The facing lines of dancers, the alternate advance and retreat of end couples, keeping strict time, and executing the "pigeon wing" and other intricacies according to the performers' ability, the continual sway and marking the music by all the dancers, the hands all round, the right and left, made an enlivening scene. The quick, marked tune, in two-four time, emphasized by the stamp of the fiddler's foot, and by the nods and gestures of the spectators, was played with an expression that was exhilarating. Of all dances, none has the contagious good-humor and gayety that characterize the Virginia Reel, danced at a country house to the music of good country fiddlers. For the music of these has a swing of its own, and differs from the best orchestra, just as the camp-meeting hymn moves the soul differently from the best performances of a trained and fashionable church quartette.
A slave owned by Captain Estill was pre-eminently the musician of the country in the earliest years. He was a person of greatest importance from the further fact that he alone of all in the new country could make gunpowder. The cave where "Monk" leached the earth for saltpetre, and combined his dangerous mixture, is one of the well-known spots of historic interest in Madison County. He possessed much intelligence and was eccentric and reserved. He was treated with respect and consideration by whites and Indians alike. His freedom was given him in 1782 in recognition of his conspicuous bravery in an Indian fight. Thus, in addition to other points of interest, he was the first freed slave in Kentucky. His chemical secret-how to make gunpowder was never divulged by him, and insured him a consequence proportioned to the value of that indispensable article in a settlement of hunters and Indian fighters. But the powder made by "Monk" was no doubt below the standard of even those rude days. The supply was chiefly from Fort Pitt, and during the earlier years the expeditions to fetch it were carefully planned, and intrusted only to the most daring and successful woodsmen. In June, 1776, the pioneers held a general meeting on the "powder question," and sent two representatives all the way to Williamsburg, one of whose duties it was to procure from the Virginia Assembly a supply of ammunition. The five hundred pounds that were granted were carried on horses through the wilderness to Fort Pitt, and thence by night voyages in canoes to Limestone (now Maysville), and there secreted to await a favorable time for conveyance to the stations in central Kentucky. It cost the lives of several good men to accomplish the task. It was in the same year that, in a similar errand to Fort Pitt, a party of seven were all killed or wounded, among them Colonel Robert Patterson, the founder of the three cities Lexington, Cincinnati, and Dayton, who there received the tomahawk wound which he bore to his grave,
The dangers which Boone and his companions encountered in the fields came to the very doors of their cabins, and constantly menaced their families. Indians lurked singly or in parties to seize a prisoner or take a scalp whenever an incautious white should give the opportunity. Frequent combats (and each combat ended, as a rule, in the death of one or both of those engaged) had habituated the men to danger. It was later that they felt the danger of their wives and children, Late on a Sunday afternoon in July, 1776, three young girls ventured from the enclosure of Boonesborough to amuse themselves with a canoe upon the river that flowed by the fort. Insensibly they drifted with the lazy current, and before they were aware of their danger were seized by five warriors. Their resistance was useless, though they wielded the paddles with desperation. Their canoe was drawn ashore, and they were hurried off in rapid retreat toward the Shawnee towns in Ohio. Their screams were heard at the fort, and the cause well guessed. Two of the girls were Betsey and Frances, daughters of Colonel Richard Callaway, the other was Jemima, daughter of Boone. The fathers were absent, but soon returned to hear the evil news and arrange the pursuit. Callaway assembled a mounted party, and was away through the woods to head off the Indians, if possible, before they might reach and cross the Ohio, or before the fatique of their rapid march should so overcome the poor girls as to cause their captors to tomahawk them, and so disencumber their flight. Boone started directly on the trail It was through the thickets and canebrakes. His rule was never to ride if he could possibly walk. All his journeys and hunts, escapes and pursuits, were on foot. His little party numbered eight, and the anxiety of a father's heart quickened its leader, and found a ready response in the breasts of three young men, the lovers of the girls.
Betsey Callaway, the oldest of the girls, marked the trail, as the Indians hurried them along, by breaking twigs and bending bushes, and when threatened with the tomahawk if she persisted, tore small bits from her dress, and dropped them to guide the pursuers. Where the ground was soft enough to receive an impression, they would press a footprint. The flight was in the best Indian method: the Indians marched some yards apart through the bushes and cane, compelling their captives to do the same. When a creek was crossed they waded in its water to a distaut point, where the march would be resumed. By all the caution and skill of their training the Indians endeavored to obscure the trail and perplex the pursuers.
It is well known to those who have observed Indian modes of life that the pursuer always marches faster than the pursued, if the parties are at all equally matched in woodcraft, To obscure a trail costs time. Unless it were perfectly covered it would never escape the eye of Daniel Boone; and the three young men strained every faculty to observe and keep the ''sign."
The nightfall of the first day stopped the pursuit of Boone before he had gone far; but he had fixed the direction the Indians were taking, and at early dawn was following them. The chase was continued with all the speed that could be made for thirty miles. Again darkness compelled a halt, and again at crack of day on Tuesday the pursuit was renewed. It was not long before a light film of smoke that rose in the distant showed where the Indians were cooking a breakfast of buffalo meat. The pursuers cautiously approached, fearing lest the Indians might slay their captives and escape. Colonel John Floyd, who was one of the party (himself afterward killed by Indians), thus described the attack and the rescue, in, a letter written the next Sunday to the Lieutenant of Fincastle, Colonel William Preston: "Our study had been how to get the prisoners without giving the Indians time to murder them after they discovered us: Four of us fired, and all of us rushed on them; by which they were prevented from carrying anything away except one shot-gun without any ammunition. Colonel Boone and myself had each a pretty fair shot as they began to move off. I am well convinced I shot one through the body. The one he shot dropped his gun; mine had none. The place was covered with thick cane, and being so much elated on recovering the three poor little heart-broken girls, we were prevented from making any further search. We sent the Indians off almost naked, some without their moccasins, and none of them with so much as a knife or tomahawk. After the girls came to themselves sufficiently to speak, they told us there were five Indians, four Shawanese and one Cherokee; they could speak good English, and said they should go to the Shawanese towns. The war-club we got was like those I have seen of that nation, and several words of their language, which the girls retained, were known to be Shawanese."
The return with the rescued girls was the occasion for great rejoicing. To crown their satisfaction, the young lovers had proved their prowess, and under the eye of the greatest of all woodsmen had shown their skill and courage. They had fairly won the girls they loved. Two weeks later a general summons went throughout the little settlements to attend the first wedding ever solemnized on Kentucky soil. Samuel Henderson and Betsey Callaway were married in the presence of an approving company that celebrated the event with dancing and feasting. The formal license from the county court was not waited for, as the court-house of Fincastle, of which county Kentucky was part, was distant more than six hundred miles. The ceremony consisted of the contract with witnesses, and religious vows administered by Boone's brother, who was an occasional preacher of the ersuasion popularly known as Hardshell Baptists. Frances Callaway became within a year the wife of the gallant Captain John Holder, afterward greatly distinguished in the pioneer annals; and Boone's daughter married the son of his friend Callaway.
The first pioneers were so successful in holding their settlements that others hastened to join them, attracted by the abundance of the game and the fertility of the soil. To some, no doubt, the element of constant adventure was a great iducement, and fully were they gratified. Some, like Simon Kenton, as a hunter and woodsman second only to Boone, seemed to seek hazard. He it was whose desperate ride, lashed to the back of an untamed horse, was the true original of Byron's Mazeppa. Unlike Boone, Kenton excited in his Indian foes the most exasperated feelings of vengeance. Aside from wounds received in fight, he was several times brought to the very verge of death while a prisoner in the ndians' hands. On one occasion he was struck apparently dead with a tomahawk that clove his shoulder through the collar-bone; three times he was bound to the stake to die by fire, and as often as eight times was he compelled to "run the gauntlet." None of this generation will ever know in its true significance the horror of that word. There is now probably no man living who has "run the gauntlet" as an Indian prisoner. The venerable and reverend Thomas P. Dudley, of Lexington, Kentucky, now approaching his hundredth year, was sentenced, but reprieved. His comrades suffered the ordeal, while he in mere whim was ransomed for a pony and a keg of whiskey. The Indians ranged themselves in two lines, between which the prisoner was compelled to run for his life, eluding as best he could the blows of tomahawks and war-clubs that were aimed at him in his flight. Sometimes good fortune or activity saved the prisoner. Sometimes the Indians would in mere caprice use long sticks instead of deadly weapons, and in a few rare instances pure courage saved the victim. Kenton on one occasion won the applause of the head chiefs of the Wyandots, who interfered to save his life from their infuriated warriors. No sooner was he unbound to commence the fatal race than he seized a war-club, and dashed down the line striking in desperation at every warrior armed with hatchet or club. Though covered with wounds, he reached the goal alive, still brandishing the weapon with which he had fought his way. The exploit was without a parallel in Indian experience; it won their admiration, and for that time saved him.
The death by fire was seldom inflicted. The gauntlet was rare, but the stake even rarer. It was only under circumstances that to the Indian mind were exceedingly aggravating that a prisoner was burned. Boone, like others, was in constant warfare with them, and was several times their prisoner, yet the Indians used a sort of rude kindness toward him while in their power. The well understood code of war was that actual combat was to the death, and that surprise and ambuscade were to be expected, and the scalp of the slain went to the victor. During the period from 1783 to 1790 no less than fifteen hundred authenticated instances of death by the Indian rifle or tomahawk occurred; but they were, after a rough fashion, regarded as part of the risk that pioneers took. The Indians must have suffered as much or more, and they too regarded it as the fate of continual war. But Kenton and a few others appear to have been considered as transgressors of the rules of "fair fighting," and to them, when caught, extreme penalty was administered.
This state of continual war and incessant activity made it of last importance that the outfit of the hunter should be exactly suited to his surroundings. Like his Indian foe, he cut down his equipment to the minimum of bulk and weight, and experience soon established what became the accepted uniform. A happy and artistic thought preserved the authentic pioneer costume, sculptured upon the State Military Monument at Frankfort, from models prepared under the eye of pioneers that then survived. The coat, or "hunting shirt," that reached to the thigh, was of coarse cloth, or preferably of well-dressed deerskin that turned rain, and was not readily torn. Around the neck and shoulders was a fringe six inches long, not intended for ornament alone, but supplying the strings so often needed by a hunter. The four pockets, two on either breast, were exactly placed that the use of weapons should not be embarrassed. A belt, carrying tomahawk and knife, passed were through loops at the back, and was tightened by a buckle or thongs.
Beneath the right arm swung the bullet-pouch, and with it the powder-horn. In the former were carried the bullets, cotton "patching" with which the balls were surrounded in loading, and the precious extra flints, all enclosed and fastend in interior pockets, lest in rapid movement they might be lost. The powder-horn was selected with reference to the curve of the body, that it might lie close, and neither impede the use of the right arm, nor become entangled with the bushes or cane. Much care was bestowed upon the adornment, and it was softened by boiling to receive the desired shape and preparation. At the left side hung the tomahawk, a light hatchet with curved blade, useful in many ways about the camp. and a formidable weapon in close combat. The knife lay across the chest within ready grasp. Over his short trousers and stocking the hunter habitually wore deer-skin leggings that reached to the middle thigh. These were prepared of brain-dressed skin that perfectly turned the rain and dew. Along their outer edge were often fringes of strings hanging for ready use. The feet were cased in moccasins, to which soles of raw hide were sometimes sewed; but as a rule the soft elk-skin was preferred, for the face of the land was as yet unbroken turf of forest mold, soft and springy to the tread. Stoned cropped out as cultivation disturbed the soil in after-years. A cap, brought from the eastern settlements, or made of the skin of a 'coon or panther, completted the costume of the original hunter of Kentucky
The Rife that the Kentucky pioneer carried was a weapon suited in every respect to the needs of the situation. The details of its length, caliber, weight, angle of stock, and arrangement of sights were greatly discussed, and the arguments were acrimonious over very small differences. A curious memorandum made at an early day perpetuates the views of some of the most noted pioneers. Charles Scott (afterward a major-general and Governor) thought that a caliber of fifty bullets to the pound of lead was best. John Allen was emphatic that the barrel need never be longer than three feet eight inches, and preferred brass mountings, as more easily kept bright. Knox, the chief of the Long Hunters, explained that the gunbarrel should be chambered to receive the charge when rammed home, and that the hind sight should be placed one-third of the barrel's length from the breech. Upon the theory of "sighting," it was well agreed that the top of the breech, the fine slit of the hind sight, and the edge of the fore sight should lie in one line. This insured equal accuracy at any distance between ten and one hundred and fifty paces. The material of the rifle barrel was soft iron, to permit easier manipulation; and as use dulled the grooves, the "saws were run through," as the term was, enlarging the bore and restoring the
accuracy of the gun.
The Kentucky rifle of former days is now no longer made. Even those that remain have generally been supplied with percussion locks, and these in their turn are antiquated. In very early times an eccentric gunsmith named Graham built a solitary cabin on the waters of the Elkhorn, where he made the best gun in Kentucky.From habit more than public demand he pursued the trade till his death in 1820. He first introduced the "trade-mark" into the West. His rifles have alternate circles and stars stamped in the soft iron around the octagonal muzzle.
The skill acquired by the Kentucky hunters in the use of the long rifle has not been exaggerated. Constant practice, and the fact that life depended upon it, made every man a marksman. The peculiarities of guns were as well known and as carefully observed as the idiosyncrasies of men. Nowadays rifles are manufactured by the thousand, each a duplicate of every other, and each the
perfection of mechanical excellence. The closest scrutiny will not detect a variation, and the tall and the short, the long-armed and the short-armed, the long-necked and the short-necked, use each the same weapon. But in the pioneer days, as each gun was hand-made in every respect, and each as a rule made to order, the owner caused his gun to be measured and shaped and weighted to suit its intended user. There was in those days a "personal equation" of rifle as well as of rifleman, and constant and careful practice made each man the perfect master of his own weapon. The story is authenticated by the late Chief-Justice Robertson of a wife who recognized the peculiar report of her husband's rifle as he returned home after a years absence in Indian captivity.
The life of the hunter was, as has already been said, one of unceasing vigilance and activity. It involved every possible danger and fatigue, and called for the highest qualities of courage and endurance. Every out-door occupation carried with it the risk of death or captivity. Boone, with all his craft, became a prisoner, and was carried as far as Detroit. He had the tact to ingratiate himself with his captors, who were especially gratified at a victory by some of their chiefs in trials of skill with the rifle. Boone was prudent enough to suffer himself to be beaten, and by a margin so narrow as to enhance the triumph. The distinction of excelling the great white hunter with the rifle filled the Indian soul with pride.
At the Shawnee town of Chillicothe, Boone discovered that an expedition was preparing against his own station. Resolved to save his family and friends at every hazard, he escaped from the Indian town, and in four days reached Boonesborough, one hundred and sixty miles distant. The toilsome and perilous march was made in safety, across rivers and over prairies and through woods and canebrakes. The famished traveller tasted but a single meal during his journey, and he appeared like a spectre to his friends, who had reckoned him dead. The alarm of the approaching attack was speedily given. The settlers collected and strengthened the stockade, the cattle and horses were secured, and every preparation perfected for a vigorous defence. But the Indians delayed; the escape of Boone had disconcerted their plans. Again the indefatigable backwoodsman hurried to the banks of the Scioto, taking with him a small party of riflemen. There he surprised a detachment of the Indian force, and instantly fell upon the rear of the body that had already started for Boonesborough. Following the trail with consummate rapidity and skill, he overtook and by a circuitous march passed his enemy, reaching the fort first by a day's time.
The Indians were beaten in their own tactics. They had been overreached in skill and overcome in endurance. Boone had twice passed them, and their meditated surprise was a failure. But they numbered more than five hundred well-armed warriors, and were commanded by Canadian officers appointed by Hamilton, the British Governor of the Northwest. The British flag was displayed, and a demand for immediate surrender made upon Boone, coupled with a threat of massacre by the tomahawk if it were not complied with. Boone asked time to consult with his comrades, and employed the delay thus secured in preparing for the siege. The pioneers resolved unanimously to fight to the death. Captain Duquesne, the commandant of the Indians, disappointed in his hopes of surprise or surrender, next asked a conference with nine of the pioneers. Strange as it may appear, Boone, for the only time in all his frontier experience, was deluded by the shallow artifice. Accompanied by eight others, he went out from the stockade to treat with the enemy. A crowd of Indians immediately surrounded the little party, while Duquesne attempted to engage their attention with talk about surrender of the post. At length it was suggested that a solemn custom of the Indians should be observed-that the hands of each white man should be grasped by two warriors in token of permanent friendship. Boone acquiesced, and the Warriors approached. Instantly the pioneers broke through the surrounding crowd, and ran for their lives to the fort. But one man was wounded by the volley that followed their flight, and the cover of the stockade was regained. The incident brought upon Boone for a time a suspicion with some that he was not at heart true to his fellow-pioneers. Even his friend Callaway for a time shared this belief. But the injurious thought was soon dismissed, and Boone's frank explanation "that he didn't know,how it happened, but he had played the great fool," was accepted as true. It was the first time and the last time that the old pioneer lost even for a moment his sagacity and self-possession. He had the singular gift of becoming more discreet and resourceful, and at the same time more daring, as danger became more pressing. His faculties were now all alive. The Indians, under the direction of their Canadian officers, attempted to run a mine(tunnel ed.) beneath the stockade, and so gain an entrance. They worked secretly and diligently, but the earth that they cast into the stream discolored the water and revealed their plan. Boone countermined, digging with such tools as his little stock contained, and taunting his foe with the discovery of their scheme. The contest then became one of sharp-shooters, and the enemy were beaten off with loss.
The stockade stations served excellently well their purpose. They were proof against rifle shot, and gave good cover to an inferior force resisting an attack. Sometimes a bold marksman would climb into the top of a neighboring tree, and from his elevated perch would pick off the men within the fort. But his position was as dangerous as it was advantageous, and he soon became the target of unequalled riflemen. The tree still stands at Harrodsburg from the forks of which McGary, by a wonderful shot, brought down an Indian sharpshooter. But the mere power of numbers was counterbalanced by the slight defences, and the contest was mainly of individual skill, endurance, and strategy.
The English Colonel Byrd had entered Kentucky with a large force of Indians in 1781(should be1780 editor), bringing with him what had not before been seen in Kentucky, a couple of small field-pieces. With these he subdued every station east of Lexington. Why he did not exterminate the settlers, as he might easily have done, has never been explained. One tradition has it(and we may hope it is correct) that Colonel Byrd was an officer schooled in a different style of war, and that the barbarities practised by his Indians upon the inmates of Ruddle's and Martin's stations caused him to terminate his campaign abruptly and return to Detroit.
The warning was enough for John Todd, who at once obtained authority from Jefferson, Governor of Virginia, to erect at the public expense a fort at Lexington that should be "proof against Swivels & small Artillery which so terrify our people." But the exchequer was low indeed, and the Governor entreated Todd to remember the virtue of economy.
A substantial structure on the creek side was soon built. "Eight feet in the clear, walls 7 feet thick of Rammed dirt, inclosed with good timbers 9 feet high only, from 4 feet upwards 5 feet thick. The top of the wall is neatly picketed 6 feet High, proof against Small Arms. Ditch 8 feet wide & between 4 & 5 feet deep." And from that time no large Indian force crossed to the west of the Kentucky River.
The cost of this fort is worth notice. Colonel Todd reported it to the Governor almost in terms of apology. He wrote: "The whole expence amounts to 1l,34l£lOs., as will appear by the account here with Sent. It is in vain for me to assure your Excellency that Diligence and Economy has been used in this business, as the Work so abundantly proves it. I believe four times the expence never before made for the Publick a work equal to this. An Emulation among the overseers & Rewards in Liquor to the men proved powerful Incentives to Industry. Being a charge of an uncommon nature, I thought it proper to present it to your Excellency & the Council, being better Judges of the Necessity & Expediency of the Work than the Auditors, who are probably unacquainted with the Circumstances of this Country. By either of the Delegates your may have an opportunity of transmitting the money.
This apparently extravagant outlay, for the payment of which Colonel Todd pledged himself to the contractors dwindles, when examined, to amusingly small proportions. The value of the currency had been fixed by legislation of the previous year at one thousand of paper for one of hard money, and the Virginia pound was $3 33. The expenditure of public money in hard cash was therefore just $37.76! Well might Todd say, "four times the expence never before made for the Publick a work equal to this." And well may the modern engineer consider the economy and efficiency of a defence that made tenable the whole State of Kentucky, and wonder if the days of commonsense and frugality in public outlays will ever return.
The fort thus opportunely built saved the hamlet of Lexington from attack in the great expedition of the combined tribes against the Kentucky settlements. It was the supreme effort to drive out the white man, and with its failure Indian warfare became again a series of desultory forays and small but sanguinary combats.
The ability of the renegade Simon Girty combined the warlike tribes beyond the Ohio in an expedition which he ably commanded. No name was more abhorred or dreaded than his. He was the incarnation of savage cruelty. He was one of the four sons of a drunken reprobate who wandered into the extreme west of Pennsylvania, and was there murdered by some companion wretch. The children were made captives by a marauding band and carried off to the Indian towns. George, one of the boys, became a Delaware Indian, and continued with them through life, abandoning all the habits of the white man, and forgetting the language of his youth. James was adopted by the Shawnees, and became an active and cruel foe to the whites. His delight was to invent new and lingering tortures and to superintend their application. After he became enfeebled by a disease that destroyed his power of walking, he would cause captive women and children, to be pushed within his reach that he might hew them with his tomahawk. Thomas lived and died with the Shawnees, an ordinary Indian, unnoted for any marked traits of enterprise or ferocity.
But Simon Girty became the representative of all the most dreadful forms of Indian cruelty and activity. He was adopted by the Senecas, and except for a brief period, when in the employ of Lord Dunmore on the frontier, he lived with them and the Shawnees. At one time he and Kenton were brother scouts, and the remembrance of it induced him, in a caprice of mercy, to save his old comrade from the stake to which he was already bound. But the weakness was never repeated. He advised and witnessed the burning of Colonel Crawford, and laughed heartily at the wretched sufferer's prayer that his torments might be ended by a bullet. He was a slave to drink, and when under its influence it is said "he had no compassion in his heart." Girty profoundly and sincerely hated the white man, and lost no chance of displaying his animosity.
Assembling more than six hundred picked warriors of the Shawnees and neighboring tribes at the old Indian town of Chillicothe, he moved rapidly and secretly, crossing the Ohio where Cincinnati now is built, and pushing toward the settlements in the Bluegrass. The capture of Lexington meant an extermination of the whites north and east of the Kentucky River. To his chagrin, his spies brought word that the new fort was just completed and impregnable. The grand plan had to be changed.
Northeast of Lexington, and about five miles distant, lay Bryant's Station, a place that ranks in Kentucky annals second only to Boonesborough. It had been early occupied by Joseph Bryant, a brother-in-law of Daniel Boone, and around his cabin soon collected others whose numbers gave an effective force of forty-four riflemen. The quadrangular enclosure was like that at Boonesborough in part of cabin walls, and partly of strong pickets. It stood on a gentle elevation on the banks of the Elkhorn, looking out over the fairest land of the West. The bounty of nature embarrassed the pioneer with the luxuriance of forest growth and thick cane that sprang from the tall and matted grass. The industry of the settlers was but beginning to be observable around the little fort. The great buffalo trace that led from the Blue Licks on the east, through the rich pastures of the Bluegrass, by the Stamping Ground and Drennon's Lick, to that graveyard of the mastodons at Big Bone, had been made a pathway between the stations. The forest had been cleared away nearest the station, and small patches of corn waved their tassels close against the cane, whose dense growth proved the fertility of the soil. But between Bryant's Station and Lexington the short five miles traversed a yet unbroken wilderness. The rich and undulating acres, where now are found the manors of opulent stock-breeders, were as yet unbroken. A picket station, as it were, that Todd had located two miles southeast of Lexington, and held with a single family, was the only inroad upon the primitive forest in that direction. Next to him lay the favorite feeding ground of the bison and the elk, where now are unrolled the pastures of Ashland and Ellerslie.
Silently, on an August night, Girty with six hundred Indians surrounded the station. Within it there was activity and preparation, for the men were to start at early dawn to relieve Captain John Holder's little fort, across the Kentucky, which was reported as threatened; but no one dreamed that Girty was near. At dawn the riflemen set out from the eastern gate, but fortunately a volley checked them before it was too late to regain the stockade. Elijah Craig was their commander, and from his experience of Indian tactics he guessed the force and plan of the enemy, and foresaw the siege that he was to repel. Fortunately there were provisions and ammunition, but by some improvidence the enclosure of the station did not take in the spring of water upon which the garrison must rely.
Calling all the women together, he explained that the Indians were concealed, as he believed, in force about the spring. But he thought that the ambuscade would not be developed until an attack by a smaller party on the other side of the stockade, intended to divert the pioneers' attention, should first be made; and he asked the women to volunteer to fetch from the spring, before the grand attack commenced, the supply of water that was indispensable.
It was naturally objected by the women that the men ought to go, but Craig reasoned that the women usually went to the spring with their buckets, and rarely the men; that the one would be regarded by the Indians as a proof that their ambuscade and plan of attack was not suspected, while the other would bring on the attack in open ground. The crisis was urgent, the peril great; but the women speedily reached their conclusion. Thirty or forty women and girls went out through the western gate, each carrying her pail or bucket, and endeavoring by laughter or song to disguise the fear that penetrated every bosom. Across the open space and past the side of the canebrake they passed on to the bubbling spring that burst out from the foot of the knoll. Their faces betrayed no fear, their manner showed no agitation, their walk was not quickened, though they felt sure that the rifles of five hundred savages bore upon them, and that not one would survive a signal of attack.
The buckets were dipped one after another in the spring, and loaded with their precious burden the brave women returned toward the fort. It was not until the thick cane was again passed, and the bushes and tall weeds left behind, that their composure was disturbed. Then, safe from the tomahawk and the knife of the savages, and well within the protecting range of the rifles of their husbands and fathers, they hastened with trembling' limbs toward the open gate, spilling in their safety part of the treasure they had carried so steadily through danger, and bursting into tears of agitation and pride and gratitude. Not a gun was fired at. them, nor did an Indian move, though the little company passed within twenty yards of five hundred. Craig had exactly guessed his enemy's plan and forecast his action. It was the boldest of bold risks, but it was onfidently proposed and perfectly carried through. Men often wondered afterward what would have become of Craig had the Indians fired upon the women, or rushed out and captured them; but Craig's good-natured reply was that his good sense and the women's courage made the exploit a safe venture.
As the fight opened, and the little garrison of forty men held out stoutly against such odds, two brave fellows, Bell and Tomlinson, mounted their horses to carry the news to other stations and bring up help. The gate was suddenly swung' open, and they dashed at topmost speed into the very face of the Indian ranks, and were through and beyond, and into the cover of the waving corn that hid them from the aim of their astonished foe. Soon Todd and the men from Lexington came hurrying up, and the news went on to Boone, and from him to Trigg at Harrodsburg, and still further on to Logan. Never had there been such a general uprising. The word flew from settlement to settlement that every fighting man was needed. The response was instant and unanimous. The little garrison meanwhile was sorely pressed, but activity and courage availed them. The women moulded bullets and cut "patching," and cared for the wounded and dying as they fell. The very children caught the inspiration of their parents' courage, and ran from place to place with gourds full of water to extinguish the flames that the fire-arrows lighted. An infant, destined to be the slayer of the renowned Tecumseh, and to become a Senator and Vice-President of the republic, slept peacefully in his cradle in care of a little sister, whose fidelity to that tender duty still left her time to carry ammunition to the men.
It was indeed a gallant fight. The arrival of Boone and Todd caused Girty to draw off his force and retreat toward the Ohio; and then followed the pursuit that ended in the battle of the Blue Licks and the death of so many of kentucky's best men.
The pursuers felt sure of a victory over the repulsed Indians, and insisted upon a rapid march and a fight. The prudence of Boone and the cool judgment of Todd were overborne by the rash and insubordinate courage of McGary, who rushed into the ford, carrying with him the excited and shouting hunter-soldiers. How Boone endeavored to retrieve the error, and how Trigg and Todd and scores of others, the best men of the country, fell, has often been told. How Netherland held the ford single-handed, and rallied the routed force, is a landmark of Kentucky Heroism. How Aaron Reynolds saved his captain, Robert Patterson, dismounting and giving his horse that his friend might escape the massacre, while lie bravely took all the chance of death, is told in every story of the infant State. The gratitude of the rough woodsman, whose profanity had been rebuked by Patterson in a former campaign, and who had become deeply religious, was there proved. The reason for it was given in simple words in after-years: "He saved my soul, and I felt I must save his life."
It was the last great Indian battle on Kentucky soil. Girty retired with numberless scalps to the Scioto towns, and for weeks there was savage revel and joy throughout the tribes.
But the life of the Kentucky pioneers, though full of adventure and danger, had other features than those of Indian warfare and hunting buffalo and deer. There were from the earliest days a few good books to be found even in the poorest camp, and immigrants as they came westward over the Wilderness Road brought with them Bibles and psalm-books, and standard works, even then somewhat out of date, that served to make up little libraries for the stations. Schoolbooks were usually in manuscript, but the reading of the older people was generally well selected for the reason of its scarceness. Marshall, the bitter personal enemy of Harry Innis, and who wrote in his anger a history of Kentucky, dwelt with emphasis upon the fact that a copy of The Sentimental Journey belonging to Innis had been found in New Orleans, and argued from that circumstance in support of his charge that Innis and others whom Marshall disliked were in treasonable correspondence with the Spanish authorities. The unfounded charge has long since been abundantly refuted, but it is significant that the ownership of a book should have cut so great a figure in the most violent politics of the infant community. The character of Innis's book, like Boone's possession of Gulliver's Travels, hints the kind of reading that the pioneers of Kentucky were familiar with.
The little stations were at first the camps of hunters who in groups of five or ten ventured into the wilderness. As families came from the eastward, the little communities insensibly took form. By common consent some competent pioneer was recognized as chief---Boone at Boonesborough, Logan at St. Asaph, Harrod at Harrodstown---and to his orders every man held himself bound in cheerful obedience. The gathering for safety within the enclosures of the stations created a feeling of almost kinship among the inmates. Their fears, hopes, dangers, were all in common. The meat brought in by the hunters was free to all; the corn, planted under range of the rifles, was cultivated in common, and gathered for the winter use of all. The "claims" and "preemptions" were marked to await the time when the owner could safely take possession and live upon them.
As has already been said, the antecedents of the pioneers made them nearly all a strongly religious people. In the large majority of instances they adhered to the Baptist or Presbyterian denominations, and from the earliest days of the immigration there was in almost every station a preacher, volunteer or ordained, whose flock was the little community. Squire Boone, pious and brave, preached the Hardshell faith at Boonesborough; Elijah Craig was the spiritual leader as well as the commandant at Bryant's Station. Neither had warrant from any organization, but they seem to have done much good in spite of that informality. At length Lewis Craig came with a Baptist commission, and David Rice with Presbyterian credentials, the first commission-bearing preachers since the day when Parson Lythe read the Episcopal service beneath the elm at Boonesbrough. The narrative left by Robert McAfee, and still unpublished, gives a striking picture of the primitive and robust piety of those days. The observance of family worship and public services of religion were almost universal.
An increasing sense of security and the gradual growth of population brought new and important measures to their notice. The need of a separate State organization was becoming daily more apparent. The navigation of the Mississippi largely engaged attention, for the settlers were beginning to produce corn and tobacco that required a market. The relations of the West to the old Confederation and to the proposed Union, and the terms of the Constitution, were deeply pondered by a community that as yet had no newspaper, whose nearest station was hundreds of miles from the seat of government of the parent State, and whose daily life was one of hazard and hardship. But, as has already been remarked, the pioneers were, as a rule, superior and well-informed men.
A sample of their intellectual life has recently been discovered. It is the journal and memoranda of debates of the "Political Club," as it was called. This body held its meetings at Danville, and proceeded with an almost amusing formality and punctilio. Among its members were some of the most conspicuous men in Western history. There were Christopher Greenup, who afterward became a Congressman and Governor; Harry Innis, United States District Judge; James Speed and his brother Thomas, afterward an influential Congressman; George Muter, Quartermaster of Virginia during the Revolution, and who was Chief-Justice of the district; Thomas Todd, subsequently a Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States; John Brown, who, after serving as Lafayette's aide, became a member of the Continental Congress, and for many years was Senator; James Brown, his brother, afterward Senator from Louisiana, and long time Minister to France; Samuel McDowell, who became a judge, and was conspicuous in the conventions and debates that led up to the formation of the State Constitution; besides others more or less influential in public affairs.
The debates were upon such topics as the right to navigate the Mississippi, and the political modes by which it should be obtained; the treaty which Jay proposed to make with Spain; the condition of the Continental currency; the erection of Kentucky into an independent member of the Confederacy; the nature of the Indian title, and the just and expedient treatment of the Indian.
At a later day the club took up the proposed Constitution of the United States, and discussed it, section by section, through a series of meetings. The secretary with scrupulous exactness noted the arguments of the debaters and the resolutions of the club, and reduced to order the alterations which seemed to these men of the remote frontier expedient. Among them were several that would radically affect practical politics. They thought that a Senator of the United States should be ineligible for re-election until three years next after the end of his term. They wanted the President debarred from re-election until at least four years should have intervened between the terms. They were opposed to the constitutional recognition of the slave-trade embodied in the prohibition of any legislation prior to 1808. A most acute argument is found upon that grant of power which provides for calling forth the militia to "execute the laws of the Union." The Kentucky critics thought it would be better that the power should be to call forth the militia "to enforce obedience to the laws of the Union," and the distinctions were taken and maintained with exceeding clearness and force.
One of the occupations of this body of frontier philosophers was to prepare the plan of a Constitution for the State that they hoped soon to organize, and they argued with earnestness the distribution of governmental powers and the limits upon them. Doubtless there were other clubs or occasional assemblings in which these and other pioneers debated matters of public welfare, but the memory of them has perished. There was no newspaper in which "Coriolanus" or "Vindicator" could contribute an anonymous opinion or administer irresponsible abuse. The opinions of men were thoughtfully formed, and of necessity had to be personally declared. The result was an intellectual self-reliance very like their self-reliance in physical affairs. The training made men of power and prudence and resource; and their discussions were conducted by men whose every-day life was one of bodily peril. As they rode to their meetings they were in danger of Indian attack. Not a week passed but some friend fell under the tomahawk. They were all subject to the call of the County Lieutenant or the militia captain at a moment's notice. The chief judge and the delegate representing the district in the Continental Congress were privates in the militia of their neighborhood, and continually served with their neighbors on scouts and guards. Not one of them but knew the perilous life of the frontier. Yet, surrounded by danger, beset with anxieties, remote from all contact with current events, they thought upon important topics and wrought out for themselves their own safety and that of their firesides, and a stable, well-ordered, and well considered polity. With easy transition they passed from the frontier station to the halls of the Senate and to diplomatic missions. They had undergone a training as youths and men that gave them power and poise and courage.
The pioneers of Kentucky were, in brief, an intelligent, honest, and hardy race, strongly imbued with religious sentiment, and trained in a rugged but manly experience. Their private virtues were hospitality, courage, fidelity; their public virtues were patriotism, love of order, readiness for the most arduous public service. What they did speaks in their praise. What they were so self-contained as not to do speaks an even more emphatic eulogy.
The fair fame of the State they founded has sometimes been tarnished by violence and lawlessness, and at times shame has come upon many for the wickedness of the very few. But he who will carefully search out the history of her populations and the antecedents of Kentucky's wrongdoers will discover in them a class different from the blood of the pioneers. He will find that the too frequent homicides of certain neighborhoods have an origin altogether different, drawn from an originally immoral class, and justifying the law of heredity.
But in those areas where the original and true pioneers made their lodgement, and held it, the stamp of their qualities may still be observed, modified by the lapse of years, but the same in essentials: the badges of a martial, hospitable, truthful, and self-reliant people.