Page images
PDF
EPUB

THE UNTAMED WILDERNESS.

5

where larger game was in such plenty, that the woodsman disdained to waste a ball upon a turkey. Greedily did the ear of the hunter drink in the tale; great was the longing of his heart that his eye might look upon the land, and his foot press its virgin soil. Much does he brood and dream in the two long years, from '67 to '69, amid his solitary hunts and rambles, of this new paradise. His desire has ripened into a passion, and now, on this bright May morning, his plough is forsaken in the middle of the furrow, his team is left afield. Hastening to his cabin, his rifle is snatched from its pegs, a store of powder and bullets provided, his knapsack filled with "dodgers," and strapped upon his shoulders; and here, outside the door, he stands, beneath the shadow of a spreading tree; his tall and manly form cased in buckskin, his face bronzed by wind, and sun, and storm; silent as an Indian, agile as a deer, tough as a panther. Around that man's name time has summoned the surviving arts to do him honour and homage. The sculptor has invoked the chisel and the imperishable marble to perpetuate his form. The painter has employed colour and canvas to transmit his look and features. History, with her iron pen and adamantine tablet, has come to write his fame; and poetry, divinest of them all, has laid upon his brow the perennial garland of song. But he is sad. While the hunter longs for the forest, has not the father and the husband a heart? Wife and children are near at hand to say goodbye, perhaps for ever. Tears overflow the eye, unused to weep. A hasty farewell, and he is gone. A toilsome march of six weeks, with five companions, across the Alleghanies, through the valleys of the Clinch and the Holston, over the Cumberland range, and his goal is gained. Is it not an Eden, this land upon which his eye now rests? A more glorious realm the foot of man hath

never trod since Joshua crossed the Jordan. A great joy dwells in the heart of Daniel Boone, for the half had not been told him.

Our backwoodsmen enjoy a hunt of six months and a half, when Boone and one of his companions, William Stewart, are taken prisoners by a band of savages. A week's captivity, and they escape. Soon afterwards, Stewart is shot by the savages. The others of the party, intimidated, resolve instantly to retreat; not so Boone. He has come to see the land from end to end, nor will he falter, whate'er betide, until the end be reached. They go, but he remains. He is the one white man who dares to trust himself alone with Nature. We call him a backwoods hunter: is he not a kind of poet too, whose song reaches none but his own heart? That incense-breathing atmosphere fills him with unspoken gladness, the early morn blushes him a greeting, midday paints the world with splendour for the wayfarer, and the gorgeous hues of sunset are gathered up and thrown around his path, as if the parting day would smile him to his rest. The green savannah spreads beneath his glance until its verdant edge blends with the soft light of the horizon. Here the tall shafts of majestic trees tell whence came the architecture of Gothic churches. Pebbly brooks lift their sweet voices to his ear; while the face of creek and river wears the sheen of molten silver. Is not this an apocalyptic vision for the wanderer ?

Partly alone, partly accompanied by his brother, he spies out the riches of the land. He has need to be wary, for sleepless enemies are seeking him, but he eludes their lynx-eyed vigilance. The woods and meadows of Kentucky are sown with a peculiar thistle, which long retains the imprint of a foot. The Indians, in large parties, do not seek to conceal their trail. Boone and his brother,

[blocks in formation]

avoiding this tell-tale weed, completely obliterated their own footprints. The earth is bare to the eye of the savages. To the tutored gaze of the white men it is as if covered with snow, revealing the presence and number of their enemies. Thus are two years spent by our hardy yeomen, pioneers of the Anglo-American family.

Two years and a half more are dreamed and hunted away by Boone upon the Yadkin, until, in September, 1773, with a company of six families and forty armed men, he starts to take possession of his paradise. The teams are slowly labouring up the difficult side of Cumberland Gap, when, unexpected as a bolt from a cloudless heaven, an iron sleet falls upon the movers' rear, from an Indian ambuscade. The savages are instantly routed; but six whites are slain, among whom is Boone's eldest son-first fruits of the fearful harvest which war must reap and garner before peace can assert and maintain its title to Kentucky and the West. Thus far in history man's right to all his best possessions has been written in blood. Well had the Indians named their choicest hunting-grounds the "dark and bloody land." Thus shall it be for the Americans, also, for many a sad year to come. For more than twenty years from the delivery of that fatal volley, in 1773, until Wayne's treaty in 1795- the din of war was never hushed upon the frontier. It is not my purpose to trace the eventful story. of Daniel Boone, nor to portray the growth and spread of American society in the West. My design is neither biographic nor historical, but simply to present a series of pictures which shall delineate the character of the people, and the lives they lived.

I.

THE RIFLE.

THE following story illustrates the historical period, of which I take the Rifle for the symbol.

As early as the year 1790, the blockhouse and stockade, just above the mouth of the Hockhocking River, constituted a frontier post for the hardy pioneers of the Northwestern territory. Among the most luxuriant of the many beautiful prairies of that region, were those which lay along the Hockhocking valley, and especially that portion of it in which the town of Lancaster now stands. This neighbourhood, on account of its beauty, richness of soil, and picturesque scenery, had been selected as the site of an Indian village. It afforded a suitable place for

the gambols of the Indian children, as well as the central point for assembling the Indian warriors. Here the tribes of the west and north met in council, and from this spot they went forth upon the war-path in different directions. Upon one of those occasions, when the war-spirit moved mightily among those sons of nature, when the tomahawk leaped in its belt, and the spirits of their friends, slain on the field of battle, visited the warrior in his night-vision, and called upon him to rouse and avenge them, it was ascertained at the garrison above the mouth of the Hockhocking, that the Indians were gathering in great numbers for the purpose of striking a blow on some part of the frontiers. To meet this crisis, two of the most skilful and

WHITE AND MCCLELLAND.

9

indefatigable spies were despatched to watch their movements and report.

White and McClelland, two of the most experienced scouts at the post, on a balmy Indian summer day, took leave of their fellows, and set out on this hazardous enterprise. With stealthy step they skirted the prairies, and successfully prosecuted their hidden march, until they reached that remarkable prominence, now known as Point Pleasant, which stretches, an isolated promontory, into the valley, from the eastern side; its western termination rising abruptly from the river's edge, in a perpendicular cliff several hundred feet high, and its bare and lofty summit commanding a wide prospect over the extensive bottom. This point being gained, the spies could see every movement of the savages in the valley below. From their hiding-place, on the crest of the bluff, they daily looked down upon the Indian village in the meadows near the northern base, and upon the booths around it, erected for the use of the war parties, successively arriving. They watched the younger warriors, engaged in horse-racing, foot-racing, leaping, tomahawk-throwing, or performing the wild ceremony of the war-dance; while the sachems and old men looked on with Indian indifference, the squaws passed to and fro on the errands of their usual drudgery, and the children ran and gambolled hither and thither among the huts. The whoops and shouts of the young men rose to their ears, mingled with the musical laughter of the more youthful squaws, and the shrill and dissonant voices of the feminine elders. The arrival of every new war-party was greeted with terrific yells, which, striking the mural face of Mount Pleasant, were driven back by the various indentations of the bluffs beyond the valley, producing reverberations and echoes as if ten thousand fiends were gathered at a festival.

« PreviousContinue »