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Builders of Our Country: Book II by  Gertrude van Duyn Southworth

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DANIEL BOONE

THE YOUNG HUNTER

[116] WHEN white men first came to America they planted their settlements here and there along the Atlantic coast. For many years the great unbroken forest, extending westward from these settlements, deterred the early colonists from pushing their way into the wilderness However, a few, bolder than the rest, and with a stronger love for adventure, did penetrate some little way into the unexplored country. And then there came a pioneer whose energy and fortitude helped to set the pace for the great migrations west. This was Daniel Boone. Boone was born in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, in 1735, and when still a boy went with the rest of the family to build a new home on the banks of the Yadkin River in North Carolina. Here he went to school for a short time and studied the "three R's." His spelling was original—what one might expect of a boy who spent nearly all his time in the fields and the woods.

Boone was a hunter born, and passionately loved the forest. In its depths he learned to track the deer and the elk; to imitate the calls of the birds; and to seek out the hiding places of the panther, bear, and wolf. He grew up to be a strong, lithe, sinewy man with muscles of iron.

At twenty-five Boone started out to explore. He [117] pushed his way as far west as Boone's Creek, a branch of the Watauga River in eastern Tennessee. Here still stands a birch tree on which can be seen the words he carved: "D Boon cilled A BAR on this tree year 1760."

These early explorations only made Boone long for more. He wanted to find the great hunting grounds of the far interior, the land we now know as Kentucky. To the Indians this meant "The Dark and Bloody Ground." Although the region was fair to look upon, the savages were not far wrong when they gave it such a name. This blue-grass country lay midway between the northern and southern Indians. No one tribe owned it, but all used it as their hunting grounds and were jealous of anyone else who came there.


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PIONEER SETTLEMENTS ON THE WESTERN FRONTIER.

At last Boone decided to visit the "Bloody" Ground, and on May 1, 1769, set out accompanied by five other men. After a long and tedious journey of five weeks, the [118] explorers saw before them a beautiful level region which they knew to be the land they were seeking.

Boone and his companions built a rude shelter of logs, open on one side. Here they lived, and in the country around they hunted until December without being molested by Indians. Then one day they were attacked, and Boone was captured. For days there was no chance of escape. But, at last, he succeeded in creeping stealthily away by night. A year from the next spring Boone returned to North Carolina.

THE WILDERNESS ROAD AND BOONESBOROUGH

SOME time after, a certain Richard Henderson concluded a treaty with the Cherokees by which they agreed to allow white men to settle on the Bloody Ground. When the treaty was concluded, Henderson sent Boone with a [119] company of thirty men to open a pathway from the Holston River, over the Cumberland Gap, to the Kentucky River. This was the first regular path into the wilderness, and it is still called, "The Wilderness Road."

When Boone's party reached the Kentucky they built a fort which they called Boonesborough. The fort was oblong in shape. There was a loopholed blockhouse at each corner. The log cabins were so arranged that their outer sides formed part of the wall, with a stockade twelve feet high filling the spaces between. This stockade was made by driving into the ground heavy timbers, pointed at the top.


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THE FORT AT BOONESBOROUGH.

The building of Boonesborough at this time was most important, as it offered protection for the settling of Kentucky.

After building the fort, Boone went back to North Carolina. When he returned to Boonesborough a little later, he brought with him his family and a band of settlers.

Not long after this, Boone's daughter and two girl companions were surprised by Indians and taken captive. As they went along, the eldest girl broke off twigs and dropped them in the path. Seeing her, one of the Indians threatened her with his tomahawk. However, she managed to tear off bits of her dress instead and, unnoticed, scatter them along the trail.

When the girls did not return to their home, Boone knew at once what had happened. With some neighbors he started in pursuit. Guided by the twigs and bits of cloth they overtook the savages just as they were cooking supper. Firing into the camp, they killed two of the Indians and frightened the rest away. The girls were unharmed, although badly scared.

At another time the Indians captured Boone himself [120] and carried him off. But because they so admired his courage and skill, they decided to adopt him into their tribe in place of killing him. Accordingly he was made to go through some curious ceremonies. First, all his hair was taken off, with the exception of a tuft on the top of his head. Next, he was ducked in the river and scrubbed well in order to wash out his white blood. With a coat of paint on his face, with feathers in his scalp lock, and dressed in Indian costume, Boone certainly resembled his adopted brothers.

Although they treated him as one of themselves and seemingly gave him the utmost freedom, the Indians were ever watchful lest he should get away. Cunning and sagacious as the Indians were, Boone was a match for them. Apparently he was quite contented. One day he learned that his savage friends were planning an attack on Boonesborough. Then by great good luck he managed to escape. He had a hundred and sixty miles to cover and food enough for but one meal. He did not dare shoot game for fear the savages would hear him. Four days he traveled, almost without stopping. On the fifth day he arrived in safety at the fort.

The settlers immediately prepared the defences; and [121] when the Indians came to make their attack, they were repulsed and Boonesborough was saved.

For many years Boone continued to be a useful citizen of Kentucky. But in due time, Kentucky became too crowded to suit him. He needed more elbow room. So, toward the close of the eighteenth century he went farther west and finally reached Missouri. This state was then the outpost of civilization. Here he lived until his death.

Boone's passion for hunting and solitude was a part of him until the end. Even in his eighty-second year he went on a long trapping expedition into the wilderness. He lived to see younger men pushing still farther west, and it saddened him that he could no longer equal them in endurance.

Daniel Boone was a typical backwoodsman. In his life and character we have a good picture of the western frontiersmen of the eighteenth century, men whose courage and perseverance opened the way to civilization.


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A TYPICAL PIONEER WOODSMAN.


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