Family Stories

Daniel Boone – Early Pioneer – Formation of Boonesborough

I came across this 1933 article written to commemorate Daniel Boone and his adventures and exploration of Kentucky. Much has been written about this famous man and his family, but I thought the letter written by Colonel Floyd and sent to Col. William Floyd, concerning the rescue, was an interesting addition. You will notice two spellings of the fort – Boonesboro and Boonesborough. The first was used in the early days and in 1933 when this article was written. At some point after 1933 the addition of ‘ugh’ was added.

The Fort Boonesborough Monument begins the following dedication: Dedicated by their descendants to the sacred memory of the brave pioneers who entered the wilderness of what later became Kentucky and formed the settlement known as Boonesborough, first fortified settlement in Kentucky.  We honor these, among the first families of Kentucky.

A link to the fort Boonesborough Monument which lists names of all who lived within the fort. https://www.hmdb.org/m.asp?m=140825

A link to the Pioneer National Monument at Fort Boonesborough. https://www.hmdb.org/m.asp?m=165364

The Interior Journal, Stanford, Lincoln County, Kentucky

Friday, August 2, 1933

Daniel Boone’s Part in Kentucky History Commemorated

Every year sees the erection of fresh memorials to Daniel Boone.  The bicentennial of his birth, observed at Pioneer Memorial Park, Harrodsburg, and the unveiling of a statue to him on the site of old Boonesboro brought together thousands of his ardent admirers.

As part of the ceremonies at Harrodsburg, two granite markers were erected.  One of these commemorates Boone’s association with the founding of Harrodsburg and is the gift of Daniel Cripps, New York, member of the contracting firm building the $100,000 Federal Memorial at Pioneer State Park.  It was erected on the site of a cabin occupied by Boone, Mrs. Cecil Brown, one of Boone’s collateral descendants, dedicating the marker and Cecil Boone Brown unveiling it.

The other marker, erected on the Post office grounds, honors both Boone and Michael Stoner and was unveiled by Mrs. Willard Gabhart, wife of the postmaster, who gave the marker.

Boone, whose life is so closely entwined with the history, both imaginary and real, of Kentucky, needs no further eulogies added to his name.  Every section of the state, almost every county, boasts some reputed trace of Boone’s visit and not far from the truth it may be, when the adventurous spirit of this hardy Indian fighter is considered.

Boone Remarkable Shot

“Long Knife,” the Indians called him, but “Dead-eye Dick” is a sobriquet that could just as rightly have been applied if the tale is true which an old resident of Bath County, dead for many years, used to tell with much gusto concerning a certain exploit of Boone’s near Owingsville.  A bullet hole in a true, long in existence at the spot, would seem to bear out the truth of the episode.

It seems that Boone, while leaning down to drink water out of a creek, two miles south of Owingsville, heard a shot come sizzling past him.  Our pioneer forefathers had to think quickly and hardly had the bullet come whistling past him, than Boone, with lightning speed, was in the water swimming to the opposite shore where he hid himself among the trees.

He saw two Indians hunting him but decided to withhold his shot until he could get them both at once.  They peered about for a while, looking to see if he had “treed,” a term given to climbing a tree and raining down shots on the enemy below.

Suddenly, their investigations brought them in position admirably suited for Boone’s dual shot and, like a flash, it came.  Boone, in modern parlance, not only “got his man,” but got them both, one through the head, the other through the shoulder.  Our admiring raconteur does not state whether it was lack of ammunition or pure pride of workmanship that drove Boone to perform this feat.

First Official Report of Battle

Boone has been thought by many to have been completely illiterate, but official reports in writing indicate otherwise.  The letter which he sent to Col. Richard Henderson reporting a fight in Madison County in 1775, which was the first official report of a real battle between the Indian and the white man on Kentucky soil, may not come up to all the rules of English grammar, but that portion of Boone’s report giving the casualties can not be surpassed for classic simplicity.  “Two men killed and sculped,” he wrote.

There were many more destined to be “sculped” before the redman’s reign of terror was over and a sure eye and a quick trigger raised the stock of the frontiersman higher among his contemporaries than a knowledge of Latin verse, while “another redskin bit the dust” made more music to pioneer ears than a quotation from Greek poetry.

Life At Old Boonesboro

The following story by Clyde L. Breland in the Lexington Herald and dealing with episodes connected with the early history of old Boonesboro, gives an illuminating picture of the dangers that beset not only the men, but also the women, of pioneer days:

“Kentucky is rich in points of historic interest, but none has so caught the imagination of America as has pioneer Boonesboro.  All the world knows of the romantic Daniel Boone and his experiences – some perhaps legendary – in the wilderness of the Kentucky region of frontier days.  Lovers of adventure will never cease to delight in the tales of the thrilling experiences which befell this intrepid pioneer who occupies so large a place in the early annals of the state.  Stories are legion of his hair-breath escapes from death and of his heroism in the midst of the dangers of a savage land; how he swung himself across a deep ravine on a slender grapevine; how he saved himself from freezing on a winter’s night when caught alone in the forest by skinning up and down a sapling until daybreak; how he carved in the bark of a tree near the present Louisville the historic news that “D. Boon cilled a bar in this tree in the year 1769.” The trusty Boone rifle, with its notches to attest the number of redskin scalps it brought down, even now reposes in the archives of the Old Capitol building in Frankfort.

“The recent unveiling of a new statue of Boone at the site of old Boonesboro, under the auspices of the Boonesboro Memorial Association, brought together a group of some 1,200 persons to observe the ceremonies attendant to the unveiling.  Col. Samuel M. Wilson, Lexington, eminent Kentucky historian, was the speaker of the occasion.  The Winchester Dramatic Club presented, as a feature of the dedicatory exercises, a pageant depicting the experiences of three pioneer girls – Betsey and Fanny Callaway and Jemima Boone – in their capture by a party of Indian scouts.  The pageant recalls one of the most thrilling of the many tales that have been preserved relating the hardships and perils to which Kentucky’s pioneer ancestors were subjected.

Founded By Boone

“Boonesboro, the town that was founded by Boone and named in his honor, was the capital of that illusory trans-Appalachian colony known as Transylvania.  It was in the autumn of 1774 that the Transylvania Company was organized by nine North Carolinians led by Col. Richard Henderson, the formation of the company having been inspired by the accounts brought back by Boone of the marvelous fertility and attractiveness of the Kentucky River country.  On March 17, 1775, the company consummated a treaty with the Overhill Cherokee Indians in which, for the sum of $10,000, the Indians conveyed a somewhat arbitrary ‘title’ to all the region lying between the Cumberland and the Chenoe (Kentucky) River from the northernmost tributary of the Kentucky (Red River) to its mouth on the Ohio.  This territory was in actuality a part of the colony of Virginia, and the Transylvania treaty in later years was the cause of long and bitter litigation in Kentucky courts.

“Daniel Boone, who had previously visited the Kentucky River country in company with John Findlay in 1769, was employed by the new company to blaze a trail through the mountains from Cumberland Gap to the Kentucky river in 1775.  This he began, with a company of followers, on March 10 of that year, and the “Boone Trace,’ from the Powell River to the Kentucky at the mouth of Otter Creek, was completed about April 15, when a permanent settlement was established at the site, which became known as Boonesboro.  The settlement failed to achieve the distinction of being the earliest on Kentucky soil, being antedated a few months by the “Harrod’s Town’ settlement under Col. James Harrod, some fifty miles further down the river.  Boonesboro, however, became the first fortified site in the new West, and during the life of the Transylvania colony was its capital.

“The story of the harrowing experiences of the frontier girls, as it has survived, is that Elizabeth (Betsey) Callaway and her sister, Fanny, ages 16 and 14, together with Jemima Boone, aged 14, second daughter of Daniel and Rebecca Boone, were crossing the Kentucky river in a canoe about 200 yards below the fort, but hidden from the fort by the dense growth of underbrush along the river bank in the late afternoon of Sunday, July 14, 1776.  Just ten days previously the Declaration of Independence had been signed in Philadelphia, although news of that momentous event had not penetrated the wilderness.  Worship had been solemnized under the giant elm at the fort, perhaps by the Rev. John Lythe, who, on May 28 of the previous year, had conducted the first Christian service in the new West.

“Chroniclers differ as to the reason for the presence of the three girls on the river unattended in the midst of such potential danger.  It seems probable that both Boone and Callaway were away from the fort for the afternoon and that the absence of Indian signs for some weeks had emboldened the women to venture within discreet distances.

Captured by Indians

“The canoe, Betsey Callaway wielding the paddle, became fast on a sandbar a few feet from the northern shore, opposite the fort, near a cluster of trees which came to be known as ‘The Four Sycamores,’ but which have now disappeared.  Five savages, four of them Shawanese and one Cherokee, leaped from ambush into the stream and swam for the canoe.

“The girls screamed, but their cries were not heard at the fort through the obscuring cane.  Betsey, oldest of the trio, with the pluck of her pioneer race, seized the paddle from the bottom of the canoe and brought it down with a resounding whack across the head of the nearest Indian, but to no avail.  The girls were quickly seized and silenced and were marched northward toward the ancient ‘Warrior’s Trace’ that led to the Ohio from the Kentucky hunting ground, doubtless to become the squaws of Indian warriors.  This was a fate of which every frontier woman knew she was in constant peril.

“The girls were not missed until milking time, when the alarm was given by a hunter who had gone out to meet them.  Amidst the excitement which prevailed within the fort, Boone and Callaway were summoned and preparations were made immediately for pursuit.  Two parties were organized, comprising in all some twenty men from the fort.  The part, under Boone, which proceeded on foot, included Samuel Henderson, who soon afterward married Betsey Callaway, Capt. John Holder, who later married Fanny Callaway, and Flanders Callaway, who married Jemima Boone.  The other part, comprising the older men, proceeded on horseback under the leadership of Callaway.

Girls Marked Trail

“Before nightfall, when it became necessary to make camp in the wilderness, only five miles had been covered.  But by early candlelight on Monday morning the pursuit party was again in motion, anxious lest the girls, becoming exhausted, should be tomahawked by the savages.  The trail was not easy to follow.  The Indians, to foil pursuit, often waded the branches and creeks, and carefully avoided the marshy ground.  But Betsey, with the sagacity which was her heritage from a rough frontier ancestry, took advantage of every opportunity to mark the trail.  Refusing the soft moccasins which the younger girls were intimidated by the Indians into wearing, she occasionally left the imprint of her shoes in the soft earth, broke twigs from the underbrush and, finally, when discovered and threatened by her captors, tore strips covertly from her homespun frock and dropped them occasionally along the way for the keen eyes of the pursuers.

“It was early on Tuesday morning when the men on foot sighted a thin wisp of blue smoke, some three miles from the upper Salt Licks, about forty miles from the fort, which marked the camp of the Indians.  Creeping cautiously through the underbrush, they made their way to a point from which the savages could be seen, one with his head crudely bandaged.  Betsey’s paddle had gone home!  Preparations were under way for the day’s march.

“A first-hand account of the rescue of the girls has been preserved in a letter written the following Sunday by Colonel Floyd, one of the rescue party, to Col. William Floyd, and published in 1845:

‘Our study had been how to get the prisoners without giving the Indians time to murder them after they discovered us.  We saw each other nearly at the same time.  Four of us fired, and all of us rushed on them, by which they were prevented from carrying anything away except one shotgun without any ammunition.  Colonel Boone and myself had 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.’

“Betsey, who was of dark complexion, and who had tied a colored handkerchief about her head, was mistaken for an Indian by one of the rescuers.  Brandishing his rifle by the barrel, he was on the point of crushing her skull when the blow was diverted by another of the men who had recognized the girl.

“Less than one month later – on August 7, 1776 – Betsey Callaway became the bride of Samuel Henderson, the rites being solemnized by Squire Boone, brother of Daniel and a lay preacher.  Her wedding – the first in the Kentucky wilderness – was solemnized when she was at the mature pioneer age of 16, and on May 29, 1777, she became the mother of Fanny Henderson, the first child born of which parents married within the western territory.

“Until recent years Boonesboro has been a neglected shrine.  Rich in history, it has been permitted to dissolve into the wilderness out of which it was hewn.  Even yet, the only marker which designates the site of the ancient fort is a plain granite stone, erected by the Daughters of the American Revolution.  Its glory gone, the twenty-acre plot of the colonial town is privately owned, and the historic spot is now employed only for a few straggling camp houses, a rustic hotel and dance pavilion, to accommodate those who seek an out-of-the-way summer outing.

“The Fort Boonesboro Memorial Bridge was recently completed by the Kentucky State Highway Commission at a cost of $250,000.  It replaces the original Boonesboro ferry.  The Boone statue, the work of A. D. Fisher, a young sculptor of Winchester, Kentucky, is erected on a rock ledge to the left of the northern approach to the bridge.  It is the plan of the Boonesboro Memorial Association, sponsors of the Boone shrine project, to erect a statue of Colonel Callaway on the cliff opposite the Boone statue, and it is hoped that other monuments to pioneer characters may be erected on the grounds about the fort site.  The Boone monument was unveiled by Misses Rosemary and Virginia Ann Codell of Winchester, lineal descendants of the Callaway family.

“Sporadic efforts have been made to purchase the grounds for a national shrine, but these efforts thus far have been abortive, and present economic conditions render such an ultimate project uncertain.  In the meantime, the waters of the Kentucky continue to flow out of the mountains past the site of the historic center of primitive trans-Appalachian civilization within sight of a low-lying river bottom much as it was, save for the clearing of the timber, on the day when Daniel Boone and his companions established the capital of Transylvania at the mouth of Otter Creek.”

1 reply »

  1. Really interesting to read about the harrowing lives of those holding down Fort Boonesborough. There is a recently written book entitled “The Taking of Jemima Boone” by Matthew Pearl that details her ordeals. The Boonesborough Pioneer Monument lists John and Thomas Phelps, who are my ancestors, as well as several more of their family members. John Phelps came from Virginia with Boone, settled in Madison Co, KY and died there, in 1798.

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