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into the river. Before this was done, the negro man, the son, and the
other young man most basely jumped into the river, and swam ashore. It
is satisfactory to record that at least two of the three dastards met
the fate they deserved. The negro was killed in the water, and the other
two captured, one of them being afterwards burned at the stake, while
the other, it is said, was ultimately released. Meanwhile Mrs. Jennings,
assisted by the negro woman and Mrs. Peyton, actually succeeded in
shoving the lightened boat off the rock, though their clothes were cut
in many places by the bullets; and they rapidly drifted out of danger.
The poor little baby was killed in the hurry and confusion; but its
mother, not eighteen hours from child-bed, in spite of the cold, wet,
and exertion, kept in good health. Sailing by night as well as day, they
caught up with the rest of the flotilla before dawn on the second
morning afterwards, the men being roused from their watch-fires by the
cries of "help poor Jennings," as the wretched and worn-out survivors in
the disabled boat caught the first glimpse of the lights on shore.

Having successfully run the gauntlet of the Chickamauga banditti, the
flotilla was not again molested by the Indians, save once when the boats
that drifted near shore were fired on by a roving war party, and five
men wounded. They ran over the great Muscle Shoals in about three hours
without accident, though the boats scraped on the bottom here and there.
The swift, broken water surged into high waves, and roared through the
piles of driftwood that covered the points of the small islands, round
which the currents ran in every direction; and those among the men who
were unused to river-work were much relieved when they found themselves
in safety. One night, after the fires had been kindled, the tired
travellers were alarmed by the barking of the dogs. Fearing that Indians
were near by, they hastily got into the boats and crossed to camp on the
opposite shore. In the morning two of them returned to pick up some
things that had been left; they found that the alarm had been false, for
the utensils that had been overlooked in the confusion were undisturbed,
and a negro who had been left behind in the hurry was still sleeping
quietly by the camp-fires.

On the 20th of the month they reached the Ohio. Some of the boats then
left for Natchez, and others for the Illinois country; while the
remainder turned their prows up stream, to stem the rapid current - a
task for which they were but ill-suited. The work was very hard, the
provisions were nearly gone, and the crews were almost worn out by
hunger and fatigue. On the 24th they entered the mouth of the
Cumberland. The _Adventure_, the heaviest of all the craft, got much
help from a small square-sail that was set in the bow.

Two days afterwards the hungry party killed some buffalo, and feasted on
the lean meat, and the next day they shot a swan "which was very
delicious," as Donelson recorded. Their meal was exhausted and they
could make no more bread; but buffalo were plenty, and they hunted them
steadily for their meat; and they also made what some of them called
"Shawnee salad" from a kind of green herb that grew in the bottoms.

On the last day of the month they met Col. Richard Henderson, who had
just come out and was running the line between Virginia and North
Carolina. The crews were so exhausted that the progress of the boats
became very slow, and it was not until April 24th that they reached the
Big Salt Lick, and found Robertson awaiting them. The long, toilsome,
and perilous voyage had been brought to a safe end.

There were then probably nearly five hundred settlers on the Cumberland,
one half of them being able-bodied men in the prime of life. [Footnote:
Two hundred and fifty-six names are subscribed to the compact of
government; and in addition there were the women, children, the few
slaves, and such men as did not sign.] The central station, the capitol
of the little community, was that at the Bluff, where Robertson built a
little stockaded hamlet and called it Nashborough [Footnote: After A.
Nash; he was the governor of North Carolina; where he did all he could
on the patriot side. See Gates MSS. Sept. 7, 1780.]; it was of the usual
type of small frontier forted town. Other stations were scattered along
both sides of the river; some were stockades, others merely
block-houses, with the yard and garden enclosed by stout palings. As
with all similar border forts or stations, these were sometimes called
by the name of the founder; more rarely they were named with reference
to some natural object, such as the river, ford, or hill by which they
were, or commemorated some deed, or the name of a man the frontiersmen
held in honor; and occasionally they afforded true instances of
clan-settlement and clan-nomenclature, several kindred families of the
same name building a village which grew to be called after them. Among
these Cumberland stations was Mansker's (usually called Kasper's or
Gaspers - he was not particular how his name was spelled), Stone River,
Bledsoe's, Freeland's, Eatons', Clover-Bottom, and Fort Union.

As the country where they had settled belonged to no tribe of Indians,
some of the people thought they would not be molested, and, being eager
to take up the best lands, scattered out to live on separate claims.
Robertson warned them that they would soon suffer from the savages; and
his words speedily came true - whereupon the outlying cabins were
deserted and all gathered within the stockades. In April roving parties
of Delawares, Chickasaws, and Choctaws began to harass the settlement.
As in Kentucky, so on the banks of the Cumberland, the Indians were the
first to begin the conflict. The lands on which the whites settled were
uninhabited, and were claimed as hunting-grounds by many hostile tribes;
so that it is certain that no one tribe had any real title to them.

Formation of a Government.

True to their customs and traditions, and to their race-capacity for
self-rule, the settlers determined forthwith to organize some kind of
government under which justice might be done among themselves, and
protection afforded against outside attack. Not only had the Indians
begun their ravages, but turbulent and disorderly whites were also
causing trouble. Robertson, who had been so largely instrumental in
founding the Watauga settlement, and giving it laws, naturally took the
lead in organizing this, the second community which he had caused to
spring up in the wilderness. He summoned a meeting of delegates from the
various stations, to be held at Nashborough; [Footnote: It is to Putnam
that we owe the publication of the compact of government, and the full
details of the methods and proceedings by which it was organized and
carried on. See "History of Middle Tennessee," pp. 84-103.] Henderson
being foremost in advocating the adoption of the plan.

In fact, Henderson, the treaty-maker and land-speculator, whose purchase
first gave the whites clear color of title to the valleys of the
Kentucky and Cumberland, played somewhat the same part, though on a
smaller scale, in the settlement made by Robertson as in that made by
Boon. He and the Virginian commissioner Walker, had surveyed the
boundary line and found that the Cumberland settlements were well to the
south of it. He then claimed the soil as his under the Cherokee deed;
and disposed of it to the settlers who contracted to pay ten dollars a
thousand acres. This was but a fraction of the State price, so the
settlers were all eager to hold under Henderson's deed; one of the
causes of their coming out had been the chance of getting land so cheap.
But Henderson's claim was annulled by the legislature, and the
satisfaction-piece of 200,000 acres allotted him was laid off elsewhere;
so his contracts with the settlers came to nothing, and they eventually
got title in the usual way from North Carolina. They suffered no loss in
the matter, for they had merely given Henderson promises to pay when his
title was made good.

The settlers, by their representatives, met together at Nashborough, and
on May 1, 1780, entered into articles of agreement or a compact of
government. It was doubtless drawn up by Robertson, with perhaps the
help of Henderson, and was modelled upon what may be called the
"constitution" of Watauga, with some hints from that of Transylvania.
[Footnote: Phelan, the first historian who really grasped what this
movement meant, and to what it was due, gives rather too much weight to
the part Henderson played. Henderson certainly at this time did not
aspire to form a new State on the Cumberland; the compact especially
provided for the speedy admission of Cumberland as a county of North
Carolina. The marked difference between the Transylvania and the
Cumberland "constitutions," and the close agreement of the latter with
the Watauga articles, assuredly point to Robertson as the chief author.]
The settlers ratified the deeds of their delegates on May 13th, when
they signed the articles, binding themselves to obey them to the number
of two hundred and fifty-six men. The signers practically guaranteed one
another their rights in the land, and their personal security against
wrong-doers; those who did not sign were treated as having no rights
whatever - a proper and necessary measure as it was essential that the
naturally lawless elements should be forced to acknowledge some kind of

The compact provided that the affairs of the community should be
administered by a Court or Committee of twelve Judges, Triers or General
Arbitrators, to be elected in the different stations by vote of all the
freemen in them who were over twenty-one years of age. Three of the
Triers were to come from Nashborough, two from Mansker's, two from
Bledsoe's, and one from each of five other named stations. [Footnote:
Putnam speaks of these men as "notables"; apparently they called
themselves as above. Putnam's book contains much very valuable
information; but it is written in most curious style and he interlards
it with outside matter; much that he puts in quotation marks is
apparently his own material. It is difficult to make out whether his
"tribunal of notables" is his own expression or a quotation, but
apparently it is the former.] Whenever the freemen of any station were
dissatisfied with their Triers, they could at once call a new election,
at which others might be chosen in their stead. The Triers had no
salaries, but the Clerk of the Court was allowed some very small fees,
just enough to pay for the pens, ink, and paper, all of them scarce
commodities. [Footnote: Haywood, 126.] The Court had jurisdiction in all
cases of conflict over land titles; a land office being established and
an entry taker appointed. Over half of the compact was devoted to the
rules of the land office. The Court, acting by a majority of its
members, was to have jurisdiction for the recovery of debt or damages,
and to be allowed to tax costs. Three Triers were competent to make a
Court to decide a case where the debt or damage was a hundred dollars or
less; and there was no appeal from their decision. For a larger sum an
appeal lay to the whole Court. The Court appointed whomsoever it pleased
to see decisions executed. It had power to punish all offences against
the peace of the community, all misdemeanors and criminal acts, provided
only that its decisions did not go so far as to affect the life of the
criminal. If the misdeed of the accused was such as to be dangerous to
the State, or one "for which the benefit of clergy was taken away by
law," he was to be bound and sent under guard to some place where he
could be legally dealt with. The Court levied fines, payable in money or
provisions, entered up judgments and awarded executions, and granted
letters of administration upon estates of deceased persons, and took
bonds "payable to the chairman of the Committee." The expenses were to
be paid proportionately by the various settlers. It was provided, in
view of the Indian incursions, that the militia officers elected at the
various stations should have power to call out the militia when they
deemed it necessary to repel or pursue the enemy. They were also given
power to fine such men as disobeyed them, and to impress horses if need
be; if damaged, the horses were to be paid for by the people of the
station in the proportion the Court might direct. It was expressly
declared that the compact was designed as a "temporary method of
restraining the licentious"; that the settlement did not desire to be
exempt from the ratable share of the expense for the Revolutionary war,
and earnestly asked that North Carolina would immediately make it part
of the State, erecting it into a county. Robertson was elected chairman
of the Court, and colonel of the militia, being thus made both civil and
military commandant of the settlement. In common with the other Triers
he undertook the solemnization of marriages; and these were always held
legal, which was fortunate, as it was a young and vigorous community, of
which the members were much given to early wedlock.

Thus a little commonwealth, a self-governing state, was created. It was
an absolute democracy, the majority of freemen of full age in each
stockade having power in every respect, and being able not only to
elect, but to dismiss their delegates at any moment. Their own good
sense and a feeling of fair play could be depended upon to protect the
rights of the minority, especially as a minority of such men would
certainly not tolerate any thing even remotely resembling tyranny. They
had formed a representative government in which the legislative and
judicial functions were not separated, and were even to a large extent
combined with the executive. They had proceeded in an eminently
practical manner, having modelled their system on what was to them the
familiar governmental unit of the county with its county court and
county militia officers. They made the changes that their peculiar
position required, grafting the elective and representative systems on
the one they adopted, and of course enlarging the scope of the court's
action. Their compact was thus in some sort an unconscious reproduction
of the laws and customs of the old-time court-leet, profoundly modified
to suit the peculiar needs of backwoods life, the intensely democratic
temper of the pioneers and above all the military necessities of their
existence. They had certain theories of liberty and justice; but they
were too shrewd and hard-headed to try to build up a government on an
entirely new foundation, when they had ready to hand materials with
which they were familiar. They knew by experience the workings of the
county system; all they did was to alter the immediate channel from
which the court drew its powers, and to adapt the representation to the
needs of a community where constant warfare obliged the settlers to
gather in little groups, which served as natural units.

When the settlers first came to the country they found no Indians living
in it, no signs of cultivation or cleared land, and nothing to show that
for ages past it had been inhabited. It was a vast plain, covered with
woods and canebrakes, through which the wild herds had beaten out broad
trails. The only open places were the licks, sometimes as large as
corn-fields, where the hoofs of the game had trodden the ground bare of
vegetation, and channelled its surface with winding seams and gullies.
It is even doubtful if the spot of bare ground which Mansker called an
"old field" or sometimes a "Chickasaw old field" was not merely one of
these licks. Buffalo, deer, and bear abounded; elk, wolves, and panthers
were plentiful.

Yet there were many signs that in long by-gone times a numerous
population had dwelt in the land. Round every spring were many graves,
built in a peculiar way, and covered eight or ten inches deep by mould.
In some places there were earth-covered foundations of ancient walls and
embankments that enclosed spaces of eight or ten acres. The Indians knew
as little as the whites about these long-vanished mound-builders, and
were utterly ignorant of the race to which they had belonged. [Footnote:
Haywood. At present it is believed that the mound-builders were Indians.
Haywood is the authority for the early Indian wars of the Cumberland
settlement, Putnam supplying some information.]

Indian Hostilities.

For some months the whites who first arrived dwelt in peace. But in the
spring, hunting and war parties from various tribes began to harass the
settlers. Unquestionably the savages felt jealous of the white hunters,
who were killing and driving away the game, precisely as they all felt
jealous of one another, and for the same reason. The Chickasaws in
particular, were much irritated by the fort Clark had built at Iron
Bank, on the Mississippi. But the most powerful motive for the attacks
was doubtless simply the desire for scalps and plunder. They gathered
from different quarters to assail the colonists, just as the wild beasts
gathered to prey on the tame herds.

The Indians began to commit murders, kill the stock, and drive off the
horses in April, and their ravages continued unceasingly throughout the
year. Among the slain was a son of Robertson, and also the unfortunate
Jonathan Jennings, the man who had suffered such loss when his boat was
passing the whirl of the Tennessee River. The settlers were shot as they
worked on their clearings, gathered the corn crops, or ventured outside
the walls of the stockades. Hunters were killed as they stooped to drink
at the springs, or lay in wait at the licks. They were lured up to the
Indians by imitations of the gobbling of a turkey or the cries of wild
beasts. They were regularly stalked as they still-hunted the game, or
were ambushed as they returned with their horses laden with meat. The
inhabitants of one station were all either killed or captured. Robertson
led pursuing parties after one or two of the bands, and recovered some
plunder; and once or twice small marauding parties were met and
scattered, with some loss, by the hunters. But, on the whole, very
little could be done at first to parry or revenge the strokes of the
Indians. [Footnote: Putnam, p. 107, talks as if the settlers were
utterly unused to Indian warfare, saying that until the first murder
occurred, in this spring, "few, if any" of them had ever gazed on the
victim of scalping-knife and tomahawk. This is a curiously absurd
statement. Many of the settlers were veteran Indian fighters. Almost all
of them had been born and brought up on the frontier, amid a succession
of Indian wars. It is, unfortunately, exceedingly difficult in Putnam's
book to distinguish the really valuable authentic information it
contains from the interwoven tissue of matter written solely to suit his
theory of dramatic effect. He puts in with equal gravity the "Articles
of Agreement" and purely fictitious conversations, jokes, and the like.
(See pp. 126, 144, and _passim_.)]

Horses and cattle had been brought into the new settlement in some
number during the year; but the savages killed or drove off most of
them, shooting the hogs and horned stock, and stealing the riding
animals. The loss of the milch cows in particular, was severely felt by
the women. Moreover, there were heavy freshets, flooding the low bottoms
on which the corn had been planted, and destroying most of the crop.

These accumulated disasters wrought the greatest discouragement among
the settlers. Many left the country, and most of the remainder, when
midsummer was past, began to urge that they should all go back in a body
to the old settlements. The panic became very great. One by one the
stockades were deserted, until finally all the settlers who remained
were gathered in Nashborough and Freelands. [Footnote: By some accounts
there were also a few settlers left in Eaton's Station; and Mansker's
was rarely entirely deserted for any length of time.] The Cumberland
country would have been abandoned to the Indians, had Robertson not
shown himself to be exactly the man for whom the crisis called.

Robertson was not a dashing, brilliant Indian fighter and popular
frontier leader, like Sevier. He had rather the qualities of Boon, with
the difference that he was less a wandering hunter and explorer, and
better fitted to be head of a settled community. He was far-seeing,
tranquil, resolute, unshaken by misfortune and disaster; a most
trustworthy man, with a certain severe fortitude of temper. All people
naturally turned to him in time of panic, when the ordinarily bold and
daring became cowed and confused. The straits to which the settlers were
reduced, and their wild clamor for immediate flight, the danger from the
Indians, the death of his own son all combined failed to make him waver
one instant in his purpose. He strongly urged on the settlers the danger
of flight through the wilderness. He did not attempt to make light of
the perils that confronted them if they remained, but he asked them to
ponder well if the beauty and fertility of the land did not warrant some
risk being run to hold it, now that it was won. They were at last in a
fair country fitted for the homes of their children. Now was the time to
keep it. If they abandoned it, they would lose all the advantages they
had gained, and would be forced to suffer the like losses and privations
if they ever wished to retake possession of it or of any similar tract
of land. He, at least, would not turn back, but would stay to the bitter

His words and his steadfast bearing gave heart to the settlers, and they
no longer thought of flight. As their corn had failed them they got
their food from the woods. Some gathered quantities of walnuts,
hickory-nuts, and shelbarks, and the hunters wrought havoc among the
vast herds of game. During the early winter one party of twenty men that
went up Caney Fork on a short trip, killed one hundred and five bears,
seventy-five buffaloes, and eighty-seven deer, and brought the flesh and
hides back to the stockades in canoes; so that through the winter there
was no lack of jerked and smoke-dried meat.

The hunters were very accurate marksmen; game was plenty, and not shy,
and so they got up close and rarely wasted a shot. Moreover, their
smallbore rifles took very little powder - in fact the need of excessive
economy in the use of ammunition when on their long hunting-trips was
one of the chief reasons for the use of small bores. They therefore used
comparatively little ammunition. Nevertheless, by the beginning of
winter both powder and bullets began to fail. In this emergency
Robertson again came to the front to rescue the settlement he had
founded and preserved. He was accustomed to making long, solitary
journeys through the forest, unmindful of the Indians; he had been one
of the first to come from North Carolina to Watauga; he had repeatedly
been on perilous missions to the Cherokees; he had the previous year
gone north to the Illinois country to meet Clark. He now announced that
he would himself go to Kentucky and bring back the needed ammunition;
and at once set forth on his journey, across the long stretches of
snow-powdered barrens, and desolate, Indian-haunted woodland.



Robertson passed unharmed through the wilderness to Kentucky. There he
procured plenty of powder, and without delay set out on his return
journey to the Cumberland. As before, he travelled alone through the
frozen woods, trusting solely to his own sharp senses for his safety.

Attack on Freeland's.

In the evening of January 15, 1781, he reached Freeland's station, and
was joyfully received by the inmates. They supped late, and then sat up
for some time, talking over many matters. When they went to bed all were
tired, and neglected to take the usual precautions against surprise;
moreover, at that season they did not fear molestation. They slept
heavily, none keeping watch. Robertson alone was wakeful and suspicious;
and even during his light slumbers his keen and long-trained senses were
on the alert.

At midnight all was still. The moon shone brightly down on the square
block-houses and stockaded yard of the lonely little frontier fort; its
rays lit up the clearing, and by contrast darkened the black shadow of
the surrounding forest. None of the sleepers within the log-walls
dreamed of danger. Yet their peril was imminent. An Indian war band was
lurking near by, and was on the point of making an effort to carry

Online LibraryTheodore RooseveltThe Winning of the West, Volume 2 From the Alleghanies to the Mississippi, 1777-1783 → online text (page 25 of 32)