The Captivity Of Boone And Kenton

by


Colonel Smith was not the first whose captivity was passed in the Ohio country, but there is no record of any earlier captivity, though hundreds of captives were given up to Bouquet by the Indians. In spite of the treaties and promises on both sides, the fighting went on, and the wilderness was soon again the prison of the white people whom the savages had torn from their homes. The Ohio tribes harassed the outlying settlements of Pennsylvania and Virginia, whose borders widened westward with every year; but they were above all incensed against the pioneers of Kentucky. Ohio was their home; there they had their camps and towns; there they held their councils and festivals; there they buried their dead and guarded their graves. But Kentucky was the pleasance of all the nations, the hunting ground kept free by common consent, and left to the herds of deer, elk, and buffalo, which ranged the woods and savannas, and increased for the common use. When the white men discovered this hunter's paradise, and began to come back with their families and waste the game and fell the trees and plow the wild meadows, no wonder the Indians were furious, and made Kentucky the Dark and Bloody Ground for the enemies of their whole race, which they had already made it for one another in the conflicts between the hunting parties of rival tribes. It maddened them to find the cabins and the forts of the settlers in the sacred region where no red man dare pitch his wigwam; and they made a fierce and pitiless effort to drive out the invaders.

Among these was the famous Daniel Boone. He had heard of the glories of the land from a hunter who wandered into Kentucky by chance and returned to North Carolina to tell of it among his neighbors. Two years afterwards, in 1769, when a man of forty, Boone came to see for himself the things that he knew by hearsay, and he found that the half had not been told. But among other surprises in store for him was falling into the clutches of an Indian hunting party which ambushed him and the friend who was with him. They both escaped, and soon afterwards Boone's brother and a neighbor, who had followed him from North Carolina, chanced upon their camp. Boone's friend was before long shot and scalped by the Indians; the brother's neighbor was lost in the woods and devoured by the wolves. Then the brother went home for ammunition, and Boone was left a whole year alone in the wilderness. The charm of its life was so great for him that after two years more he returned to North Carolina, sold his farm, and came to Kentucky with his family. Other families joined them, and the little settlement founded in the woods where he had ranged solitary with no friend but his rifle and with foes everywhere, was called Boonesborough.

The Revolutionary War broke out, and the Ohio Indians, who had hitherto fought the pioneers as Englishmen, now fought them as Americans with fresh fury, under the encouragement of the British commandant at Detroit. In January, of 1778, Boone took thirty of his men, and went to make salt at the Blue Licks, where, shortly after, while he was hunting in the woods, he found himself in the midst of two hundred Indian warriors, who were on their way to attack Boonesborough. He was then fifty years old, and the young Indians soon overtook him when he tried to escape by running, and made him their prisoner. His captors treated him kindly, as their custom was with prisoners, until they decided what should be done with them, and at the Licks his whole party gave themselves up on promise of the same treatment. This was glory enough for the present; the Indians, as they always did when they had won a victory, went home to celebrate it, and left Boonesborough unmolested.

They took all their prisoners to the town of Old Chillicothe, on the banks of the Little Miami in Greene County. What became of his men we are not told; none of them kept a journal, as Smith did, but it is certain that Boone was adopted into an Indian family as Smith was. The Indians, in fact, all became fond of him, perhaps because he was so much like themselves in temperament and behavior, for he was a grave, silent man, very cold and wary, with a sort of savage calm. He was well versed in their character, and knew how to play upon their vanity. One of the few things he seems to have told of his captivity was that when they asked him to take part in their shooting matches he beat them just often enough to show them his wonderful skill with the rifle, and then allowed them the pleasure of beating such a splendid shot as he had proved himself. But probably he had other engaging qualities, or so it appeared when the Indians took him with them to Detroit. The British commandant offered them a ransom of a hundred pounds for him, while several other Englishmen, who liked and pitied him, pressed him to take money and other favors from them. Boone stoically refused because he could never hope to make any return to them, and his red brethren refused because they loved Boone too well to part with him at any price, and they took him back to Old Chillicothe with them.

He never betrayed the anxiety for his wife and children that constantly tormented him, for fear of rousing the suspicions of the Indians; but when he reached Old Chillicothe, and found a large party painted and ready to take the warpath in a new attack upon Boones-borough, he could bear it no longer. He showed no sign of his misery, however; he joined the Indians in all their sports as before, but he was always watching for some chance to escape, and one morning in the middle of June he stole away from his captors. He made his way a hundred and sixty miles through the woods, and on the ninth day entered Boonesborough, faint with the fast which he had broken but once in his long flight, to find that he had been given up for dead and his family had gone back to North Carolina.

Boone spent the rest of his days fighting wild men and hunting wild beasts in Kentucky, until both were well-nigh gone and the tamer life of civilization pressed closer about him. Then he set out for Missouri, where he found himself again in the wilderness, and dwelt there in his beloved solitude till he died. Nothing ever moved him so much as the memoir which a young man wrote down for him and had printed. He was fond of having it read to him (for he could not read any more than he could write), and he would cry out in delight over it, "All true; not a lie in it!" But it is recorded that he once allowed himself to be so far excited by the heroic behavior of a friend who had saved his life in an Indian fight, at the risk of his own, as to say, "You behaved like a man, that time."

This friend was Simon Kenton, or rather Simon Butler, one of the greatest of all the Indian hunters of Kentucky and Ohio. He had changed his name to escape pursuit from his old home in Virginia, when he fled leaving one of his neighbors, as he supposed, dead on the ground after a fight, and he kept the name he had taken through the rest of his life. He wandered about on the frontier and in the wilderness beyond it for several years, fighting the savages single handed or with a few comrades, and at times serving as scout or spy in the expeditions of the English against them. When the Revolution began, he sided of course with his own people, and he stood two sieges by the Indians in Boonesborough. It was here that Boone found him in 1778 when he escaped from Old Chillicothe, and they promptly made a foray together into the Ohio country, against an Indian town on Paint Creek. They fell in with a war party on the way, and after some fighting, Boone went back, but Kenton kept on with another friend, and did not return till they had stolen some Indian horses. As soon as they reached Boonesborough the commandant sent them into Ohio again to reconnoiter a town on the Little Miami which he wished to attack, and here once more Kenton was tempted by the chance to steal horses. He could not bear to leave any, and he and his men started homeward through the woods with the whole herd. When they came to the Ohio, it was so rough that Kenton was nearly drowned in trying to cross the river. He got back to the northern shore, where they all waited for the wind to go down, and the waves to fall, and where the Indians found them the second morning. His comrades were killed and Kenton was taken prisoner by the Indians whose horses they had stolen. The Indians were always stealing white men's horses, but they seemed to think it was very much more wicked and shameful for white men to steal Indians' horses. They fell upon Kenton and beat him over the head with their ramrods and mocked him with cries of, "Steal Indians' hoss, hey!" But this was only the beginning of his sufferings. They fastened him for the night by stretching him on the ground with one stick across his breast and another down his middle, and tying his hands and feet to these with thongs of buffalo skin: stakes were driven into the earth, and his pinioned arms and legs were bound to them, while a halter, which was passed round his neck and then round a sapling near by, kept him from moving his head. All the while they were making sure in this way that he should not escape, the Indians were cuffing his ears, and reviling him for a "Tief! A hoss steal! A rascal!" In the morning they mounted him on an unbroken colt, with his hands tied behind him and his legs tied under the horse, and drove it into the briers and underbrush, where his face and hands were torn by the brambles, until the colt quieted down of itself, and followed in line with the other horses. The third day, as they drew near the town of Old Chillicothe, where Boone had been held captive, they were met by the chief Blackfish, who said sternly to Kenton in English, "You have been stealing horses." "Yes, sir." "Did Captain Boone tell you to steal our horses?" "No, sir, I did it on my own accord." Blackfish then lashed him over the naked back with a hickory switch till the blood ran, and with blows and taunts from all sides Kenton was marched forward to the village.

The Indians could not wait for his arrival. They came out, men, women, and children, to meet him, with whoops and yells, and when they had made his captors fasten him to a stake, they fell upon him, and tore off all that was left of his clothes, and amused themselves till midnight by dancing and screaming round him, and beating him with rods and their open hands. In the morning he was ordered to run the gantlet, through two rows of Indians of all ages and sexes, armed with knives, clubs, switches, and hoe handles, and ready to cut, strike, and stab at him as he dashed by them on his way to the council house, a quarter of a mile from the point of starting. But Kenton was too wary to take the risks before him. He suddenly started aside from the lines; he turned and doubled in his course, and managed to reach the council house unhurt except for the blows of two Indians who threw themselves between him and its door. Here a council was held at once, and he was sentenced to be burnt at the stake, but the sentence was ordered to be carried out at the town of Wapatimika on Mad River. A white renegade among the Indians told him of his fate with a curse, and Kenton resolved that rather than meet it he would die in the attempt to escape. On the way to Wapatimika he gave his guard the slip and dashed into the woods; and he had left his pursuers far behind, when he ran into the midst of another party of Indians, who seized him and drove him forward to the town. A second council was now held, and after Kenton had run the gantlet a second time and been severely hurt, the warriors once more gathered in the council house, and sitting on the ground in a circle voted his death by striking the earth with a war club, or by passing it to the next if inclined to mercy. He was brought before them, as he supposed, to be told when he was to die, but a blanket was thrown upon the ground for him to sit upon in the middle of the circle, and Simon Girty, the great renegade, who was cruder to the whites than the Indians themselves, began harshly to question him about the number of men in Kentucky. A few words passed, and then Girty asked, "What is your name?" "Simon Butler," said Kenton, and Girty jumped from his seat and threw his arms around Kenton's neck. They had been scouts together in the English service, before the Revolution began, and had been very warm friends, and now Girty set himself to save Kenton's life. He pleaded so strongly in his favor that the council at last voted to spare him, at least for the time being.

Three weeks of happiness for Kenton followed in the society of his old friend, who clothed him at his own cost from the stores of an English trader in the town, and took him to live with him; and it is said that if the Indians had continued to treat him kindly, Kenton might perhaps have cast his lot with them, for he could not hope to go back to his own people, with the crime of murder, as he supposed, hanging over him, and he had no close ties binding him to the whites elsewhere. But at the end of these days of respite, a war party came back from the Virginian border, where they had been defeated, and the life of the first white man who fell into their power must pay, by the Indian law, for the life of the warrior they had lost. The leaders of this party found Kenton walking in the woods with Girty, and met him with scowls of hate, refusing his hand when he offered it. The rage of the savages against him broke out afresh. One of them caught an ax from his squaw who was chopping wood, and as Kenton passed him on his way into the village, dealt him a blow that cut deep into his shoulder. For a third time a council was held, and for a third time Kenton was doomed to die by fire. Nothing that Girty could say availed, and he was left to tell his friend that he must die.

Kenton's sentence was to be now carried out at Sandusky, and with five Indian guards he set out for that point. On their way they stopped at a town on the waters of the Scioto, where the captive found himself in the presence of a chief of noble and kindly face, who said to him, in excellent English, "Well, young man, these young men seem very mad at you." Kenton had to own that they were so, indeed, and then the Indian said, "Well, don't be discouraged. I am a great chief. You are to go to Sandusky; they speak of burning you there, but I will send two runners tomorrow to speak good for you."

This was the noble chief Logan, whose beautiful speech ought to be known to every American boy and girl, and who, in spite of all he had suffered from them, was still the friend of the white men. He kept his word to Kenton, though he seemed to fail, as Girty had failed, to have his sentence set aside, and Kenton was taken on to Sandusky. But here, the day before that set for him to die, a British Indian agent, a merciful man whose name, Drewyer, we ought to remember, made the Indians give him up, that the commandant at Detroit might find out from him the state of the American forces in Kentucky. He had to promise the savages that Kenton should afterwards be returned to them; but though Kenton could not or would not tell him what he wished to know, Drewyer assured him that he would never abandon any white prisoner to their cruelty.

At Detroit Kenton was kindly treated by the English, and beyond having to report himself daily to the officer who had charge of him, there was nothing to make him feel that he was a prisoner. But he grew restive in his captivity, and after he had borne seven months of it, and got well of all his wounds and bruises, he plotted with two young Kentuckians, who had been taken with Boone at the Blue Licks, to attempt his escape with them. They bought guns from some drunken Indians, and hid them in the woods. Then in the month of June, 1778, they started southward through the wilderness, and after thirty days reached Louisville in safety. Kenton continued to fight the Indians in all the wars, large and little, till they were beaten by General Wayne in 1794. Eight years later he came to live in Ohio, settling near Urbana, but removing later to Zanesfield, on the site of the Indian town Wapatimika, where he was once to have been burned, and where he died peaceably in 1836, when he was eighty-one years old. He is described as a tall, handsome man, of an erect figure and carriage, a fair complexion, and a most attractive countenance. "He had," his biographer tells us, "a soft, tremulous voice, very pleasing to the hearer, and laughing gray eyes that appeared to fascinate the beholder," except in his rare moments of anger, when their fiery glance would curdle the blood of those who had roused his wrath. He was above all the heroes of Ohio history, both in his virtues and his vices, the type of the Indian fighter. He was ready to kill or to take the chances of being killed, but he had no more hate apparently for the wild men than for the wild beasts he hunted.


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