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THE WAR IN THE NORTHWEST
ROBERTSON FOUNDS THE CUMBERLAND SETTLE
OBERTSON had no share in the glory of
King's Mountain, and no part in the subsequent career of the men who won it; for, at the time, he was doing his allotted work, a work of at least equal importance, in a different field. The year before the mountaineers faced Ferguson, the man who had done more than any one in founding the settlements from which the victors came, had once more gone into the wilderness to build a new and even more typical frontier commonwealth, the westernmost of any yet founded by the backwoods
Robertson had been for ten years a leader among the Holston and Watauga people. He had at different times played the foremost part in organizing the civil government and in repelling outside attack. He had been particularly successful in his dealings with the Indians, and by his missions to them had managed to keep the peace unbroken on more than one occasion when a war would have been disastrous to the whites. He was prosperous and suc
(1) Vol. VII.-I
cessful in his private affairs; nevertheless, in 1779, the restless craving for change and adventure surged so strongly in his breast that it once more drove him forth to wander in the forest. In the true border temper he determined to abandon the home he had made, and to seek out a new one hundreds of miles further in the heart of the hunting-grounds of the red warriors.
The point pitched upon was the beautiful country lying along the great bend of the Cumberland. Many adventurous settlers were anxious to accompany Robertson, and, like him, to take their wives and children with them into the new land. It was agreed that a small party of explorers should go first in the early spring to plant corn, that the families might have it to eat when they followed in the fall.
The spot was already well known to hunters. Who had first visited it can not be said; though tradition has kept the names of several among the many who at times halted there while on their wanderings. Old Kasper Mansker and others had made hunting trips thither for ten years past; and they had sometimes met the creole trappers from
1 One Stone or Stoner, perhaps Boone's old associate, is the first whose name is given in the books. But in both Kentucky and Tennessee it is idle to try to find out exactly who the first explorers were. They were unlettered woodsmen; it is only by chance that some of their names have been kept and others lost; the point to be remembered is that many hunters were wandering over the land at the same time, that they drifted to many different places, and that now and then an accident preserved the name of some hunter and of some place he visited.
the Illinois. When Mansker first went to the Bluffs,2 in 1769, the buffaloes were more numerous than he had ever seen them before; the ground literally shook under the gallop of the mighty herds, they crowded in dense throngs round the licks, and the forest resounded with their grunting bellows. He and other woodsmen came back there off and on, hunting and trapping, and living in huts made of buffalo hides; just such huts as the hunters dwelt in on the Little Missouri and Powder Rivers as late as 1883, except that the plainsmen generally made dug-outs in the sides of the buttes and used the hides only for the roofs and fronts. So the place was well known, and the reports of the hunters had made many settlers eager
to visit it, though as yet no regular path led thither. In 1778 the first permanent settler arrived in the person of a hunter named Spencer, who spent the following winter entirely alone in this remote wilderness, living in a hollow sycamore-tree. Spencer was a giant in his day, a man huge in body and limb, all whose life had been spent in the wilderness. He came to the bend of the Cumberland from Kentucky in the early spring, being in search of good land on which to settle. Other hunters were with him, and they stayed some time. A creole trapper from the Wabash was then living in a cabin on the south side of the river. He did not meet the new-comers; but
? The locality where Nashborough was built, was sometimes spoken of as the Bluffs, and sometimes as the French
one day he saw the huge moccasin tracks of Spencer, and on the following morning the party passed close by his cabin in chase of a wounded buffalo, halloing and shouting as they dashed through the underwood. Whether he thought them Indians, or whether, as is more likely, he shared the fear and dislike felt by most of the creoles for the American backwoodsmen, can not be said; but certainly he left his cabin, swam the river, and plunging into the forest, straightway fled to his kinsfolk on the banks of the Wabash. Spencer was soon left by his companions; though one of them stayed with him a short time, helping him to plant a field of corn. Then this man, too, wished to return. He had lost his hunting-knife; so Spencer went with him to the barrens of Kentucky, put him on the right path, and breaking his own knife, gave his departing friend a piece of the metal. The undaunted old hunter himself returned to the banks of the Cumberland, and sojourned throughout the fall and winter in the neighborhood of the little clearing on which he had raised the corn crop; a strange, huge, solitary man, self-reliant, unflinching, cut off from all his fellows by endless leagues of shadowy forest. Thus he dwelt alone in the vast dim wastes, wandering whithersoever he listed through the depths of the melancholy and wintry woods, sleeping by his camp-fire or in the hollow tree-trunk, ever ready to do battle against brute or human foe-a stark and sombre harbinger of the oncoming civilization.
Spencer's figure, seen through the mist that
shrouds early Western history, is striking and picturesque in itself; yet its chief interest lies in the fact that he was but a type of many other men whose lives were no less lonely and dangerous. He had no qualities to make him a leader when settlements sprang up around him. To the end of his days he remained a solitary hunter and Indian fighter, spurning restraint and comfort, and seeking the strong excitement of danger to give zest to his life. Even in the time of the greatest peril from the savages he would not stay shut up in the forts, but continued his roving, wandering life, trusting to his own quick senses, wonderful strength, and iron nerves. He even continued to lie out at night, kindling a fire, and then lying down to sleep far from it.3
Early in the year 1779 a leader of men came to the place where the old hunter had roamed and killed game; and with the new-comer came those who were to possess the land. Robertson left the Watauga settlements soon after the spring opened,
3 “Southwestern Monthly," Nashville, 1852, Vol. II. General Hall's narrative.
4 It is very difficult to reconcile the dates of these early movements; even the contemporary documents are often a little vague, while Haywood, Ramsey, and Putnam are frequently months out of the way. Apparently Robertson stayed as commissioner in Chota until February or March, 1779, when he gave warning of the intended raid of the Chickamaugas, and immediately afterward came back to the settlements and started out for the Cumberland, before Shelby left on his Chickamauga expedition. But it is possible that he had left Chota before, and that another man was