Page images
PDF
EPUB

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 channeled 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 bygone 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 inclosed 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.17

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, gath

17 Haywood. At present it is believed that the moundbuilders were Indians. Haywood is the authority for the early Indian wars of the Cumberland settlement, Putnam supplying some information.

ered 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.18

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 par

18 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

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 Agreements and purely fictitious conversation, jokes, and the like. (See pp. 126, 144, and passim.)

wars.

ticular, 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.19 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 Boone, 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 im

19 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.

mediate 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 end.

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 shellbarks, 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 smokedried meat.

The hunters were very accurate marksmen; game

« PreviousContinue »