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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.
THE CUMBERLAND SETTLEMENTS TO THE CLOSE
OF THE REVOLUTION, 1781-1783
ROBERTSON passed cumharmede 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 traveled alone through the frozen woods, trusting solely to his own sharp senses for his safety.
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 shadows 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 Freeland's Station by an attack in the darkness. In the dead of the night the attempt was made. One by one the warriors left the protection of the tangled woodgrowth, slipped silently across the open space, and crouched under the heavy timber pickets of the palisades, until all had gathered together. Though the gate was fastened with a strong bar and chain, the dexterous savages finally contrived to open it.
In so doing they made a slight noise, which caught Robertson's quick ear, as he lay on his buffalo-hide pallet. Jumping up he saw the gate open, and dusky figures gliding into the yard with stealthy swiftness. At his cry of "Indians," and the report of his piece, the settlers sprang up, every man grasping the loaded arm by which he slept. From each log cabin the rifles cracked and flashed; and though the Indians were actually in the yard they had no cover, and the sudden and unexpected resistance caused them to hurry out much faster than they had come in. Robertson shot one of their number, and they in return killed a white man who sprang out-of-doors at the first alarm. When they were driven out the gate was closed after them; but they fired through the loopholes; especially into one of the block-houses, where the chinks had not been filled with mud, as in the others. They thus killed a negro, and wounded one or two other men: yet they were soon driven off. Robertson's return
had been at a most opportune moment. As so often before and afterward, he had saved the settlement from destruction.
Other bands of Indians joined the war party, and they continued to hover about the stations, daily inflicting loss and damage on the settlers. They burned down the cabins and fences, drove off the stock and killed the hunters, the women and children who ventured outside the walls, and the men who had gone back to their deserted stockades.1
On the 2d day of April another effort was made by a formidable war party to get possession of one of the two remaining stations — Freeland's and Nashborough—and thus, at a stroke, drive the whites from the Cumberland district. This time Nashborough was the point aimed at.
A large body2 of Cherokees approached the fort 1 Haywood says they burned "immense quantities of corn"; as Putnam points out, the settlers could have had very little corn to burn. Haywood is the best authority for the Indian fighting in the Cumberland district during '80, '81, and '82. Putnam supplies some details learned from Mrs. Robertson in her old age. The accounts are derived mainly from the statements of old settlers; but the Robertsons seem always to have kept papers, which served to check off the oral statements. For all the important facts there is good authority. The annals are filled with name after name of men who were killed by the Indians. The dates, and even the names, may be misplaced in many of these instances; but this is really a matter of no consequence, for their only interest is to show the nature of the harassing Indian warfare, and the kind of adventure then common. ? How large it is impossible to say.
One or two recent accounts make wild guesses, calling it 1,000; but this is sheer nonsense; it is more likely to have been 100.
in the night, lying hid in the bushes, divided into two parties. In the morning three of them came near, fired at the fort, and ran off toward where the smaller party lay ambushed, in a thicket through which ran a little “branch.” Instantly twenty men mounted their horses and galloped after the decoys. As they overtook the fugitives they saw the Indians hid in the creek-bottom, and dismounted to fight, turning their horses loose. A smart interchange of shots followed, the whites having, if anything, rather the best of it, when the other and larger body of Indians rose from their hiding-place, in a clump of cedars, and, running down, formed between the combatants and the fort, intending to run into the latter, mixed with the fleeing riflemen. The only chance of the hemmed-in whites was to turn and try to force their way back through their far more numerous foes. This was a desperate venture, for their pieces were all discharged, and there was no time to reload them; but they were helped by two unexpected circumstances. Their horses had taken flight at the firing, and ran off toward the fort, passing to one side of the intervening line of Indians ; and many of the latter, eager for such booty, ran off to catch them. Meanwhile, the remaining men in the fort saw what had happened, and made ready for defence, while all the women likewise snatched up guns or axes, and stood by loopholes and gate. The dogs in the fort were also taking a keen interest in what was going on. They were stout, powerful animals, some being hounds and others watch-dogs,