By John Filson - 1784
(Part One of Six)
Editor's Note: We begin a new series this month from the pages of John Filson's "The Discovery, Settlement, And Present State Of Kentucke," originally published at Wilmington, Delaware, in October 1784. "The Adventures Of Colonel Daniel Boon" appeared a short time later as an appendix to this popular volume, which assured Boone's immortality as a model American frontiersman. Filson conveys Boone's experiences in the Kentucke wilderness, as told by Boone himself through the entries in his daily journal. We hope you enjoy this series.
Curiosity is natural to the soul of man, and interesting objects have a powerful influence on our affections. Let these influencing powers actuate, by the permission or disposal of providence, from selfish or social views; yet in time, the mysterious will of Heaven is unfolded. We behold our conduct from whatsoever motives excited, operating to answer the important designs of heaven. Thus we behold Kentucke, lately a howling wilderness. This habitation of savages and wild beasts has become a fruitful field.
This region, so favourably distinguished by nature, now becomes the habitation of civilization at a period unparalleled in history; in the midst of a raging war, and under all the disadvantages of emigration to a country so remote from the inhabited parts of the continent. Here, where the hand of violence shed the blood of the innocent, and the horrid yells of savages and groans of the distressed sounded in our ears, we now hear the praises and adoration of our Creator.
Where wretched wigwams stood, the miserable abodes of the savages, we behold the foundations of cities laid, that in all probability, will rival the glory of the greatest upon earth. We view Kentucke, situated on the fertile banks of the great Ohio, rising from obscurity to shine with splendor, equal to any other of the stars of the American hemisphere.
The settling of this region well deserves a place in history. Most of the memorable events that I have myself been exercised in, and for the satisfaction of the public, will briefly relate the circumstances of my adventures and scenes of life; from my first movement to this country, until this day.
It was on May 1, 1769, that I resigned my domestic happiness for a time and left my family and peaceable habitation on the Yadkin River in North Carolina to wander through the wilderness of America; in quest of the country of Kentucke, in company with John Finley, John Stewart, Joseph Holden, James Monay, and William Cool. We proceeded successfully, and after a long, fatiguing journey through a mountainous wilderness, in a westward direction, on June 7th following, we found ourselves on Red River; where John Finley had formerly been trading with the Indians, and from the top of an eminence, saw with pleasure the beautiful level of Kentucke.
Here, let me observe that for some time we had experienced the most uncomfortable weather, as a prelibation of our future sufferings. At this place, we encamped and made a shelter to defend us from the inclement season, and began to hunt and reconnoitre the country. We found, everywhere, abundance of wild beasts of all sorts through this vast forest. The buffaloes were more frequent than I have seen cattle in the settlements, browsing on the leaves of the cane or cropping the herbage on those extensive plains; fearless, because ignorant of the violence of man. Sometimes we saw hundreds in a drove and the numbers about the salt springs were amazing.
In this forest, the habitation of beasts of every kind natural to America, we practiced hunting with great success until December 22nd following. This day, John Stewart and I had a pleasing ramble, but fortune changed the scene in the close of it. We had passed through a great forest on which stood myriads of trees, some gay with blossoms, others rich with fruits. Nature was here a series of wonders and a fund of delight. Here, she displayed her ingenuity and industry in a variety of flowers and fruits, beautifully colored, elegantly shaped, and charmingly flavored; and we were diverted with innumerable animals presenting themselves perpetually to our view.
In the decline of the day, near the Kentucke River, as we ascended the brow of a small hill, a number of Indians rushed upon us out of a thick canebrake and made us prisoners. The time of our sorrow was now arrived, and the scene fully opened. The Indians plundered us of what we had, and kept us in confinement for seven days, treating us with common savage usage. During this time, we discovered no uneasiness or desire to escape, which made them less suspicious of us. But in the dead of night, as we lay in a thick canebrake by a large fire, when sleep had locked up their senses and my situation not disposing me for rest, I touched my companion and gently awoke him. We improved this favorable opportunity and departed, leaving them to take their rest, and speedily directed our course towards our old camp. We found it plundered, and the company dispersed and gone home.
About this time, my brother, Squire Boone, with another adventurer who came to explore the country shortly after us, was wandering through the forest. He was determined to find me, if possible, and accidentally found our camp. Notwithstanding the unfortunate circumstances of our company, and our dangerous situation as surrounded with hostile savages, our meeting so fortunately in the wilderness made us reciprocally sensible of the utmost satisfaction. So much does friendship triumph over misfortune that sorrows and sufferings vanish at the meeting, not only of real friends, but of the most distant acquaintances, and substitutes happiness in their room.
Soon after this, my companion in captivity, John Stewart, was killed by the savages and the man that came with my brother returned home by himself. We were then in a dangerous, helpless situation, exposed daily to perils and death amongst the savages and wild beasts; not a white man in the country, but ourselves.
Thus situated, many hundreds of miles from our families in the howling wilderness, I believe few would have equally enjoyed the happiness we experienced. I often observed to my brother, "You see now how little nature requires to be satisfied. Felicity, the companion of content, is rather found in our own breasts than in the enjoyment of external things. I firmly believe it requires but little philosophy to make a man happy in whatsoever state he is. This consists in a full resignation to the will of providence, and a resigned soul finds pleasure in a path strewed with briars and thorns."
We continued, not in a state of indolence, but hunted every day, and prepared a little cottage to defend us from the winter storms. We remained there undisturbed during the winter; and on May 1, 1770, my brother returned home to the settlement by himself, for a new recruit of horses and ammunition. I was left by myself without bread, salt, or sugar, and without the company of my fellow creatures, even a horse or dog. I confess that I never before was under greater necessity of exercising philosophy and fortitude. A few days, I passed uncomfortably. The idea of a beloved wife and family, and their anxiety upon the account of my absence and exposed situation, made sensible impressions on my heart.
A thousand dreadful apprehensions presented themselves to my view, and had undoubtedly disposed me to melancholy, if further indulged.
(Part Two Continues Next Month)