I was born September 1st, 1785, in Amherst County, on James River, in the State of Virginia. My parents were poor. My father was a soldier in the great struggle for liberty, in the Revolutionary war with Great Britain. He served over two years. My mother was an orphan. Shortly after the united colonies gained their independence, my parents moved to Kentucky, which was a new country. It was an almost unbroken wilderness from Virginia to Kentucky at that early day, and this wilderness was filled with thousands of hostile Indians, and many thousands of the emigrants to Kentucky lost their lives by these savages. There were no roads for carriages at that time, and although the emigrants moved by thousands, they had to move on pack horses. Many adventurous young men went to this new country. The fall my father moved, there were a great many families who joined together for mutual safety, and started for Kentucky. Besides the two hundred families thus united, there were one hundred young men, well armed, who agreed to guard these families through, and, as a compensation, they were to be supported for their services. After we struck the wilderness we rarely traveled a day but we passed some white persons, murdered and scalped by the Indians while going to or returning from Kentucky. We traveled on till Sunday, and, instead of resting that day, the voice of the company was to move on.
It was a dark, cloudy day, misty with rain. Many Indians were seen through the day skulking round by our guards. Late in the evening we came to what was called " Camp Defeat," where a number of emigrant families had been all murdered by the savages a short time before. Here the company called a halt to camp for the night. It was a solemn, gloomy time; every heart quaked with fear.
Soon the captain of our young men's company placed his men as sentinels all round the encampment. The stock and the women and children were placed in the center of the encampment. Most of the men that were heads of families, were placed around outside of the women and children. Those who were not placed in this position, were ordered to take their stand outside still, in the edge of the brush. It was a dark, dismal night, and all expected an attack from the Indians.
That night my father was placed as a sentinel, with a good rifle, in the edge of the brush. Shortly after he took his stand, and all was quiet in the camp, he thought he heard something moving toward him, and grunting like a swine. He knew there was no swine with the moving company, but it was so dark he could not see what it was. Presently he perceived a dark object in the distance, but nearer him than at first, and believing it to be an Indian, aiming to spring upon him and murder him in the dark, he leveled his rifle, and aimed at the dark lump as well as he could, and fired. He soon found he had hit the object, for it flounced about at a terrible rate, and my father gathered himself up and ran into camp.
When his gun fired, there was an awful screaming throughout the encampment by the women and children. My father was soon inquired of as to what was the matter. He told them the circumstances of the case, but some said he was scared and wanted an excuse to come in; but he affirmed that there was no mistake, that there was something, and he had shot it; and if they would get a light and go with him, if he did not show them something, then they might call him a coward forever. They got a light and went to the place, and there they found an Indian, with a rifle in one hand and a tomahawk in the other, dead. My father's rifle-ball had struck the Indian nearly central in the head.
There was but little sleeping in the camp that night. However, the night passed away without any further alarms, and many glad hearts hailed the dawn of a new day. The next morning, as soon as the company could pack up, they started on their journey.
In a few days after this, we met a lone man, who said his name was Baker, with his mouth bleeding at a desperate rate, having been shot by an Indian.
Several of his teeth and his jaw bone were broken by a ball from the Indian's gun. His account of a battle with the Indians was substantially as follows :
There were seven young white men returning to Virginia from Kentucky, all well armed; one of them, a Frenchman, had a considerable sum of money with him. All seven were mounted on fine horses, and they were waylaid by seven Indians.
When the white men approached near the ambush, they were fired on by the Indians, and three shot down; the other four dismounted and shot down three of the Indians. At the second fire of the Indians, two more of the white men fell, and at the second fire of the white men, two more of the Indians fell. Then there were two and two. At the third fire of the Indians, Baker's only remaining companion fell, and he received the wound in the mouth. Thinking his chance a bad one, he wheeled and ran, loading his gun as he went. Finding a large, hollow tree, he crept into it, feet foremost, holding his rifle ready cocked, expecting them to look in, when he intended to fire. He heard the Indians cross and recross the log twice, but they did not look in.
At this perilous moment, he heard the large cowbell that was on one of the drove of cattle of our company; and shortly after he crawled out of the log, and made his way to us, the happiest man I think I ever saw. Our company of young men rushed to the battle-ground, and found the dead white men and Indians, and dug two separate graves, and buried them where they fell. They got all the horses and clothes of the white men slain, and the Frenchman's money, for the surviving Indians had not time to scalp or strip them.
When we came within seven miles of the Crab Orchard, where there were a fort and the first white settlement, it was nearly night. We halted, and a vote was taken whether we should go on to the fort, or camp there for the night. Indians had been seen in our rear through the day. All wanted to go through except seven families, who refused to go any further that night. The main body went on, but they, the seven families, carelessly stripped off their clothes, laid down without any guards, and went to sleep.
Some time in the night, about twenty-five Indians rushed on them, and everyone, men, women, and children, was slain, except one man, who sprang from his bed and ran into the fort, barefooted and in his night clothes. He brought the melancholy news of the slaughter.
The captain of the fort was an old, experienced ranger and Indian warrior. These murderous bands of savages lived north of the Ohio River, and would cross over into Kentucky, kill and steal, and then recross the Ohio into their own country. The old captain knew the country well, and the places of their crossing the river. Early next morning he called for volunteers, mounted men, and said he could get ahead of them. A goodly company turned out, and, sure enough, they got ahead of the Indians, and formed an ambush for them. Soon they saw the Indians coming, and, at a given signal, the whites fired on them. At the first shot all were killed but three; these were pursued, two of them killed, and but one made his escape to tell the sad news. All the plunder of the murdered families was retaken.
Thus you see what perilous times the first settlers had to reach that new and beautiful country of "canes and turkeys."
Kentucky was claimed by no particular tribe of Indians, but was regarded as a common hunting-ground by the various tribes, east, west, north, and south. It abounded in various valuable game, such as buffalo, elk, bear, deer, turkeys, and many other smaller game, and hence the Indians struggled hard to keep the white people from taking possession of it. Many hard and bloody battles were fought, and thousands killed on both sides; and rightly was it named the "land of blood." But finally the Indians were overpowered and driven off, and the white man obtained a peaceable and quiet possession. It was chiefly settled by Virginians, as noble and brave a race of men and women as ever drew the breath of life. But Kentucky was far in the interior and very distant from the Atlantic shores; and though a part of the great Mississippi Valley, the mouth of the Mississippi and thousands of miles up this "father of waters" belonged to foreign, and, in some sense, hostile nations, that were not very friendly to the new republic.
The Kentuckians labored under many, very many, disadvantages and privations; and had it not been for the fertility of the soil and the abundance of wild meat, they must have suffered beyond endurance. But the country soon filled up, and entered into the enjoyment of improved and civilized life.