From charlesreid1


Author: Battle, Perrin, Kniffin (also see Genealogy/Books/Kentucky/Perrin 1888 - one of the earlier volumes of this set)

Title: Kentucky: A History of the State

Chapter 9 - The Pioneer and Pioneer Days

The peace of 1783 marks the close of the pioneer period in the history of Kentucky. For more than a decade, a few chosen spirits had suffered the "slings and arrows of outrageous fortune" with a patient fortitude unexcelled on any other page of history; but with the dawn of peace, a great tide of immigration set in toward the frontier, bringing new men and questions , and they who had laid the foundations of the State, amid the red billows of savage war, were, in the natural order of things, gradually supplanted.

These men and women were not a sordid folk, and in moving to the new country they were influenced scarcely less by the natural beauty of the region than by the opportunities it afforded to improve their fortunes. They were born or reared in a frontier community. They came of a race who sought a refuge in the New World to escape the oppression and bigotry of the old, and here, amid the influences of the boundlerss forest, had drawn in a spirit of freedom, self-reliance, and of a contented righteousness which characterized their new settlement. They were not saints, indeed, but hte first settlers were generally characterized by a sobriety of habit and judgement that counted "the life more than meat." They were enlightened children of nature and, in their simplicity, they entertained a deep affection for hte primitive charms of this new land, as of a fostering mother.

The early Kentuckians were not generally adventurers simply in search of hazardous experiences; they were not "one eyed trappers," nor professional "Indian slayers." On the contrary they were eminently practical men, who sought new homes where their growing families could reap the benefit of cheap lands, and where persevering labor might lead to competence.

The demands of the pioneer grew out of the undeveloped condition of the whole country, and made him a hunter rather than a farmer. His resources, as well as inducement for the cultivation of the land, were of the most limited kind, and obliged him to depend upon nature far more than upon art for his subsistence. His education and experience prepared him to prefer this kind of experience, and while he sought a locality which was likely to invite immigration, and thus lead to the appreciation of his preemption, his only hope of an ultimate competence, his experience led him to seek a land where the meager demands for the support of his family could be most readily supplied. This implied an abundance of game, a good range for his few head of stock, convenient materials for the construction of his rude dwelling and limited fencing, and plenty of good water.

These conditions were all happily blended in the new land. Springs bubbled up in all parts of the very garden spot of Kentucky, tall forests crowned the uplands, while in the glades and on the river-bottoms flourished the luxuriant cane, rye-grass and clover. But what more excited the admiration of immigrants was the profusion of game, which everywhere abounded and included "beasts of every American kind." Elks were found in the broken country; deer moving in small companies, or herding together to the number of a hundred head, thronged the uplands and valleys, where bears and buffaloes in large numbers were also found, adding piquancy to the mingled duty and pleasure of the hunt. The latter, it is said, came in vast herds of a thousand head, making broad paths to the licks, which they frequented, and shaking the earth in their ponderous flight.

The secret of the successful pursuit of this animal was soon learned by all, and it became the general object of hte hunter's prowess, hundreds eventually being slaughtered simply for their tongues, which were considered a great delicacy. Such improvidence in the use of nature's bounties soon drove the buffalo beyond the Mississippi, and in 1784 only a few were to be found in Kentucky. Deer, turkeys, wolves, foxes, and those woodland friends of man, the squirrel and raccoon, remained much later, the last two still being the sport of the younger hunters.

The first settlers, though not unacquainted with the formalities of government, lightly esteemed its functions, and were prepared to reject its sanctions in their new home. The early attempt to establish a formal government by the Transylvania colonists, though liberally devised, was rejected, primarily, as an innovation upon the inherent freedom of the frontier. The pioneer claimed, by virtue of the risk of his bold adventure, a certain absolution from legal responsibility which the necessities of the case obliged society at large to grant, andit was only when a different class of interest s became prominent that the unwritten law of the community assumed something of regularity. With the increase of numbers democracy delegated its powers, and, by a single step farther, lost itself in the embryonic government of the commonwealth.

The class of adventurers which Logston is in some respects rather a mild type was not so conspicuous in numbers or prowess in Kentucky as elsewhere on the western border, but no part of the frontier was without its representatives .They seldom had families, made no pre-emption, or lightly abandoned it with the crude improvements they made, and preferred to live apart from their fellows. They were too often of a quarrelsome disposition, which developed into ferocity when the natives were concerned, and led them to defy law, the general weal, and every consideration of humanity, to satisfy their abnormal thirst for the blood of the savages. These characteristics, it will be observed, represent the least favorable development of a class of people generally designated as "first settlers," "a kind of men," to use the language of Michaux, "who are unable to stop on the soil which they have cleared, and, under pretense of finding better land, a more healthy country, or a greater abundance of beasts of chase, keep always moving farther, constantly direct their steps to the points most remote from every part of the American population, and establish themselves in the vicinity of the nations of the savages, whom they brave even in their own country."

Character of the First Settlers

Boone also, in all his instincts, tastes and habits, was closely allied to this class of "first settlers." He had, at the same time, a prudent regard for the future, which led him to labor for an eventual competence for his family and amid all the strange vicissitudes of the frontier he never neglected the cultivation of his plantation near Boonesborough. He was, in fact, one of those connecting links between the hunter and the farmer which blended the social product of the early adventurers into the more stable form of society which arose out of the influence of the pioneer husbandman. After the declaration of peace, his name loses significance inm the annalks of the border, and while at one time he cocupied a prominent place in the county government, and once represented the frontier in the Virginia assembly, he was soon superseded in those functions, and wandered amid the scenes of an expanding civilization, a relic of a by-gone period, unappreciative and unappreciated.

"History has left a thousand of their more brilliant actions unrecorded, which would have done them great honor, but for want of eloquent historians."

These western nomads were not the precursors of the permanent population in every settlement. Like birds of passage their flight was "from zone to zone," and once the migration was begun they did not stay their course until they reached the remote locality to which rumor, or a kind of instinct, led them. It was a common occurrence for the head of a family to be moved by a sudden impulse to go "farther west."

Occasionally, necessitated by the exigency of the way, a stop would be made long enough "to raise a crop," but, this secured, the journey was resumed and prosecuted to the end. This class of immigrants left slight impress onf their personality upon permanent social institutions, but their service to the State was none the less real. Fitted by their tastes and experience to meet the rude shock of border life, they prepared the way for higher forms of society, and then passed off the stage of action almost unheeded.

It will be observed that he (the pioneer husbandman) was the successor of the "first settler" in wielding the dominant social influence rather than in the matter of immigration. He was among the earliest to reach the frontier, though doubtless in fewer numbers; and here amid the distractions and dangers of an Indian war he gradually extended the area of his clearings, furnished the sinews of war, and, in case of a general expedition, swelled the ranks of the invading army. Many of this class were men of some wealth, for the time, who "took up" large areas of land and on some favorable spot erected a station. Such places of protection were the welcome resort of the less provident class, who, in return for board or the use of certain lands, became the retainers of the founders of the station.

Quote from Dr. Christopher Graham in Collins, Vol. II, p. 615, of the widow of James Harrod:

When in the fort, I dreamed on night that the Indians had attacked some of our men outside the fort; and that when my husband ran out to help them, I saw an Indian shoot him, and when he fell, stoop over and stab him. The very next day three men were chopping on a log on the creek alongside the old Harrod fort, close by, when we heard guns fire and saw the three men killed and the Indians scalping them. The Colonel started out with the others, but so forcibly now was my dream impressed upon me that I clung to him. He forcibly tore himself from me, and hurried out. I ran up to the highest point and looked out. The Indians were in turn fired upon, and I saw the Colonel shoot one and run him a short distance down the creek, and when the Indian fell, I plainly saw my husband stoop over (just hte "contrary" of my dream) and stab him. When he came back, he did not exult, but seemed distressed, and said he wished never to kill another of the poor natives, who were defending their fatherland, and that his feeling was forced upon him by the rebound of his knife, when he plunged it into the heart of the fallen Indian, who looked up so piteously into his face. He shed a tear when telling me.

and back to regular narrator:

Kentucky immigrants were drawn from the same classes as their contemporaries in other parts of the border, though circumstances already pointed out had a powerful influence in remolding their character as a whole. The approach to this famous "cane-land" was not made by the ordinary extension of the frontier, and a considerable extent of good land intervened between the old and the new settlements .The story of its attractions had reached far into the interior, and emigrants were drawn hither by its enchantments rather than urged by their necessities, and, once in possession, they adopted it as their native land, and defended it with the fervor of patriotism.

The matrons of the frontier, in time... emulated the dexterity of their fathers, brothers and husbands in the use of the gun and ax in defense of their homes and children.

It is sometimes said that infants of pioneers were less addicted to crying than those of a later period; but whether this be true or not, numerous well-attested incidents are related when nursing children have passed through the terrors of a midnight attack, and afterward lain quietly in hiding, when a single sound would have sealed the doom of mother and child.

Boys were early instructed in the use of firearms, and a rifle or shotgun was usually their first piece of property. As a garrison for the station when the men were drawn off for some expedition, or as messengers and hunters, they performed conspicuous service, and greatly augmented the military strength of the frontier. During the winter of 1776-1777 the settlements suffered much from the scarcity of food. The small stock of corn was soon exhausted, and, while the forest teemed with game, the Indians were so numerous and watchful that hunters were almost daily kliled or wounded. In this predicament a lad only about seventeen years of age became Harrodsburg's sole dependence. This was James Ray, who was accustomed to mount an old but strong horse, the last of forty head belonging to his step-father, Maj. McGary, and starting off before day break rode up the beds of streams to hide his trail. After gaining a safe distance from the fort, he spent the day in hunting, and returned by the same route after dark, bringing his game with him. Thus day after day and week after week he successfully eluded the enemy and supplied the fort. Older hunters tried his plan but were discovered, and finally resigned the perilous duty to the lad whose boldness and sagacity preserved him through all the peril which beset him.

Immigration of 1780

The remarkable immigration of 1780 marks the turning point. Thenceforward the tide of population flowed across the border with persistent power; cabins sprang up singly or in settlements of two or three throughout the central region, and in 1783, "the settlement of Kentucky was considered as formed." It was no longer viewed as a hunter's paradise, but a place where a home could be readily planted and a competence easily achieved.

The route followed by a great number of these immigrants, and, indeed, from 1780 to the beginning of the present century by all travelers seeking any part of the West, was by the Ohio River. The principal point of embarkation was Redstone Old Fort - Brownsvile, Penn. - a place equally accessible from Maryland, Virginia, and in a direct line from Philadelphia and the East. The emigrant from Virginia directed his course to Cumberland, and thence by Braddock's Road to his destination, some sixty miles northwest. Previous to 1783, and for several years later, the roads were impracticable for wheeled vehicles, and overland transportation was effected by means of pack-horses.

Even to this mode of transportation the paths across the mountains were difficult and often dangerous. In some places they were barely passable; at other points they ran along the brink of a precipice, where a single misstep involved great danger if not destruction, or were overflown by streams, which it was necessary to ford.

Most of the early settlers had little to bring with them. Farming implements, a few cooking utensils, a small stock of supplies, and the women and children were all that the emigrant found it necessary to provide for. These were placed on the backs of horses, which with one or more cows and occasional sheep or hog made up the cavalcade, which was led by the men and boys on foot.

Horses which carried the younger children were furnished with a pack-saddle, to either side of which was hung a creel, fashioned from hickory withes in the form of a crate. In these were stowed the clothing and bedding, in the center of which a child or two was securely placed and guarded against accidents by strong lacings, which prevented their falling out. Occasionally a creel would break loose and roll with its precious freight along the ground, throwing the whole company into confusion and alarm. Not unfrequently, accidents and difficulties of the way would separate mothers from their children throughout the day, and the whole family assembled only at the evening meal, when the rear of the train reached the chosen stopping place long after the van. No friendly inn then opened its doors to the weary emigrant, nor could they have afforded to pay for its accommodations, had it existed. The meal was prepared in the open air, and the night was well advanced before the tired parents could seek repose in the protection of a blanket in a retired nook by the road side.

Before the general pacification of the Indians, in 1795, few single cabins were reared in localities remote from others. The new-comer would usually select land in the immediate vicinity of some settlement which afforded his family shelter, while he, "camping out" in the meantime, would prepare the new home. When sites at considerable distance from settlements were chosen, it was the custom for several families to join in the enterprise , and locate their lands in such a way as to allow the several cabins to be erected within "supporting" distance of each other.

The earlier settlers generally brought their families to some strong station, and then, equipped with an ax, rifle, frying-pan and a small stock of salt and meal, the fathers would set out on a prospecting tour, to be gone, frequently, for several months. Before his return he often made the first necessary clearing, and erected a temporary hut to receive his family. Later, as cabins were more frequently found in the country, the immigrant manifested no hesitation in breaking up his home in a distant State, and with his family and household goods, on pack-animals or wagons, start out for a new home, influenced and guided solely by rumors and picked-up information on the road. Deciding upon a locality for his future residence, he found no difficulty in securing temporary shelter for his family in some cabin, already well filled by its owners, but which the simplicity of early manners and an unstinted hospitality rendered elastic enough to comfortably entertain the welcome addition to the community.

Another and important source of wealth, or rather of comfort, which was the form in which frontier affluence expressed itself, was the stock, which immigrants took care to bring with them in unusual variety. Among these the cow obtained a prominence which the plainness of frontier fare exalted to the distinction of a public benefactor. As Dr. Drake expresses the fact - "old Brindle was then a veritable member of the family, and took her slop at the cabin door, while the children feasted upon her warm milk within. The calf grew up in their companionship, and disputed with them for its portion of the delicious beverage which she distilled from the cane and luxuriant herbage in which she walked through the day."