By the time Scandinavian, Irish, and German settlers began rapidly pushing the frontier away from the banks of the Delaware in the 1720s the trade for European goods had already sparked a technological revolution in the native world. Indians had abandoned bows in favor of muskets as hunting weapons, and used metal pots instead of leak-proof baskets and hot stones to boil water. They made shirts and leggings mostly from wool and cotton cloth, not buckskin. They no longer built traditional wigwams and long houses, but copied the log houses of Scandinavians, or learned from Moravian missionaries how to build log houses like the ones the Moravians knew in Bohemia and Saxony. Indians were also beginning to raise livestock and poultry, and add wheat and other small grains to their crops of corn, and grow orchards instead of gathering wild fruits.
Backwoods settlers benefited as fully from the example of native people. The gardens of Scandinavians, Germans, and Irishmen featured corn, squash, pumpkin, and watermelon. Pones of Indian meal baked in the ashes of hearth and camp fires took the place of bread, and vessels made of gourds substituted for pewter ware. The immigrants slaughtered buffalo, elk and deer before their own herds could increase. And, like the natives, they preferred bear to any other game, and used bear oil on everything from guns to corn mush. When textiles weren't available they dressed deerskins with brains, or tanned them in oak bark "tea" until they were only slightly more substantial than rawhide, and used awls with long, thin strips of buckskin to stitch together breeches and moccasins.
Before the American Revolution natives didn't object too strenuously to an occasional party of white hunters making a few bucks from their hunting grounds (the term "buck" was coined in the mid-eighteenth to signify the price of a single deer skin) as long as they were able to exploit the exploiters. William Carr told John Redd about three white men in Powell's valley who hunted and trapped from October to April, exchanging pleasantries with Indian hunters who wished them luck. Nevertheless, when time came for the white men to bale their skins and furs for the trip home "12 or 15 Indians came up to the camp, took possession" of "horses, skins, furs, guns, traps," gave the hunters "three old guns and some powder and lead," and ordered them to leave. "The land and game was theirs," they said, "and the hunters ought to feel themselves under many obligations to the Indians for sparing their lives." Other hunters, including Daniel Boone—robbed in 1770 by the half-Scots, half-Cherokee Will Emery—were victims of this sort of wilderness piracy. Indians didn't consider it stealing, and wouldn't have hesitated to kill hunters from an enemy tribe of Indians.
Major William Black, grandson of "nearly the first" white settler west of North Mountain, told a story about some Indians who stopped at a cabin on a knob overlooking the Cowpasture River. They told the man who lived there if he wanted to "see some fun" to "get up a little before day" and watch an Indian camp they had discovered "in a bottom some distance off ... but not to come too nigh." Next morning the man rose in time to see the Indians attack and kill nearly all the Indians in camp at the first fire.
On another occasion Black's father "went out to get his horses, and fell in with some Indians [who] were going his direction ... As they went, some wild turkeys called 'tuck' [and] the Indians [who were with him] were all down in the grass in an instant—as if shot." Black "started his dogs in and chased [the turkeys] up," after which the Indians "got up and went along," clearly more afraid of hereditary enemies than of the white man with them.
|The Jefferson-Frye map shows the Iroquois-Catawba war trace after it was adjusted by the Treaty of Lancaster in 1744. Before then it followed the South Fork of the Shenandoah east of "Peaked Ridge" (Massanutten Mountain).|
The Valley was a dangerous place because it was a natural corridor between the Cherokee and Catawba in the south and the Iroquois in the north. Bear, deer, bison, and elk abounded undisturbed by habitations of Indians who judiciously avoided living near paths between antagonists.
Both sides in this intertribal war were important to Britain's strategy against the French; and the English were important trading partners to the natives. But with few exceptions settlers were not traders. To them the natives didn't represent profits but a threat, and no matter how benign, drew suspicious stares from the white intruders. "The Hathins Road to Ware," white men declared "has proved hortfull to severil of ous that were ye first settlers of these back woods." They begged the governor on July 30, 1742 to commission "men amongst ous" with "Hart and Curidg to hed us" and "defend your poor Sobjacks Intrist from ye violince of ye Haithen."
"The place was a New Settlement," said Reverend John Craig, who arrived in 1740, "A wilderness in a proper sense ... with numbers of the Heathen traveling ... in Small Companies from twenty to fifty" who "must be Supply'd at any house they Call at ... or they become their own Stuarts & Cooks Spairing Nothing they Chuse to Eat or Drink in the house and Carries with them bread and Meat as they please." Natives, however, believed cattle and hogs let loose to graze on clover and forage for chestnuts, were a new kind of game as free for the killing as bison and bear. And although they were "Generally Civil," they were potentially "dangerous for they Go all Arm'd for war in their way."
By 1750 the contact point between natives and settlers had shifted farther west. On his return from Kentucky in 1750 Dr. Thomas Walker noted at Robert Armstrong's on Jackson's River that "[t]he People here ... would be better able to support Travellers was it not for the great number of Indian Warriors, that frequently take what they want from them, much to their prejudice."
Occasionally a simple act of kindness was enough to overcome prejudice. One morning on Middle River John Kerr went out to hunt the family's horses and turned back to the house only to find himself cut off by Indians. He feared the worst until they held out some wild grapes which he gratefully accepted as a peace offering.
At other times the dark passions of lawless white men exploded. In 1753 at Erwin Patterson's store south of the Great Lick of Roanoke a hunter named John Connelly savagely attacked Old Hop, chief of the Overhill Cherokees, and beat him so "That the Blood gushed out of his mouth and Nose." Interpreter John Watts jumped to pull Connelly off, "other wise he Believed they would have killed him." Watts accused storekeeper Erwin Patterson of instigating the attack. The interpreter said Patterson and the chief "had many Quarlles." He also said the chief's wife admitted to him that "Patterson had Debautched her and offten was convivial with her and promised to take her for his wife as soon as he would go to the Nation."
In years to come the Cherokee would have more reasons to complain of the white man's rapaciousness. And they would face worse violence than the beating of Old Hop. Friendly Indians traveling through the back settlements would face death not only from ruffians like Connelly, but from ordinary settlers who believed all Indians preyed on them like wolves. They killed wolves.
|Kanagagota, or Standing Turkey. His uncle Old Hop was attacked by John Connelly at Erwin Patterson's store. His son Choconantee was later killed by white men in Anderson's barn.|
Ironically, one tragic incident began in 1765 with a demonstration of good will, when militia commanders on Virginia's southwestern frontier kindly sent a white man to provide safe conduct for a party of ten Cherokee who were after the scalps of their mutual enemies, the Shawnee. The war party was led by two warriors, Necoknowa and Choconantee. Their white emissary saw them safely past the frontier where settlers couldn't always be counted on to make sure of intentions before shooting.
Seeing the Cherokee on Reed Creek may have stirred memories of a time ten years earlier when whites and Indians came together "above 40 miles from our outmost settlemt" to eye the trade goods at Samuel Stalnaker's (Chilhowie, Va.). Others may have remembered William Ingles and John Draper humbly petitioning the Cherokee to intercede with the Shawnee for the return of their wives and children. Veterans of the disastrous Sandy Creek expedition in 1756 would have remembered firing guns to salute Cherokee warriors who came to help them strike the Shawnee towns. The Cherokee returned the salute "with seeming great joy, and afterwards honored us with a war dance." Major Andrew Lewis bestowed "Captain's commissions [on] Yellow Bird and Round-O."
Necoknowa may also have remembered five Cherokee warriors who in 1758 were ambushed and killed in a Dunkard Bottom peach orchard by militia under a Captain Robert Wade. Perhaps he didn't blame the whites too harshly. New River was a war zone; the Indians "had with them 5 head of horse Kind & Skelps" that were probably French, but could have been ripped from the heads of settlers. "They did not appear no waise Like friends," said John Echols. Abraham Dunkleberry, a hunter who Wade met along the way, said they were Cherokees and therefore allies, "yet he agreed that they were Rogues; which seemed to put the [captain] to a stand" and caused him to wait until "Dunkleberry packt up his skins to go off" before giving the command to follow and kill the Indians. After the incident the French easily incited the Cherokee to war against the English. But the Indians directed most attacks against the frontiers of the Carolinas, not Virginia.
In Augusta county whites did not have feelings of nostalgia for Indians. Unlike settlers on the southwestern frontier who were distant neighbors of the Cherokee, settlers around Staunton hadn't any frequent, peaceful contact with natives for almost twenty years. Young folk in particular had come of age with no recollection of Indians as anything but antagonists, their very real childhood terrors magnified by tales true and false of Shawnee and Delaware atrocities.
In 1764 Reverend John Brown reported: "I was in [Staunton] the 5th day of june and saw John McClanachan returned from the pursuit of the Indians that had kill'd and taken 28 persons on the Cow-Pasture [River.] [T]hese were 30 in number [which] Capt. [Charles] Lewis came up with beyond greenbrier and fired upon them kill'd only a french man dead on the spot and it is thought wounded some Indians. [Seven] prisoners [were] rescued one of whom was [old Elijah McClanahan]."
Yet seventy years later one of the captives, Joseph Mays, recollected that Elijah McClanahan was killed, and provided Samuel Kercheval with additional lurid details: two men ... burned inside a house, "[a] little daughter of Fitzgerald's ... cruelly burnt ... [T]hey killed its mother the next day [but] it was rescued by the whites [and] brought part of the way home [before it] died at [Marlin's] Ford on Greenbriar river." There's no way of knowing what really happened. Seventy years undoubtedly changed many details in people's minds.
Hysteria was rampant. The Augusta court committed Alexander McAllister and Hugh Millikan to jail "on suspicion of their favoring the design of the enemy Indians," but released them in November of 1764 because nothing could be proved. In Staunton—which had never been attacked before—jittery citizens "hired 13 or 14 men to watch them as well waking or sleeping ... and some walk around the Court house no doubt to holoo out when they see the Indians enter the town." West of town Reverend Brown's mother and sister were "not a little affraid and I think no wonder of it for there were none beyond her but John Trimble and Finley ... I fear there is Danger on that quarter."
Indeed there was danger. In September, at Trimble's on Middle River, beyond the home of Reverend Brown's mother and sister, a mile east of Buffalo Branch, and seven west of Staunton, a renegade white man or "half-blood" named Captain Dickson "with a party of 12 or 13 warriors" captured fifteen-year-old James Trimble and "a colored boy named Adam." The boys were trying to catch a horse to plow, and perhaps the Indians decoyed them with a horse bell. Old John Trimble, worried because the horses suddenly ran toward the house, took his gun into the woods to have a look. The sound of the shots that killed him sent his wife Mary scurrying for the woods where she watched as Indians hauled out her pregnant daughter Kitty Estill and hoisted her and the household plunder on horses before heading west.
Captain George Moffett—who ducked into a creek in 1763 to hide after Indians defeated his patrol on Jackson's River—allowed the raiders "some days the start" to be "certain of taking them at surprize." The pursuers caught up with Dickson west of the Alleghenies, and waited until most of the Indians "turned out to hunt" before shooting down the guards in camp. They retook captives and plunder. But George Moffett and his uncle William Christian weren't after plunder. Mary Trimble, who married John Trimble when her first husband John Moffett disappeared, was George Moffett's mother and William Christian's sister. The captives, Kitty Estill and James Trimble, were George's sister and half-brother.
Necoknowa's warriors created a buzz in the anti-Indian atmosphere when they passed through Staunton on May 4 to visit an old acquaintance, Col. Andrew Lewis on Lewis' Creek. The Cherokees wanted a pass through the Valley to Winchester and to Fort Cumberland. Beyond the fort they were to join forces with other warriors to attack "the Ohio Indians." Lewis lodged and fed them for a couple of days, trying in vain without an interpreter to warn them they were in danger among the white people. He gave them a Union Jack with a pass pinned to it, hoping it would be enough to get them safely past the worst Indian haters.
Five miles north of Staunton, on Middle River, the Cherokee bedded down for the night in the barn of John Anderson, one of the valley's earliest settlers who, with his brothers George, James, and William, had maintained close ties with the Christians and Moffetts since they all came from Pennsylvania in 1733. Gilbert Christian—William Christian's nephew—married a Margaret Anderson whose brother William married Gilbert's sister. Perhaps John Anderson let out that Indians were in his barn. Whoever it was, William Cunningham and John King, bent on carnage, rounded up over twenty accomplices, including young William Anderson, and positioned them around the barn to be ready to fire.
As daylight filtered through the cracks between the logs, rifles blazed at the sleepers, killing five and wounding two. The surviving Indians leaped for the door. One warrior launched an arrow into James Clendenning before the attackers scattered. When Col. Lewis arrived he recognized his "poor dead Brothers" Necoknowa and the Pipe. The body of Choconantee, son of Standing Turkey, was found some time later. Two of the Cherokees who escaped took revenge by killing "a poor unhappy blind man and his Wife" ten miles from the murder scene. They also wounded a man on horseback, but they were more intent on getting away on his horse than on taking his scalp.
James Clendenning, wounded at Anderson's, was immediately arrested. But before his escort could get him into jail a mob intervened and set him free. Another suspect, Patrick Duffy, spent three nights in jail before over one hundred armed friends came to get him out. When they couldn't bully the jailer into giving up the key they hacked down the jailhouse door with axes, "declaring that they would never suffer a man to be Confined ... for killing of Savages."
It wasn't long before the real savages justified their crime—as usual by blaming the victims. They went to "a Majistrate [who] took the Depositions of several persons in Order to find out whether [the Indians] was Enemys or Friends: some of the Murderers was permitted to swear, in particular Patrick Duffy ... [T]his I think is a method of Law I am not in the least acquainted with," said Lewis, "to first kill and then make inquiry who they are ..." As "proof" they cited the suspicions of former captives of the Delaware and Shawnee, who said "they thought they had seen one or two of [the Cherokees] among the Ohio Indians."
The murderers called themselves "Augusta Boys" to show solidarity with the Paxton Boys, another band of genocidal maniacs in Pennsylvania. And they enjoyed almost universal support in the backwoods. Fauquier urged Lewis to spirit suspects out of the mountains to stand trial in tidewater. But according to John McClure, a neighbor of murderer Hugh Allen and sons John, Billy, and Hughy on Middle River, if they had attempted to arrest anyone, "the neighbours ... wo'dn't have allowed it. They wo'd as leave have taken arms [against] king George, as not."
Fauquier bought off the Cherokee with a trade agreement and presents "to the relations of the men who had been kill'd, to dry their eyes, and mitigate their grief." The Overhill towns sent their chief negotiator Attakullakulla, the Little Carpenter, to collect blood money in Williamsburg, "to make what was crooked, strait; what was sullied, bright; and all things, easy." Before leaving the capitol, however, he requested "a rifle, and a pair of pistols for himself, and a gun [each] for six of his company whom he had left" on the frontier at Chiswell's lead mines, so they could fight their way out of Virginia if need be. The governor had word that "forty pick'd men, well arm'd, were set out from the hot springs in Augusta County, with an intent to cut off the Little Carpenter, and his Party ..." The Cherokee refused a military escort, relieving the governor of any responsiblity should the backwoodsmen, "being so inveterate to all Indians friends or foes," clash with low country troops and "set one part of the Colony to cut the Throats of the other." The Cherokee emissaries made it home safely.
But the Augusta Boys had been eyeing Cherokee land for a long time. About 1760 a party of fifteen, most of them from Middle River, including William and George Anderson, and Gilbert and Robert Christian, had crossed the Alleghenies to scope out the fertile valley walled on the southeast by the Iron Mountains, and on the northwest by Clinch Mountain. They got as far as "Clinch River near its junction with the Tennessee" and passed some time feeding flour and water to a couple of "Buffalow calves" who followed them around like dogs. Sixty Cherokee "on their way to fight the northern Indians" interupted their amusement by insisting they swap most of the flour and ammunition for "old useless shot guns." The land prospectors went home.
But In 1761 the same men came back as militiamen in a mostly symbolic campaign against the Cherokee under William Byrd, and helped build Fort Robinson near the long island of Holston. After the campaign they "Built a cabbin on Reedy Creek about one mile above its junction with the Holston [where they remained] during the winter and part of the next spring, [planting] corn and [making] each an improvement on Reedy Creek" about forty miles beyond the frontier.
More white settlers came in 1769. Even larger immigrations followed in 1770 and '71. And in 1773 settlers "filled up" the country between the north and south forks of Holston. They were on point of a knife poised at the heart of Cherokee country. Most were Augusta folk: Christians, Andersons, Kings, and James Clendenning who had got a Cherokee arrow in his shoulder for being one of the gunmen at Anderson's barn.
In October of 1773 a Cherokee named Ben, a personal acquaintance of Daniel Boone, led an assault on the stockmen driving cattle for a party of settlers Boone was leading to Kentucky. Ben and his companions took their time killing James Boone and Henry Russell, slicing the boys' living flesh until they bled to death. Isaac Crabtree escaped but saw and heard it happen.
A year later Crabtree traveled from Big Lick (Saltville, Va.) to a horse race on Watauga River. He walked up to three Cherokees who were also there to see the horses run and sank his tomahawk in the brains of a boy named Billy. Other whites restrained Crabtree from killing an Indian woman and another boy, but the they apparently didn't think the attack was serious enough to arrest Crabtree. He was soon back at his father's in Big Lick, and later went looking for more victims on Nolichucky river. Local officials offered fifty pounds for his arrest, and Virginia's governor offered one hundred fifty more. But Arthur Campbell regretfully wrote Governor Dunmore, "I am persuaded it would be easier to find 200 Men to screen [Crabtree] from the Law, than ten to bring him to Justice ..."
The majority of the Cherokee Nation let the matter die, and even tried to divert the tide of white settlement from their Tennessee homes by selling their Kentucky hunting grounds to North Carolina entrepreneur Richard Henderson. Dragging Canoe, whom William Martin described as "a bold—daring—popular—magnanimous chief," would have none of it. He realized "boundary lines [were] regarded by [the whites], no longer than it suited their convenience to transcend them." Not only did Dragging Canoe try to hang on to Kentucky, he tried his best to win back the land between the Clinch and Iron Mountains where the Wilderness Road began.
In July of 1776 he risked, and lost, everything in a pitched battle on the barren flats north of the long island. During the battle