By Luther F. Addington

By Luther F. Addington
     Although General Edward Braddock's army was defeated July 9, 1755 at the Forks of the Ohio and his army retreated eastward, the English persisted in renewing attacks upon the French and Indians until the French were expelled from the Ohio River Valley. However, this victory brought little relief from Indian attacks along Virginia's southwest border. To the contrary, the threat of attacks became more intense; threat of danger merely moved from one border to

     The Cherokees who had befriended the English in the French and Indian wars were aroused to hating the southwestern Virginia frontiersmen even before they reached their home in the South. On their way they stole horses to replace those they had lost in the war. The white settlers ran down many of the returning warriors and killed them. (1) This aroused among the Cherokees a deep resentment and hatred for Virginia's westernmost settlers. The treaty of peace signed between the English and French in Paris February 10, 1763 did nothing to allay the feeling.

     Furthermore, the Cherokees, Shawnees and Mingoes realized that the Virginia settlers were fast encroaching upon their favorite hunting grounds in the Clinch River Valley, and they were determined not to give them up without a vigorous protest.

     It was while this resentment on the part of the Indians was beginning to boil that Daniel Boone spent considerable time hunting in Southwestern Virginia and Kentucky and decided to remove his family and some of his neighbors from the Yadkin River in North Carolina to Kentucky. 

     In the summer of 1773 Daniel Boone met Captain William Russell in Clinch Valley; and the two seemed to have agreed to unite a strong party for a settlement in Kentucky, which place they meant to reach by way of Cumberland Gap.

     Boone, after making an agreement with Captain Russell for farming implements and seed, returned to his home on the Yadkin. There he persuaded his wife's people, the Bryans, and five other families to make the venture.

     On September 25, 1773, they set out with what belongings they could take. Upon reaching Wolf Hills, now Abingdon, Virginia, Daniel sent his seventeen-year-old son, James, in company with John and Richard Mendenhall, also of North Carolina, northward across country to Captain Russell's at Castle's Woods to obtain flour and farming tools. Daniel said he and the party would
follow the old wilderness trail through the Big Moccasin Gap, over Wallen's Ridge, go into camp and let the women and children rest until James and his party overtook them. (2)

     At Captain Russell's home, Henry Russell, seventeen-year-old son of Captain Russell, a man by the name of Isaac Crabtree, and two Negro slaves, Charles and Adam, joined James' party in order to help with the load of flour and farm implements. Captain Russell, himself, said he must follow later, since he had some necessary work to do at home before leaving. He would join David Gass who lived eight miles down river where he had laid claim to 435 acres of land in the
Sinking Creek vicinity on the south side of the Clinch.

     James and his party set out October 8, following the old Fincastle trail down past David Gass' place and crossed Clinch River at Hunter's Ford, now Dungannon. From that point they passed through Rye Cove, and took the wilderness trail over Powell Mountain to the headwaters of Wallen's Creek.

     James and his companions could see signs probably made by his father's party; he knew that the place of rendezvous was but a few miles ahead. However, darkness overtook them, and fearing they might lose their way, they went into camp the evening of October 9.

     They built a fire and ate a scanty meal. Then, lying down beside the fire, they tried to sleep. Although weary from the long hard walk, they couldn't sleep for the incessant howling of wolves evidently disturbed by the firelight.

     The Mendenhall boys were so alarmed at the weird howling that they walked up and down, listening and making no effort to conceal their fear. Isaac Crabtree, although he also may have been afraid, joked about the howling.

     "You boys are cowards," he said. "Might as well get used to such noises. Over in Kentucky where we're going wolves - and even buffaloes - will howl from the tree tops."

     The fire died down; its light dimmed. The howling reached further and further into the forest. Little by little day dawned. The men and boys sat up, stretched, listening. For a while there was no sound but the whimper of the waters of Wallen's Creek and the eerie whisper of the wind in the trees.

     But, suddenly, on the morning of October 10, that calm was broken by the war whoop of Indians who rushed up with knife blades raised and guns cracking.

     Henry Russell was shot through the hips and brought down. Then, an Indian attacked him with a hunting knife and began to stab him. He grabbed the knife blade with his bare hands, trying to protect himself. But he failed. Soon he lay dead. Yet, the Indians shot arrows into his body. (3)

     James was immediately attacked by a big Indian whom he knew to be Big Jim, a Shawnee, who had roamed the Yadkin Country and had pretended to be a friend of his father. Big Jim seemed to delight in whacking James with a knife and pounding him with a tomahawk. Instead of killing the boy instantly, the big Indian prolonged the torture.

     The Negro Adam who had escaped to a pile of driftwood heard James cry out, "Oh, Big Jim, please don't! I'm your friend. I thought you were my friend, too. Oh, Jim, have mercy on me!"

     But Big Jim gloating in his savage attack, continued to torture helpless James until he screamed out in agony, "Kill me, Big Jim! Quick! Get it over with!"

     Big Jim was intent upon making death come with all the torture possible, and he continued to whack away with his knife. James would, like Henry Russell, grab onto the blade until his hands were cut to shreds. Even after death, the slashing went on until the bodies were horribly mutilated. Then, leaving a war club on the scene, the Indians slunk away into the forest. (4)

     All in the party were killed save Isaac Crabtree and the two Negroes. Adam, after watching the massacre from the driftwood, ran into the woods, tried to find his way back to Castle's Woods but got lost and wandered alone several days before finding his way out.

     Negro Charles was taken prisoner and forced to travel with his captors. About forty miles from the scene of the attack, two Indians quarreled over possession of him, each wanting to take him North to sell him.  Unable to settle the dispute, the leader of the party slew Charles with a tomahawk; and, then, the disputants ceased to argue.

     Isaac Crabtree might have continued on the trail to tell Daniel Boone what had happened to his son; but, instead, he took to the woods and returned to Castle's Woods. Because of the outrage he became deeply embittered toward all Indians and swore revenge; and later he did stir up trouble, which only made Indian threats on the settlers more pronounced.

     Later in the day Captain Russell, Captain Gass and their small party came upon the murder scene. A runner was sent forward to warn Daniel to watch out for a possible attack on his people. Others began to dig graves.

     Upon receiving the bad news, Daniel Boone hurried his little crowd of people into a ravine for protection. They put out sentinels and scouts.

     The shocked and grieved Rebecca Boone could do nothing for her slain son, but to show her respect she sent a runner back with a clean linen sheet in which to wrap his body and keep it off the ground.

     Some writers say that Daniel pursued the attackers down a creek and then returned to camp to help defend the people there. At night a few of the Indians stole toward the camp, but Boone's defenders shot at them and chased them away. Upon scouting the premises next morning blood was found, indicating that some of the bullets had hit their marks.

     Although members of the party were alarmed, Daniel Boone still wanted to continue the journey. Captain Russell, however, persuaded him to take his family to the neighborhood of Castle's Woods and await a change in the warlike behavior of the Indians. Boone had sold his possessions on the Yadkin and could not well return there. So, he took Captain Russell's advice and went with him to the Clinch River Valley. The remainder of the party returned to the Yadkin or to the Holston settlements.

     Boone said he didn't want to crowd the families in either Russell's or Moore's Forts, both of which were in the Castle's Woods vicinity. He said he could support his family during the autumn and winter with his trusty rifle; and, if he could find an abandoned cabin he'd take it. (5)

     Fortunately, Captain David Gass had such a cabin on his farm situated about half way between Hunter's Ford, now Dungannon, and Castle's Woods, known as the Sinking Creek area. To this cabin Bone took his family and settled down for the winter.

     It was believed that the Indians guilty of this attack were Cherokees and Captain John Stuart, British Indian agent among the Cherokees, urged them to give up the murderers; and, as a result, one chief was executed and another escaped only by fleeing to the Chickaway tribe. It was learned later, however, that the marauding band was composed partially of Shawnees because some of the books and farming tools carried by the James Boone party were found and brought in and delivered to the whites by the northern Indians as a result of the treaty following Dunmore's War the next autumn. (6)

     Soon after the massacre of the James Boone party Isaac Crabtree, who managed to escape, threw the whole border into a state of panic when, keeping his vow to kill all Indians he could, began his killing foray at a horse race in the Watauga settlement in Tennessee. He shot and killed one Indian who was a mere bystander at the races.

     This murdered Indian was Cherokee Billy, a kinsman of an influential Cherokee chief.

     Settlers on the frontier were fearful of a revenge attack by the tribe. In order to prevent such a war some of the leading settlers hastened to assure the Cherokees of their disapproval of Crabtree's conduct. An award of 50 pounds English money was issued for Crabtree's arrest. To this amount Governor Dunmore of Virginia added 100 pounds.

     Several settlers knew of Crabtree's whereabouts and could easily have collected the reward, but they had suffered so much from Indian attacks that they had no inclination to turn up a man who had killed one of the savages.

     It was thought that no further trouble would come from Crabtree, but later hearing that a party of three Cherokees were hunting on the Nola Chucky River, he hurried thither with intent of attacking them. But, when upon arriving, he found thirty-seven instead of three. He returned to his father's home at Big Lick, now Saltville, Virginia.

     In order to quell his yen for private warfare the county officers of Fincastle County persuaded him to join a military group whose job it was to defend the border. (7) 

(1) Summer, Lew P., History of Southwest Virginia, p. 70 (2) Addington, R.

M., History of Scott County, Virginia, p. 14

(3) Draper Manuscript, 6C14 

(4) Draper Manuscript, 6C7-20; 6S79-83, 11CC12, 13C133 

(5)History of Scott County, Virginia op. Cit. P. 15; 

(6)History of Scott County, op. Cit p. 16 

(7) Draper Manuscripts.

     Pages 27 to 34

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