Boys' Book of Frontier Fighters - Edwin Sabin

Big Turtle Breaks the Net

and Meets his Father at Boonesborough

At the beginning of the year 1778 the settlers of Boonesborough found themselves again out of salt. Salt is a habit. White people, red people and all animals get along very well with no salt, until they have learned the taste of it; and then they will travel almost any distance to get it. Salt licks are famous places for deer.

The Licking River of northeastern Kentucky was named by reason of the salty springs along its course. It lay about forty miles northeast from Boonesborough. Boonesborough itself had been planted only some sixty yards from a small salt lick, but this proved not enough. So on January 8 Daniel Boone led thirty men and several horses packed with large "boiling pans," to the Lower Blue Licks of the Licking River.

The process of making salt here was slow. Eight hundred and forty gallons of the water needs must be boiled down, to obtain one bushel of salt. But there was no great hurry. It was the winter season, when the Indians usually stayed home.

Two or three of the men hunted for meat, while the others made salt. They all lived well; game was plenty in the neighborhood of licks. A month had passed.

On Saturday, February 7, Daniel Boone was hunting by himself, with horse and rifle, in a snow-storm. He had killed a buffalo, tied the best of the meat upon his horse, and was trudging for camp, when four Indians surprised him.

For a few moments he worked fast, to defend himself, untie the meat, mount his horse and escape. But the thongs were stiff with the cold. He, too, was stiff, and his fingers grew numb. He sprang behind a tree, his rifle ready, but saw himself surrounded.

The four Indians were shielded, likewise. They laughed at his efforts, and waxed bolder. They had Daniel Boone!

"Come out, Boone," they called. "Come out. No fight, no get hurt. Many Injuns near."

So he wisely surrendered before he lost his scalp.

It was well that he had done this. The four Indians took him to their main party. There were one hundred and two Shawnees, altogether, and two white allies, marching down under Chiefs Munseka and Black Fish to attack Boonesborough and avenge the murder, last fall, of the Chief Corn-stalk party when prisoners in the American fort at Point Pleasant on the West Virginia side of the Ohio River.'

The capture of Captain Daniel Boone was hailed with great joy. The Shawnees scarcely had expected to achieve this feat. Once before he had been taken, but had escaped while his guards were drunk. He was a hard man to hold; now they were determined to keep him.

They seemed to know that he and his men had gone out from Boonesborough, salt-making. That was why they had chosen this time for the attack. Now they demanded that he tell his men at the licks to surrender likewise.

"We will surprise them, too, and kill them. Or let them surrender and they shall not be harmed," said Black Fish.

Daniel Boone had been thinking rapidly. He understood Indian nature. The Shawnees were treating him kindly—they respected him as a great chief who had always met them fairly. He had killed a number of their warriors, but only when fighting man to man against odds. He trusted the word of Black Fish.

Burdened with prisoners got at a bargain, so to speak, the Shawnees might prefer to go home rather than attack Boonesborough. But if his men fought and killed, they likely enough would be cut to pieces; the Shawnees, blood maddened, would attack Boonesborough—and woe to the women and children!

"I will tell them to surrender," he promised. "I have your word."

"That is good," Black Fish answered. "They shall not be harmed."

In the morning they all marched the few miles to the Blue Licks camp. Covered by the Indians' tomahawks and guns, he stood forth, at the edge of the snowy timber, and hallooed. He stated just what had happened, and what was likely to happen now if they resisted.

The fact that he himself had surrendered scored heavily. He was not a man to give up without good cause.

"Boone is prisoner!"

The sight rather took the tuck out of the salt-makers. They knew him for a man of sound common-sense; his word, in Indian matters, was law; and they surrendered, also. But it was a bitter pill.

However, Chief Black Fish proved true. Two of the camp hunters, Thomas Brooks and Flanders Callaway, were still out; and two of the salt-makers had returned to Boonesborough, with salt and the news that all was prosperous at the Licks. This left twenty-seven to march with the Shawnees.

As Daniel Boone had hoped, instead of continuing on to Boonesborough the Shawnees hastened northward, to display their triumph in their town of Little Chillicothe on the Little Miami River in southwestern Ohio. Twenty-seven prisoners, without the loss of a scalp! And American prisoners were worth money, these days. The British father at Detroit was paying $100 for each one brought in to him.

Knowing this, the Boone men were encouraged to believe that none of them would be tortured; for their bodies were more valuable than their scalps.

It was a ten days' journey, in very cold weather, to Little Chillicothe. Daniel Boone says that on the way his party "received as good treatment as prisoners could expect from savages." The good treatment was not broken. He recalled that last year James Harrod, of Harrod's Fort, had wounded a Shawnee, then had nursed him in a cave and let him go. Possibly this was one reason for the kindness of the Shawnees.

At any rate, he was given the name Big Turtle, because he was so strongly built, and was adopted as a son by Chief Black Fish. Sixteen of the men likewise were then adopted, by chiefs and old women and warriors.

Big Turtle tried to bear his new honors modestly. He and the others worried considerably about their families, down at Boonesborough. What would be the feelings there, when nobody returned from the Blue Licks! Still, they could not help themselves. Big Turtle counseled patience, and set the example. He was a silent kind of a man, who bided his time until the right opportunity should come.

On March 10, about three weeks after their arrival at Chillicothe, he, and the ten men who had not been adopted were taken north to Detroit. There the ten men were sold for $100 apiece in goods. Big Turtle was proudly placed on exhibition, but he was not for sale.

The fame of Daniel Boone of Kentucky had spread widely. Now here he was—a tall, strongly-framed, slightly stooped man, with a long and noiseless stride and a low and quiet voice. He wore buckskin. His face was high-cheeked and thin, his nose a little hooked, his chin firm.

The lieutenant-governor at Detroit, General Hamilton, offered Black Fish $500 for him. Black Fish refused.

"I will not sell. He is a great captain. He is my son. He will stay with me. You see that I have him."

The English in Detroit made much of Daniel Boone. They liked his manners. They entertained him, and questioned him about his adventures, and offered him money.

"I thank you," he answered, "but I cannot accept, for I should not be able to repay."

Governor Hamilton also treated him well; insisted that he be ransomed in some way, so that he might return home on parole; otherwise he might yet be killed, should the Indians get angry. But Big Turtle shook his head. He had rather go back to Chillicothe and take his chances.

Daniel Boone


Having exhibited him for two weeks, Chief Black Fish and warriors escorted him back to Chillicothe. They left Detroit on April 10, and were fifteen days on the trail: another disagreeable march. Big Turtle made no complaint, he acted as much Indian as they, and they thought more highly of him than ever. They marveled that a white man should equal them.

Pretty soon, as he had not tried to escape, and did not sulk or shirk, they grew to look upon him as one of them forever. Did he not mingle with them, and eat as they ate, and sleep as they slept, and appear perfectly satisfied? Other white men had become Indians; so why not he? The Indian life was the best life, the Shawnees the greatest of nations, and he would be a chief!

A cunning man, was Daniel Boone. They could not see behind his face. At the shooting matches he allowed them to beat him. This pleased them immensely; they did not suspect that he planted his balls precisely where he had purposely aimed; and that he was wise enough to know that if he beat an Indian, the Indian would be his enemy. Instead, he gained a friend with every shot. They sent him out hunting, under guard. He brought in deer, and gave the meat away.

Finally, to test him, they sent him out alone—but they watched him. He did not attempt to run off; he came back, with more meat. He was well aware that they had watched him, but he said nothing about it. Then Chief Black Fish decided to trust him completely. He only counted the bullets, each time, by doling out two or three.

"Here are your bullets. We know you never miss. For each bullet, a deer."

"That is good," replied Big Turtle.

He was smarter than they. In the woods he cut a bullet in two, and used half charges of powder. Two deer, to each ball and each full charge of powder! In this way he gradually laid aside ammunition for future use.

He frequently wondered about Boonesborough. How was the place getting along? How were his family? No words came up from there. But if it had been attacked, he would have heard.

On the first of June the Black Fish family took him eastward to some salt licks on the Scioto River, and put him at work making salt. This caused him to think of home more than ever, if that were possible. After he had been there ten days he was taken back to Chillicothe, and he beheld an alarming sight.

One hundred and fifty chiefs and warriors were already "painted and armed in a frightful manner," about to start against Boonesborough! They had made complete preparations while he was absent. Now he heard the talk, which he pretended not to understand, but he saw that he must escape at once and carry warning.

He had to wait a week before his chance opened. All that time he was on pins and needles, lest the Indians leave before him. Yet he dared not so much as flicker an eye. He had to laugh and loaf and eat and sleep, the same as usual.

He dared not hurry, either. If he tried to hunt, before-time, likely enough he would be frowned upon and maybe tied up. So he waited. He felt certain that once started, he could out-travel the warriors, did they not have too much of a lead.

Toward the close of the first week they were still in the town, waiting for other bands and for orders from Detroit. On the night of June 15 Big Turtle said to his father Black Fish:

"The meat is low. To-morrow morning I will hunt for more."

"You are right, my son. It is time. Go, as you say."

The bullets were doled out: two or three. The powder was measured. Early in the morning of June 16 Big Turtle strode forth, into the forest. He did not hurry; but when far from sight of spies he went to his cache of ammunition, scooped up the powder and lead hidden there, and ran.

Before night there would be four hundred and fifty Shawnee warriors eager for Captain Boone; if he was caught, he surely would be tortured and killed; even Black Fish could not save him. And Boonesborough would fall.

Luckily, the Indians would not be looking for him until later in the day. He was supposed to be hunting. Now, with this head-start, could he but reach the Ohio River! Once across the Ohio, and he would feel safe, for he knew the Kentucky country.

Never had he traveled so fast; never before had he taken such pains to leave a blind trail. He did not stop to eat nor to sleep; and when, on the second day, he emerged upon the banks of the broad Ohio River, the current was swirling full and muddy, swollen by the June freshets.

Daniel Boone was no swimmer to brag of; not with rifle and powder, in such a river. For a moment he was daunted, but he swiftly scouted along the shore, seeking a partial ford, or islands that would aid him. By a miracle he came to a canoe—an old canoe, half concealed in the bushes at the water's edge, with an end stove in.

Laboring rapidly, he stuffed and patched the hole. By paddling with his hands and a branch he crossed, and still he heard no whoop of pursuit.

He was in his loved Kentucky. The Ohio River and the Shawnee country lay behind him.

Near sunset of June 20 he sighted the clearing of Boonesborough. He saw the log walls of the fort, the rudely shingled sloping roofs of the rows of cabins lining it, the supper smoke gently wafting from the clay chimneys. Everything looked to be as when he had left, except that the season was smiling summer instead of white winter. Yes, his home was safe, and so was he. Afoot he had covered one hundred and sixty miles, breaking his own trail through the forest and across the streams, in four days, and had eaten only once. That was a record, white or red.

He hastened down in. His eye rapidly grasped details. The gates of the fort were widely open; women were outside, milking cows; men were chopping wood in the timber; children were fetching water, and playing about, even straying almost beyond call. No guards were posted, on the look-out. The logs of the defences had sagged by weather—some appeared to have rotted. One of the double gates, swung inward, hung crookedly. It was a Boonesborough gone to seed in a fancied peace.

He arrived unchallenged. Indians might have done the same. The first persons whom he met stared at him blankly, then amazed.

"What! Boone? We thought you dead long since, man! Hooray!"

At the cry, the people flocked to greet him. He had been absent five months and twelve days; four of these months he had been among the Indians. Shawnee paint was still on his face; his hair was unusually long, and he himself uncommonly thin and gaunt—weary but keen.

"Where's Rebecca? How are my wife and children?"

There was silence. Then Simon Kenton spoke up frankly.

"Well, you see, Dan, they'd give you up. We all thought you dead—you and likely the rest of the boys. You'd escaped once from those same Injuns; 't ain't their nater to let a man escape twice. So Rebecca got heart-sick. After waitin' a bit, and hearin' naught, she packed what she could and took the children, and set out hossback for her father's home in North Caroliny.

Daniel Boone grew pale.



"Did she get there?"

"Yes; all right. Never harmed."

"Thank God. I do not blame her."

"But Jemimy's here. Here's Jemimy! She didn't go That was the pleasant surprise. Jemima, aged seventeen, rushed into his arms.

"Father! Father!"

"Gal, gal! Bless you, gal! But why didn't you go with ma?"

"I wanted to be here if you came back, father. I knew you'd come."

Daniel Boone wiped the tears of joy from his tired eyes. He thrust Jemima aside, for sterner duty.

"Gather everybody into the fort. We must repair it and be ready for a siege. When I left Chillicothe four days ago the Injuns had armed and painted for the war-path and they'll be on us any moment."

That changed the scene. There was calling and running. Boone ate a few mouthfuls, while directing. As they all worked he told his story; he answered a hundred questions about the other prisoners; wives and brothers and sisters were eager to know how they were getting along.

Within twenty-four hours Fort Boonesborough had been repaired. It was a roomy fort; the walls of palisades a foot thick and twelve feet high fenced almost an acre. They were helped by the rows of cabins, blank to the outside, the hewn-shingle or "shakes" roofs sloping sharply. In the corners there were block-houses, projecting out like bastions, so as to sweep the walls with their port-holes. Boonesborough had been well planned, and ranked as the strongest settlers' fort in Kentucky.

But the clearing around was small. The brush and forest were within gun-shot, and the river, flowing between high banks, was only sixty yards in front. The old salt lick extended from the very walls. Inside the fort a well had been excavated, at sign of a spring.

The Indians did not appear. Soon second-stories had been added to the block-houses, ma, mg double bastions. Then, on July 17, William Hancock came in. He also had escaped from Chillicothe; but he had been twelve days on the way, and was almost famished.

"There was rare racin' and chasin' up yonder when they found you'd cleared out, Daniel," he reported. "It over-set their plans, I can tell you! So they put off their march for three weeks."

Daniel Boone at once sent a messenger eastward to Colonel Arthur Campbell, lieutenant commanding the militia at the Holston settlements in southwestern Virginia; said he expected an attack soon; could hold out three or four weeks—and then "relief would be of infinite service."

Still the Shawnees did not show up. A few spies were seen, near the fort. Evidently they had found the fort rebuilt and ready and had gone back with discouraging news. About six weeks had passed since William Hancock had reported; the cattle collected in the fort were turned out to graze, and with nineteen men Captain Boone the Big Turtle started upon a scout northward to learn what had happened to the Shawnees.

Young Simon Kenton (who was known as Simon Butler) was his lieutenant. Their goal was the Shawnee village of Paint Creek in southern Ohio east from the town of Little Chillicothe on the Little Miami.

They were not far from Paint Creek, when Simon Kenton, scouting before, stole upon two Indians riding a pony through the brush and laughing heartily. He shot them both with a single ball; off they tumbled, pierced through the breast, one dead, the other wounded; away ran the pony; on ran Simon, to finish the business with his tomahawk and take the scalps—and just in the final act he ducked his head aside barely in time to dodge the bullets of two more Indians.

That was a close call. Now the brush seemed full of Indians. He made for a tree. The firing and the galloping pony had carried the alarm to the main party; Daniel Boone and all came in a hurry, and cleared the neighborhood. The Indians had numbered thirty. The wounded warrior was borne off, but Simon took the scalp of the dead brave, after all.

He and his true friend, Alexander Montgomery, were sent ahead, to spy upon Paint Creek town. Paint Creek town was empty.

"Back to Boonesborough!" Captain Boone exclaimed. "The varmints are rallying. We've no time to lose."

At best speed they traveled for Boonesborough. All signs pointed to the fact that the march of the Shawnees was under way. They scouted for the trail of the red army, and found it. It was broad and fresh. On the sixth day southward they were right at the heels of the Shawnees, and circuited their camp at the Blue Licks itself, only forty miles from the fort. Indeed there had been no time to lose.

But the next afternoon they trooped, breathless, into Boonesborough, with word that the Shawnees—in full force—were close at hand.

At ten o'clock the following morning, September 7, the enemy appeared. They had crossed the Kentucky at a ford a mile and a half above the fort, had marched around by the rear, and now filed down for it from a timbered ridge on the south.

They made an imposing sight. They had flags, bath French and British. They had horses with baggage. They mustered some four hundred warriors, a dozen Canadian white men, and a negro named Pompey who was an adopted Shawnee. Their red chiefs were Black Fish himself, Moluntha, Black Wolf and Black Beard; their captain was a French-Canadian named Isidore Chene, of the British Indian department at Detroit.

Under a white flag, Captain Chene demanded the surrender of Fort Boonesborough. Counting the old men and boys, and several slaves, Daniel Boone had sixty persons who could handle a rifle; only forty of them were really shooters. He asked for two days in which to consider surrendering, but his mind was already made up.

The Shawnees had not donned their war paint for nothing; old Black Fish had come, looking for his "son"—and the rest had come, looking for whatever they might get.

Captain Chene, a pleasant enough man, consented. He posted his hideous array in the forest, to cut off any escape; Captain Boone spent the two days in gathering loose cattle into the stockade and putting last touches upon the defences. He looked in vain for the militia from Virginia.

Of course, while he knew what he himself would rather do, he had no right yet to speak for the rest. He held a council with them. If they surrendered, he said, likely enough their lives would be spared, but they would be prisoners in far-away Detroit, they would lose all their property, their fort and homes would be burned. If they fought, they might hold out, but the Indians were led by white soldiers and it would be a desperate siege, much worse than the other sieges. If they were overcome, they could expect no mercy, for the few whites would be unable to keep the tomahawks and scalping-knives from them.

Every voice declared:

"Let us fight."

Therefore on the morning of the third day Captain Boone made reply to Captain Chene.

"Sir, we have consulted together and are resolved to defend our fort whilst a single one of us is living. But we thank you for giving us notice, and time in which to provide for our wants. As for your preparations, we laugh at them. We do not fear painted faces. You shall never enter our gates."

"We know that you are brave men," Captain Chene the soldier courteously answered, and the daubed countenances of the Shawnees, peering from the thickets behind him, tried to leer. "Governor Hamilton appreciates your situation. The force against you is overwhelming, but he has charged me not to destroy you. He does not wish even to treat you with harshness. If you will send out nine of your men for a talk, we will come to some agreement by which you will evade further trouble, and I will then withdraw my forces and return whence we came."

Governor Hamilton certainly had acted kindly toward Daniel Boone, in Detroit. The "hair-buying general," he was dubbed by the American colonists because he gave out rewards for scalps and prisoners taken by the Indians. But he had a good side, and Captain Boone felt moved to experiment again. His men agreed with him. There was a slim chance of favorable terms.

He took his brother Squire Boone, Stephen and William Hancock, Colonel Richard Callaway, Settler Flanders, and three others. They carried no arms, for Captain Chene was unarmed.

"We will halt within fair rifle-shot," said Captain Boone, to the remaining men. "Do you cover us well and watch every movement."

The nine sallied out and met Captain Chene about forty yards in front of the gates. Captain Chene proposed the terms. He was all politeness and smiles. So were the Shawnee chiefs—although Black Fish eyed the Big Turtle rather darkly. He thought him a very ungrateful son.

The terms were these, said Captain Chene: only these. If the Boonesborough men would but sign a paper, promising not to fight against His Britannic Majesty King George, and submitting to the rule of Governor Hamilton, the whole garrison might march away unharmed, with all their goods.

The nine looked upon each other questioningly. "That's ag'in all reason," thought Daniel Boone; and so thought his comrades. Those four hundred Indians would never permit it. They had been fooled by him twice; they had come a long distance for plunder; they had been led to expect rich prizes as their reward. Merely to see the garrison move out, leaving a bare fort, would not satisfy them. Indians go to war for scalps, horses, guns, powder, iron, captives."

"We will sign," remarked Daniel Boone. It was the quickest way to learn what would happen next. Something was due to happen, whether they signed or not.

Now Chief Black Fish had his turn. He stood forward and made a speech. An oily old rascal, he. This was a treaty between two great white nations, and with a red nation, too, he said. It must be sealed in Indian fashion. Each Long Knife chief should shake hands with two Indians. Such was the Shawnee custom. Then they would be as brothers.

That struck the Daniel Boone men as something new. However, they had got in too deep to stick at trifles, but they smelled a mouse.

"It is good," said Daniel Boone. His muscles tense, his eyes bright, he stretched out his hand; he was strong and active, the Hancocks, Colonel Callaway, Squire Boone, Flanders, and all—they were as stout as buffalo and as quick as panthers; rifle muzzles that rarely missed were resting upon the port-holes only forty yards to rear, and the gates were open, waiting.

He stretched out his hand; two Indians at once grasped it—clutched his arm

"Go!" shouted Chief Black Fish, exultant.

Instantly Captain Big Turtle was being dragged forward; other Indians had sprung at him—his eight comrades were wrestling and reeling—with a twist and a jerk he had flung his captors sprawling—his comrades had done likewise with theirs and while muskets bellowed and rifles spat they ran headlong for the gates; got safely in, too, with only Squire Boone wounded; the gates creaked shut, the bar fell into place, the peace treaty had been broken almost as soon as made, and Fort Boonesborough was in for a fight.

A deluge of hot lead swept against the walls. The bullets drummed upon the logs and the palisade, whined through the port-holes, tore slivers from the roofs. Urged on by the white men, the Indians charged under cover of the muskets. They were bent backward, and broke and fled, leaving bodies. With flaming arrows they set fire to a roof; their sharpshooters, in trees, would keep water from it. A stripling young man scrambled on top, stood there, seized the buckets passed up to him, doused the blaze and amidst cheers leaped down again.

Some of the brave women, Jemima Boone and other girls, donned men's clothes and showed themselves here and there, to deceive the enemy. Jemima was wounded; two of the men were killed. Somebody, in the timber, was doing good shooting, with a rifle.

It was the black Indian, Pompey. He was known to be a crack marksman. They watched for him. Daniel Boone glimpsed him, high up in a tree; waited for a chance, took quick aim—and down from the tree crashed Pompey, dead before he struck the turf. After the siege they found him, shot through the head by Daniel Boone's long-barreled "Betsy," at a distance of one hundred and seventy-five yards.

Directed by Captain Chene, the Black Fish Shawnees started a tunnel, from the river bank, to undermine the walls. The clay that they threw out behind them made the river current muddy, and the keen eyes in the fort saw and read.

The defense started a counter tunnel, which should meet the other and cut a trench across its course. The Indians' tunnel became rain-soaked and caved in; they knew that the fort was digging also, and after having bored for forty yards, they quit. Fighting was more to their taste than burrowing like moles.

More than a week passed, without a let-up day or night. The powder smoke hung, veiling the clearing and the edge of the forest, and the surface of the river. Inside the fort there was not an idle hand, among the living. The losses had been very small indeed, in spite of the hubbub; no one had any notion of surrender, yet.

Then, on the morning of September 20, the sun rose in silence. After a parting volley the enemy had gone. The siege was lifted.

Daniel Boone sent out scouts. They reported the coast clear. The gates were opened. The corpses of thirty-six Indians and the negro Pompey were awaiting. How many other bodies and how many wounded had been carried away was never learned.

One hundred and twenty-five pounds of lead were gathered, inside the fort and outside; nearly as much more had entered the logs. That proved the fierceness of the ten days' attack, but did not pay for the cattle killed or stolen, astray in the timber.

However, this was the last siege of Boonesborough. The Shawnees gave up hopes of ever getting their Big Turtle, but they admired him none the less.