« ZurückWeiter »
agreeable, his simple remedy was to plunge farther into the woods. He was abstemious in his habits, and a close observer of nature; and without any brilliancy or much grasp of intellect, he had a great deal of that practical good sense, which may be supposed to have existed in the mind of a person of even temperament, who thought much, spoke little, and acted with deliberation; whose whole life was a series of journeying, danger, and vicissitude, and whose vigilant eye was constantly employed in watching the appearances of nature, the habits of animals, the changes of the season, and the movements of hostile men. These are the characteristics of the backwoodsman; they were strongly developed in all those that accompanied or followed Boone, but in him they were less adulterated, because his mind was not distracted by the passions and cares that perplex other men.
In a subsequent chapter, when we come to speak of the character of the western population, we shall notice the peculiarities of this race, their arts, industry, and mode of life.
PREvious to the year 1793, the whole of our western frontier was continually harrassed by the inroads of the Indians. Kentucky, then recently erected into a state, was a wide battle field, in which our gallant countrymen maintained themselves by a series of hardy exploits and patient sufferings. Gradually, however, the savages had been driven back or exterminated, until the river Ohio formed the grand line between them and the whites, and municipal regulations began to be introduced and enforced. Still there were large tracts of wilderness, lying between the settled districts, and within our acknowledged boundaries, where the marauding parties of the enemy lurked, and from which they emerged to attack the unwary traveler, or to assail the inhabitants who ventured to push their improvements into the forest, at a distance from the protection of the organized settlements. A series of brilliant successes, obtained by the Kentuckians, led by Boone, Scott, Shelby, Hardin, Clarke, and other veterans, had rendered the question of sovereignty no longer doubtful, and the white man was become undisputed lord of the soil. But the Indian, if he could not fight for victory, could still strike for revenge. He could no longer track the deer or the buffalo, in the rich pastures of Kentucky, or pitch his tent on the spot consecrated as the resting-place of his fathers, and rendered memorable by the legends of his tribe. A race more numerous than his own, his equal in courage and sagacity, his superior in stature and military skill, now occupied the forests from which he had been driven, and were prepared to defend their newly acquired territory. The new inhabitants had long been trained in the school of war. They were hunters and warriors, of high courage and tried skill. Reared in habits of fearless enterprise, inured from childhood to exposure and hardship, and trained to all the devices of sylvan life, and all the stratagems of border warfare, they could overmatch the savage in his native fastnesses, and foil him in his own peculiar modes of attack and defence. The savage therefore mournfully extinguished his fires, and abandoned the hunting grounds of his people. But he retreated like the foiled tiger, scowling at his victor, and watching his opportunity to renew the contest. He went muttering curses against the white man; and long after his power was broken, and his tribe dismembered, he continued to return at intervals, to strike a stealthy but sanguinary blow, at his triumphant enemy. The first settlements were not only exposed to the assaults of a savage foe, but they were separated from the mother states, by a wide chain of almost impassable mountains, and wholly cut off from the restraints and the protection of government. Instead of calling upon Virginia, or upon the general government, to protect them from their enemies, the pioneers defended themselves, and became early accustomed to rely upon their own courage and resources. Every man looked to his personal safety, and stood prepared to sustain his neighbor, and to guard his own fireside. As the settlements extended, self-defence grew into patriotism; men united for mutual protection, and by standing side by side in battle, and rendering to each other assistance in sickness, in famine, and in all the varieties of fortune to which the inhabitants of the frontiers are exposed, became joined together by the closest ties. Thus they became kind and hospitable; and to the early impress given by these circumstances, more than to any other cause, may be attributed the generosity, frankness, and manly bearing, which still distinguish the Kentucky character. In 1780, three counties were organized in the district of Kentucky, by the legislature of Virginia; civil and military officers were appointed; and those acts which had hitherto been voluntarily performed by private individuals, began to emanate from the body politic. It was not until the year 1794, when the Indians were signally defeated by General Wayne, on the western side of the Ohio, that peace was established on this frontier. But the country was far from being tranquil. A people accustomed to think and act for themselves, could feel little sense of dependence upon the parent state; their loyalty was voluntary, and resulted solely from sound principle and natural affection. A people thus independent, owing few obligations to the sovereign power, and surrounded by none of the restraints, and few of the blessings of the national government, would naturally think freely, and speak with bold
ness, of the tie which bound them to the great republican family. They would easily be led to exercise their undoubted privilege, of weighing the advantages of the connection which bound them to their government, and a slight grievance might give to their thoughts and language the tone of bold defiance. One of the earliest causes of complaint, to which the people of Kentucky were exposed, arose from their geographical position. The United States, newly organized, loosely connected, weak in resources, and burthened with debt, had sufficient employment, in preserving the existence of the new confederacy. No settled policy had as yet been adopted, in reference to an extension of the territorial limits of the republic. The great mass of the American people knew nothing of the fertile regions of the west, and some of our statesmen announced authoritatively, that the Alleghany mountains formed the natural boundary of the United States. While this delightful region was thus undervalued and neglected by our own politicians, foreign nations had early adopted in relation to it, certain views which were remarkably adapted to coincide with the policy of our government, in retarding its improvement. France alone had formed a reasonable estimate of its importance. The French commanders and missionaries had traced the long rivers of the west, and wandered with delight over its boundless prairies; and while they carefully concealed their discoveries from the rest of Europe, the French government made extensive arrangements for securing