LONGHUNTERS WERE FIRST TO PENETRATE WILDS OF TENNESSEE, KENTUCKY, THEN THE WEST
By Dallas Bogan
Reprinted with Permission from Dallas Bogan. This article was published in the LaFollette Press.
I am so intrigued with the longhunters that at this time I will compile a story concerning them. I have before mentioned them in articles, but at this time I will go into some detail regarding them.
One might say that the longhunters were the first authentic genuine American Frontiersmen to pass beyond the Blue Ridge Mountains. The majority of longhunters were simple, plain, poor men in search of relief from debt, land, and a way to feed their families. Civilizing the west, as the area of Tennessee was called in early colonial times, was not their goal. They just yearned to make money by hunting and selling their deer skins and furs. A longhunter, ruling out any misfortune, could earn more than $1000 a year, quite a sum for the day.
Among the early longhunters in Campbell County were Curtis Alderson, John Alderson, Joseph Carroll, Obediah Garwood, John Herd, Walter Kelley, Archibald Taylor, Phillip Cooper, John Strutler and Uriah Stone. Some historians claim that Daniel and Squire Boone made at least one hunting trip into Campbell County.
Shortly after the French and Indian War, in the middle 1700's, the land west of the Appalachian Mountains was open for hunting and settling. The adventurers involved were comprised mainly of the English, Irish and German immigrants. They lived on the edge of Indian country and were the ones who had the skills of traveling into the wilderness and survive. Virginia, Pennsylvania and North Carolina were the primary states to send the longhunters into the backwoods.
The long hunt would start just after the fall harvest and could possibly last as long as a year, or until the hunters returned with there hides and furs.
The Middle Tennessee region was set up as a 'station camp' by the longhunters, reasoning being that the main supply area was located here. This region was centralized for the benefit of the longhunters simply so they could prepare their hides and furs, and spend time relaxing before they would go back for the hunt. A head count would find as many as 30 men in a hunting party, each pairing up to hunt in all directions from the station camp.
And now for the adventuresome side of the longhunters. The following is condensed from Ramsey's "Annals of Tennessee."
On June 2, 1769, a large company of longhunters was created for the purpose of hunting and exploring in what is now Middle Tennessee. Certainly this area, as well as all of Tennessee, was discovered and settled by these adventurers who became the first explorers.
The company consisted of more than twenty men, some from North Carolina, others from the area of Natural Bridge (Rockbridge County, Va.), and several from the newly formed settlement near Inglis' Ferry in Virginia. The place of gathering was below Fort Chisel on New River. The names of some of these men are: John Rains, Kasper Mansker, Abraham Bledsoe, John Baker, Joseph Drake, Obadiah Terrill, Uriah Stone, Henry Smith, Ned Cowan, and Robert Crockett.
They traveled by the head of the Holston, crossing the North Fork, and on to Clinch and Powell's Rivers. They then passed through Cumberland Gap and discovered the southern part of Kentucky. Here they set up camp at a place since called Price's Meadow, located in present Wayne County. At this point they agreed to deposit their game and skins.
The hunters were separated to a degree, the whole company still traveling to the southwest. They arrived at Roaring River and the Cany Fork at a point far above the mouth, somewhere near the foot of the mountain.
Robert Crockett was killed near the headwaters of Roaring River when returning to camp. About seven or eight Indians were traveling to the north, where in ambush, firing upon and killing him. Crockett's body was discovered on the war track leading from the Cherokee Nation towards the Shawnee tribe.
The immediate country was covered with high grass with no traces of human settlement to be seen. The surroundings also included dry caves and creek banks where stones were set up that covered large numbers of human bones.
The hunt continued for eight or nine months, when part of them returned in April 1770.
Findlay and Boone, along with the explorers, returned to the banks of the Yadkin where they related their many stories to the settlement. Their friends and neighbors were captivated by the glowing description of the land beyond. The pioneer folks, with their imaginations abounding, were enthused with the visions of the fertile valleys beyond the mountains. The Atlantic country, in which they lived, with its hills and rocky uplands, seemed a great distance from their mental picture of the newly discovered lands.
With the news of the newly found land, the settlements of New River, Holston, and Clinch launched a company of about forty strapping hunters for the purpose of hunting and trapping west of the Cumberland Mountains. They, without delay, set out equipped with their rifles, traps, dogs, and blankets. Their traveling apparel included their hunting shirts, leggins, and moccasins.
Hastily, they commenced their grueling enterprise in the real spirit of adventure through the rough forest and rugged hills. The expedition was led by Col. James Knox, the names of the adventurers being unknown.
The Colonel and nine others penetrated to the lower Cumberland, there making an extensive and irregular search, thus adding much to their knowledge of the country. After a long absence, the party returned home. These hearty souls were known as "The Longhunters."
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