FIRST RECORDED INDIAN MASSACRE ON POWELL'S RIVER CLAIMED DANIEL BOONE'S SON, OTHERS
By Dallas Bogan
Reprinted with Permission from Dallas Bogan. This article was published in the LaFollette Press.
The first recorded Indian massacre on the waters of Powell's (Powell) River was recorded on October 10, 1773. (Powell's or Powell River runs the length of Lee County in Virginia, then flows through Claiborne County in Tennessee and empties into Norris Lake close to Flat Hollow.) This atrocity included the killing of Captain William Russell and Daniel Boone's sons, the Drake boy, the Mendenhall brothers, and a Negro slave of Russell's. The massacre occurred near the head of Wallen's Creek, in present day Lee County in Virginia.
Apparently the route the party followed from Russell's place in Castlewood was the trail the early Long Hunters used known as the "Hunter's Trail." The trail crossed the Clinch River at Hunter's Ford, now the village of Dungannon, through Hunter's Valley, Rye Cove, and across Powell Mountain at Kane's Gap onto the head of Wallen's Creek.
Boone, while returning from Kentucky in the spring of 1773, met William Russell, then a resident of Castlewood on the Clinch River. Russell was so enthused concerning the settlement of Kentucky that he agreed to join Boone in the venture. The McAfee party, while returning home from Kentucky, met Boone about the 12th of August and made preparations to migrate to that country.
The Bryan party, who resided sixty miles eastward of Boone's home on the Yadkin, agreed to join Boone's company in Powell Valley in Virginia on a scheduled day and pass the most dangerous part of the journey together. Boone returned home, sold his farm, household goods, produce and farming gear, everything that was too burdensome to carry.
As agreed, the Bryan party, numbering 40, overtook the front line. Several had joined the reinforcement in the areas of Fort Chisel and Holston Valley. Among these men were Michael Stoner, William Bush, and Edmund Jennings. The group had passed Clinch Mountain, Powell's Mountain, and Wallen's Ridge, barely entering Powell's Valley.
Near the western base of Wallen's ridge, where Powell River flows along a valley, Boone and his party went into camp and awaited the arrival of the rear party. James Boone, son of Daniel, and two brothers, John and Richard Mendenhall, from Guilford County, North Carolina, had been dispatched from the main company, probably at Wolf Hills, now Abingdon. The goal was to travel across country to Captain Russell's at Castlewood for the dual purpose of alerting him of the advance of Boone's Kentucky personnel and obtaining a quantity of flour, which was immediately supplied. Captain Russell sent forward his oldest son Henry, a young man of 17, two Negroes named Charles and Adam, Isaac Crabtree, and a youth named Drake, with several horses loaded with farming tools. Also included were numerous provisions, other helpful articles, and a few books. A small drove of cattle was additionally sent under their charge.
Captain Russell remained behind and then joined Captain David Gass to move forward and overtake the others. Captain Russell had ambitions of opening a plantation in Kentucky during the autumn and winter, put out a crop in the spring, and return for his family. Had these plans materialized, William Russell might possibly have been one of the most distinguished primitive settlers of Kentucky.
Time had passed and it was now the 9th of October. Young Boone and Russell never dreamed of the danger that was awaiting them. They were a mere three miles behind the front company where they camped on the northern bank of Wallen's Creek, a southern tributary of Powell's River.
Unknown to the lagging group was a party of shrewd Indians who had that day detected them at a substantial distance. Young Boone and his companions, while seated around their blazing fire, heard the howling of wolves, or perhaps a successful imitation on the part of the Indians. The Mendenhalls, certainly not used to such frontier sounds, showed some appearance of fear while Crabtree, an experienced backwoodsman, laughed vigorously at their panic and playfully told them that they would soon be hearing the bawling of the buffalo in Kentucky.
The group, lost in a moment of slumber, all unconscious of danger, was attacked about daybreak the next morning. The Indians, who had successfully creeped close to camp, ultimately fired upon their unsuspecting victims, killing some and wounding others. The description of this brutal attack depicted a heart-rending scene. Young Russell was shot through both hips and was unable to escape. The Indians ran up to him with their knives drawn. Russell, in total defense of himself, seized the blades with his bare hands and consequently had them badly distorted. He was lastly tortured in a most brutal fashion.
Young Boone was also shot through his hips, breaking both. He recognized among the Indians, Big Jim, a Shawnee warrior who had frequently shared the warmth of his father's house. His features were that he could be recognized instantly. James Boone pleaded with Big Jim to spare his life, but to no avail. The Indians pulled out his toe and fingernails. The pain finally became too agonizing that young Jim Boone pleaded with Big Jim to take his life.
Young Russell was suffering similar tortures. After much anguish, both injured were severely stabbed and possibly tomahawked to death.
Crabtree was wounded, escaped and reached the settlement, while Adam, losing his way, was eleven days finding his way to the frontier inhabitants. The Indians hauled off the old Negro, Charles, and made him prisoner. They also stole away with the horses and all the valuable items. The Indians, at a distance of about 40 miles from the scene, began arguing over the ownership of the Negro. The leader of the party settled the argument by tomahawking the poor hostage.
In the advance camp a young man had been caught stealing from his commander, and had been so ridiculed by the camp personnel that he decided to abandon the party and return to the settlements. His departure was made on the 10th of October, and while on his way stole some deerskins from Daniel Boone. Reaching the ford at Wallen's Creek, shortly after the Indians had left the massacre site, the young man came upon the location of the slaughter. Dropping his skins he instantly hurried back to the main camp where he arrived with the sorrowful news. The main camp was devastated at hearing the report. Squire Boone, Daniel Boone's father, led a party back to bury the unfortunates, and recover any property the Indians might have left. Daniel Boone and the other men remained at the main camp in case of an attack from the main party, for they had no way of knowing the strength of the Indians. Quickly, for safety reasons, they fabricated a rude fortification.
Squire Boone's burial party reached the trampled camp and found Captain's Russell and Gass had already arrived. Young Russell and young Boone were slaughtered almost beyond recognition. Mrs. Daniel Boone had sent for a sheet and young Boone and Russell were wrapped in the same covering and buried together; the other slain were also decently buried.
The Indians had scattered the cattle while all articles of importance were taken. Squire Boone and his burial party, along with Captains Russell and Gass, returned to the main camp where a general council was held. Daniel Boone wished to continue the journey, but most of the men were too disheartened to carry on. The majority of the group thought that Indian repetition would be on their agenda and so agreed to abandon the project and return home.
Sensing that the Indians had been a small regiment, the white adventurers began retracing their own footsteps. Some returned to their farming settlements in Virginia and Carolina. Meanwhile, Boone accepted the invitation of Captain Gass to take his temporary quarters in a cabin on his farm, about seven or eight miles below Captain Russell's at Castlewood, a little south of Clinch River.
Daniel Boone lived on the Clinch from this time until 1775 when he led his second and successful party to Kentucky and founded Boonesborough. While living at Castlewood, a son named William was born to Daniel and Rebecca Boone. The baby died in infancy and was buried in the Moore's Fort graveyard.
Captain Gass was born in Pennsylvania about 1729. He moved from Albermarle Co., Va., to Castlewood in 1769. He made eleven trips from Castlewood to Boonesborough before settling there permanently in December 1777. He died in Madison Co., Ky., in 1805 or 1807.
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