Scott County Historical
Scott County, Virginia
Society of Southwest Virginia
BOONE KILLED OCTOBER 10, 1773
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 Virginia's southwest
border. To the contrary, the threat of attacks became more intense;
threat of danger merely moved from one border to another.
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
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
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
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
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
"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
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
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
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
Upon receiving the bad news, Daniel Boone hurried his little
crowd of people into a ravine for protection. They put out sentinels and
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
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.