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Of all men, saving Sylla the Man-slayer,
Just twenty-two years before the birth of Daniel Boon, Governor Spotswood, of Virginia, established an order of knighthood in the "Ancient Dominion,” under the title of “the Tramontane Order, or the Knights of the Golden Horse-shoe." Each of the knights was entitled to wear a golden horse-shoe upon his breast, as a mark of distinction for having penetrated to the summit of the Blue Ridge, all beyond which, at that day, was the unknown west. Could these redoubted heroes have extended the limits of human life but a little beyond the allotted three score years and ten, and have been permitted to stand face to face with the great western pioneer, how their golden honors would have dwindled into insignificance, in comparison with the higher stamp of heroism imprinted upon the person of the sturdy old warrior who is the subject of this brief sketch !
DANIEL Boon was born in the year 1746, in Bucks county, Pennsylvania, near Bristol, on the right bank of the Delaware, about twenty miles from Philadelphia. His father emigrated successively to Reading, on the head waters of the Schuylkill, and to one of the valleys of South Yadkin, in North Carolina.
It is believed that his immediate ancestors were among those Catholics who emigrated to Maryland soon after its settlement by Lord Baltimore; but as there is no evidence that he either inherited, or derived from parental culture, even the germ of those peculiarities which distinguished him in after life, we shall not occupy our limited space in tracing out his ancestry, or dwelling at length upon his early years. DANIEL Boon was preëminently the architect of his own character and fortunes. Very early in life he exhibited a fondness for his gun, and the stirring pastime of the chase. Numerous instances are on record of his hair-breadth escapes and daring adventures in pursuit of the panther, the bear, and the wolf, with which the country of his father's adoption abounded. But his peculiar temperament was destined to unfold itself in another and wilder field of adventure. Just before his third emigration, however, he was engaged in an affair which exercised such an important influence upon his after life, that we cannot resist the temptation briefly to relate it. In the immediate neighborhood of his father's new settlement, another adventurer, named Bryan, soon made his appearance, and planted himself upon a beautiful spot, washed on one side by a lovely mountain stream, near which had been the favorite hunting-ground of the young sportsman. On a certain evening, Boon engaged a friend to meet him at this spot, for the purpose of engaging in a "fire hunt." In this wild sport one of the parties usually rides through the forest, with a pine torch borne on high, which, shedding a glaring light through the gloomy precincts, so dazzles the eyes of the deer, that the other party, who is on foot, shoots the game between the eyes, while the bewildered animal is staring at the blaze. Boon's companion was to bear the torch, and accordingly appeared upon the field, and commenced the usual round. They had not proceeded far, when Boon gave the concerted signal to keep the light stationary. The horseman obeyed, and waited in momentary expectation of hearing the sharp and fatal report of his friend's rifle. Not hearing it, however, he turned his horse to ascertain the cause of the unwonted delay, when he saw his friend drop his rifle, and set off in pursuit of some shadowy object, over bush and briar, fence and field.
When Boon gave the signal to his friend, he indeed saw the flame of the torch reflected by a pair of brilliant eyes, and he immediately cocked his gun, and brought it to his eye; but instead of standing stupified by the light to be shot at, the supposed fawn wheeled precipitately, and fled. During this unusual movement, Boon caught a glimpse of the flowing folds of a petticoat — dropped his rifle, and made chase after his game. So intense had been his interest in the pursuit, that he was little less surprised than his new neighbor, Mr. Bryan, when he found himself standing in his door-way, having driven the object of his chase into the paternal arms.
Boon's embarrassment and surprise may easily be imagined, when he saw the consternation of the father and the panting terror of his beautiful daughter, who had scarcely turned her sixteenth summer, and whose lustrous ringlets were flying about her face, neck, and palpitating bosom, in the richest contrast of light and shade. Strange as it may appear of our hardy backwoodsman, he became agitated in his turn; with all the stern and rugged qualities of his nature, he was taken captive at first sight by a maiden's charms. And what was not less strange, the blushing Hebe, who had run into her father's arms, declaring that she was pursued by a panther, now perceived that he was not such a frightful animal, as her first impression in the dark had led her to suppose.
Indeed, Boon was at this time just in the first flush of youthful vigor ; his person straight and well proportioned-countenance manly and prepossessing, and the whole appearance of the man presenting such a hero to the eye of the unsophisticated girl, as her imagination was likely to create for itself in that remote and secluded scene. short, they loved mutually, and Miss Rebecca Bryan in a very short time became Mrs. Boon.
On the first of May, 1769, Boon resigned the domestic comforts of his peaceful habitation on the Yadkin river, and, in obedience to those roving impulses which were always predominant in his character, but which, we may presume, lay dormant during the first joys of conjugal love, started upon his first expedition beyond the Alleghany mountains. He was accompanied, as we are informed by himself, by John Findley, John Stuart, Joseph Holden, James Monay, and William Cool. John Findley was the only one of this adventurous band who had ever visited these untamed regions, as yet under the dominion of wild beasts and wilder men. Findley, in his former trading expedition
with the Indians, had penetrated as far as Red river; and on the 7th of June, our adventurers found themselves on the banks of the same stream. Here, from the top of an eminence, Boon, like Moses of old, beheld the land of promise, here the broad bottoms-skirting the since far-famed Kentucky, first greeted his longing eyes. He informs us of his raptures at the enchanting prospect, with something of the true poetical fire.
Here they erected a rude shanty, to protect themselves from the rains, which had much impeded their previous hunting excursions on the route. They found the country abounding with game of every description indigenous to those latitudes of North America. The plains were covered with buffaloes, running wild in herds far surpassing in number, as Boon informs us, any thing he had ever seen in the fields of the wealthiest grazier. To the salt springs of the region, especially, they found that the buffalo and deer came in droves. Here Boon was in his glory: killing all kinds of game to his heart's content through the day, and at night meeting with his companions in their rude shanty, to recapitulate the adventures of the day, eat their venison and buffalo steaks, and enliven the solitude of the place with such minstrelsy as their company afforded. This sort of life, so congenial to the feelings of Boon, was kept up until the 22d of September, when an unfortunate adventure befel two of the party, which turned their hitherto jovial evening meetings into sorrow and repining.
On the morning of that day, it fell to the lot of Boon and Stuart to hunt together; they met with extraordinary success throughout the greater part of the day, until toward evening, as they were ascending a high hill near the Kentucky river, covered to its summit with majestic trees, which threw their gigantic shadows far down its sides, casting a sombre hue over the primeval landscape, a horde of savages rushed from their gloomy hiding-places, and made them prisoners. The Indians plundered them of their game and principal clothing, and kept them in close confinement.
With that tact for which Boon was afterwards so distinguished, he induced his companion to assume, and pretended himself, the greatest indifference as to their escape. On the seventh night of their captivity, when the vigilance of the savages was well nigh disarmed by the well acted ruse, and the whole camp was wrapt in profound slumber, Boon gently awoke his companion, and regaining their arms, they escaped without rousing their usually watchful captors. They immediately pursued their way to the shanty; but here another disappointment awaited them: they found it plundered, and their companions