Boone Massacre
by W. Dale Carter, copyright 2009

A New Look at the Murder of Daniel Boone's Son, 10 October 1773
by W. Dale Carter, copyright 2004

Chronology: (according to John Filson’s biography published in 1784) (Filson died in 1788 near Cincinnati)

  • 1769, Boone went to Kentucky for the first time.
  • 1770, May 1, Squire Boone returned home
  • 1770, July 27, Squire Boone returned to Kentucky and rejoined Daniel. Explored Kentucky until March 1771 and shortly thereafter returned to the Yadkin.
  • 1773, September 25, Daniel set out for Kentucky with 5 other families.
  • 1773, October 10, James Boone was killed. Boone returned to the Clinch.
  • 1774, June 6, Sent by Virginia authorities to warn Kentucky surveyors of pending war with Shawnees; leads defense of Clinch River settlements during Dunmore's War. Attended meeting to negotiate the Henderson purchase March 1775 and shortly thereafter blazed the wilderness road to Boonesborough and built a fort.
  • 1775, June 14, Boone returned to Clinch and shortly thereafter removed his family to Boonesborough.

Boone was a long hunter and was most likely familiar with the hunters trace. Favorite and productive hunting sites were near salt licks where herd animals would frequent the licks to replenish their need for minerals and the hunters would lay in wait and slaughter the animals as they approached the lick. Over the eons, herds of buffalo and elk had beaten out trails from grazing meadows to the salt licks and the long hunters followed these trails to the hunting sites. No doubt there was such a trail from the little flat lick at Duffield to the Buffalo Lick at Blackwater.

From Castlewood, the hunters trace went to the hunters ford at Dungannon, westward through hunters valley to just north of Natural Tunnel, westward to the flat lick at Duffield. From the Flat Lick it is believed it followed the south side of Powell Mountain to Blackwater and crossed the mountain through hunters gap, down Wallen Creek to near its mouth on Powell River, down the south side of the Powell River and crossing the river at Whites ford. From this point, the location of the hunters trace is purely speculative, but a possible route would have been to go up Trading Creek now known as Hardys creek to near its source some 2-3 miles northeast of Rose Hill and then down the valley to Cumberland Gap.

Long hunters Elisha Wallin and William Newman hunted around the large lick known as the Buffalo Lick at Blackwater in the early 1761s as Wallins Ridge and Newman Ridge were named after them. One can find evidence that the Hunters trace came down Wallins creek in the land grants to Robert Preston and Arthur Campbell. Grant Land Office Q-318, recorded in the Land Office Book Q, page 318 states that the survey for the grant lays on the South side of the Powell River and both sides of the Hunters Path. This grant is located about one mile west of the mouth of Wallin Creek. The Robert Preston grant [Land Office 27-57] joins the Campbell grant on the west side and it, too, lies on the South side of the Powell River below Wallin Creek and both sides of the Hunters Path. Preston got a second grant [Land Office 27-41] that was located on the North side of the Powell river and on the West side of Trading Creek. The Trading Creek referred to is known today as Hardys Creek. One of the survey points of grant [Land Office 27-41] reads as follows “white oak south side of the old Kentucky trace on John Ewing line with same”. The survey for the grant was made 8 December 1785. Note that the surveyor used the term “Old Kentucky Trace”. By 1785 the Wilderness Road had replaced the Old Kentucky Trace or Path.

It is my belief at the time the Boone Massacre occurred, 10 October 1773, the Boone party was traveling along the Old Hunters Trace. The Wilderness Road blazed and cut by Boone was not in existence in 1773; therefore, he most likely followed a trail he was familiar with, the old hunters trace.  This would lead one to the conclusion that James Boone party were murdered on Wallin Creek somewhere between the Hunters Gap of Powell Mountain and where Wallin Creek flows into Powell River.

James Boone was to meet up with his father's party at a designated site and James party consisted of pack horses. James most likely had never traveled through this part of the wilderness before, so it can be assumed that Daniel had instructed James to follow a well marked trail; however, James Boone’s companion, the son of William Russell may have had some knowledge of the paths and trails of Lee County. I believe it would be only possible to lead pack horses and a small drove of cattle through the wilderness by following a well-beaten path worn down by herd animals. A more logical location for a well beaten herd animal trail would have been a trail between salt licks. Land grants, Land Office 28-355 to Thomas Osborn 8 Jun 1793 and Land Office 45-519 to Walter Preston, 30 May 1800, may give the answer. One survey point of the Osborne grant as described by the surveyor 21 Apr 1786 is “two poplars west of the buffalo lick foot of Powell Mountain”. The same survey point is described in the Preston grant as “two poplars west side of a large lick”. This tells me that the large lick frequented by herd animals was at Blackwater and a smaller lick was at Duffield. The large Blackwater lick is located near where the hunters trace crosses Powell mountain at Hunters Gap.

John Redd’s narrative published in the Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, Vol. 6 Number 4 & Vol. 7, Number 1 and Number 2 gives the following information.

“In January 1775, when we were on our way out to settle Martins Station in Powell Valley, in going down Wallin’s Creek, near its junction with Powell River, were the hills closed in very near the creek, was found the remains of an old hunting camp, and in front of the camp the bones of two men were lying bleached…..”. In a letter to Lyman C Draper Redd writes “ The remains of the camp I saw in Powell Valley were on the north side and as well as my memory serves me, were within forty or fifty yards of the mouth of Wallin’s creek at the ford of Powell’s river. The camp was built beside a large limestone rock which served for the back of the camp. The names of the persons whose bones I saw I should be unable to accurately distinguish were I to hear them. This may be possible the camp pitched by Boone’s war party. The bones I saw were not known certainly to be those of the two long hunters having gone on a long hunt in Powell Valley in 1773, who had not returned. The camp was eight or ten miles from Martin’s Station”. Note: The distance from the mouth of Hardy’s Creek to Martins Station via the route up Hardy’s creek as determined from a modern USGS map is approximately 9 miles. The distance from the mouth of Wallin Creek to the Mouth of Hardys Creek is approximately 4 miles. If John Redd’s estimation of distances are near correct, then the camp he describes would be at the mouth of Hardys creek rather than on Wallin creek.

Redd also writes to Draper, “ I know nothing of Bons (Boone’s) defeat in Powell Valley in 1773, it entirely escapes my recollection. The old Kentucky trace crossed Waldens ridge at the head of Waldens creek. There was another trace not often used that went down Waldens creek and crossed it several times. I do not know where the new road crossed Waldens creek in 1780. When I went to Kentucky the road crossed Waldens ridge at the head of Waldens creek at the same place where the trace crossed in 1775.”

Redd’s narrative is confusing to say the least. He is very specific in his account of going to Martins Station in January 1775. He traveled down Wallin Creek to its junction with Powell River. Yet when he went to Kentucky, date not given, he traveled the road that crossed Wallin ridge near the head of Wallin Creek. He does mention that there was two routes to Powell Valley and one route went down Wallin Creek. The other route, which I believe was blazed by Boone in 1775, crossed Wallin Ridge near the head of Wallin Creek. Before Boone blazed the Wilderness Road to Kentucky, the preferred route to Martins Station was along the old hunters trace down Wallins Creek to near its junction with Powell river, then across the rolling hills and sinkholes on the south side of Powell River to Whites Shoals. From there, it went up a fork of trading creek to Martins Station. Redd also says his memory is not clear about the location of the hunters camp but it was on the north side of the river about forty or fifty yards of the river at the ford of the river. I believe Redd was referring to Hardy Creek instead of Wallins Creek, at that time known as Trading Creek, and the ford of the river which would be Whites Shoals downstream from the mouth of Hardys Creek.

What were the conditions as to settlements on the Powell and Clinch rivers in October 1773? There was a fort at Castlewood and at Fort Blackmore. Some settlers had built cabins on the Clinch between the two forts. The fort in Rye Cove did not exist as it was built by Isaac Chrisman in 1774. The fort at Rocky Station did not exist. Isaac Crisman, heir of Isaac Chrisman, deceased, in his affidavit to the land Commissions states that the tract of land at Rocky Station was settled on in 1775. No one had settled in the Duffield area. 


The Daniel Boone lead party followed a trail that Boone had traveled before, and that would have been the old hunters trace that had been used by the long hunters for many years. The Boone party had traveled the hunters trace to a camp site about 40 or 50 yards upstream of the mouth of Hardys Creek, at that time called trading creek, and lay in wait for the James Boone party.

The party lead by Daniel Boone’s son James would have followed the hunters trace from Castlewood and picked up the trail that Daniel Boone had followed near Duffield then proceeded to Blackwater, across Powell Mountain at the hunters gap and at some point between hunters gap and the mouth of Wallin Creek made camp for the night, and at that point the massacre occurred.

After the murder of James Boone, Daniel Boone and his family retired to Moores Fort in Castlewood in Russell County and lived there for over 18 months. A son was born to the Boone family while they lived at Castlewood but the child died in infancy and is buried in the old Moores Fort Cemetery. In the late spring of 1775, they traveled the road, blazed a few months earlier by Boone, to Boonesborough, Kentucky.


    1. John Redd Narrative Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, Vol. 6 Number 4 & Vol. 7 Number 1 and Number 2.
    2. John Filson, Wilmington, NC: James Adams, 1784. Appendix: The Adventures of Col. Daniel Boon; containing a Narrative of the Wars of Kentucke. The first person to bring Daniel Boone and his exploits to fame was John Filson, a schoolmaster from Pennsylvania, who had spent a large sum of money in speculative land deals in Kentucky. According to John Mack Faragher, a recent biographer of Boone, "He possessed no talent for improving these holdings with an ax or plow, but with his pen he hoped to produce a book that would publicize the country and thereby increase the value of his investment. Like nearly everyone else in Kentucky, including Daniel Boone, Filson was speculating in land." (Faragher, 3) Boone was a land speculator, a pioneer venturing ever further into lands already possessed by the Shawnee Indians. Filson sought to validate Boone's colonization attempts, in order to bolster his own monetary position, through the image of Boone as the natural man. "Filson told Boone's story as romantic myth. In so doing he demonstrated his thorough familiarity with the perennials of colonial American literature--narratives of Indian warfare and captivity and journals of spiritual revelation and growth. Even more obvious is his debt to an ersatz Enlightenment philosophy of 'natural man.' Filson's Boone declaims: 'Thus situated, many hundred miles from our families in the howling wilderness, I believe few would have equally enjoyed the happiness we experienced. I often observed to my brother, You see now how little nature requires to be satisfied. Felicity, the companion of content, is rather found in our own breasts than in the enjoyment of external things: And I firmly believe it requires but a little philosophy to make a man happy in whatsoever state he is.'" (Faragher, 5) Filson's work was successful in its first printing in America, but successive printings did not receive the same interest. However, Filson's work was quite successful in Europe, where Enlightenment thinkers seized upon Boone as an American original, the "natural man."  Daniel Boone: The Life and Legend of an American Pioneer.
    3. John Mack Faragher, New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1992. This work is an excellent and comprehensive view of the "real" Daniel Boone. Faragher's focus is to sort through the myths of Boone, to understand the basis of the ideal. Interestingly, what we find is that Boone was quite a complex character, following his instincts, ready to lead when required, not averse to fame, but above all trying to marry his love of the hunt and the wilderness with his responsibilities to his family.  "Boone's happiness was the life of the frontier. The prospect of a new start in a fresh land, his family and friends gathered about him, lifted his spirits. He might yet succeed in constructing a little backwoods community where he would be honored as a founder, a patriarch." (277) Works about Boone began well before he died; well before he entered Missouri and the Femme Osage, in fact. The first laudatory work was published, by Daniel Bryan, in 1813, seven years before Boone's death. Asked to reflect on his life and his works, Boone gave this reply:  "I explored 'from the love of nature,' says he. 'I've opened the way for others to make fortunes, but a fortune for myself was not what I was after.' All he ever wanted, he claims, was a country where a man could 'tickle the soil with a hoe, and she would laugh you a bountiful harvest,' where he might 'hunt and live at ease.' It might be true that he was 'an instrument ordained to settle the wilderness,' to use the words of Filson's Boone." (301)  Undoubtedly, Daniel Boone was an interesting character who led an adventurous life, as well as an important player in the "winning of the West." Ultimately, however, it is the images of Boone, as Civilizer and Colonizer, as well as Natural Man, that have resonated with Americans, and provided them a useful icon for their particular political and social goals.
    4. History of Harrodburg. I do not know what the claims of Boonesboro to historical priority are at the present time, but it ought to be considered. It is quite certain there was no settlement at this point before the erection of the Fort there in 1775, and in erecting the Fort Daniel Boone and his company had no idea of making it the beginning of a town, at least I know of no authority for suggesting anything of the kind. Later, of course, some attempt was made to establish a town, but, as will be seen, this proved futile. Boone and his men, it is said, reached the banks of the Kentucky on the first of April, 1775, and lost no time in clearing the land and beginning the erection of a fort. Speed apparently was the order of the day, for the fort was completed on June 14, the same year. Towards the end of this year as we saw elsewhere quite a good many newcomers arrived in Kentucky, and some of them located at Boonesboro. This year, also, was signalized by the activities of Colonel Richard Henderson of Transylvania Colony fame, who issued a proclamation appointing a meeting at the fort for the purpose of furthering his pet scheme of forming a State. Delegates including some from Harrodsburg met at the fort on May 23. As one writer puts it: "This extraordinary legislature met on the 23rd of May, 1775, for log hut which Boone erected being at once the fortress, the city, the capital." In March of that year Henderson had made a deal with the Chiefs of the Cherokees at a fort on the Wataga (N.C.) whereby he acquired, in name at least, the whole tract of country between the Cumberland and the Kentucky Rivers. On the strength of this and for other reasons apparently, Henderson opened a land office at the Boonesboro Fort, and it is said had many transactions with the settlers, who, doubtless, lived to regret the day they had invested in real estate.  Naturally, there was trouble between Henderson and the government of Virginia which looked upon him as a usurper. Finally, the government declared against his activities and Transylvania with all its brief annals passed into history. Henderson is said to have been placated with a grant of land on the Ohio, some 12 miles square. Some cabins appear to have been erected near the fort and population at one time is said to have numbered 22. Then in 1779 an Act was passed by the legislature establishing the town of Boonesboro and appointing Trustees. These trustees, however, refused to act and in 1787 another Act was passed appointing other Trustees but no action of any kind appears to have been taken and both Acts fell into desuetude. Boonesboro never became a town.
    5. CHRONOLOGY:  From Daniel Boone: The Life and Legend of an American Pioneer by John Mack Faragher (1992). Who was the real Daniel Boone? Undoubtedly, he did lead an interesting life. Here, with the help of John Mack Faragher, we can sort out the fact from the fiction. Most of Faragher's work was completed with original sources, as well as the extensive collected works of Lyman Copeland Draper, whose work in the mid-nineteenth century with Boone family members and location research has assisted writers and biographers ever since.
      • 1713 Boone's father, Squire, arrives in Philadelphia from England.
      • 1720 Squire Boone and Sarah Morgan marry in the Friends' meetinghouse in Gwynedd, Pennsylvania.
      • 1731 Boone's parents relocate to the upper Schuylkill River valley.
      • 1734 Born in Exeter township, near Reading, on October 22.
      • 1750 Family leaves Pennsylvania for the western country; Boone engages in his first "long hunt."
      • 1751 Family settles in Rowan County, North Carolina, on the Yadkin River; Boone takes up hunting as his business.
      • 1755 French and Indian War begins; Boone with Braddock's army during the disastrous defeat near Pittsburgh.
      • 1756 Marries Rebecca Bryan on August 14; they soon settle in Rowan County.
      • 1759 During the Cherokee War, family flees to Culpeper County, Virginia.
      • 1760 Boone first crosses the Blue Ridge during his winter hunt.
      • 1762 The Boones return to Rowan County.
      • 1765 Boone explores the Florida country with an eye to moving there.
      • 1766 Family moves to a site farther west, near present Wilkesboro, North Carolina.
      • 1767 Reaches Kentucky and hunts along the Big Sandy River.
      • 1768 Regulator rebellion in North Carolina.
      • 1769 With five others leaves for a long hunt in Kentucky on May 1; captured by Shawnees on December 22.
      • 1771 Boone returns home after two years in Kentucky.
      • 1773 Boone leads party of family and friends to Kentucky, but they are turned back at Cumberland Gap by an Indian attack that kills his eldest son, James, on October 9.
      • 1774 Sent by Virginia authorities to warn Kentucky surveyors of pending war with Shawnees; leads defense of Clinch River settlements during Dunmore's War.
      • 1775 For the Transylvania Company, leads party cutting the Wilderness Road to Kentucky; founds Boonesborough in the face of Shawnee attacks; brings family to Kentucky.
      • 1776 Leads rescue of daughter Jemima and Callaway girls from Shawnees in July; copy of Declaration of Independence reaches Boonesborough in August.
      • 1778 Boone and his men captured by Shawnees while making salt on February 9; he escapes in June; siege of Boonesborough, September 7-18; rejoins Rebecca and children, who had returned to North Carolina.
      • 1779 Leads large party of emigrants to Kentucky in September; settles Boone's Station, north of the Kentucky River.
      • 1780 Participates in attack on Shawnee towns in Ohio; brother Edward killed by Shawnees in October.
      • 1781 Takes elected seat in Virginia assembly in April; captured by invading British forces in June, but soon released.
      • 1782 One of the commanding officers at the Kentuckians' defeat by Indians at the Blue Licks, where son Israel is killed, August 19; in command of a company that attacks Shawnee towns in November.
      • 1783 Relocates family to Limestone, on the Ohio River; takes up tavern keeping, surveying, and land speculating.
      • 1784 The Adventures of Col. Daniel Boon by John Filson published on Boon's fiftieth birthday.
      • 1786 Commands an attack on Shawnee towns in October.
      • 1787 Helps negotiate prisoner exchange with Shawnees at Limestone in August; takes seat in Virginia assembly in October.
      • 1789 With Rebecca and youngest children leaves Limestone and relocates at Point Pleasant, farther up the Ohio River.
      • 1791 Serves once again in the Virginia assembly; wins contract to supply militia companies in western Virginia.
      • 1792 Dispute over supply contracts leads to his abandonment of business and return to full-time hunting; with Rebecca, soon moves to a cabin near present Charleston, West Virginia.
      • 1795 To be nearer family, relocates to a cabin on Brushy Fork in Kentucky.
      • 1797 Son Daniel Morgan Boone scouts land in Spanish Missouri; governor invites Boones to emigrate.
      • 1798 Kentucky assembly names county after Boone; Mason County issues warrant for his arrest for debt; leaves Brushy Fork for a cabin at the mouth of the Little Sandy River on the Ohio.
      • 1799 Leads extended family from Kentucky to Femme Osage country in Missouri; appointed "syndic" of district by Spanish governor.
      • 1803 Seriously injured in hunting accident; relocates with Rebecca to cabin on the farm of son Nathan; Louisiana Purchase.
      • 1806 Appears before the Federal Land Commission, seeking confirmation of his Spanish land grant.
      • 1809 Gets word of rejection of his Spanish land grant; works on petitions to Congress.
      • 1813 Rebecca dies March 18.
      • 1814 Congress grants Boone a tract of Missouri land.
      • 1820 Dies on September 26; buried near Rebecca in the cemetery near Jemima's farm.
      • 1845 A delegation from Kentucky disinters the Boone graves and reburies remains in Frankfort, Kentucky.
    6. John Filson's book published 1784 claimed authority of George Washington and Congress 33 of 118 pages devoted to Daniel Boone detailed map of "Kentucke" Source: Pioneer Heroes and their daring deeds, by D.M. Kelsey, Thompson & Thomas Publishers, Chicago IL, 1902. Much time, however was consumed in the necessary preparations; but at last the farm was sold, horses and supplies purchased, and in September 1773, they left the old home for the new. At Powell's Valley, they were joined by five other families, and a company of forty able-bodied men, the whole party being well equipped with provisions and ammunition. In high spirits they journeyed onward, meeting with no accident or alarm until October 6, nearly two weeks from the time that the Boone family left home. On this day, as they were approaching Cumberland gap, a pass in the mountains, the young men who were driving the cattle, and who had fallen five or six miles in the rear of the main body, were suddenly attacked by the Indians. Six of their number were slain, one being the eldest son of Daniel Boone; a seventh escaped with a wound; the cattle were all dispersed in the woods. The reports of the rifles recalled the main body of pioneers, but it was too late; the Indians had vanished before they could come up; there was nothing to do but bury the dead. Disheartened by this said experience, many of the men, in the council held immediately after, urged a return to the settlements. Despite his own sad loss, however, Boone strenuously opposed this, and was earnestly supported by his brother; but even their united persuasions were of no avail; and yielding to the arguments of the majority, they returned with the whole party to the settlement on the Clinch River, in the southwestern part of Virginia, and forty miles from the scene of the disaster.
    7. James Boone Massacre In the summer of 1773, Daniel Boone, on his return from a trip to Kentucky, met Captain William Russell, of Castlewood, somewhere in the Clinch Valley, and at this meeting they seem to have agreed to unite in forming a strong party for the settlement of Kentucky. Boone had in the meantime enlisted the interest of his wife's people, the Bryans, in the enterprise. He also organized a party of five families in his own neighborhood on the Yadkin. These various groups were to assemble in Powell's Valley. On September 25, 1773, after a summer of active preparations, Boone and the North Carolina contingent started for the place of rendezvous in Powell's Valley. On reaching the neighborhood of Abingdon, Boone sent his son, James, 16 years of age, in company with John and Richard Mendenhall, of Guilford County, North Carolina, across country to Castlewood, to notify Captain Russell that the settlers were on their way, and also to obtain a supply of flour and farming tools. At Captain Russell's, they were joined by Henry Russell, age 17, son of Captain Russell, and by Isaac Crabtree and two of Russell's Negro slaves, Charles and Adam. Heavily laden with supplies, young Boone and Russell started down the Clinch by way of Hunter's Ford and the Rye Cove to join the main body at the place of rendezvous in Powell's Valley. The delay, occasioned by the detour to Captain Russell's, permitted the main body to reach the place of meeting in Powell's Valley in advance of young Boone and his party, who missed their way and failing to come up with the main party before nightfall, went into camp about three miles to the rear. During the night wolves surrounded the camp and howled dismally, on which the Mendenhall brothers expressed fear and were twitted with cowardice by Isaac Crabtree, who jocularly told them that in Kentucky, the place to which they were going, they would hear wolves and buffaloes howling in the treetops. At daybreak the next morning, the party was attacked by Indians and all killed except Isaac Crabtree, and Adam and Charles, the two Negroes. Young Russell was shot through the hips and thus rendered unable to escape. The Indians stabbed him with knives, and at each thrust he grabbed the knife blade with his hands. He was horrible mutilated. His hands were cut to pieces by the knife blades being drawn through them.... Crabtree made good his escape and was the first to return to the settlement. The Negro, Adam, watched the butchery of his young master and (the) others from a pile of driftwood. He became lost and wandered about several days before reaching the settlement. Charles (the other slave) was taken captive, and after traveling about forty miles two of his captors quarreled over possession of him and the leader of the party, the settle the quarrel, tomahawked and killed him. Capt. William Russell and Capt. David Glass, who had arranged to join the Boone party, had lingered in Castlewood to complete some unfinished business. As they journeyed along the patch taken by young Boone and his company they came suddenly upon the mutilated bodies. It appeared afterwards that the Indians had followed young Boone's party a considerable distance the day before. This was not a battle, but a massacre. The attack was so sudden and unexpected that no resistance was made by young Boone and his companions. There is no record that they were armed. The Cherokees were believed, at the time, to be guilty of the massacre. In fact, Capt. John Stuart, British Indian Agent among the Cherokees, urged them to give up the murderers. As a result of his influence, one chief was put to death and another escaped execution only by fleeing to the Chickasaw tribe. This band of Indians, however, was probably composed of both Cherokees and Shawnees, because some of the books and farming tools carried by the James Boone party were brought in and delivered to the whites by the Northern Indians as a result of the treaty which followed (Lord) Dunmore's War. From: History of Scott County by Robert M.Addington.