A History of the Daniel Boone National Forest
1770 - 1970


The history of the Daniel Boone National Forest actually begins in Western Pennsylvania in the summer of 1755. An army of British and Colonial troops, commanded by Major General Edward Braddock of the British Army, had left Fort Cumberland in Western Maryland early in June with the mission of driving the French from British territory. The initial objective of this force was Fort Duquesne which the French had established at the junction of the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers, territory claimed by the English.

In December of 1753, Governor Robert Dinwiddie of Virginia had sent Major George Washington, accompanied by the experienced frontier scout Christopher Gist, with a letter to the French comander at Fort Duquesne demanding that the French depart peacefully from English territory. The French reply had been evasive, but they continued to maintain troops at Fort Dequesne. The British government had sent General Braddock to America to organize this force and to lead it to drive out the French and take possession of the fort. With this army were a number of people whose names were to become forever identified with the American Revolution.

First there was Colonel George Washington, a member of General Braddock's staff. The Commander of the Advance Guard was Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Gage who, just 20 years later, would be commanding a British force penned up in Boston by a Colonial Army commanded by General George Washington.

The principal commissary officer of the expedition was Dr. Thomas Walker who had led the exploration party through Cumberland Gap in 1750. He had been assisted in procuring teams and wagons for the expedition by Benjamin Franklin, then Postmaster of Pennsylvania.

Commanding a frontier scout company, the 17th Rangers, was Christopher Gist, who had explored a part of Kentucky as an employee of the Ohio Company in 1751. With him as a lieutenant in the 17th Rangers was his son, Nathaniel Gist, who was to serve with honor in the Revolution, to become the father of the famous Cherokee Chief Sequoia and to become an honored and respected resident of Clark County, Kentucky, in later years.

With the wagon trains, as a civilian teamster, was John Findley who had established a trading post at Es-kip-pa-kith-i-ki in what is now Clark County, Kentucky in 1752.

Another civilian teamster with this wagon train was a 21-year-old frontiers man from the Yadkin Valley in North Carolina by the name of Daniel Boone. He and his family were neighbors of Christopher Gist and his son Nathaniel on the Yadkin.

As the army slowly cut its way through the forest towards Fort Duquesne, it was the custom of the soldiers to gather around the campfire at night and talk of the things that soldiers have talked about since time began; home, girls, and adventure. Frequently, as the fire burned low, talk would turn to adventure and John Findley or Christopher Gist would tell of the country they had visited beyond the western mountains, the land called Kentucky. Each time the stories of Kentucky were told, tales of the vast unbroken forests; of the rolling bluegrass with its cane and huge herds of buffalo, elk, bear and deer; of the limitless flocks of wild turkey and of the many clear streams bordered by right land all free for the taking, young Daniel Boone resolved that someday he would visit and settle in this beautiful land of Kentucky.

Sixty years later Daniel Boone still remembered the details of these camp fire stories; of trees 10 feet in diameter and 150 feet tall, of huge forests of oak, hickory, chestnut, walnut and poplar, of unlimited game and good land reaching in all directions as far as the eye could see. Here a man could live in freedom and raise his family in the midst of plenty. Daniel Boone often said that he could remember these campfire stories of Kentucky as clearly as though it were only yesterday.

These pleasant summer evenings by the campfires came to an abrupt and awesome end. On July 9, 1755, this column of troops had arrived within a few miles of Fort Duquesne and was crossing the Monongahela River at Little Turtle Ford when the advance guard was suddenly attacked by a force of Indians and French, nearly 900 in number.

The story of Braddock's Defeat at Little Turtle Ford is well known to all students of American history. Wagon trains in the rear of the column could well determine the situation when they saw Indians in war paint breaking through the confused column of British soldiers, scalping them where they fell. With sound frontier judgment, Daniel Boone, John Findley and the other teamsters cut the tugs of their horses and rode out of the fight. This British disaster resulted in the defeat and near annihilation of the British Colonial force. Out of an army of 1,459 officers and men only 23 officers and 459 men survived, the majority of these being colonial troups who understood Indian fighting in forested country. Many of the British troups surrendered under the impression that they would be treated as prisoners of war. Claimed by the Indians with the consent of the French, most of these prisoners were killed, many being tortured and some actually butchered and eaten in the same manner as cattle by the Indians. This is believed to be Daniel Boone's first experience with Indian warfare.

Following his escape from this military disaster, Daniel Boone made his way home to his father's farm on the Yadkin Valley of North Carolina where he resumed work on the farm, coupled with hunting and trapping expeditions into the forest in an effort to forget the horrors of Indian warfare he had experienced.

Apparently he was successful in clearing his recent unpleasant experiences from his mind during the fall and winter because, by the spring of 1756, his mind, like that of most young men in spring, turned to lighter and more pleasant thoughts. He was considering getting married. After a brief frontier courtship, young Daniel Boone committed matrimony on August 14, 1756, with Rebecca Bryan, the 17-year-old daughter of a neighboring family and the niece, by marriage, of his sister Mary. Daniel had often said that all a man needed in life was, "a good rifle, a good horse and a good wife," he now had all three.

History has told us all too little of this tall brunette who married Daniel Boone at 17 in North Carolina and was still with him when she died in Missouri at the age of 73. For 56 years she was a faithful wife during which she bore him nine children, raised his family, tended the family farm, moved westward to Kentucky and later to Missouri, saw her husband wounded by an Indian tomahawk and her daughter by an Indian bullet, saw her daughter captured by the Indians, and live often for months at a time not knowing whether she was a wife or a widow. A true frontier wife.

In the fall of 1756, the increase in Indian trouble along the entire frontier caused most of the settlers on the Yadkin to move to a place of safety further north and east. Daniel and Rebecca moved to Culpepper County, Virginia near Fredricksburg where, it is said, he renewed his acquaintance with George Washington. While there Daniel found employment as a teamster with a bit of hunting and target shooting on the side.

In 1758, Daniel Boone was a member of the expedition of General John Forbes who commanded a British-Colonial Army which was successful in driving the French from Fort Duquesne and, to some extent, avenging Braddock's Defeat three years earlier. It is said that it was while Daniel Boone was with this expedition that he killed his first Indian.

The living conditions of Culpepper County, Virginia, and the opportunities offered there, must not have been to the liking of Daniel and Rebecca Boone. Despite the Indian wars which raged on the Yadkin during this period, a legal notice establishes that they had returned to the Yadkin by October 12, 1759, when a deed states that Daniel Boone bought 640 acres of land in Rowan County from his father for 50 pounds.

By the end of 1760, the militia forces had defeated the Cherokees, and by November of that year a peace treaty between the colonists and the Cherokee was agreed upon at a council assembled for this purpose. This eased the tension of frontier life and somewhat alleviated the dangers of travel into the western wilderness. Through the signing of the treaty, Daniel Boone lost little time in returning to his first love, hunting and exploring in the western forests and mountains. During the next 10 years, we find him dividing his time between supporting his growing family by farming his land on the Yadkin and by hunting and trapping in the mountains. In 1760, he made his first trip across the Blue Ridge in company with his old friend from the Braddock expedition days, Nathaniel Gist. On this trip, he traveled into Eastern Tennessee, where he carved his name on the bark of a large beech tree on the banks of a stream known today as "Boone's Creek." This carving read, "D. Boon killed a bar on this tree in the year 1760." This inscription was seen and commented upon by other hunters as early as 1770, and the tree still stood in 1853 when the carving on it was photographed. Throughout his life, Daniel Boone enjoyed recording outstanding events of his daily life, such as a good game kill, finding fresh water, or his travel to a particularly desirable area, by carving his name and the date on a tree. In pursuit of this practice, some 13 years later, he left a similar inscription on a tree near Long Island, Tennessee which read, "D. Boon killa bar on this tree 1773." Such carving of information on the smooth bark of large trees appears to have been a common practice of the frontier hunter.

In reviewing the available facts of Boone's activities during the 10 years following 1760, it appears that his long trips into the western wilderness were more than hunting expeditions for skins and furs. These trips had an underlying pattern of exploration with a specific purpose in mind.

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Last Updated: 07-Apr-2010
Forest History Society Electronic edition courtesy of the
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