Daniel Boone was gasping for breath as he sprinted through the forest, four Shawnee warriors close on his heels. A bullet hit his powder horn, while another kicked up the snow around him. Boone ducked behind a tree and leaned his rifle against it—a sign of surrender. Daniel Boone was the ultimate survivor, but his actions on Feb. 7, 1778, and the days that followed, would lead to charges of treason.
A captain of the Kentucky Militia, Boone was one of the leaders of the frontier community of Fort Boonesborough. Once the War for Independence began, the town found itself constantly harassed by Indian raiding parties egged on by their British allies. Facing a desperate shortage of salt to preserve meat, Boone led a party of approximately 30 men to a salt spring. While hunting for food for the party,
he was captured by the Shawnee.
It was at this point that Boone began acting in a way that would later arouse suspicion. He led the Shawnee raiders back to the salt spring, and persuaded his men to give up without firing a shot. “We were ordered by Colonel Boone to stack our guns and surrender,” wrote one of the men later, “and we did so.” Then the captured men overheard Boone conspiring with the Shawnee and British officers to surrender Boonesborough. He got along so well with his Shawnee captors that a chief named Blackfish adopted Boone into his family, a Shawnee custom.
After four months, Boone escaped and returned to Boonesborough. A war party of approximately 200 Shawnee soon showed up to attack the town—led by Boone’s “adoptive” father. Boone arranged a parley, and it seemed to some of the already suspicious townspeople as if he were trying to deliver the town to the enemy—especially when they saw the Indians try to overpower their white counterparts at the peace conference. All of this painted a picture of treachery and betrayal.
After the Shawnee were driven off, one of Boone’s fellow officers preferred charges against him, and he faced a court-martial.
Boone did not deny the facts, but said it was all part of a “stratagem” to deceive his captors and save Boonesborough. He surrendered the men at the salt spring, he said, rather than see them get killed. He spun tails to the British and Shawnee to buy time so that he could escape to warn the town. As for being chummy with the Shawnee during his captivity: “Well, any time a man has a tomahawk to my scalp, I’d a sight rather he be friend than an enemy.”
Boone must have been convincing because he was found innocent on all charges and promoted to major. But hard feelings remained. The famous frontiersman moved away from Boonesborough a year later, never to return, and set out on a path that would one day see him elevated into an American legend.
Rick Beyer wrote about the Pig War in the January/February 2006 issue.