Any 200 mile backpacking trip needs much consideration of the discomforts, risks and dangers. As you read this today, I have walked approximately 75 miles along well used highway in the company of cars and trucks speeding by. It is late winter and the weather can range from warm sunny days to cold rainy nights. This is not a trip to plan hastily. I feel confident that if anything at all goes awry I have in my pack what I need or I can call for help with my cell phone or satellite communicator. Help is at my finger tips.
But it is in this area of Powell Valley, along Wallen’s Creek, that several young men had their trip and their lives cut short.
Daniel Boone had passed through Southwest Virginia several times to hunt and explore the newly found land of Kentucky. He knew that others were attempting settlements there and was keen on the idea. He recruited family and friends in the Yadkin river area and in the fall of 1773 they headed out to pursue new lives. About 40 pioneers altogether, they traveled with pack horses, cattle, chickens, pigs and every necessity for a frontier household.
The traveling was more difficult than expected so Boone sent his eldest son James along with the Mendinhall boys, John and Richard, back to Castle’s Wood for more provisions. After acquiring what they needed they were joined by 5 other men and began the trek back to the main party.
James and his companions camped along Wallen’s Creek on the night of October 9th. Wolves howled in the distance and the Mendinhall boys were concerned. Crabtree, a seasoned frontiersman, bedeviled the boys with stories of the Kentucky wilds and Buffalo bellowing from the tree tops. It was a good chuckle and the group faded off to sleep. But there were more than wolves in the woods that night.
As the sun peaked over the hills, more than a dozen Indians fired their guns into the sleeping group. The Mendinhall boys died instantly. Crabtree and another man fled with injuries. Yet another man, Adam, ran and hid in a pile of driftwood by the creek, and it is that man who survived to give us this account.
James and another teen, Henry Russell, were both shot through the hips preventing them from escaping. As several Indians gathered the frightened horses and supplies, an Indian known as Big Jim proceeded to torture the 2 boys. James called Big Jim by name because this man had, at one time, been a visitor in the Boone home on the Yadkin. Far from pleasantries now, Big Jim showed no mercy as James first cried for his life to be spared, then cried to be put out of his suffering. With a tomahawk and knife, Big Jim finished the boys and joined his raiding party.
Word of the tragedy was carried ahead to Daniel’s party by someone who happened on the scene very soon after the Indians departed. Boone Secured his party from possible attack as others went back to bury the boys.
This event destroyed the spirit of the pioneers and all turned back for the homes they had left.
In the spring, Daniel went on a hunt in the same area. While there he found the grave which had been disturbed by wolves and re-covered it with more dirt and logs. A storm arose and the mourning father camped for the night. He heard Indians approaching in the night and crept away with his horse. His son Nathan would later say, “The melancholy of [Boone’s] feelings mingled with the howling of the storm and the gloominess of the place made him feel worse than ever in his life.”
Today I pass by Hwy. 684 (Norray Rd.), a marker stands to represent the burial site of James and his companions.