Echoes From The Past

By JUDY MAUPIN *- Echoes From the Past
(A Column of historical and genealogical anecdotes, stories and family notes.)
Calloway County, Ky.

The First Exploration of West Kentucky

September 16, 1978
I came across an article recently, written by Charlotte Lawrence Pulliam about the trip taken by John Donelson's party of settlers which I believe is worthy of including. She had evidently done this article for the Cadiz Record which was at that tIme (1940's) put out by her parents.

It is a retelling of the diary kept by one of the adventurous souls who braved the wilderness in order to help settle the frontiers of Kentucky.

"The winter of 1779-80 was one the like of which is experienced in Kenb.icky and Tennessee only two or three times a century. For months the southern wilderness lay inert under the numbing cold. Game was so scarce that even the indians were hard pit to secure food and were, in consequence, iestless and more resentful than ever against the whites, whom they accused (some wlth justice)pf despoiling their punting grounds, In short, the weather was such asto send man and beast alike scurrying for the nearest haven, there to barricade himself as best he could against the cold, till spring should come '.to release him.

And yet, in defiance of this natural incination, in December of the year 1779, a little band of people at Fort Patrick Henry on the Hoiston River were working like so many beavers to .get all in readiness for a 900 mile journey into the vastness of the Tennessee wilderness.

The temerity of this undertaking against which the odds were so great 'leaves us of today gasping as we try to comprehend the indomitability of character that alone could inspire men and women to embark on such an expedition. Every foot of the way that they would have to traverse was peopled by savages always hostile and now outright partisans of England against the Americans; and should they escape the indians, there were still the adverse forces of nature to be reckoned with.

CoL James Robertson, the rough, capable frontier soldier who did for Tennessee what Boone had earlier done o for Kentucky.

Early in the year 1779, Robertson, in company with some other hardy frontiersmen, had pushed far beyond the westernmost settlements of North Carolina and had finally reached the bluffs at the great bend of the 'Cumberland, a place called at that time '~the French Salt Springs.

For more than ten years, hunters had known of this o spot and had visited it at intervals, but in 1779 there was only one permanent settler, a man by the name of Spencer, who had built a cabin and lived there alone.

The Cumberland country, as It came to be called, appealed to Robertson, a man of excellent judgement and great capacity for leadership, as a good place for settlers. And now this man who had already done so much to establish the : older settlements of Watauga and the Holston, immediately set about securing the necessary land titles from .the government of North Carolina. Once this was done, he found it easy to interest settlers in the new country, and by June of 1779, one party of men and their families had already established ~'itself at the Bluffs, on the present site of Nashville.

Robertson's partner was a man by the name of John Donelson, and It is ~with the party of settlers of which he ~ was the leader that we are especially 'concerned here. Their plan was to set :out in boats from Fort Patrick Henry, and float down the Tennessee River to Muscle Shoals, where Robertson would. meet them and conduct them overland to the Bluffs - a plan that it was later found impossible to follow.

The adventures of this particular expedition were not unique, for a few orations had preceded them over the same route and many were to come after them, all experiencing the same peril in varying degrees, and yet two circumstances make the Donelson expedition of particular interest to the people of Trigg County: it produced the earliest and most complete written record of a journey the exact counterpart of which was made by so many of Trigg County's earliest settlers; and this journal kept by the leader Donelson contains one of the earliest references we can find to the territory that is now Trigg County in which the landmarks are so well describe as to seem recognizable.

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