Middlesboro Times News
Wednesday, February 21, 1951
75 Years Ago
The Torture Death of Young Virginian
By James Taylor Adams
Daily News Feature Writer
BIG LAUREL, Va., -- But for a single tragic event many family names, long prominent in Southwestern Virginia history, would be found only in the fading records of Russell County.
In the fall of 1773 Daniel Boone, accompanied by many families from Western North Carolina, set out for the wilderness of Kentucky. The party crossed over the mountains, the Holston and Clinch Rivers, and reached the Warriors Path in Powells Valley. Here they were joined by another party, coming down from the upper Clinch Valley settlements; and Boone, deciding that the settlers would need more breadstuffs and farming equipment, sent his son James back to Castlewood to inform William Russell, who was preparing to join the party, along with several other families from the same settlement for the trip to Kentucky, to bring more supplies than had first been agreed upon by the two.
“Clappity-clap, calppity-clap.” Ringing hoofs on the limestone trail. Timid deer, in the deep thickets, poised for instant flight as they watched the galloping stead, with the sixteen-year-old James Boone, at ease on his back come up from the west and disappear into the east.
“Clappity-clap, clappity-clap.” On and away through Lovelady Gap. Sunset and evening shade. Thickening gloom. Gathering dusk. Then black dark.
“Sluggity-slug, sluggity-slug.” Ever onward through the deep night pushed young Boone, the hoofs of his mount slashing the muck of the broad Clinch River bottoms.
A few miles south of Castelswood, the boy reined to a stop at the two-story log mansion of William Russell, and delivered his father’s message.
Russell and several other families of the Castlewood settlement were preparing to join Boone’s party, somewhere along the Warrior Path or the Wilderness Trial. So, the next morning, young James Boone, loaded with supplies, and accompanied by Henry Russell, teenage son of William Russell, two hired hands and two of the Russell slaves, struck out down the Clinch on the return journey.
All went well with the little party as they covered the trail at a leisurely pace. The second night (October 10, 1773) they made camp on Wallens Creek, in the present Lee County, only about three miles east of where the main body of migrants, under the leadership of Daniel Boone, was camped.
Indian trouble was not anticipated. Only a few weeks before the Moafees had returned from the Kentucky wilderness country and reported that the Shawnees and Delawares were very friendly.
The mid-fall night as the little party sat around their campfire, they could hear the howl of the timber wolves, one of the most terrifying sounds of the wilderness. The six men may have huddled a little closer together. But that was all. For the howls of the wolves was nothing new, though always startling to them. No doubt, the other five were entertained that night, by Young Boone with stories of his already famous father’s experiences in the wilderness.
About midnight they spread their blankets and went to sleep, never dreaming that death and destruction was creeping upon them through the surrounding gloom.
The night wore on. Mayhap they dreamed of high adventure in that land beyond the Cumberlands for which the party had set out.
Dawn was breaking this nigh to day when, suddenly and without any warning, a band of Indians charged the camp, whooping and firing as they came. James Boone and Henry Russell were both shot through the hips. Neither of the boys could stand, walk or run for the safety of the forest. One of the slaves was shot dead; one of the workmen suffered a like fate. The other hired man escaped immediate death and ran into the woods, but he was never seen again. Several years later a skelton (sic) of a man was found in the mountains, not far from the scene and it was presumed to be his. It is believed that he had been wounded and finally died, unattended and alone, in the forest.
One of the slaves was lucky enough to escape the fire and crawled into a pile of driftwood and lay there peeping out, trembling at the scene that followed.
The Indians settled down to pertake (sic) of the party’s food; and while they were munching in delight, they proceeded to torture the teenage boys. Evidently the Indians were just passing through the country; and their attack on the supply party had not been planned. They seemed in a hurry to be on their way. So, not having time to burn their captives at the stake, and their wounds being such as not to allow them to travel, they proceeded to walk around the wounded boys, jabbing them with their knives.
Among the band was an Indian, called Big Jim, who had often visited the Boone home in North Carolina. Young James pleaded with him to show mercy, reminding him of the friendship his father had shown him. But all to no avail. The Indians continued to go round and round the boys, their hands darting out to stab their flesh with already bloody blades. Finally the concealed slave heard young Boone pleading with Big Jim to tomahawk him and put him out of his misery. Again Big Jim refused to call off the torture. Then finally, after many house of being stabbed and cut to pieces, the boys died.
Soon after the Indians departed the scene a member of the advance party, becoming involved in an argument with another man left the company and started alone back along the Warriors Path. Coming upon the scene of the massacre he stood there staring at the carnage until William Russell and his party rode up from the east. The bodies of both the one and the Russell boys were mutilated in the most horrible manner. They had been literally slashed to pieces and their toe and finger nails torn out by the roots.
William Russell sent one of his men on ahead to notify Daniel Boone while he and the others set about digging four graves.
Some accounts say the Indians attacked the Daniel Boone party the following night and were driven off; other say that they were not seen or heard of again.
On hearing of her son’s death, Daniel Boone’s wife sent her best linen sheet to wrap around James “to,” as she said, “keep the earth from his body.”
Discouraged and heartbroken Daniel Boone decided to turn back on the trail and postpone his adventure into Kentucky. So bother partied following his lead, returned to Castlewood, where Boone and his family spent the winter in the home of Capt. David Gass.
One day in May, 1774, the famous trailblazer, slopped away from his family and friends and struck out alone along the Warriors Path. At dusk two days later, he stood beside the wilderness grave of his son. It is said that he found James’ grave had been dug into by the wild beasts of the forest; and that to satisfy himself, that the body had not been molested, he opened the grave and looked upon the body, the first time he had seen it since the lad had been killed; then he carefully tenderly filled in the grave, mounted his horse and rode away silently into the night.