The Saltmaker’s Ordeals

From: Edward Smith
Subject: [WADE-L] Saltmakers Ordeal
Date: Fri, 11 Jun 1999 12:23:36 -0400

To Wade List:
After checking with the most gracious hostess of the Wade page, I will be posting a short book over the next several days. The book mainly concerns Richard Wade, but it has other folks in it as well. The book is not copyrighted. Where I have excerpted information from other material, such as published books and The Draper files, I have given them credit in the body of the text. If you use this material, I ask that you do the same. I will furnish source and page information for any statement, name or date in the book, but I can’t give the exact quotes due to the length of the sources. I’ll tell you where to look, and you can look it up!


On Sunday morning, February 8, 1778 Daniel Boone and his captors returned to the salt lick springs. They marched directly into camp. Blackfish had told Boone that if there was the slightest resistance, he would be the first to die. The men at the spring were not working because the river water was high and covering the spring, but were lying about on their blankets, taking a day of rest, and enjoying the sunshine, even though there was 5 or 6 inches of snow on the ground. They at first mistook Daniel and the Indians for Capt. Watkins and the relief party that they had been expecting, but soon recognized the Indians and scrambled for their guns. Daniel shouted, “Don’t fire! If you do, all will be massacred!” They obeyed, with some reluctance. William and Samuel Brooks, the brothers of Boone’s scout, Thomas Brooks, were the last to give up their weapons, but they finally added their rifles to the others. When all the arms were stacked the Indians came in from every side, encircled the men and ordered them to sit down together. The Indians were elated. They had captured 27 white men without firing a shot! Some of the warriors wanted to kill the saltmakers immediately in revenge for the death of their Chief Cornstalk. Cornstalk had been killed while on a peaceful mission, and could not be avenged without the spilling of blood, they argued. They wanted to kill the saltmakers and then go on to Boonesborough!

The Indian chiefs had the power to rule only through the consent of their followers. Since so many of the warriors wanted to kill the saltmakers in opposition to the chief’s desires, a meeting was called to hear arguments, pro and con. Blackfish invited Boone to join the circle while the warriors in the council presented their arguments to the chiefs. Pompey sat close to Boone and whispered the translations into his ear. One after the other, in a process that lasted several hours, the warriors presented their arguments, both for and against. The saltmakers did not understand the Algonquian language and could not hear what Pompey was saying to Daniel Boone. Finally, Blackfish offered Boone the opportunity to make the closing argument. He spoke in English, with pauses for translations, and the saltmakers realized for the first time that it was their very lives that hung in balance.

Here is Daniel’s speech as remembered by those who were present and who reconstructed it in later years:

“Brothers! What I have promised you, I can much better fulfill in the spring than now. Then the weather will be warm, and the women and children can travel from Boonesborough to the Indian towns, and all live with you as one people. You have got all the young men. To kill them, as has been suggested, would displease the Great Spirit, and you could not then expect future success in hunting nor war. If you spare them, they will make you fine warriors, and excellent hunters to kill game for your squaws and children. These young men have done you no harm. They unresistingly surrendered upon my assurance that such a step was the only safe one. I consented to their capitulation on the express condition that they should be made prisoners of war and treated well. Spare them, and the Great Spirit will smile upon you.”

The vote was taken. Fifty-nine warriors voted for killing the captives. Sixty-one voted to let them live. Boone said later that he thought the chiefs had let him speak because they wanted to keep their promise to him.

They made preparations for the march to the Indians towns. They took some of the salt, and destroyed the rest. One of the braves handed Boone a kettle to carry, and Boone shoved it back at him so violently that the brave fell down, and then jumped up and came at Boone with an upraised tomahawk. Blackfish stepped in between them, and the warrior slunk off. They set off, and traveled to early evening, when they stopped for the night. Boone noticed some of the Indians clearing ground for what looked like a gauntlet, and grabbing Pompey, made a protest to Blackfish that he had said he would not make his men run a gauntlet. Blackfish replied that the gauntlet was not for the men, but it was for Boone, since he had made no provision for himself. Blackfish gave him the option of running the gauntlet here or waiting until they arrived at Chillicothe, Blackfish?s town on the Little Miami River. Boone chose to run the gauntlet here, since, he said “I am a man, and no squaw, and not afraid to run. I prefer to do it here in the presence of men and warriors and not before mere squaws and children.” (They were a little sexist in those days.)

He ran the gauntlet at full speed, running close to one side where the Indians could not get a good blow at him, and then swerving to the other side. Near the end of the line a warrior stepped out into the center and was prepared to deliver a hard blow, when Boone bowed his head and butted the Indian in the chest while running at full speed, knocking the Indian down. This greatly amused the other Indians. They shook Boone’s hand and said “Velly good sojer!” and looked askance at the brave, saying “Damned squaw!” Daniel suffered only minor injuries.

The next morning as they were preparing to leave, the Indians loaded the captives down with salt, kettles and other goods. Ansel Goodman would later remember that it was “a very heavy load”, William Brooks, when given a kettle to carry, threw it to the ground and would not pick it up until Daniel persuaded him that he would be killed if he did not. Daniel took some of his load. James Callaway was given a kettle to carry, but refused to pick it up. The Indian trying to get him to carry it threatened him with a tomahawk. James took off his hat, bent forward and said, “Here, strike! I would as lief (soon) lie here as go along, and I won’t tote your kettle!” The warrior gave a wry smile, turned away and found someone else to carry the kettle. James was later given some other items to carry, but managed to ?accidentally? lose them in a deep, cold stream!

That same evening, Thomas Brooks and Flanders Callaway, the hunter-scouts, returned to the Blue Licks and discovered the saltmakers missing. They at first thought the men had grown tired of waiting for Capt. Watkins and the relief party, and had left for Boonesborough. They soon discovered a bow and some arrows, then moccasin tracks and then the destroyed salt. They realized that the saltmakers had been captured. They quickly set out on a trip back to Boonesborough, but came across Capt. Gwatkin’s relief party, who were camped for the night. The salt making expedition was abandoned. Several men set out to track the captured saltmakers, while the rest returned to Boonesborough with the disastrous news. The trackers followed the trail as far as the Ohio River, then returned to Boonesborough.

The Ohio River was the natural dividing line between the unexplored “Indian Country” of several major tribes, and the sparsely settled “Kentucky Country”. This natural barrier was the northern part of the Cherokee Nations territory and the southern part of the Shawnee, Mingo. Miami and other tribes. The river was never formally recognized as a dividing line, even between the various tribes It just created a natural dividing place in their nomadic wanderings within the vast, loosely defined areas that the tribes claimed as their own.

The trip of more than a hundred miles to Chillicothe, through the snow and cold took ten days. They ferried the Ohio River in a boat made of buffalo hides that held twenty men. They had little to eat. The warriors killed and ate their dogs. They offered to share the dog meat with the saltmakers, but many refused. Most of the saltmakers were young men fresh from Virginia and had little or no woods experience, and consequently they suffered a great deal. Others, like Boone, were experienced woodsmen, and accustomed to living on short rations and using their skills to provide for themselves. Ansel Goodman later said that “the night after he was taken, his arms were tied behind him, a rope or buffalo tug was tied first around his middle, and then made fast to an Indian on each side of him, and the one around his arms, was made to go around his neck, and tied fast to a tree, and in that position he had to sleep upon the snow”.

The warriors at last killed a deer and brought it into camp, but before they would share it with the captives, they made a jelly of the entrails, and insisted that the captives must eat some of it before they could eat venison. Boone tried it and threw up, much to the amusement of his captives. However, the Indians kept insisting, and the men finally got some of the repugnant stuff to stay down. The Indians said that the venison would have killed them if they had eaten before keeping the jelly down. Obviously, this was a belief with little basis in fact. This one deer provided very little meat to feed over 100 warriors and 27 captives.

The prisoners were brought into the Indian town of Little Chillicothe on the Little Miami. It was called this to distinguish it from Old Chillicothe on the Scioto. It is located just a little north of the present day Xenia, Ohio.

This was the greatest victory for the Indians since the defeat of Braddock, several years before, and it was cause for a huge celebration. The victory dance was preceded by making the captives run a gauntlet, notwithstanding the promises made by the chiefs to Boone. Boone was not required to run the gauntlet again. James Callaway, whose undisguised contempt for the Indians was evident, knocked two or three Indians down a bank. This greatly amused the children and squaws, and so surprised the other Indians braves that he got through the gauntlet relatively unscathed. William Hancock was the last to run the gauntlet, and he used the same strategy that Boone had used; running first on one side then the other of the line. Just as in Boone’s ordeal, an Indian stepped in front of William at the end of the gauntlet, and like Boone, William sent him flying with a head butt to the chest. This also provided amusement for the children and squaws, but it did not set easily for the embarrassed warriors who were the recipients of the blows.

The next day two Indians who had not traveled as fast as the others brought in Ansel Goodman. They had taken a detour to recover some Indian goods that had been cached, and were fortunate enough to kill a bear. Ansel was loaded down with the bear meat and he could not make good time. Before coming into the Indian town, Ansel was forced to strip naked and sing at the top of his voice to announce their arrival. He also was required to run the gauntlet, while loaded with the bear meat, and he was severely beaten in the process.. He and some of the other captives were then forced to “dance like the whites” for the amusement of the Indians.

From this time on the captives were split into different groups. Some were never heard of again. At least sixteen of the salt makers were adopted into different Indian families. The adoption process started almost immediately after the running of the gauntlet. The adoption process was taken very seriously by the Indians. The adopted members were expected to become full fledged members of the family with all the rights of the clan bestowed on them after the “white had been washed out of their blood”. Some, like Boone, were adopted to replace a favorite son who had fallen in battle.

Some, like Micajah Callaway, turned renegade after their adoption and lived for long periods of time in the nomadic world of the red man, only to return to the white man’s ways in later times and become valuable scouts and interpreters. Others may have lived out the remainder of their lives with the Indians.

Among the saltmakers known to have been adopted were Daniel Boone, who was adopted by Blackfish and given the Indian name “Sheltowee”, Joseph Jackson, Micajah Callaway, William Hancock, who was adopted by Will Emery (Capt. Will), John Dunn, George Hendricks, Benjamin Kelly, Ansel Goodman, John Holley, Andrew Johnson, John Brown and Richard Wade.


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