By Bill Derby
I wrote this story a number of years ago but since our area is steeped in history I thought it would be interesting to re-visit. If you live near Boones Creek, you live near local history. Over the last few weeks Judy has been rearranging our library and I again looked at some of our old books.
A little history about our local Boones Creek…..
I moved a collection of old leather-bound books handed down through our family, The Winning of the West by Theodore Roosevelt published in 1889.
I had occasionally opened the fragile volumes to read exerts. Picking up the first volume I casually looked at a few pages including Roosevelt’s account of Daniel Boone’s hunting in Tennessee and Kentucky. I turned to the back index pages and noticed the word, “Washington.” It caught my eye and I turned to the numbered page to read further. It was a letter from a man from Washington County, Tennessee, written to Theodore Roosevelt.
The piece was an appendix-added letter from a Mr. John Allison, Tennessee Secretary of State in 1888. Roosevelt thought it important enough to include the letter in his famous Winning of the West series. The letter, which follows, confirms the existence of the famous beech tree on Boones Creek on which Boone carved his name and account of killing a bear, which had climbed into the tree.
Our area of East Tennessee and Southwest Virginia played an important part in our country’s history. Roosevelt writes of the Long Hunters….. “Their accounts excited no more than a passing interest; they came and went without comment, as lonely stragglers had come and gone for nearly a century. The backwoods civilization crept slowly westward without being influenced in its movements by their explorations. Finally, however, among these hunters one arose whose wanderings were to bear fruit; who was destined to lead through the wilderness the first body of settlers that ever established a community in the far west, completely cut off from the seaboard colonies. This was Daniel Boone.”
“He was a tall, spare, sinewy man, with eyes like an eagle’s, and muscles that never tired; the toil and hardship of his life made no impress on his iron frame, unhurt by intemperance of any kind, and he lived for eighty-six years, a backwoods hunter to the end of his days.”
Roosevelt gives this account of Boone’s local travel…. “Boone hunted on the western waters at an early date. In the valley of Boone’s Creek, a tributary of the Watauga, there is a beech tree still standing, on which can be faintly traced an inscription setting forth that ‘D. Boone cilled a bar on (this) tree in the year 1760.’ On the expeditions of which this is the earliest record he was partly hunting on his own account and partly exploring.”
The following is the letter written by the Honorable John Allison to Theodore Roosevelt.
Office of the Secretary of State
Nashville, Tenn., June 12, 1888
To: Hon. Theodore Roosevelt,
Sagamore Hill, Long Island, N.Y.
I was born, “raised,” and have always lived in Washington County, E. Tenn. Was born on the “head-waters” of “Boone’s Creek,” in said county. I resided for several years in the “Boone Creek Civil District,” in Washington County within two miles of the historic tree in question, on which is carved, “D. Boon cilled Bar &c: having visited and examined the tree more than once. The tree is a beech, still standing, though fast decaying. It is located some eight miles northeast of Jonesboro, the county seat of Washington on the “waters of Boone’s Creek,” which creek was named after Daniel Boone, and on which it is certain Daniel Boone “camped” during a winter or two.
The tree stands about two miles from the spring, where it has always been understood Boone’s camp was. More than twenty years ago, I have heard old gentlemen (living in the neighborhood of the tree), who were then from fifty to seventy years old, assert that the carving was on the tree when they were boys, and that the tradition in the community was that the inscription was on the tree when discovered by the first permanent settlers.
The posture of the tree is “leaning,” so that a “bar,” or other animal could ascend it without difficulty. While the letters could be clearly traced when I last looked at them, still because of the expansion of the bark, it was difficult, and I heard old gentlemen years ago remark upon the changed appearance of the inscription from what it was when they first knew it.
Boone certainly camped for a time under the tree; the creek is named after him (has always been known as Boone’s Creek); the Civil District is named after him, and the post-office also. True, the story as to the carving is traditionary, but a man had as well question in that community the authenticity of “Holy Writ,” as the fact that Boone carved the inscription on that tree.
I am very respectfully,