America First—100 Stories from Our History by Lawton B. Evans

Nolichucky Jack

JOHN SEVIER rode over the mountains from Virginia to see what kind of home he could find in the new settlements for himself and his family. Alone through woods and across the steep mountains he made the journey. At last, he found the very place his adventurous spirit liked, and there he brought his wife and children to join the settlers on the Watauga River, in what is now the State of Tennessee.

Life was rough in this pioneer settlement. James Robertson commanded the fort, and John Sevier, after a while, became his Lieutenant. Close by, clustered the cabins of the settlers, with their gar- [227] dens and fields of corn. The soil was fertile, the woods were full of game, the rivers had fish in abundance, and the Indians, at first, were friendly. All went well with the Watauga settlement until the Revolution.

Then the British began to arm the Indians with guns, and to reward them for bringing in scalps and captives. The peace of the little frontier settlement was disturbed, and it looked as if the savages intended to make a general attack upon these pioneers.

One day the cry went through the village, "Indians! Indians! They are on the war path. Everybody to the fort!"

The men and women hastily gathered behind the barred gate, and prepared for defense. There were forty or fifty resolute men, well armed and on their guard. They were not altogether unprepared, for a friendly squaw had already warned them to be on the lookout for danger.

In the early dawn, the savages crept out of the forest, and stole up to the fort. But the settlers had kept watch during the night, and were not to be surprised. When the Indians were within reach of the guns, through the loopholes a deadly fire was opened on them, and many were killed as they tried to pass the open ground. Then they [228] escaped back into the woods, glad to be out of reach of the aim of the Colonists.

The stockade was too strong to be taken by assault, so the savages decided to starve the settlers out. Three weeks passed, with the painted warriors lurking in the woods, outside of danger, but ready to descend on any one who dared leave the protection of the fort. Food ran short and rations were reduced to parched corn—all they had.

The Colonists became very tired of confinement. Sometimes the savages would disappear for hours at a time, and then they would return and fill the air with hideous sounds. The settlers grew weary of inaction, and, from time to time, some one would venture forth, heedless of warning. In this way three or four men were shot by the Indians, and one boy was carried off and burned at the stake. One woman was also captured.

The water in the fort was giving out. So one of the young women, named Kate Sherrill, took a pitcher and went to the river to fill it with water. No Indians had been seen for several hours, and she thought she was safe. She was a tall, graceful, and beautiful girl, and very courageous. After she had gone some distance from the fort, several savages sprang out of the forest and dashed toward her.

[229] She knew her danger was great, and turned swiftly to flee for safety. She was a good runner, and her life was at stake. On came the blood-thirsty savages, with tomahawks uplifted ready to strike. On sped the brave girl, swift as a deer. Those in the fort cried out in terror, "Run to the palisade! Never mind the gate! We will pull you over!"

Guns were leveled at the pursuing foe; but they escaped the flying bullets. The cries of the men at the fort did not stop them; they sped all the faster after the flying feet of the girl.

At last she reached the palisade, as the nearest Indian was ten feet away. She made one desperate leap, caught the top pickets with her hands, and was pulled over the top just as a bullet killed her pursuer in his tracks. The other Indians sullenly returned to the forest.

As Kate Sherrill fell over the pickets, completely exhausted, she landed in the arms of John Sevier.

The end of the story is that John Sevier, whose wife had died some time before, fell in love with the beautiful girl whom he had saved by his lucky shot, and persuaded her to marry him.

The Indians gave up the siege after a while, and returned to their villages. This left the Watauga settlement in peace for a time, but the friendly [230] relations between the Indians and the white men were not restored for several years. John Sevier was constantly leading war parties against the marauding savages. It is said that he fought thirty-five battles, and was known as the greatest Indian fighter in the southwest.

Sevier became the leading man of the Colony. He lived in a big, rambling, one-story house, on Nolichucky Creek. It consisted of two separate wings, connected by a covered porch. In one part he lived with his family; the other part was given up to his guests. He kept open house for everybody.

Here, to all comers, his hospitality was abundant. Rarely was he without friends who sat around his plentiful table, gathered by the big open fires in the winter, or on the wide porch in the summer, and talked over the battles with the Indians, and the coming of new settlers into the country.

At weddings, or on other great occasions, Sevier was accustomed to gather all the people of the community together, and to feast them at a great barbecue, in which an ox was roasted whole over a fire, and basted with the richest sauce. The board tables were loaded with forest game and field produce, and the people drank cider.

[231] In this way, Sevier became greatly loved by everybody. He was known far and wide as Nolichucky Jack. His wife retained her beauty and grace, and was called "Bonnie Kate." Even the Indians grew to like the stern old fighter, for he was always fair with them, though at times he punished them severely.

Everywhere in Tennessee, he was the idol of the people. When word came that "Chucky Jack" was in town, crowds went out to meet him and shake his hand. When Tennessee became a state, he was elected the first Governor, and kept that office for twelve years.

When he was eighty years old, he headed a party of surveyors to mark the boundary line between the State of Georgia and the Indian lands of Tennessee. The labor was too great for his worn body, and he died in his tent, surrounded by a few soldiers and Indians.

To this day, the people of Tennessee tell to their children the story of how Nolichucky Jack fought the Indians and the British, and how he helped build up their great State.


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