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James Harrod: Founder Of Harrodsburg Kentucky, And Famous Scout Of The Frontier

Daniel Boone—the founder of Kentucky—was revered, respected, and admired by the early pioneers. He was, as you know, a man of much skill in woodcraft, and was also an unexcelled rifle shot. Another early settler of this border state was James Harrod, of whom we have but little record, for he was a lover of solitude and his expeditions into the wilderness were usually taken alone.

Furthermore, he was the most modest of men and never wrote or spoke of his own deeds. A little knowledge of his adventures, however, has come down to us, and we are sure that he was one of the bravest of the brave. To a noble courage was added a great gentleness of manner which, in another, might almost be called effeminacy.

What drove this valiant soul into the wilderness of Kentucky? What spirit moved his restless footsteps into the virgin forest? How came he to penetrate into that “dark and bloody ground?” Who knows? His was the restless spirit and his was the soul which loved the vast solitude of the wildwood; for—even earlier than Daniel Boone—we know that this sinewy frontiersman built a log cabin for himself at the present site of Harrodsburg. When Boone went to the assistance of the surveyors of Lord Dunmore, who were surrounded by the red men, Harrod returned to Virginia and joined a force of whites sent to repel the Shawnees and other savages at Point Pleasant on the Great Kanawha. He was under General Lewis in the bloody affair, and then, having done his duty by his white brethren, returned to Kentucky in order to make Harrodsburg a place of refuge for the immigrants, who were beginning to turn their steps towards the setting sun.

One day, as he sat before his cabin busily engaged in cleaning his rifle, a man ran up to him. He was plainly excited, and was breathing heavily, as if laboring under a severe mental strain.

“Bad news, comrade!” said he, when he had partly recovered his breath. “Jim Bailey’s cabin has been attacked by the red men and no one is alive to tell the tale, save his two daughters, who have been carried away by the savages in the direction of their village. Unless a party hurries immediately in pursuit, they will be taken to the tribe and will be never seen again. Their fate will not be a pleasant one.”

The frontiersman jumped to his feet immediately.

“I will go at once,” said he. “You warn the other settlers and send all that you can after me. Now, there is no time to be lost!”

Seizing his powder-horn and pouch of bullets, he was soon speeding through the forest. He knew well where the cabin lay, and, as he burst through the tangled woodland, saw that a terrific fight had occurred around the little log fortress in the wilderness. Smoke still came from the chimney. The windows were battered and broken. The door was a splintered wreck. And, as he gazed inside, he saw the evil work of the vindictive redskins. The tracks of the murderers were plain, for a rain had fallen and it was evident that eight or ten had been in the party.

“Curses upon you, Shawnees!” cried Harrod, in loud tones. “You will pay for this ere many days are o’er!”

It was near midday. The scout took one lingering glance at the wreckage of that once peaceful home, then turned and followed the trail of the savages. It was clear, and he saw—after an hour’s travel—that the Indians had separated. One half had gone toward the Indian towns. One half had sheered off toward a settlement, about fifteen miles below. Presuming that the Indians would take the girls to the settlement by the nearest route, he followed the first trail, and, as night came on, was delighted to see a camp-fire before him, in the dense woodland.

With true woodsman’s cunning, the scout dropped to his knees and cautiously wormed a way toward the glimmering embers. Peeping over a fallen log, he saw that there were five Indians lying near the blaze. His heart now beat tumultuously—for there, also, were the two captive girls. They were bound with deer thongs, and, even at that distance, he could mark the misery expressed upon their pale countenances.

It was too early for the lone woodsman to attempt to make an attack. With the courage of a lion he intended to do this single-handed. You think it a hazardous adventure, no doubt? Wait, and see how he fared!

Creeping to a large oak, he put his back against it and went to sleep “with one eye open,” as the hunters call it. He slumbered peacefully until about twelve o’clock—then rose and again wriggled towards the fire in order to see how matters stood. All the savages were lying down, save one, who seemed to be keeping guard over the others. But even he was sleepy. His head nodded drowsily upon his breast.

The scout watched him intently, while his right hand grasped his tomahawk. The savage seated himself, then got up, yawned, and lay down by the side of his companions. Harrod saw his opportunity, and, leaning his rifle against a tree, began to crawl towards the camp.

You can be well assured that the seasoned frontiersman made little noise as he did so. But he was suddenly forced to stop. The Indian sentinel arose, stretched himself, and walked towards the place where the scout lay prostrate upon some green moss. Every nerve in the Kentuckian was a-quiver. He was all prepared to make one desperate leap upon the foe. But, as he was about to spring upward, the Indian turned back and lay down.

The avenger of Jim Bailey’s family now began to crawl towards the camp. Luck was not with him. A stick snapped beneath his left hand, and, as it cracked like the report of a pistol, the Shawnee sentinel sprang hastily to his feet. Looking furtively around, he stirred the fire and squatted down beside it. Harrod, meanwhile, crouched close to the moist earth, praying—beneath his breath—that the Indian would again lie down. Minute after minute passed. The redskin still stirred the embers with a long twig, and, fearing that day would break before he would accomplish his object, the bold pioneer began to retreat towards the tree where he had left his rifle. As he wormed his way backwards, he saw the guard stretch himself out by the side of his companions. The scout breathed easier.

Reaching the tree where his rifle stood, he took it up, and again began his cautious wriggle towards the fire. This time luck was with him, for he crept right up to the side of the sleeping savages.

Lest you think I am exaggerating this affair, I will here quote an authentic historian. He says: “To draw his tomahawk and brain two of the sleeping Indians was but the work of a moment, and, as he was about to strike the third one, the handle turned in his fingers, and the savage received the blow on the side instead of the centre of his head. He awoke with a yell. It was his last. Grasping his weapon more firmly, the frontiersman struck the fellow a surer blow and dropped him lifeless to the ground. With a terrific whoop he now sprang for his rifle just as the two other Indians rose to escape, and, firing hastily, one of them fell to rise no more.”

The other red man scampered into the forest as fast as his sinewy legs could carry him. The scout was after him as hard as he, too, could go, but the savage could run like a deer and proved to be too fleet for the trapper. Harrod stopped, and, taking careful aim, threw his tomahawk at his enemy. So sure was his missile hurled that it lopped off one of the Indian’s ears and cut a deep gash in his cheek. In spite of the grievous wound the savage did not halt, but bounded away like a Virginian deer. Harrod stood for a while, laughing at the running brave, then slowly turned and made his way back to camp. Here he found the two captive girls, crying bitterly. He unbound them, received their joyous thanks, was embraced by both; and then took them upon the trail to the settlement. Imagine the joy of the frontiersmen when they saw them return, and, although a party had started out to track the Indians, they had only travelled about three miles from Harrodsburg when they met the triumphant pioneer.

“Hurrah! Hurrah for Harrod!” they shouted. “You are indeed a worthy scout! Hurrah! Hurrah!”

The two girls were carried upon the men’s shoulders into camp, and there were given a feast of welcome. They were embraced by the women, hugged by the children, and were presented with a wreath of flowers by the men. As for Harrod, his modesty forbade him taking part in the ceremonies, and, leaving the next day upon a hunting excursion, he was not heard or seen until a week later, when he returned with several deer and bear skins.

Shortly after this thrilling adventure the scout went into the forest in search of game. Not far from the settlement he spied a fat deer. He drew a careful bead on him, and was just about to raise his rifle for a shot when he heard the buck whistle and saw him raise his head. He knew from this that the forest rover had scented some hidden foe, and, sure that it was not himself that the animal smelled—as the wind was blowing from the deer toward him—he crouched down to await developments. He had not long to remain in this position. In a few moments he heard the crack of a rifle and saw the noble buck leap high into the air. He fell prone upon his side, and, as he lay quivering in the grass, three Indians came up and began to skin him. They were laughing and talking in loud tones.

“Ah ha,” said the scout to himself, “they are skinning my game for me. Let them go on.”

He crouched low in the brush, and when they had about completed this operation he rose, took careful aim, and killed the one he judged to be the leader of the party. Believing that he was too well concealed to be detected, he crouched behind the brush, and, turning his back, reloaded his rifle in that position. The redskins, meanwhile, climbed into some trees, but one of them exposed himself to the keen view of the scout. Harrod took careful aim, and, at the discharge of his flint-lock, the savage tumbled to the ground. The third Indian now saw where he was concealed, and, leaping to the ground, made at him with rifle raised. Harrod put his cap upon a stick and poked it above the brush. The redskin fired, thinking that he was aiming at the trapper, and, as his bullet whistled by the head of the man of the frontier, the scout knew that the advantage was now on his side. Drawing his tomahawk, he leaped from his hiding place, and, in a few bounds, had swung his weapon above the head of the now terrified brave. In a second it was all over with the red man.

The scout sat down and laughed loudly, for he had won a glorious victory. Then he rose, gathered up the arms of his enemies, loaded himself with deer meat, and made his way back to his cabin. He was well satisfied with the day’s work.

This was but one of many adventures. He continued upon his solitary hunts, and, while searching for game, often was surrounded by roving Shawnees, so that his life was in constant danger.

A month after the first affair he was chasing some deer on Cedar Run—a tributary of a stream now named Harrod’s Creek, in honor of this intrepid pioneer. He had shot a fat buck and was bending over him in order to get the choicest bit of venison, when a bullet whizzed suddenly by his ear. A loud and triumphant yell sounded in the forest at the same instant, and, looking up, he saw that he was confronted by a dozen red men. His only safety was in flight.

Scout Harrod was no mean runner. Inured to hardship, and with muscles of steel, he bounded away like one of the very deer which he had just dispatched. The Indians were in hot pursuit. As they came on, their leader cried, at the top of his voice:

“Come on! Here is the lone panther—Come on! Come on!”

So hotly did they push the running trapper that Harrod did not keep a proper lookout for what was in front of him. To his dismay, he found that he almost ran into a party of savages coming up to join the others. What was he to do? In a moment he had made up his mind.

Dashing right up to the oncoming braves he began to yell at the top of his lungs: “Come on, boys—here they are—Come on! Come!” He then followed this with an exultant whoop.

The Shawnees could not see their friends,—the pursuers. They were therefore of the opinion that this was a war party of whites, in considerable numbers, which is just what Harrod wished them to believe. Those in front became panic stricken, and turned without firing a shot. Those in the rear followed, while Harrod—racing after them—struck two to the earth with his tomahawk. One was a celebrated Shawnee chief, called Turkey Head, who was noted for his cruelty to the unlucky settlers who fell into his hands.

The scout kept on, plunged into a ravine, and seated himself in some thick brush. Peeping through the leaves, he saw his pursuers go on in full cry. Their wild yelping finally died out in the distance, and, turning around, the famous woodsman retraced his steps towards the settlement. He arrived there in due time, much overjoyed to have thus safely escaped from his vindictive enemies.

This was certainly a narrow escape, but another adventure—some days later—was about as thrilling as the last.

While at Harrodsburg he learned that a marauding expedition was about to start for the settlements, led by a famous warrior called Turtle Heart. He must stop it if he could, but, should he know their plans it would be far easier to head off the wild band, which would fall upon the log houses of the pioneers like a cloud of fire.

The scout set off alone in order to visit the Indian town, and, reaching it about noon, secreted himself upon an eminence from which he could watch the gathering savages. Here he lay until nightfall, then—carefully hiding his gun—stole noiselessly into the town and approached the council house. Worming his way up to it, he crouched near a hole—looked through—and saw many of the chiefs in close consultation.

“We will attack in two days,” said one big, fierce-looking fellow. “The palefaces shall not possess the land given to us by the Great Father.”

“Ugh! Ugh!” uttered several. “The palefaces must go home to the land of the rising sun!”

This was enough for the scout, and, rising, he began to beat a retreat. Suddenly he started back, for before him stood a giant redskin who seized him by the shoulder. Harrod saw that he was about to give a whoop of alarm. There was not a moment to be lost. Catching the warrior fiercely by the throat, the pioneer stunned him by a terrific blow of the fist. So strong was he that he broke the neck of the brave, and, without waiting an instant, bounded forth into the darkness. A single cry, or even the sound of a struggle, would have brought a hundred infuriated savages to the scene. His nerve and gigantic strength had saved him from an awful death.

Not many weeks after this affair he married a young and beautiful girl, was given a Colonel’s commission for his many services upon the frontier, and retired to the peace and seclusion of a small log hut near the town which he had founded. But his charming wife could not prevent his long and solitary excursions into the wilderness, where were deer, bear, wild turkeys, and lurking redskins. One day he went upon one of these hazardous trips, and from it he never returned. Parties of friendly pioneers scoured the woods in every direction, but he had “gone on and had left no sign.” No trace of this gallant scout was ever found—no word of him ever came from woodsman or savage. Whether he met his end in manly combat, or whether he was tortured at the stake, no tongue could tell. His fate is wrapped in impenetrable mystery, and the silence of the forest broods over the spirit of James Harrod; frontiersman, pioneer, and hardy woodland adventurer.

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