5 Early American Longhunters

George Caleb Bingham's Daniel Boone Escorting Settlers through the Cumberland Gap (1851–52) [Image: en.wikipedia.org]

George Caleb Bingham’s Daniel Boone Escorting Settlers through the Cumberland Gap (1851–52). [Image: en.wikipedia.org]

Though less iconic than later mountain men, the American Longhunters were the first wave of semi-nomadic hunters and trappers operating west of the Appalachian Mountains. Working in groups of two or three, longhunters would journey into the frontier wilderness in search of game for as long as six months. They were a ragged and disparate bunch of Revolutionaries, mercenaries, professional hunters, unwitting geographers, criminals, and businessmen. Included were the folk heroes Daniel and Squire Boone as well as the infamous Harpe brothers, generally considered to be America’s first serial killers.

Typical lean-to shelter: [Image: en.wikipedia.org]

Typical lean-to shelter. [Image: en.wikipedia.org]

Henry Scaggs

Born in Maryland in 1724, Henry Scaggs was a hunter and explorer whose unmatched familiarity with the Trans-Allegheny wilderness landed him a gig as a land agent for Richard Henderson and Daniel Boone. In the 1760s, Scaggs was the first nonwhite to explore the rivers of middle Tennessee and Central Kentucky. After permanently settling in Kentucky, Scaggs led the 1799 search for the “Bloody Harpes,” two brothers estimated to have murdered around 40 people. After joining up with fellow Kentuckian Colonel Daniel Trabue, they came across the body of Trabue’s own son. Scaggs and Trabue were ultimately unsuccessful in their attempt to capture the Harpes.

Image: www.heritage-history.com

[Image: www.heritage-history.com]

Simon Kenton

Kenton was a noted and distinguished soldier from Virginia who served in the Revolutionary War, the Northwest Indian War, and the War of 1812. In 1778, Kenton survived several episodes of ritual torture (including running the gauntlet) by Shawnee who were so impressed by his endurance that they adopted him. Following his torture, Kenton helped capture Fort Sackville from the British during the Revolution. He again distinguished himself in the War of 1812 as a leader at the Battle of the Thames where Tecumseh was killed. Things were quiet for Kenton after that, though. He settled in Ohio and had six children with his second wife (he had four with his first), Elizabeth Jarboe.

"Kentucky" or American longrifle [Image: www.markelliottva.com]

“Kentucky” or American longrifle. [Image: www.markelliottva.com]

James Smith

James Smith was a legendary soldier and frontiersman who led the Pennsylvania “Black Boys” on a nine-month rebellion against British colonial rule ten years prior to the Revolution. Remarkably, he learned to read and write despite not having any formal education and would even go on to write a cultural analysis of Native American life in 1799. His book, An Account of the Remarkable Occurrences in the Life and Travels of Col. James Smith, contained a unique perspective; around 1755, he was adopted by a Mohawk family, learned the language, and adopted their lifestyle. Following the outbreak of the American Revolution, Smith joined the Pennsylvania militia and rose to the rank of colonel. Later in life, he became a Presbyterian minister and wrote pamphlets denouncing Shakerism.

Image: www.murderbygaslight.com

[Image: www.murderbygaslight.com]

The Harpe Brothers

Some might object to the inclusion of Micajah “Big” Harpe and Wiley “Little” Harpe as Longhunters on account of their singular bloodlust. However, violence and killing were in no way unique to the Harpes; it was, in fact, instrumental to the opening of the frontier. Nevertheless, the violence of the Harpes went far beyond frontier standards. Not much is known about their early life except that they were Loyalists and fought with the British and their Indian allies, especially the Chickamauga Cherokee. Following the war, they lived as outlaws with the Creek and Cherokee and routinely butchered and mutilated settlers, travelers, and other Native Americans. In 1799, a posse finally caught up with Big Harpe and decapitated him at a location still known as Harpe’s Head. Little Harpe was apprehended in 1804 while pirating and was formally executed. By the end of their run, the “Bloody Harpes” had brutally murdered some 40 men, women, and children.

Kentucky's finest [Image: www.murderbygaslight.com]

Kentucky’s finest. [Image: www.murderbygaslight.com]

Daniel Boone

Daniel Boone is the folkloric American statesman, hunter, Indian fighter, and frontiersman best known for his exploits in what is known today as Kentucky. During the late 1760s and early 1770s, Boone hunted and explored the area of modern-day Kentucky (including the Cumberland Gap) where he gained the reputation as a consummate outdoorsman. After founding the colony of Boonesborough in Kentucky, Boone became a militia officer and fought mainly in his adopted Kentucky against British-backed Native American forces. Contrary to the myth of Daniel Boone as a dedicated Indian fighter, Boone was known to dislike killing and violence. He lived out the remainder of his life living and hunting in Missouri, often with the same Shawnee who had fought against him so many years earlier.

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