By 1782 the American War of Independence was all but coming to its close and with it the birth of a new nation and the loss of an important colony for the British. The frontier settlements of Kentucky lay at the farthest reaches of European expansion, far away from the principal towns and cities of the established states, on the eastern seaboard of the continent. This was the frontier of its day where isolated farms, stockades, forts and villages were constantly in peril of attack by Indian tribes, their white allies and the British. Bryan’s Station (sometimes called Bryant’s Station) was a fortified settlement of forty cabins founded in 1775 on the Elkhorn Creek. It withstood attack on several occasions but in 1782, ten months after Cornwallis had surrendered at Yorktown, it came under siege by Canadian British forces under Caldwell, the renegade Simon Girty and 300 Shawnee Indians. The event was notable for an outstanding feat of bravery by the women of the settlement—which is of course recounted here in detail. When the besiegers discovered that relief was on its way in the form of the local militia they withdrew. After a pursuit of some 60 miles the British and their allies turned and lay in ambush. The combat that followed, known as the Battle of Blue Licks was disastrous for the Americans who lost 83 killed or captured for negligible loss among their enemy. Despite warnings from the veteran frontiersman Daniel Boone, who was with them, the militia blundered into the ambush losing nearly half their number including Boone’s son, Israel, and the expedition’s commanders, Todd and Trigg. Boone barely escaped on horseback, abandoning the body of his son who was mortally wounded in the neck. The engagement, the worse defeat suffered by Kentuckians during the war effectively ended the conflict in the east.
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The unprotected ridge along which the Kentuckians advanced at the battle-ground was four hundred and fifty feet wide. Colonel Todd and his associate commanders had no reserve line. The twenty-five men in the advance guard led by Harlan, McGary, and McBride were scarcely two hundred feet in front of the centre. Taking these from the white force, every man of which was engaged, it left less than one hundred and fifty men in the line of battle. The left wing had thrown out a couple of spies as a skirmish line, but they quickly fell back to Boone’s line of battle. This thin line, composed of horsemen and footmen combined, was one third already dead or wounded.<br>
It had been forced in on either side and stood on the ridge helpless, as the Indians on the north and south fired into the fleeing mass now deprived of its leaders and fully realizing that impetuous courage had brought them to almost inevitable disaster.<br>
No discipline could be maintained. A compact body only drew a more galling fire, and organized resistance meant a more certain destruction and increased mortality. A minute’s delay would insure the closing of the circle from which escape would be impossible, and which, once effected, would put all the whites within an impassable wall composed of brave savage Indians who would shoot or tomahawk the entire number as quickly as blade and bullet could dispatch them.<br>
To succour the wounded only meant surer death. To remain together was to invite a more deliberate and certain fire; to hesitate meant instantaneous destruction. No order was necessary. No command was required. Officers and men quickly and clearly perceived that separate flight, each for himself, and the crossing of the river, to plunge into the trackless forests on the opposite shore of the Licking, was the only course which offered the slightest possibility of safety. War has horrors no courage or gallantry can avoid. To leave the dead and wounded kindred on the field, to flee away from comrades in a race for life was full of terror for brave men. But battle frequently knows no sentiment, and often hushes and destroys every emotion, and so brother and friend on the ridge parted, each guided by the highest of all instincts, self-preservation, to do that which was best, each for himself. In an instant all by common consent began immediate and swiftest flight.<br>
They had passed over the river a few minutes before one hundred and eighty two strong, full of courage and battle’s enthusiasm. They returned now, leaving a large portion of the men and all their leaders but one dead, and the whole force a band of fugitives only bent on seeking escape. They had suffered a fearful and tremendous mortality. Forty-one per cent were killed, wounded, and captured; of the captured four were subsequently tortured to death, and this made Kentucky’s offering on this fatal day seventy-one of her noblest, bravest, and most heroic sons.<br>
Nothing could exceed the dreadfulness of the conflict on the return to the river. The horsemen rode in fierce madness, communicating their terror to their steeds; while the despairing footmen, wearied by their long run under the burning rays of the August sun, with overpowering fear rushed down the hill in their wild race for life, while the enemy, with delirious thirst for blood already quickened by the fearful slaughter, struck down the fleeing white men with their tomahawks and plunged their knives into their backs, and, sometimes tripping them to a fall, drove the blades into their palpitating hearts. The terror was only that which was born of the hopelessness of the situation, and the fright only the fear which came from pursuing the only line of escape.<br>
When the Kentuckians began the retreat it was the first impulse to reach and mount their horses; pursuit, however, became so warm that many abandoned this best chance for flight, for the Indians ran in among them as they endeavoured to spring into the saddle, and a number were killed as they attempted to rise on their steeds.<br>
The deserted horses were taken by the Indians, and on these they rode among the fleeing white men, cutting them down with their tomahawks, or waited to slay them as they ran down the hillside. Others of the Indians rode directly to the river above and below the ford, and then watched for the coming of the doomed fugitives, while still others yet, driving harder, crossed the stream and followed the fleeing pioneers through the forest or hunted them from their hiding places in the thickets.<br>
Boone, deserted by his soldiers, ran forward to find his son mortally wounded. He had only time to lift him upon his back, rush with him into the forest skirting the ravine along which he had fought, and then, bearing him a little way from the scene of the conflict, swam with him across the river and hid him in a cave on the west bank, hoping that by this act of paternal devotion to save his child from impending death. But affection could not stay the crimson tide or stop the flow of his life blood, and beholding the death-damp on his brow, accompanied with the pallor which presages approaching dissolution, his instinct of safety forced him to leave him to die alone. He had done all that love could do to save his son, and without companionship, his soul bowed down with deepest sorrow, he fled into the forest.