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Boone Society

Saving Private Boone

Joseph Boone at “Harmar’s Defeat”

by Jeffery L. Johnson
5th great grandson of Joseph & Rebecca Fry Boone
(Copied from Compass, October 2004)

You might be familiar with the story of Daniel Boone’s younger brother Edward “Ned” Boone. The circumstances surrounding Edward’s death, in which Indians kill him while hunting with Daniel in October of 1780, are still being investigated by some of Edward’s descendants today. Perhaps less familiar is the story of Edward’s son, Joseph Boone.

Joseph was about 12-years-old and living at Boone Station when his father was killed. [1] Young Joseph would grow into a man and come very close to meeting the same fate as his father. Joseph would receive a battle wound similar to the one inflicted on his famous uncle at the “Siege of Fort Boonesborough” in 1778. During the first shots of that siege Daniel Boone was struck in the ankle with a rifle ball. Just as Simon Kenton carried a wounded Daniel Boone to the safety of the fort gates, comrades would likewise carry a wounded Joseph Boone to safety on another battlefield years later.

Joseph Boone was born about 1768 in Rowan County, North Carolina.[2] He may have accompanied his father and uncle to Kentucky during the migration of 1779. After his father’s murder in 1780 Daniel and other family members helped care for the widowed Martha Bryan Boone and her children. In the mid-1780s Joseph Boone and his brother George worked on their Uncle Daniel’s survey crew: Joseph as a chain-hauler and George as a marker. [3]

While a resident of Fayette County, Kentucky, Joseph Boone enlisted in early October 1790 as a private in the Kentucky Militia [4], nicknamed the “Limestone Volunteers”.[5] By this time some Indian tribes, chiefly the Miami with the Delaware, Shawnee and others, had formed the Miami Confederacy.

Led by Chief Little Turtle, Chief Blue Jacket, and Simon Girty, these tribes presented an obstacle to western expansion by attacking white settlements in the Ohio Valley. President George Washington ordered Brigadier General Josiah Harmar to lead an army into the northern Ohio Valley to counter these Indian attacks.[6] Harmar’s army consisted of 320 regular soldiers and 1,133 poorly trained militiamen mostly from Kentucky and Pennsylvania.[7]

Chief Little Turtle of the
Miami Confederacy

On October 22, 1790 Private Joseph Boone marched into battle. He was assigned to a detachment of several-hundred militiamen and a few regular soldiers led by Colonel John Hardin under the command of General Harmar.[8] Many of the militiamen had eagerly enlisted and were full of bravado: wanting to go off and fight Indians.[9] Perhaps few of them had a better reason than Joseph Boone. It had been ten years since the Shawnee killed his father in cold blood.

Joseph’s detachment was ordered to swing around the junction of the St. Joseph and St. Mary’s rivers and attack the Maumee Indian village at present-day Fort Wayne, Indiana. Indian scouts spotted the impending attack and the Indian forces ambushed Joseph’s detachment near the riverbank.

Brigadier General Josiah Harmer

During the battle, which would become known as “Harmar’s Defeat”, Indians overran the inexperienced Americans. Most of the militiamen fled without firing a shot. Left unsupported by the militia, the regulars put up a brief resistance, but the Indians cut them to pieces. [10]

Joseph Boone was shot in his left ankle by an enemy rifle ball. The ball entered the front of his ankle, passed through the bone, and lodged in the back of his ankle under the skin.[11] The Indians, chasing after the fleeing militiamen, ran right past the wounded Joseph.[12] Soon the Indians would return to scalp the dead and wounded. Joseph, rendered unable to walk, would present a tempting target.

In an act of selfless courage, two militiamen came to Joseph and carried him off the open field of battle when all others had retreated. They hid Joseph in some secluded place: possibly drift logs or bushes. Joseph’s comrades stayed with him in seclusion the rest of the day. In the evening, when they would be less likely to be spotted, the two soldiers left Joseph with his gun. They promised to return.[13] It would take a horse to carry Joseph back to safety, and what horses the American force had with it were probably either dead, taken by the Indians, or with those who fled from the battle.

Later that night Joseph’s thirst became intolerable. He crept out from his hiding place and down a hollow where he quenched his thirst with water from a tree branch.[14] Joseph then went back to his hiding place, clinging to faith that his fellow soldiers would keep their word and return to rescue him.

The two militiamen caught up with remnants of Harmar’s retreating army. They pleaded for others to join them in going back to save Private Boone. Considering such a return to be too dangerous, no one would agree to go. The two militiamen announced they would return alone and bring Boone back, or die trying. Impressed by such determination, several others joined them. [15]

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Drawing by Jeffery L. Johnson.

On the second night the small band of Americans made it back to the dead-strewn battlefield. [16] It was uncertain if Boone would still be alive. Could he have bled to death? Could the Indians have found him already? Success was not guaranteed and such doubts must have accompanied these brave men on their endeavor.

The Americans had no small amount of difficulty finding Boone in the dark. [17] They passed near him several times. Joseph, fearing they were Indians, had his gun at the ready. He determined if they came near him again he would shoot.

As the Americans once more approached Joseph’s hiding place one of them said, “If this isn’t the log, then we are mistaken as to the place.” Joseph heard and recognized the voice. Elated, he called out to them. [18]

Joseph Boone was carried by horse to Fort Washington at present-day Cincinnati where he stayed for 21 days. A military surgeon removed the rifle ball from his ankle. Rendered unfit for further military service, Joseph was taken by water to Louisville and carried home by horse to Fayette County, Kentucky. [20]

The Indians referred to “Harmar’s Defeat” as “The Battle of the Pumpkin Fields” because the steam rising off all the scalped skulls left on the riverbank reminded them of squash steaming in the autumn air.[21] General Harmar had lost 183 men killed or missing during this campaign. Harmar was subsequently court-martialed for incompetence and acquitted.[22]

Private Joseph Boone and his two comrades may have been the only Americans to remain on the battlefield and survive the first major engagement of the United States Army under the newly formed Federal Government: an engagement that ended in disaster.[23] This embarrassing defeat would eventually lead to the decisive American victory at “The Battle of Fallen Timbers” a few years later.

Discharged from the militia, life went on for Joseph Boone. On June 4, 1794 he married Rebecca Fry-Lock, a widow, in Clark County, Kentucky. Joseph and Rebecca had three children: Joseph, Jr., Martha, and Lucinda. Joseph, Sr. and his family subsequently moved to Madison County, Kentucky and then to Bath County, Kentucky. On November 20, 1827, Joseph, Sr. bought 80 acres of land in Shelby County, Indiana, about 4 miles SW of Shelbyville, and moved there. His three children and their families joined him. [24]

Joseph, Sr. initially held off on applying for a pension for his war wound because he had children at home who could help support him. By 1833 his children were grown and gone.[25] Joseph, Sr. was classified 2/3 disabled by a Shelby County physician. He applied for and on September 25, 1833 was issued a pension of $5.33 1/3 per month for the rest of his life.[26]

In Joseph, Sr.’s pension affidavit he writes, “His engagements since the wound was received have been farming and this is the only source whence he can now procure a livelihood. As his age increases the wound in his ankle becomes more painful, and renders his disability to labour much greater. The wound being at the joint, exercise of the limb causes the joint to open and the ankle to swell, which becomes very painful and greatly injures his repose at night.”[27] Joseph Boone and his uncle Daniel Boone; both men would suffer from a painful rifle ball injury in their ankle for the rest of their lives. [28]

Joseph Boone, Sr.’s signature from his pension affidavit

Joseph, Sr.’s wife Rebecca probably died about 1839. He married 2nd wife Nancy Messick later that same year. Joseph, Sr. presumably died in Shelby County, Indiana in June 1847.[29] There is no listing of his gravesite in the records of the Shelbyville, Indiana Public Library’s Genealogy Department. Their records only list graves with markers. It is likely that Joseph Boone, Sr. was buried on or near his farm in Shelby County, Indiana.

An interesting side note to Joseph, Sr.’s story is the relationship between Blue Jacket, who led the Indians at “Harmar’s Defeat”, and the Boone Family. The young Shawnee chief was an acquaintance of Daniel Boone and hunting partner of his son Daniel Morgan Boone. Blue Jacket had once told the Boones that he would see to it that none of the Limestone, Kentucky people would be taken captive by the Shawnee. [30]

Shawnee Chief Blue Jacket (center)

In 1788, two years before “Harmar’s Defeat”, Blue Jacket was beat up by some Kentuckians who thought he was a horse thief. Blue Jacket indicated to his captors in broken English that he is a friend of Daniel Boone. The Kentuckians took him to Daniel Boone at Limestone to find out for sure before doing anything rash. Daniel tied up Blue Jacket in a cabin and assured the men that their prisoner was “hog tight”. Boone then invited the men to his tavern where he got them drunk. The men awoke the next morning to find Blue Jacket gone. Boone explained that a knife happened to be stuck in the cabin wall and Blue Jacket must have somehow worked his way to it and cut himself loose. Despite subsequent years of warfare between the Indians and the whites [and apparently despite Joseph Boone, Sr.’s close call at “Harmar’s Defeat”], Daniel Boone and Blue Jacket remained friends the rest of their lives. [31]

Although Indians probably would have scalped Joseph Boone had they noticed him lying wounded on the battlefield a couple years later, how might Blue Jacket have treated Daniel Boone’s nephew had Joseph been taken captive? Would Blue Jacket have felt betrayed? Or would he have nursed Joseph back to health? Would Joseph Boone have found a reciprocal knife stuck in a wall? Thanks to the brave men who saved Private Joseph Boone, such questions remain only for us to ponder.

Footnotes:[1,2,3,24,26,29] Edward Boone of Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Kentucky and Some Of His Descendants Who Lived In Shelby County, Indiana and Points West, by Gerald E. Collins. [4] Shelbyville, Indiana Public Library Genealogy Department: Data sheet provided by Gerald E. Collins. [5] National Guard Association of Kentucky: [6] Campaign. [7] Harmar’s Defeat. [8] Harmar’s Defeat. [9] Kentucky Historical Society: telephone interview

[10] Ohio Indian Wars

[11,20,25,27] Pension affidavit filed by Joseph Boone, 14 Jan 1833, Shelby County, Indiana Probate Court

[12,14,16] Draper Mss. 22 S 272

[13,18,19] Draper Mss. 19 C 151-152

[15,17] Draper Mss. 19 C 67-68

[21], Archives, 18 Nov 2003: “The Indians, a historian told me, refer to that fight as the Battle of the Pumpkin Fields, because so many scalped skulls were left on the riverbank, steaming in the autumn air, that it looked like a field of squash ready for picking.”

[22] Josiah Harmar

[23] General William W. Hartzog, American Military Heritage (Ft Monroe, VA, & Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1998), p. 21: “The first major military operation of the United States Army ended in disaster.”

[28] Daniel Boone: The Life and Legend of An American Pioneer, by John Mack Faragher, p. 149

[30, 31] Daniel Boone: The Life and Legend of An American Pioneer, by John Mack Faragher, p. 259-260

[32] “Shame With No Name”, by John Hoyt Willams, “Great Battles” Magazine, Oct. 2004