History of Campbell County, Tennessee
 

Time Line

BLOCKHOUSES, OFTEN CRUDELY BUILT, VIGILANCE WERE SETTLERS' DEFENSE AGAINST INDIANS

By Dallas Bogan

Reprinted with Permission from Dallas Bogan.  This article was published in the LaFollette Press.

Various ways were used in the construction of a blockhouse. The stockades were built with posts or logs solidly set in the ground and sometimes sharpened at the top, and arranged so as to enclose a region. The stronger blockhouses were generally built conforming to each angle, and the lines between them filled with stockades or with cabins, one connecting the other, thus completing an enclosure. The heavier built fortifications were constructed of heavy hewn timbers and were sometimes of two or even three stories. The smaller stations were built to accommodate fewer families and had a single blockhouse with cabins close-by, and sometimes were without pickets.

The secluded blockhouses were typically crude buildings made with nothing but the common ax. The materials consisted of straight round logs, notched at the ends and hewed on the upper and lower edges to lie close together.

One identifiable characteristic of the blockhouse was that the upper part of the structure above the height of a man's shoulder was extended outward for about a foot or two over the lower part. Re ason for this was that rifles could be thrust into the openings and defense of the blockhouse/station could be stabilized.

One historian describes life in the stations. He says:

"Each party erected a strong block-house, near to which their cabins were put up, and the whole was inclosed by strong log pickets. This being done, they commenced clearing their lands and preparing for planting their crops. During the day, while they were at work, one person was placed as a sentinel to warn them of approaching danger. At sunset, they retired to the block-house and their cabins, taking everything of value within the pickets. In this manner they proceeded from day to day and week to week, til their improvements were sufficiently extensive to support their families. During this time, they depended for subsistence on wild game, obtained at some hazard, more than on the scanty supplies they were able to procure from the settlements on the river.

"In a short time, these stations gave protection and food to a large number of destitute families. After they were established, the Indians became less annoying to the settlements , as part of their time was employed in watching the stations. The former, however, did not escape, but endured their share of the fruits of savage hostility. In fact, no place or situation was exempt from danger. The safety of the pioneer depended on his means of defense, and on perpetual vigilance.

"The Indians viewed those stations with great jealousy, as they had the appearance of permanent military establishments, intended to retain possession of their country. In that view they were correct: and it was unfortunate for the settlers that the Indians wanted either the skill or the means of demolishing them."

THE BACKWOODS RIFLE

The backwoods rifle was a product of the American frontier. Formally known as the "Pennsylvania-Kentucky" rifle, this long barreled innovation became a standby throughout the Appalachians. Precise workmanship was called upon, thus it was made of the softest iron available. The inside of the barrel, or the bore, was carefully "rifled" with spiraling grooves. This gradual twist made the bullet fly harder and aim straighter toward its target. The butt of the weapon was crescent-shaped to keep the gun from slipping. All shiny or highly visible metal was blackened; some times a frontiersman would rub his gun barrel with a dulling stain or crushed leaf.

The trademark of the "long rifle" was just that - its length. The weapon weighed over 5.5. pounds and measured more than four feet. The barrel of the gun could be unbalancing, yet this drawback seemed minor compared to the superior accuracy of the new gun. The heavy barrel could take a much heavier powder charge than the lighter barrels, and this in turn could drive the bullet faster, lower the trajectory, make the ball strike harder, and cause it to flatten out more on impact.

Functions of the Pennsylvania-Kentucky rifle were to gather food and, more exact, a simple companion for thousands of husbands and fathers. It would be found in the pioneer's cabin cradled on a rack of whittled wooden pegs, or on a buck's antlers suspended over the door, or along the wall or above the fire-board, as the mantel was then called. Wherever it was suspended, it would be within easy reach.

Equipped with a weapon such as this, pioneer Tennesseans pushed back the frontier. The vast land of Tennessee gradually submitted to the probing and settling of the white man.

Time Line



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