How Jemima Boone and the Callaway Girls Outsmarted Their Captors

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Sunday, July 14, 1776: Jemima Boone, the 13-year-old daughter of American pioneer Daniel Boone, along with two other friends, was captured outside of her settlement by a small war party consisting of Cherokees and Shawnees. A few days later, thanks to the dedication of her father and to her and her friends’ bravery and quick thinking, they were saved.

Only 10 days after the signing of the Declaration of Independence, Jemima Boone and her friends, Betsy and Fanny Callaway, were picking flowers outside Boonesborough, a fort and frontier settlement. The girls wandered down to the adjacent Kentucky River and decided to use the canoe. Coming to a tricky point in the waters, they briefly lost control. Suddenly, they were on the other side of the river and were soon surprised and captured by native warriors.

Those in the fort heard their screams, among them Daniel Boone, who was awakened from his Sabbath nap. Without even waiting to put on his shoes, he and a group of other men ran out of the fort and swam to the other bank. But it seemed to be too late: The natives and the girls were nowhere to be seen. After some careful reconnoitering, however, Boone found their tracks, and he and his companions began the pursuit.

Epoch Times Photo
This is the only live portrait of Daniel Boone, painted when he was 84 years old and living with his daughter, Jemima Boone Callaway, in Missouri. Oil sketch of Daniel Boone by Chester Harding, 1820. Oil on canvas. (Public Domain)

Helping Themselves Get Helped

The three teenage girls had bad odds against five grown warriors, yet they called upon their pioneer upbringing and know-how to even the scales as well as they could. The braves tried to force them to ride a horse in order to move more quickly. The girls, practically bred on horseback, pretended they had never ridden in their lives and kept falling off. In addition, and more importantly, the girls kept cool heads and left subtle tracks. Jemima dropped a thread with five knots on it—so that the father she knew was coming would not only know he was on their trail, but also the number of their captors.

Above all, Jemima, Betsy, and Fanny kept alert. On the third day after their capture, Boone and his men succeeded in the dangerous trek through wilderness, beating the natives at their own game of trail-finding and tracking. That was the easy against-all-odds achievement; the hard part was the rescue. The surprise attack would have to be so quick and stealthy that they would overcome the warriors before the prisoners could be killed or held hostage; this required that the girls be more alert than the warriors. After two sleepless nights and without giving in to discouragement, they remained ready. A noise in the brush caused one brave and Jemima to look up; the former dismissed the noise after a moment, but Jemima picked out her father, “creeping upon his breast like a snake.”

At this point, the teenagers not only outperformed their adult male captors but also their rescuers. One of the men in Boone’s party panicked and almost spoiled everything, firing a shot before the signal was given. However, Jemima and Fanny were prepared for action and dove to the ground, though Betsy had an almost fatal encounter with a war-club. The rescuers ran into the camp, overtook the braves, and the surviving warriors fled.

There was rejoicing, and there was crying. Daniel Boone himself called for tears: “Thank Almighty Providence, boys, for we have the girls safe. Let’s all sit down by them now and have a hearty cry.”

Epoch Times Photo
“Daniel Boone & His Friends Rescuing His Daughter Jemina” by G.W. Fasel, 1851. (Public Domain)

History as Human Memory

The story of Boone, his daughter, and her friends lived on in two ways—first, by a book that was published about him in 1784. This book is considered the source of the Boone “myth.” But it was also spread by word of mouth, mother to child, aunt to niece, friend to friend. The descendants of the girls remembered them as powerful and clearheaded young women. Betsy’s daughter pointed out that her mother “was a strong rower.” Jemima is remembered for speaking sympathetically about her captors: “The Indians were really kind to us, as much so as they well could have been, or their circumstances permitted.”

These girls had families and a community that prepared them to take care of themselves and gave them virtues such as alertness and courage, which allowed them to do their own part to ensure their rescue.

This article was originally published in American Essence magazine.

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