Before 1800 “Out West” (specifically the Northwest) referred to the Ohio area. In the 1750s the French and British fought for control of the territory in a conflict known as the French and Indian War. The French used the native tribes as allies, because these tribes considered the encroachment of British settlers to be their greatest threat. It was, and it continued to be for the next fifty years.
The British won the war and control of the territory. Then the British lost the Revolution 20 years later, and the Americans became the biggest threat in the 1780s. Gangs from various tribes continued to attack settlers in the Kanawha and New River valleys. For protection, forts were built on the Kanawha River between 1783 and 1795. Fort Tackett was built after 1783 one-half mile below the mouth of Coal River in Kanawha County. Fort Lee was built in 1788 where Charleston sits today. In 1792 Fort Cooper was built eight miles from the mouth of the Kanawha. And in 1794 Fort Robinson was built near the mouth of the Kanawha, opposite the foot of Six-Mile Island in the Ohio River in Mason County.
Colonel George Clendenin of Greenbrier County purchased a large tract of land in 1788 that included the land on which Charleston now sits. That year the Clendenins built Fort Lee at Charleston due to trouble with marauding tribes, primarily Shawnee, and Clendennin acted as commandant. Fort Lee became known as Clendennin’s Fort.
Scouts for the army and militias, the most experienced frontiersmen, made for the best legends from this time. Their exploits were captivating and heroic. Daniel Boone lived on the Kanawha River then. Writing about the population in the area in 1791, he said “From the Pint (Point Pleasant) to Alke (Elk River) 60 miles; no inhabitants; from Alke to the Bote Yards (mouth of Kelley’s creek), 20 miles; all inhabited.”
Other characters like Mad Anne Bailey and Fleming Cobbs, my great great great great grandfather) were scouts and runners. As scouts Bailey and Cobbs tended to be the ones who braved the wild to replenish supplies at the fort when it ran low, and their exploits were remembered.
The following is a story transcribed from George Atkinson’s “History of Kanawha County” published in 1876:
Fleming Cobbs was among the first settlers of the county. He was a medium-sized man, but was very muscular and active. He was not only an expert woodman and hunter, but a noted canoeman* also. It was fun for him to fire into a band of Indians, and then, like Lewis Wetzel, flee for deliverance. He could run away from an ordinary Indian with perfect ease, though on several occasions he escaped - as did the patriarch Job - “by the skin of his teeth.”
About the year 1790 Mr. Cobbs was detailed to go to Point Pleasant for a fresh supply of ammunition for Clendennin’s fort. Being, as above stated, an expert canoeman, he preferred to make the trip in his canoe. Accordingly he supplied himself with a sufficient quantity of food for the expedition, and with his trusty rifle took his departure for the mouth of the Kanawha, a distance of sixty miles. His reason for taking a supply of food, was that roving bands of Shawnee Indians infested that portion of the Valley between Charleston and Point Pleasant, which rendered it unsafe to kill any game. His purpose on leaving Charleston was to float down the river as cautiously as possible, so as to avoid detection by the Indians; knowing that if he was discovered on his down trip, it would be impossible to return in a canoe with any degree of safety, as the river would be carefully guarded by the Indians for the purpose of intercepting and capturing him. Cobbs, however, well understood their craftiness, and was never “caught napping.”
It was about sundown when he left Charleston, and daylight that next morning found him just above the mouth of Ten-Mile creek, only ten miles from the Point Pleasant fort; but that was the most dangerous portion of the Valley. Hence, deemimg it unsafe to travel in the daytime, he ran his canoe into the mouth of the creek, and concealed it carefully under the limbs of a clump of trees which hung down to the waters’ edge.
After partaking of a breakfast of cold venison, bear meat, and turkey’s breast, he spread his blanket in the bottom of his canoe, and covering himself with his hunting shirt, in a few moments, wearied, as he was, from a hard night’s work, he fell asleep. Although in the midst of danger, he felt as if he were safe, and no dreams of stealthy Indians disturbed his slumber as he lay in his secluded bed, that October day, in the mouth of the Ten-Mile. He awoke greatly refreashed, and seeing the sun far down the western sky, he knew that the shades of evening would shortly throw their mantle over the face of nature, and afford him an opportunity to complete his journey. While sitting in his canoe eating his frugal meal - dinner and supper together - he saw a band of full twenty Shawnee Indians passing up the Valley on the opposite side of the river. He knew, from the manner of their advance, that they did not suspect the presence of an enemy, as they were talking, leaping, and laughing, as hunters do when within the walls of a fort. Night came, and our hero pushed his canoe from its brushy retreat out into the stream, and renewed his descent of the river. In less than two hours he was within the walls of the fort at Point Pleasant, where he met many familiar faces, male and female, and renewed the acquaintances of former years. Here he remained until the next evening, when, with his supply of powder, lead, and flints stored away in the bow of his canoe, after an affectionate goodbye, he started up the Kanawha on his way back to Clendennin’s fort.
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