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Hunters and Traders, Dr. Walker and Party

From the expulsion of the Shawnees to the coming of the white settlers in 1779 the region now embraced in Middle Tennessee was indeed a hunter's paradise. Through its valleys and over its hills roamed countless herds of buffalo, deer, and elk. Within its forests and canebrakes bears, wolves, panthers, bob-cats, foxes, and other wild animals in great numbers found a home. Besides the food necessary for each they must also have salt. The provision made by nature for this essential was the saline water of the sulphur springs with which the country yet abounds. In times of overflow these springs left on the surrounding ground a slight deposit of salt, and over this the beasts would tramp and lick until often long trenches or furrows were made, sometimes over several acres. Thus were formed the "licks" which played so important a part in determining the location of early forts. Sulphur springs and the accompanying "licks" were especially numerous in Sumner and Davidson Counties. To this fact, together with the close proximity of these counties to the Cumberland River is largely due their selection as a location by the pioneers. The big sulphur spring in the bottom now within the corporate limits of Nashville, no doubt determined the location of that city.

To the licks in the region now embraced in Sumner and Davidson came at regular intervals the animals from over a large territory, and these in their journeys to and fro formed beaten paths or trails, all centering in this locality like the spokes of a wheel. As with the ancients all roads led to Rome, so with the conquerors of this boundless and uninhabited wilderness, all traces led to central licks which spots were destined to become the scene of earliest activity. Hunters, both Indian and white, roaming at will through the forests came upon these narrow paths, and turning about threaded them to the end. Here these mighty Nimrods fell upon and mercilessly slaughtered the game, large and small, which was usually found assembled in great abundance. After feeding upon the flesh of the slain animals, they carried away the hides or pelts from which they made clothing for themselves and their families, and in the case of the Indian hunter, covering for their tents, or "tepees." Such as were not thus applied to personal use were sold for trade in the colonies east of the mountains or for export to the countries of Europe.

In the course of time as a result of the natural evolution and growth of traffic, foreign made clothing, blankets, boots and shoes, wares and trinkets were brought by enterprising traders to such localities and there exchanged for pelts. The Indian hunter, who, in such transactions, was sure of the worst of the bargain, readily exchanged the most valuable buffalo robe for a string of glass beads or a daub of red paint with which to be-streak his visage when he went forth to war.

The French were the earliest tradesmen in Middle Tennessee. The first of these to appear was a young man, Charles Charleville by name, who, in 1714, built his post on a mound near the present site of Nashville. This mound has been mentioned already in connection with a sketch of the Mound Builders. Here, besides the hunting and trapping done by himself and his companions, an extensive trade was carried on with the savage hunters from all the tribes frequenting the hunting ground. However, Charleville's station did not long remain, and in 1740 Middle Tennessee was again without a single white resident. The establishment of this and subsequent posts by men of the same nationality gave to the locality around Nashville the name, French Lick by which it was known to early historians. Some of the old logs from the walls of the Charleville storehouse were found on the mound by the settlers who came to Nashville sixty-five years later.

From the departure of Charleville and his band to the year 1748, no white adventurer came to disturb the peaceful serenity of the hunting ground, but in the latter part of that year Dr. Thomas Walker led a party of hunters across the mountains from Virginia. Walker was an explorer and surveyor of renown, and is described as a man of mark among the pioneers. With his company came Colonels Wood, Patton and Buchanan, and Captain Charles Campbell. After giving the name Cumberland to the lofty range of mountains crossed, they pursued their journey by way of Cumberland Gap through the counties of Campbell, Scott, Fentress, Overton and Jackson. Finding a beautiful mountain stream flowing across their course they called it Cumberland River in honor of the Duke of Cumberland, who was then Prime Minister of England. The latter had taken his title from the county of Cumberland, a picturesque region of lakes and mountains in the northern portion of his native land. Previous to this time Cumberland River had been called Warioto by the Indians and Shauvanon by the French traders. It is probable that Walker's party hunted along the river as far as French Lick, and from thence returned to Virginia through Kentucky.

Timothy Demonbreun

Late in the autumn of 1760 a strange craft appeared on the Cumberland just below French Lick. With a single sail fluttering from a low mast it was creeping up with noiseless motion along the western bank of the river. On deck stood a tall, athletic man with broad shoulders, long arms, and an eagle eye. Over his face was an expression of daring and adventure. He was clothed in a blue cotton hunting shirt with red waistcoat, and leggins of deer skin, and on his head he wore a fox-skin cap with the tail hanging down his back. With him were several companions. The craft proved to be a French trading boat heavily ladened with wares and merchandise, and the strangely attired individual in command was Timothy DeMonbreun, a French soldier who had come to establish a post in the Wilderness, as the Cumberland country was then called.

The Indian hunters loitering on the bluff where Nashville's countless mills and factories now stand had never before seen a vessel like this, and supposing it to be a ''war boat from the Great Spirit's lake" prostrated themselves in an attitude of humble worship.

Slowly the party moved up the river, and on coming to a small tributary now known as Lick branch, they decided to enter and trace it to its source. A little way up they found a spring and around it the tracks of much buffalo, bear and deer. At this spring they landed, cooked their evening meal, and retired for the night, sleeping on their arms lest they might be attacked by the natives. However, they were undisturbed, and in the morning after having stretched a line between two trees, they hung out bright red blankets, strings of heads, shining trinkets and other articles with which to attract the Indians. They were careful to show by their actions that the mission on which they had come was one of peace, and made such signs as they were able indicating a desire to trade their wares for pelts and furs, such as the savages possessed.

DeMonbreun had come to Canada with the army of his native land during the war between England and France. He fought bravely at the battle of Quebec, which took place on the Plains of Abraham in 1759, and upon the restoration of peace concluded to make America his home. In the spring of 1760 he journeyed from Quebec to Kaskaskia, Illinois, and thence to the French Lick. His trade with the Indians proved profitable, and here, except at brief intervals, he spent the remainder of his life. For some years he lived during the winter months in a cave above Nashville on the bank of the Cumberland between the mouth of Stone's River and Mill Creek. After the first season his family came to live with him in the cave, and here was born his son, William DeMonbreun, long an honored citizen of Williamson County, where some years ago he died, leaving a large family and a fine estate. William DeMonbreun was probably the first white child born in Middle Tennessee.

In the summer of each year DeMonbreun, the elder, would return to Kaskaskia, taking with him a cargo of buffalo hides and furs which had been laid by in store during the winter and spring. Later he would come back to his station with a new supply of goods for the trade of the following season.

At the beginning of the Nashville settlement he built two cabins of cedar logs; one near the northeast corner of the Public Square, and the other at the juncture of Broad and College Streets. The first was used as a storehouse and the other as a dwelling for himself and family. Later he erected a farmhouse on Broad Street near High, and in this he died in 1826, at the advanced age of ninety-six years. It was in honor of this brave and venerable pioneer that the city of Nashville gave the name ''DeMonbreun" to one of its principal streets.

Early History of Middle Tennessee

Early History of Middle Tennessee, BY Edward Albright, Copyright, 1908, Brandon Printing Company, Nashville, Tennessee, 1909

 

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