In the fall of 1778 a large force of Indians, most of them Shawnees, laid siege to Fort Boonesborough in central Kentucky. The fort held out, but the siege provides some pretty nifty examples of military ingenuity.
Native American attempts to capture frontier garrisons were usually pretty straightforward affairs, with a party of warriors surrounding the walls and firing from cover along with attempts to fire the structure with torches or flaming arrows. At Boonesborough, the Indians got creative. The Kentucky River ran parallel to the fort’s rear wall and about sixty yards away from it. The attackers decided to tunnel into the bluff along the stream and dig a mine toward the settlers, either to gain access to the interior or to set off a powder charge under the walls. The defenders heard the digging and saw the river’s water turn muddy, and figuring out what was up, they set to work on a counter-mine. The Indians’ tunnel collapsed before reaching the fort, but it was still a pretty interesting approach to frontier warfare.
The whites inside the fort developed a few tricks of their own, thanks to the ingenuity of Daniel Boone’s brother Squire, who built a makeshift cannon out of gum wood bound with iron wagon wheel strips. The second shot blew the barrel apart, prompting derisive shouts from the attackers. (One notable thing about participants’ recollections of the siege was the frequency of verbal insults traded between the two sides.) Not the most effective of weapons, but the bang did cause a party of Indians to “skamper perdidiously,” as Daniel Trabue put it.
Another of Squire Boone’s inventions proved more effective during the siege when he managed to fashion squirt guns out of rifle barrels to douse the Indians’ torches. I’ve never been able to figure out exactly how these things worked, but apparently some type of piston was involved. This guy was like an eighteenth-century MacGyver.
So, who’s up for an experimental archaeology project?