"An Auspicious Encounter"

James Knox and Captain Dick

This wonderful print captures forever, an extraordinarily crucial, history altering moment from the annals of our colonial American frontier.  The meeting of one of the greatest, most successful Long Hunters who would ever live — James Knox, with the Cherokee Indian, better known as Captain Dick — a kindly, obliging, Native American gentleman who would introduce this enthusiastic, talented Virginia hunter to the wild, untamed country in which he was destined to become popular, hearthside folklore and from it, accumulate his considerable fortune.  Several years after Knox’s death in December of 1822, one of his closest friends, Robert Wickliffe tells us:  “I can give you a short sketch of Col. James Knox upon whom our Knox County was called and not after Gen. (Henry) Knox as Collins has stated.  James Knox was in Kentucky in the fall of the year 1768 & named Dick’s River after the Indian Dick who pioneered him to it.”  Pleasantly humble and unassuming, Wickliffe; being in fact more knowledgeable in the details of Knox’s early experiences on the Kentucky frontier than any other man of his time, goes on to state:  “Col. Knox was by birth an Irishman as I have always understood but was in early life a great hunter & devotedly attached to the woods & a hunters life.  Of his life and its incidents I can say but little for although I was well acquainted with him, I do not recollect of his speaking of his adventures in the western wilds but twice.  His narrative in each, substantially the same & were as follows.  That before 1768, he had become acquainted with the wilds and hunting grounds east of the Cumberland range of mountains lying on the Clinch & Powell rivers.  But in the begining of the year 1768, he became acquainted with the Powells valley and in that valley, fell in company with a Cherokee Indian that spoke English and called himself Dick with whom he concluded to hunt for some time.  That while hunting with Dick, the Indian informed that he had repeatedly crossed the Cumberland mountains, & travelled through a beautiful country abounding in game.  He also described to him the Cumberland Gap & the Cumberland river & a river still farther on which emptied itself into another river and that into the big river Ohio.” This “river still farther on” was of course the legendary Dicks (in modern times spelled Dix) River.  Heavily steeped in the thrilling, adventurous saga of the Long Hunter; Dick’s River cuts a path through the heart of central Kentucky’s verdant, Bluegrass region as it gently weaves and meanders its way toward the north, empting at length into Kentucky River; that much celebrated waterway which as Wickliffe states, flows into “the big river Ohio”. The idea of Dick’s River must have thoroughly captivated Knox’s imagination as Wickliffe continues:  “Col. Knox, believing the Indian’s tale, with great difficulty prevailed on the Indian to go with him & show the rivers and country he described, they passed the Cumberland mountain at the Gap & pursued a Northwesterly direction crossing the Cumberland river & other streams untill they reached Dick’s river a principle branch of the Kentucky. Here they made a halt.”   For some reason, Captain Dick most emphatically did not wish to stick around. Popular legend has it Captain Dick had been killing Shawnee warriors in the general vicinity and was somewhat concerned they were closing in on him.  Wickliffe however, tells us that Knox himself explains it a bit differently; “Dick insisted upon returning & rejoining the hunting party of Cherokees to which he belonged.  He described to Knox the course of the (Dick’s) river into the Kentucky & the Kentucky into the Ohio & after spending a night and part of two days, he left Knox not far from where the town of Danville now stands & Knox never heard of him again.  This was late in Octr. 1768.”  That fateful trip, occasioned solely through the generosity, physical exertion and skillful expertise of Captain Dick, was James Knox’s very first taste of the famed, “Dark and Bloody Ground” — an awesome, spectacular, uninhabited, hunter’s paradise, more familiarly known today as the Commonwealth of Kentucky... and he absolutely reveled in it.  Wickliffe continues; “Knox being alone hunted & examined the fertile lands around him, and then returned nearly on the same rout which the Indian led him, but after reaching a point not far from Raccoon Springs, built him a camp & remained at it untill after Christmas of that year...Col. Knox returned to Virginia & (in 1769 to 1770) was one of the company of long hunters as they were called from being absent from the settled parts of Virginia twelve months in a single hunt.”

So...Here, deep in the Powell Valley of extreme, southwestern Virginia; Andrew Knez very accurately portrays an as yet, inexperienced and relatively untried James Knox, busily engaged in the minutia of preparing a freshly killed deer when the friendly Cherokee, “Dick” cordially approaches him.  The likeable and charismatic Knox actually remembers this particular warrior with his permanently injured hand, from a previous visit to the lead mines near Fort Chiswell.  Thinking quickly, James quite tactfully hails him as “Captain” Dick — at that time, a hard won, backwoods appellation of highest esteem and respect. Of course the Cherokee brave is very much flattered.  He instantaneously likes this affable, engaging (if not a trifle ignorant) frontiersman, taking the white man under his wing so to speak.  A temporary backwoods partnership is formed between the two with Captain Dick eventually teaching the enterprising, ambitious hunter everything he needs to know about the physical geography of the unknown, enigmatic “Can-tu-kee”.  Thus, at this precise moment —their initial meeting...the fate and the future of long hunting within the unexplored, unsettled wilds of the colonial southwest becomes virtually assured.  In the years to follow, Knox would organize and lead an impressive series of the largest and best known long hunting adventures ever to take place; creating a name and a reputation for himself that would forever be synonymous with the term, “Long Hunter”.

Text by: Historical Researcher and Author, John Curry

Available As A Limited Edition Canvas Print
Twenty In The Issue
Size - 20" x 15"     Framed Price - $395.00     Unframed Price - $250.00