by Mike Slate.
Buchanan’s Station was a fortified settlement established about 1784 during the pioneer era of Nashville, Tennessee. Located on a bluff overlooking Mill Creek in today’s Donelson, the homestead was founded by Major John Buchanan who lived there with his family and other settlers until his death in 1832.1 The station is best known as the site of the famous Battle of Buchanan’s Station, which occurred on September 30, 1792.2
In addition to being situated along one of Nashville’s earliest roads, originally called the Lower Trace3 and later described as the road to Buchanan’s Mill,4 the fort was also near the old Nickajack Trail5 as well as what has been called the First Holston Road.6 Eventually the road by Buchanan’s Station became the southern artery to Andrew Jackson’s Hermitage estate and, by about 1869, the approximate route of the old Tennessee & Pacific Railroad.7
The fort is known to have been positioned precisely at the northwest corner of today’s Elm Hill Pike and Massman Drive, and a state historical plaque marks the spot.8 A large commercial building now covers the site. Not seen from Elm Hill Pike but clearly visible from Massman Drive is the extant Buchanan’s Station Cemetery, the only vestige of the original settlement and one of the oldest pioneer graveyards in Middle Tennessee. Buried here are Major John Buchanan (1759-1832) and his wife Sarah “Sally” Ridley Buchanan (1774-1831), along with about 65 other family members, affiliated settlers, and possibly slaves. Many graves are marked only by anonymous fieldstones.9 Notably, historical circumstances indicate that at least five frontiersmen who were killed by Indians are probably buried in the cemetery: Samuel Buchanan,10 Cornelius Riddle,11 John Buchanan Sr.,12 William Mulherrin,13 and John Blackburn.14
Largely because it was the venue of the remarkable 1792 Indian attack, Buchanan’s Station has been frequently mentioned or discussed by both amateur and professional historians for well over two centuries.15 Buchanan’s Station was, and continues to be, an archetypal intersection of pioneer culture, involving migration dynamics, settlement formation, land acquisition, conflict with Native Americans, and integration into the developing American West.
1 According to author Laurence Trabue, Richard Buchanan (a son of Major John Buchanan) sold the Buchanan’s Station location to Ralph Smith in 1841. Thus, the station remained with the Buchanan family until that year. I use the 1832 date in order to delineate the years that John Buchanan himself lived there. See Laurence O. Trabue, “Early Nashville Homes, 1780-1830,” in Graham, Eleanor, and Mary Glenn Hearne, Nashville Families & Homes: Paragraphs from Nashville History Lecture Series, 1979-81 (Nashville: The Nashville Public Library, 1983), 111.
2 See the “Battle of Buchanan’s Station” article.
3 Buchanan’s Station was situated on North Carolina land grant #83. The survey warrant for that grant located the land “on Mill Creek Where the Lower Trace Leading to Stones River Crosses Sd Creek.” Apparently, today’s Elm Hill Pike, or a portion thereof, was originally known as “the Lower Trace,” indicating an old buffalo trail. The warrant is transcribed in Drake, Masters, & Puryear, Data Supplement 1 for Founding of the Cumberland Settlements: The First Atlas, 1779-1804 (Gallatin TN: Warioto Press, 2009), 136-137.
4 See the “Major John Buchanan” article, note 7.
5 The Nickajack Trail, which was a segment of the old Cisca and St. Augustine Indian Trail, ran from Chickamauga Indian country near today’s Chattanooga northwest to Nashville. The Indians who attacked Buchanan’s Station in 1792 probably approached the station via this trail, or portions thereof. Today’s Murfreesboro Road may follow the original route of the Nickajack. As the trail entered Nashville it came very close to Buchanan’s Station. Regarding the Nickajack and other trails, see William E. Meyer, Indian Trails of the Southeast (Davenport IA: Gustav’s Library, 2009, reprint from the “Forty-second Annual Report of the Bureau of American Ethnology” 1924-25), especially page 848 and the included maps.
6 The term “First Holston Road” is used in Masters & Puryear, Thoroughfare for Freedom: The Second Atlas of the Cumberland Settlements, 1779-1804 (Gallatin TN: Warioto Press, 2011), especially pages 96-97. Created in the spring of 1788, this was the first trail blazed from Nashville across the Cumberland Plateau to Knoxville. It preceded the Cumberland Road (also called Avery’s Trace) that was soon afterwards built on the north side of the Cumberland River. The First Holston Road proceeded from Nashville “via Buchanan’s Station” according to pioneer William Martin’s account in Paul Clements, Chronicles of the Cumberland Settlements (Nashville: self- published, 2012), 288.
7 The southern or lower road to the Hermitage appears on Matthew Rhea’s 1832 map of Tennessee, and the route of the Tennessee & Pacific Railroad appears on Wilbur Foster’s 1871 map of Davidson County, Tennessee.
8 Several sources nicely align to present almost incontrovertible proof of the precise location of the Buchanan’s Station main structure. One of the most important is Roberta Brandau, ed., History of Homes and Gardens of Tennessee (Nashville: Parthenon Press, 1964 edition of the 1936 original), 142-144. In the entry therein titled “Buchanan Station,” Ralph Smith’s “Mansion House” is pictured and captioned as “on the site of the original Buchanan structure.” Smith’s mansion became the Knapp Farm Clubhouse (owned by George Peabody College), the exact location of which is known to many contemporary Nashvillians since it was not torn down until shortly after 1980. Brandau aligns with Trabue, 111.
9 See archeologist Dan Allen’s report: Dan S. Allen, “Archaeological Survey of the Buchanan’s Station Cemetery” (Murfreesboro: Dan S. Allen & Associates, 2013), 31.
10 Samuel was the second of Major John Buchanan’s brothers to be killed by Indians (the first was Alexander during the “Battle of the Bluff”). Harriette Simpson Arnow reports that Samuel was killed on May 8, 1786, while out ploughing in the field near the creek, apparently at Buchanan’s Station. See Harriette Simpson Arnow, Flowering of the Cumberland (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1996, new edition of the 1963 original), 241-242. Samuel may have been the first person to be buried in the Buchanan’s Station Cemetery.
11 Cornelius Riddle was killed in November 1786 near Buchanan’s Station while hunting turkeys. See Clements, 249. Harriette Simpson Arnow speaks of Riddle (she calls him “Ruddle”) as living at Buchanan’s Station with his wife (the former Jane Mulherrin), and Arnow goes so far as to describe the couple’s cabin at the station. See Harriette Simpson Arnow, Seedtime on the Cumberland (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1995, new edition of the 1960 original), 366.
12 John Buchanan Sr. was hacked to death with a tomahawk, in the presence of his wife (Jane Trindle Buchanan), inside Buchanan’s Station in 1787. See Arnow, Flowering of the Cumberland, 6. The foremost account of this tragedy is in G.W. Featherstonaugh, Excursion through the Slave States, Vol. I (London: John Murray, 1844), 205. John Sr. and his wife Jane are believed to be buried in the rocked-in plot in the Buchanan’s Station Cemetery.
13 William Mulherrin was killed at Buchanan’s Station during the same 1787 incident in which John Buchanan Sr. was killed. See pioneer Robert Weakley’s account in Clements, 244.
14 John Haywood reports that John Blackburn was killed in 1789 at Buchanan’s Station. The Indians left a spear sticking in his body. See John Haywood, The Civil and Political History of the State of Tennessee (Knoxville: Tenase Company, 1969, reprint of the 1891 edition which was itself a reprint of the original 1823 edition), 257.
15 See the “Battle of Buchanan’s Station” article.
Allen, Dan S. “Archaeological Survey of the Buchanan’s Station Cemetery.” Murfreesboro, Dan S. Allen and Associates, 2013.
Arnow, Harriette Simpson. Flowering of the Cumberland. Lincoln, University of Nebraska Press, 1996 edition of the 1963 original.
Arnow, Harriette Simpson. Seedtime on the Cumberland. Lincoln, University of Nebraska Press, 1995 edition of the 1960 original.
Clements, Paul. Chronicles of the Cumberland Settlements. Nashville, self-published, 2012.
Drake, Masters, & Puryear. Founding of the Cumberland Settlements: The First Atlas, 1779-1804. Gallatin TN, Warioto Press, 2009.
Haywood, John. The Civil and Political History of the State of Tennessee. Knoxville, Tenase Company, 1969 edition of the 1823 original.
Masters & Puryear. Thoroughfare for Freedom: The Second Atlas of the Cumberland Settlements, 1779-1804. Gallatin TN, Warioto Press, 2011.