For the traitor there has been erected in every age and country a pillar of historic infamy. By whatever name he is known, renegade, turncoat, or Tory, mankind have for him one universal expression of contempt. His name, of all historic characters, is buried the deepest in the mire. He becomes a by-word, a hissing, a reproach among the nations of the earth. For him no curse is bitter enough, no oblivion black enough. He lives in the midst of the fiercest passions which darken the human heart. He is a hater and the hated. The rage which he excites among the followers of the cause which he has deserted is only equaled by the disgust and secret loathing which he inspires among the partisans of the cause which he has joined.
Of all enmities, that of the apostate is most bitter. Of all hatreds, that of the renegade is most bloody. Within him rage storms of wrath, without him storm tempests of calumny. When the occasion for his shame has passed, and he is no longer useful to the ranks of which he became the dishonored recruit, he is sent without the camp. He is spurned as a viper. He is shunned as a leper. He is despised as a devil.
Another man fights and falls in the cause of wrong, yet to him mankind accords the laurels of heroism. Upon his tomb the historians inscribes the legend, "He was mistaken, but he was great." From that time on his error is forgotten. His name is inscribed among those of the heroes and the martyrs. The philosopher moralizes upon his career. He points out the fact that the dead was in the grasp of immutable laws; that he was not his own master; that ancestry, birth, place, temperament, surroundings, fortune, accident, and circumstances are the powers which have controlled him, in whose Titanic grasp ht was but a puppet. This is the charity of history. This is the kindness of philosophy. This is the imperial task to which the human mind of after ages devotes herself, the task of preserving and immortalizing Truth, heroism, and Honor, where-ever found.
Not so with the renegade. He is the abhorrence of all future generations. He may have fallen fighting in the ranks of the brave and true. No matter. Above his grave rises the black shaft of shame he may have made fearful sacrifices. He may have deserted one cause and joined another from an honest intellectual conviction. It is nothing. For him men have but epithets of shame, sneers of derision. He is disowned and dishonored. For him there is no charity. His virtues pass into oblivion. His solitary crime of apostasy becomes over-shadowing and colossal. Philosophy refuses to inquire into the origin and reasons of his infamy. He, to, may have been a puppet, moved by invisible wires from remote agencies. Yet for his sin there is no atonement, no mercy-seat. His name is inscribed with those of Benedict Arnold and Brutus, of Julian and Judas Iscariot.
Concerning such characters the real truth is never known. The whirlwinds of abuse which overwhelm their lives throw dust in the eyes of the historian. He sees only a vast mass of slanders, invectives, reproaches, and vilifications. There seems to have been no good in the man. Passion, it may be, has exaggerated his vices. Enmity may have lied about his virtues. But the exact truth can never be obtained. He may have been worse than he seems; he may have been better than he seems. Concerning these things it is impossible to judge.
To the ranks of traitors of which we have been speaking belongs Simon Girty, the renegade, or the White Savage. It is not impossible that he has been slandered. We can not tell. The story of his life is certainly a black one.
Among all the Tories of the Revolution Simon Girty was the most notorious. He was born in north-western Pennsylvania. His father was an Irishman. "The old man was beastly intemperate. A jug of whisky was the extent of his ambition. Grog was his song, and grog he would have. His sottishness turned his wife's affection. Ready for seduction, she yielded her heart to a neighboring rustic, who, to remove all obstacles to their wishes, knocked old Girty on the head, and bore off the trophy of his prowess."
The murdered man had been an Indian trader. He left four boys, Thomas, Simon, George, and James. During the Old French war the three younger boys were taken captive by the Indians. Inheriting the nature of savages, their surroundings only developed them. Each was adopted into an Indian tribe. Each became a blood-thirsty ruffian, and during long careers of violence inflicted every cruelty upon the persons and families of the white settlers.
Of the three brothers Simon became the most notorious, as he was the most wicked. At the close of Pontiac's war, Girty was delivered to Bouquet as a hostage for the good behavior of the Senecas, of which tribe he was a member. The savage propensities of the young ruffian were so strong that he escaped from his civilized companions, and sought again the wild and wicked life of the wigwams. Strangely enough his appetite for barbarism was at this time forced to remain unsatisfied. The Senecas, being bound by the condition in the treaty of peace, deliberately took Mr. Girty by force, and dragged him back to Pittsburgh.
Of course, when Dunmore's war broke out in 1774, Girty's natural taste for scenes of violence led him to take an active part. Here he met Simon Kenton, for whose life he afterwards interceded with the Wyandots. Here, too, he met Colonel Crawford, at whose hospitable cabin on the Youghiogheny he was a frequent guest. In attempting to account for his subsequent treachery and desertion, the border writers mention incidents, which tradition reports as having transpired about this time.
One story goes that he aspired to the hand of one of Crawford's daughters. The refusal, with which his advances were met, poisoned his malignant heart with a sleepless longing for revenge. This account is supposed to furnish some reason for Girty's awful inhumanity to Colonel Crawford some years later.
Another story runs to the effect that Girty and another scout, having rendered some two or three months' service in the militia, without receiving their pay, repaired to the headquarters of General Lewis, and insolently demanded that the arrears of salary be made up. The military discipline of the time seems to have been a little singular, for General Lewis not only received the application with a storm of curses, but proceeded to exercise himself in bloodying the heads of the two scouts with several severe blows from his cane. Strangely enough this style of reception and military etiquette displeased the untutored scouts. Girty picked himself up, and shaking his fist at the general, with a fearful oath, threateningly said, "Sir, for this your quarters shall swim in blood."
On the 22d of February, 1775, a day which, at that time, was not yet celebrated as the birthday of the Father of his country, Girty became a commissioned officer in the militia at Pittsburgh. In accordance with English laws, he took the necessary oaths of allegiance to the king and his abhorrence of papacy.
Here, again, the ingenious border writers find a reason for Girty's faithlessness. They say he aspired to a captaincy, but was only made an orderly-sergeant. This affront his sensitive soul could by no means endure. He remained, however, in the service at Fort Pitt until the early part of 1778. That his real sympathies, if such his inclinations might be called, were with the Indians, among whom he had been raised, and not with the struggling cause of the colonial patriots, is natural, and easy to believe.
A savage seeks the society of savages, just as surely as a gentleman seeks that of a gentleman. Accordingly we find Girty, together with a pair of precious scoundrels, McKee and Elliott, and twelve followers, one day making up their packs and deserting from Fort Pitt. The news spread far and wide over the agitated frontiers. Wherever the ruffians went, they spread lies about the defeat of the American forces, the triumph of the British, and the intention of the colonists to avenge their defeat by the murder of every Indian in the Ohio valley. The settlers trembled for the safety of their families. The mischief which the white scoundrels might work among credulous and excitable savages was incalulable. Their evil designs were looked upon as a matter of certainty.
Nor did the fears of the settlers exaggerate the real dangers of the situation. The Indians were made to believe that George Washington was killed, and that the members of Congress were hung in the very chambers where they had been accustomed to deliberate. As poor Heckewelder said speaking of the renegade's visit to Gnadenhutten: "It was enough to break the hearts of the missionaries."
Girty started for Detroit. On the way he was captured by the Wyandots. Some Senecas demanded that he be delivered up to them to them, on the ground that he was an adopted member of their tribe, and had taken arms against them. In fact, Girty's national allegiance was a little mixed. Was he a traitor to the Senecas, or to the Americans, or to both, or to neither? For this enigma, the Wyandot chief had a solution. "He is our prisoner." Such logic won the day. By shrewd explanations that he was now devoted to their cause Girty procured himself to be set at liberty, and proceeded to Detroit. Here the commandant, Hamilton, gave him a hearty reception. He was at once employed by the British upon a salary to incite the Indians to warfare upon the unprotected settlers of the border.
Girty was now in his element. To the instinctive ferocity of his own nature, he added the relentless zeal of the renegade. His name became a household word of terror all along the border, from Pittsburgh to Louisville. About it hung every association of cruelty and fiendishness. Dressed and painted like an Indian, he seemed, as he really was, the very incarnation of fierceness and brutality. Inheriting from his Irish ancestry a capacity for rude eloquence, with which the children of the Emerald Isle are often gifted, his terrible voice rose high and commanding above all the hideous clamor and savage din of every Indian council-house. Convulsed with fury, a human volcano in eruption, he awed the savages themselves by the resistless torrents of his rage, and excited their admiration and emulation by his infinite thirst for blood and infernal schemes of vengeance.
The picture of the man, as it is preserved for us in the tales of the borders, represents him as a monstrosity in human form. We can fairly hear him yet, as he stalked through the village, or galloped through the forest, filling the air with an awful din and roar of oaths and curses. He it was who inspired and directed the many attacks on the settlers of the Ohio valley. It was the diabolical brain of Girty which tormented the Christian Indians of the Moravian settlements, drove them from spot to spot, and placed them in that ambiguous position which the pioneers mistook for treachery or hostility, and which resulted in the slaughter of more than ninety of their number.
One, among many instances of his cruelty toward them, must be related. Shortly after the massacre at Gnadenhutten, Heckewelder, Zeisberger, and two other missionaries were ordered by Girty to meet him on the lower Sandusky. Here they were hospitably received by some traders. The traders told them that Girty had commanded them to proceed to Detroit forthwith. But exhausted by their toilsome journey of foot, the missionaries availed themselves of the kind invitation of the trader to remain at this point for a week or so.
Here, for the first time, they learned of the awful tragedy on the Muskingum. Their minds were greatly uneasy, not only by reason of the fearful news, but also from as apprehension that Girty might return from a terrible expedition against the frontiers and find his orders disobeyed with regard to their being taken to Detroit.
The two missionaries were quartered in different houses, separated by some distance. Between them lay the restless and filthy town of the Wyandots. For the missionaries to pass through the village and visit one another was an undertaking of considerable danger. Nevertheless, it was attempted a time or two. One day, when the Indian village seemed all quiet, Heckewelder ventured to cross it to the house where his friends were lodged. He reached the place in safety.
While engaged in conversation, the missionaries were horrified and startled by two scalp-yells from different directions. Two war-parties were just returning. Heckewelder at once started from the house, which stood on a lofty ridge of ground, to make his way back to his quarters. The elevated ground prevented the people of the village from hearing the scalp-yell of the war-party approaching from the rear of the house in which Heckewelder was talking. The savages all ran in the opposite direction to meet the other party. Heckewelder followed in their rear, and passed the deserted village in safety.
But the missionaries' troubles were not ended. Girty returned, and behaved like a madman on learning that they were there. "He flew at the Frenchman," says Heckewelder, "who was in the room adjoining ours, most furiously, striking him, and threatening to split his head on two, for disobeying the orders he had given him. He swore the most horrid oaths respecting us, and continued in that way until after midnight. His oaths were all to the purport that he would never leave the house until he split our heads in two with his tomahawk, and made our brains stick to the walls of the rooms in which we were! I omit the names he called us by and the words he made use of while swearing, as also the place he would go to if he did not fulfill all which he had sworn he would do to us. He had somewhere procured liquor, and would, as we were told by those who were near him, at every drink renew his oaths, which he repeated until he fell asleep.
"Never before did any of us hear the like oaths, or know any one to rave like him. He appeared like a host of evil spirits. He would sometimes come up to the bolted door between us and him, threatening to chop it in pieces to get at us. No Indian we ever saw drunk would have been a match for him. How we should escape the clutches of this white beast in human form no one could foresee."
The poor missionaries passed a miserable night, within the sound of the fearful ravings of the monster. When morning dawned they were fortunately enables to leave the place in a boat which was going to Detroit.
The wicked and devilish part which Girty played in the execution of Colonel Crawford is given in another chapter, as is also the incident of a different character, in which he attempted to save Kenton's life. Toward the close of the Revolutionary War a thread of romance is twisted like a skein of gold through the dark web of Girty's career.
In March 1779 a family of immigrants named Malott embarked on the Monongahela in two flat-bottomed boats for a voyage to Kentucky. Mrs. Malott and her five children, with Captain Reynolds, were in the rear boat. Mrs. Reynolds, several children, and a Mrs. Hardin were in the forward boat. Some forty miles below Wheeling the little fleet, in which there were also some canoes, was attacked by Indians.
Several of the voyagers were killed, and no less than nineteen of them taken prisoner to the squalid villages of the Delawares and the Wyandots. Among these was Catharine Malott, then fifteen years old. Some three years afterward, when Mrs. Malott had obtained her liberty at Detroit, she seems to have employed Girty to trace her children. He found Catharine, a very pretty girl, adopted into an Indian family. The people being very proud of her, refused to give her up. Girty's influence, and a well-timed promise, which was never intended to be kept, that she should be returned after visiting her mother in Detroit, secured her release.
Once at Detroit, Girty married her. During the next seven years, Girty softened somewhat by his new relations, remained comparatively quiet, leading the life of an Indian trader. For a while he was tolerably quiet. In time, however, he became a hard drinker, and was separated from his family.
When the Indians of the west, after some years of comparative quiet, following the close of the Revolutionary War, combined in one last and furious effort to drive the white man from the territory of their fathers, an attempt which was met by the memorable and unfortunate expedition of General Harmar in 1791, by the no less tragic campaign of St. Clair in 1791, and finally, by the triumphant and overwhelming blow inflicted by General Wayne in 1794, Simon Girty again became prominent among the savages. At every council his voice was lifted in the support of bitter, relentless, and continued war. He was present, animating the Indian forces by his reckless courage, at each important battle of these campaigns. One incident early in 1791 has been preserved.
A party of hunters from Cincinnati were startled by the discharge of fire-arms from the neighborhood of Dunlap's Station. This was a settlement on the Great Miami River, eight miles from Hamilton. Here the settlers had erected several block-houses, connected by a stockade, fronting southward on the river at a point where the water is deep. The hunters beat a hasty retreat for Cincinnati, seventeen miles away. No one doubted that the station had been attacked by Indians.
Before daylight seventy men left Cincinnati for the relief of the station. On arriving at the fort, they learned that the Indians had withdrawn. One man had been killed by a shot fired through a crack between the logs. Not far from the fort they found the body of Abner Hunt. It was mangled, the brains beaten out, and two war-clubs lain across the breast. Hunt had been out with three companions named Wallace, Sloan, and Cunningham, exploring the country. Cunningham was killed on the spot by an ambuscade of Indians; Hunt was captured only to be subsequently put too death. Wallace took to flight. Two fleet Indians pursued. In his flight Wallace had the misfortune to be tripped and thrown by the loosening if his leggins. He pluckily tied them up, and escaped in spite of the mishap. Sloan and Wallace carried the news of the Indians' approach to the fort.
Before sunrise on the 10th of January, the women of the fort, while milking the cows, raised an alarm cry that the Indians were upon them. Before the fight was begun, Simon Girty strode forward toward the fort, driving Abner Hunt before him by means of a rope, with the prisoner was bound. Within speaking distance of the fort was a large stump. This Girty compelled Hunt to mount and to urge the surrender of the fort in the most earnest manner. Lieutenant Kingsbury, in command at the station, replied that he would not surrender if he were surrounded by five hundred devils and persuaded to do so by Demosthenes himself. An Indian shot at him, and struck off the white plume from his hat. Girty, to revenge himself for this disappointment, drove poor Hunt back to a spot on the plain, which, though out of range of the guns, was in full view of the garrison. Here he proceeded to torture the unhappy wretch, and finally put him to death.
This scene over, the Indians began a desperate attack. They fired from behind stumps, trees, and logs. A pile of brush near the stockade was soon in flames. The Indians then rushed forward with fire-brands to burn the block-houses, but they were driven back by a whirlwind of bullets. All day long the attack was continued. Night brought no relief. The entire number in the fort was about thirty men, and as many women and children. Girty conducted the attack with great boldness and ingenuity. But the stubborn resistance of the defenders of the station successfully met him at every point. Both men and women teased the savages by momentarily exposing themselves above the pickets and inviting a shot.
That night, at ten o'clock, John S. Wallace attempted to leave the fort, in order to make his way to Cincinnati and procure relief. So vigilant were the besiegers, that he was unable to pass through their lines. For three hours he continued his attempts. Driven back each time, he next turned his attention to the river. The night was very dark. There were no indications of the presence of savages on the opposite bank.
About three o'clock in the morning, Mr. Wallace and a soldier named William Wiseman, got into a canoe, and silently paddled across the river. They then made their way on foot through the river bottoms for a couple of miles. An attempt to cross the river on the floating ice proved unsuccessful. At the spot where New Baltimore stands, they at last did get across, and early in the day met the relief party from Cincinnati, of which we have already spoken.
Another battle in which Girty was known to be engaged was that which resulted if St. Clair's defeat, twenty-three miles north of Greenville, Ohio. During the rout of the American army, Girty captured a white woman. A Wyandot squaw once demanded that the female captive be given to her, in accordance with the Indian custom. Girty refused, and became furious. The decline of his influence, a thing which has been experienced by every renegade, is shown by the fact that the warriors came up and forced Girty to give up the captive.
After this we hear of Girty establishing a trading-house on the site of the present town of St. Mary's, Mercer County, Ohio. Girty was also present at the famous battle of Fallen Timbers, in 1794, after which he moved to Malden, Canada. He was perpetually haunted by the fear of falling into the hands of the Americans. In 1796, when Detroit was upon the point of a final surrender by the British, he happened to be in the city. Some boat loads of American troops were coming into sight. Girty would not wait for the ferry-boat, but excitedly plunged his horse into the Detroit River, and made for Canada shore, pouring out volleys of curses upon the Americans all the way.
In 1813, a Mr. Workman, of Ohio, stopped at a hotel kept by a Frenchman in Malden. Sitting in the bar-room in a corner by the glowing fire-place was a blind and gray-headed old man. He was about five feet, ten inches in height, broad across the chest, and of powerful and muscular build. He was then nearly seventy years old. The old man was none other than the notorious Simon Girty. He had been blind for four years, and was afflicted with rheumatism and other intolerable diseases, a perfect sot, a complete human wreck. He lingered on through two more years of misery, and, at last, died without a friend and without a hope.
Retyped and reformatted by Ray and Kathy Leigh