OLIVER M. SPENCER was a boy. The reader would know this from the following story. His home was in Columbia, Ohio, a suburb of Cincinnati. On the 4th of July, 1791, he was allowed to accompany a party of friends to Fort Washington, now Cincinnati, to celebrate the holiday. After the usual sports of a day or two, Spencer, then ten years old, and another boy of eleven, resolved to go home before the rest of the party. Going down to the river, they succeeded in getting a place in another canoe. They had proceeded about a mile when one of the men, who was drunk, was put out of the boat. Spencer becoming frightened at the state of his companions, also demanded to be put on shore. The request was granted. He had proceeded but a little distance when he saw two of the men in the boat fall overboard, and heard two rifle-shots. Turning quickly, he discovered an Indian within ten feet of him, and after a short flight found himself a prisoner.
The Indians at once started across the country with him, but treated with some kindness. At night they bound him in a gentle manner, and but for the grief of his childish heart, he might have slept soundly. Meanwhile, unknown to Spencer, the news of his capture had been borne to Fort Washington. One of the occupants of the canoe, Mr. Light, though wounded, had escaped. Another, an old woman named Mrs. Colman, had jumped into the river, and, supported by her clothes, had floated down with the current until she was opposite Cincinnati, where was rescued.
For several days Spencer was hurried across the country. When his guards wanted to go hunting, they tied him to a tree, and fastened a large piece of bark over his head to shelter him from the sun. One day, secured in this way, he managed to get loose. He at once gathered some provisions, mounted a horse which the Indians had stolen, and started in the direction of home. The horse proved to be a slow-footed beast, but the boy urged him on unceasingly. At night he dismounted, bent a twig so that it would point in the direction he was to take on the following morning, and concealed his horse in the bushes. Boy-like, he was attracted by some raspberries growing near by, and ran around from bush to bush picking them until he lost the way to where he had left his horse. Finally he made his way back to the animal, and lay down to sleep.
His rest was not long. In a few moments he heard his captors' voices. They were after him. With considerable tact he at once rushed out, surrendered himself, and begged for mercy. After a short altercation the Indians decided not to kill him, but contented themselves with giving him a terrible switching. For the night he was bound tightly to a tree.
In the morning the journey was renewed, and Spencer was given further cause to reflect on his sin in running away, by being given no breakfast. Later in the day they came to an immense hollow sycamore tree. At the foot was a large opening, protected by a barricade of logs. From this tree a quantity of blankets and brass kettles were taken and packed on the horse. On the 13th of July the travelers reached an Indian village at the junction of the Auglaize and Maumee rivers. Here Spencer was adopted into an Indian family, and here he saw Simon Girty, who addressed the boy roughly, telling him that he must never hope to see his home again.
As the months went by a well-defined purpose arose in the boy's heart to make an escape. In order to do this he resolved to labor without ceasing to serve the Indians and gain their confidence. One cold December day he was sent by the old squaw with whom he lived to chop some firewood. He took with him into the forest a sharp ax, and was accompanied by a faithful dog. Having prepared a bundle of small wood, he was about to swing it over his shoulder, when his dog began to give forth the most lugubrious howls, which were followed by short and furious barks. Seizing his ax, Spencer went toward the dog, and discovered, crouched on the lower limb of a neighboring tree, "a large grayish cat-like animal, ready to spring."
Spencer knew nothing of the character of the animal. With the natural instinct for conflict which belongs to the pioneer, young or old, he threw a club at the animal. At that instant puss seemed to grow larger. A strange yellow light flamed in her eyes, and her tail waved angrily in the air. There was a hiss, a howl, a shower of dried leaves. The wild-cat and the dog were on the ground together, fighting. The dog did well, but his antagonist, getting her teeth in his nose, was rapidly overcoming his pugnacity, and, indeed, was in a situation to demand and extort an apology for his uncivil treatment. At this point Spencer raised his ax and killed the animal. Taking the body home, it was found to measure four feet from tip to tip. It would probably have killed the boy had he encountered it alone.
In time Spencer's friends arranged for his ransom. The ruffian, Elliott, of whom we have spoken in other chapters, came after him. On the way the omnipresent Girty met him, told him that Elliott was not going to take him home, but intended to make him his slave, and that he, for his part, intended to mark Spencer by cutting off his ears, so that he would know him again when he met. Spencer, seeing his danger, ran out of the house, and the threat was not executed.
On the way north, for Spencer's liberation had to be made through the British commandant at Detroit, he stopped over night in a Wyandot town. A young Indian, much his superior in size and strength, came up and demanded that he should wrestle with him. Spencer reluctantly consented, and succeeded in throwing his antagonist. The young savage, enraged at his want of skill, seized Spencer by the hair, whereupon the latter proceeded to plant his fist violently in his opponent's stomach. For the moment the trouble was ended and Spencer walked away. Suddenly he was assailed from behind by the cowardly Indian, who gave him a dangerous cut with a knife. An old Indian, however, interfered, drove off the would-be murderer, and bound up the white boy's wounds. After a long and eventful journey, Spencer reached his relatives in Elizabethtown, New Jersey. Thence he made his way back to his parents in the town of Columbia, on the Ohio River.
Retyped and reformatted by Ray and Kathy Leigh