Among the colonial recruits raised for the British army in the year 1755, after the awful defeat of Braddock, was Captain Robert Rogers, who was at the head of a small company of rough fellows from New Hampshire. He was over six feet high, physically the most powerful man in the army. He had been virtually brought up in a hunter's camp. From boyhood he had, with gun, blanket, and kettle, some ammunition, and a sack of parched corn, ranged the untrodden forests of New England and Canada in search of furs and game. He had slept with the savages in their wigwams, wrestled and gambled with their warriors, ogled their squaws, shot the rapids in their frail bark canoes, until the Indian character and methods hid no secret from him. When the recruits assembled at Albany, New York General Johnson, knowing Rogers by reputation, employed him from to time on important scouts. His head-quarters were at Fort William Henry, a new fort erected by the British at the southern extremity of Lake George.
Taking four or five trusty men with him, he would proceed up to the lake to a convenient point, hide the canoe in the rushes, and push his way through the forest, penetrating the sentry lines to the very camp of the enemy. At Crown Point, one of the French forts, his men, under cover of night, concealed themselves in the willows only three hundred yards from the fort. When morning dawned, Rogers holding some bushes in his hand, crawled nearer. While making his reconnoissance, engaged in drilling or shooting at marks so near that Rogers could not rejoin his men, nor could the latter retreat without discovery. As he lay behind a small log, a Frenchman left his companions and walked directly toward the spot of concealment. Roger sprang at him with his gun, offering quarter. The stranger, instead of submitting, whipped out a dirk, and made a quick lunge at Rogers, but the latter shot him dead. The report instantly gave the alarm. The Frenchmen came to the spot where lay the bleeding corpse, but no sign was there of the hand which had done the deed. If Rogers and men had suddenly evaporated, the mystery, understood by themselves, could not have been more perfect.
Soon after their safe return, with the information of the enemy gained on the above scout, Rogers took thirty men and two small cannon in four bateaux, and pushing down to the lake, discovered the enemy in an open camp in the forest. Runners bore the information to Fort Henry asking for re-enforcements. The delay caused them to be discovered. The British moved forward to surprise the French, when they perceived a fleet of hostile canoes coming down the lake. No doubt a similar force was advancing by land to catch the British between two fires. Rogers at once threw fifteen men into canoes to decoy the French within range of the two cannon. He steered as if meaning to escape. The French at once headed diagonally toward the shore, to cut them off. The stratagem succeeded. Two cannon shot sunk as many canoes, and the remainder fled, pursued unsuccessfully by the entire force of British, who had swiftly embarked for the chase.
In another scout, toward Fort Ticonderoga, Rogers and two companions were discovered on the lake by the enemy. Determined not to retreat, the scouts quickly assumed the guise of fishermen. All day the coolly floated within gunshot of the French, dropping hook and line into the placid lake, and at evening actually sold their catch to the French. When night came on the adventurers pushed on toward their destination. Their reconnoissance at Ticonderoga, rendered difficult by the intense cold, was about completed, except as to capturing a prisoner', when a snow began to fall. No art could conceal their trail, if they lingered till the snowfall ceased. So the return trip was hastily begun. By Christmas Lake George was entirely frozen from shore to shore. But Rogers and his tireless woodsmen, instead of remaining idly in the warm quarters at the fort, equipped themselves with skates, and braved the wintry tempest in many an expedition. There success was unvarying. Taking a force of from ten to fifty men, on skates, Rogers would skim along the icy floor of the lake surface to a point opposite Ticonderoga or Crown Point, order his men to change their skates for snow-shoes, and move swiftly to some ambush along the roads leading to the fort. Here they would lie in the snow, exposed to the bitter cold, sometimes for two or three days, with no shelter but a few pine boughs hastily thrown together, and without a spark of fire, the smoke of which would instantly reveal them to the neighboring fort. Here they intercepted the sledges carrying fresh beef, venison, and corn to the fort, captured the drivers, and appropriated the provision. When they had caught several prisoners, they would glide into the French settlement, cut the throats of the cattle, set fire to the barns full of grain and to the houses of the villagers, and just as the red flames shot upward into the winter night, throwing their angry glare far across the whitened landscape, the mysterious Rangers would disappear in the forest as suddenly as they came.
So valuable were the services of Rogers and his hardy woodsmen, that in the spring of 1756, he received a special commission from the commander-in-chief to raise a independent corps of experienced foresters, men whom he was to choose himself, of the most approved courage and fidelity, and of the greatest physical inurement to exposure. The corps was to be known as Rogers's Rangers, the men receiving the pay of regular soldiers, but carrying on warfare as scouts in their own brave fashion. This famous corps became the right arm of the British troops. Their official instructions were "to use their best endeavors to distress the French and their allies, by sacking, burning, and destroying their houses, barns, barracks, canoes, bateaux, etc., and by killing their cattle of every kind; and at all times to endeavor to destroy their convoys of provisions, by land and water, in every part of the country."
On the way to Fort Henry, with his new Rangers, Rogers made an elaborate scout around Crown Point. After killing large numbers of cattle the tongues of which were carefully removed for the rangers' use, they were discovered and closely pursued by an overwhelming force of French and Indians. In this emergency, Rogers executed a masterly maneuver. Appointing a rendezvous at a distant point on the lake shore, the Rangers suddenly separated, every man taking his own course. Where there had been five minutes before a stout body of men, the enemy found no one. The Rangers had dispersed and left only thin air. From this point on, their history is a succession of thrilling and successful exploits, of which we may only take an occasional glimpse. Not a week passed without some daring scout or victory. The Rangers only had to go out in order to catch a net full of birds, as they would call their prisoners. These Rogers would examine separately and with great care, to see if their stories agreed, concerning the strength, movements, plans, supplies, and situation of the enemy. Keen and sagacious in these examinations, able at a glance to separate the truth from falsehood, and wonderfully skillful in reading character, Rogers kept the British head-quarters more accurately posted with regard to the enemy than were the French and Indian commanders themselves. From time to time, during the war, the "Rangers" were gradually increased from their original strength of sixty-two men, to more than a thousand.
One night in July, 1756, while on a lengthy scout, the Rangers prepared to attack a French schooner, lying one mile from the lake shore. Just then two lighters, laden with provision and strongly guarded, came in sight, and made for the shore as to encamp, it being about ten o'clock at night. As they drew close to land, the Rangers fired from the forest, and Rogers offered quarter to the enemy. The latter, however, put about, and made every effort to reach the opposite shore. Before they reached it the terrible Rangers had made prisoners of the entire party, and sunk and destroyed both cargoes, consisting of wheat, flour, wine, and brandy. At this time the French were offering the Indians sixty francs for every English scalp, and prisoners were sold in Canada for sixty crowns. Rogers's first-lieutenant was John Stark, afterwards major-general of the American army in the Revolution.
The fall and winter of 1757, Rogers had a company of eighty men with him, equipped with skates and snow-shoes. They were encamped three miles from the lake, on an elevated ground, near Ticonderoga, from which they commanded a view of the snowy landscape for many miles. Far off on the glittering ice, they saw a small object moving across the lake, The keen eye of Rogers pronounced it to be a sled laden with provision. Lieutenant Stark set out ten men to head it off, while Rogers and the others moved swiftly to intercept the retreat.
Soon after Stark had departed, Rogers detected ten other sleds following the first. It was too late to warn Stark of the fact. The latter struck out for the first sled, and the other sleds, still at a distance, discovering him, instantly put about. Pursuit was the only thing possible. The sleds were made of a long board, turned up in front, and with high racks at the side and end to hold the load. They were light as eggshells, and drawn each by two horses, rough shod, and, urged to the top of their speed by relentless drivers, sped over the ice with the velocity of the wind. Quick as thought, Rogers's men clapped on their skates and began the chase. The nearest sleds were half a mile away. It was a race between swift and powerful horses and the swiftest skaters in the world. On flew the foaming horses, their manes flying and eyeballs strained, scattering showers of ice as their ponderous feet dug into the glittering surface. Wildly the hoarse drivers shouted and plied their rawhide lashes upon the reeking steeds. Behind them came the shaggy and powerful Rangers, seeming as they whirled over the ringing ice like superhuman creatures. The pursuers had the shorter path. The sleds must cross it. Whoever reached the intersection first would win the deadly race.
As the steel of the pursuers' skates flashed in the sunlight, it could be seen that they were gaining. Stark and his men had overtaken the rear sled, but the other Rangers paused not in their impetuous career. Still, it was evident, that some of the sleds would escape. One after another of those farthest in advance crossed the point where met the paths of the pursuer and the pursued. All but two of the sleds passed the line of safety. Suddenly Rogers, who was six yards ahead of the nearest Ranger, was seen to unsling his gun. Without slackening his terrific speed, or removing his eye from the enemy for a moment, just as the second sled from the rear crossed his path he threw his gun to his shoulder and fired.
The nearest horse was seen to lunge forward and fall, thrown by his momentum, a hundred feet along the ice. His mate, frightened and entangled, lost her footing. In a moment the Rangers were upon their foes. The last sled fell an easy victim. The race between man and brute had been won by man.
It was evident that the sleds that which had escaped would carry the news to the fort, and rouse instant pursuit. Rogers ordered his men to take the seven prisoners, and return the camp fires they had left three hours before. So sudden had been their departure, that the men had not removed the priming in their guns since the previous day. Every thing was made ready for a fight and a retreat commenced. They had just crossed a little valley, and were nearing the opposite ridge, when the woods blazed with a deadly volley of bullets. Several Rangers fell dead, Rogers himself being wounded in the head. The Rangers retreated to the opposite ridge, where, sheltered by trees, they were able to fight to advantage. From two o'clock till sunset the battle raged. Three times the French and Indians tried to flank the British, but as many times were driven back. Rogers received a wound in his wrist, and many of his brave men, scorning the idea of surrender, lay helpless and bleeding in the snow. At dark the enemy withdrew.
Worn out with the exciting events of the day, many of their number badly wounded, the exhausted Rangers still felt it necessary to retreat farther from he enemy's neighboring fort. For six weary miles they groped their way through the forest. Once they caught sight of a camp fire, and made a wide detour for fear of Indians. At last, a comfortless camp was pitched for the night. In the morning the wounded were unable to proceed farther without assistance. Lieutenant Stark offered to go the fort on snow-shoes, a distance of forty long miles, and procure sleighs for them.
In spite of the many difficulties and hardships of the way, he traversed the entire forty miles by sundown, and dispatched a relief party with sleighs for the wounded, so that they reached the suffering men before morning. Just as the sleighs arrived the Rangers perceived a black object, at a great distance, crawling over the ice. Supposing it to be one of the stragglers, a sleigh was sent to investigate. It proved to be Joshua Martin, who had been shot through the hips. He had been left for dead on the field of battle, but managed to crawl back into the woods and build a fire which companions saw and avoided. Feebly and with great pain, crawling through the snow, he followed their track to the lake, and then moved along the ice. When relief reached him he fainted away, but afterward recovered and fought all through the war.
The French made several attempts to capture Fort Henry, but as long as the Rangers were there these efforts failed. Rogers, suffering greatly from his wounds, had gone to Albany for surgical aid, soon after the events last recorded. While there he was attacked with the small-pox, that scourge alike of the wilderness and of the city. So it happened that on the 16th day of March, 1757, Stark was acting commander of the Rangers at Fort Henry. On that evening, as he made his round of inspection, he noticed the men standing in little knots, engaged in busy conversation, interrupted with many laughs. It was the eve of St. Patrick's day. These lonely fellows were planning their celebration. Stark at once gave orders to the sutler to issue no rum to his men without written permission from him. The men, not to be foiled, at once applied to him, but Stark put them off, on the ground that his hand was lame and he could not write. The Rangers were not in the best of humors, when they saw the Irish troops, who composed the remainder of the garrison, freely filling their bumpers with the fiery draughts in honor of St. Patrick's wife, and making the fort ring with their hilarious songs and carousals. That night the French, Knowing the habits of the Irishmen, to celebrate the occasion, made a terrific attack on the fort. But instead of surprising a set of intoxicated fellows, they were met at the first onslaught by the cool and invincible Rangers. These men bravely fought the enemy hand to hand, repelling assault after assault, until their drunken companions could come to their senses. The Rangers had saved the fort.
In May the Rangers were ordered to Halifax, to join in an expedition against Louisburg. Their versatile talents were employed during harvest, while the preparations for the expedition were going on, in making hay for the horses. The expedition was afterwards abandoned the Rangers ordered to Fort Edward.
On the 18th of December, 1757, Rogers led his men on a lengthy scout. On their way, they for the first time since their previous departure in April looked on Fort Henry. Then it had been a solid log structure, occupied by a large garrison, and supplied, as Rogers says, "with every thing they could desire for their comfort and convenience."
We smile at a rough Rangers notion of "comfort and convenience." It was filled by a rude frontier fort, with its long barrack rooms the walls of logs, the floor of puncheon; no ceiling but a smoky thatch, the cracks stuffed with mud and straw to keep out the winter; no windows except openings, closed with heavy shutters; no light or fire except from an immense fire-place at one end, from which the heat was dissipated long before it reached the frosty region at the opposite end; no fare but salt pork, soup, and black bread, eaten at greasy log tables, twenty inches wide, set with a gloomy array of battered iron plates and cups. Yet to, the Rangers, accustomed as he was to sleep often in the snow, and pass days and nights without fire or shelter, the rough fort, with its rougher company, was "every thing he could desire for comfort and convenience." Looking back to the luxury of their life at Fort William Henry, it was with keen regrets that the Rangers now beheld it, a deserted ruin, covered with half-dozen burnt rafters and fragments of exploded cannon.
With a British army of six thousand men only fifteen miles away, the French had, in the previous August, while the Rangers were away, been allowed to besiege Fort Henry. After a brave defense of six days, during which time the steady cannonade from the besiegers' batteries had dismounted their guns and rendered the place no longer tenable, its defenders had surrendered on condition of quarter. Whatever may have been the wishes of the French commander, the Indian allies, of whom was composed the principal part of his army, could not be restrained from violating the condition. Many prisoners were massacred outright. Others were led away to suffer the exquisite agonies of the stake. Worse and more horrible still, an Indian tribe called the Cold Country Cannibals, who were present at the siege, roasted their prisoners and ate them. For this statement there is unquestionable authority.
In spite of these terrible associations, the sturdy Rangers entered the ruin, scraped away the heavy snow, and built fires in the partial shelter of a corner which was yet standing, and passed the night "comfortably," as Rogers says. As they continued their scout, the Rangers met with fine success, and on their return to Fort Edward, December 27th, they were enabled to present the commandant with a fine Christmas gift of several prisoners, who gave full and accurate information of the enemy. During this winter a company of regular soldiers were placed in Rogers's hands to learn Ranger tactics. For their benefit he drew up a written code, which was published with his memoirs.
On the 10th of March, 1758, Rogers received orders to march with one hundred and eighty Rangers to the neighborhood of Ticonderoga. He protested that the force was too small, and asked to be allowed to take four hundred men, but his requests were refused. The march was made along the solid ice of the lake, the party lying concealed on shore during the day and marching by night. Since the capture of Fort Henry, the enemy had been exceedingly active, strong forces of Indians scouring the country in every direction.
The nights were as dark as pitch, and while fifteen Rangers on skates acted as an advance guard, the main body marched as closely together as possible, to avoid separation. When within eight miles of the French army, an advance guardsman skated swiftly to the rear with word to halt. The men were instantly ordered to sit down on the ice. Rogers went forward. The advance guard were called in, and thought they had seen a fire on the east shore. The sleighs and baggage were hastily pulled ashore, guards posted, and the main body marched swiftly forward o attack the supposed camp. No light was to be seen. At last, concluding that the guard had mistaken a patch of snow or some rotten wood, which in the night has a phosphorescent glow, for a camp fire, the Rangers returned to their packs, and passed the night on shore, without fire. The truth was, the guard had seen a real camp fire, which had been extinguished on the approach of the rangers, and a hasty message sent to the fort of their presence. In the morning it was thought best to push on by land with show-shoes, the snow being now four feet deep.
Toward night word was brought that a band of ninety-six Indians was approaching. On the left of the line of the march, was a small rivulet, and on the right a steep mountain. The Rangers extended their line, and at the first fire killed fifty Indians. Supposing this to be the entire force of the enemy, the Rangers pressed on in pursuit, when suddenly they wee attacked by over six hundred well armed Indians and Canadians, who on receipt of the news of the Rangers' approach had set out to attack them. Rogers shouted at his men to fall back quickly to their former ground, but before they reached it the life-blood of fifty gallant Rangers reddened the snow where they had fallen.
With cool desperation they continued to fight for an hour, against the overwhelming numbers of the foe. Small detachments were thrown out on the right and left to prevent flanking. But the contest was too unequal. One hundred and eighty Rangers were killed on the spot. Of these, ten men under Lieutenant Phillips, on the left flank, had been surrounded and captured. They were tied to trees in sight of their friends, and deliberately hacked to pieces by the savages.
At last, Rogers cried to his men to fly, every one for himself. Rogers himself, with twenty men, rushed to an icy precipice, over a hundred feet high, which sloped abruptly down to the lake. Turning and firing on their pursuers, Rogers and his followers deliberately jumped over the precipice and slid down to the lake with terrible force. The spot is still pointed out as "Rogers's Leap." By this exploit, these men, though severely injured, escaped alive, one of their number making his way to Fort Edward, and sending out a relief party with sleighs and blankets.
But others were not so fortunate. Accompanying the Rangers had been two British officers, Captains Creed and Kent, who had gone out to study their mode of warfare. At the beginning of the fight Rogers had advised them to retire, but being used to travel on snow-shoes, ignorant of the country, and seeing their friends attacked by such a multitude of yelling savages, painted in the most gaudy colors, they chose like brave men to remain and fight. At the retreat, Rogers shouted to them to fly with them, but in their efforts to escape their snow-shoes came off, and the poor fellows sunk breast deep in the soft surface. By the strangest good fortune the savages overlooked them in the fury of their pursuit after Rogers. Not till the moon arose did they venture to stir. Then with fluttering hearts they stole through the forest, knowing nothing of their course, but hoping that it took them farther from the Indians. When morning dawned, it found them still struggling on through the snow, along the shore of some body of water.
As the fear of savages departed, another dreadful apprehension laid hold of them. Which way was the fort? The dangers of death from exposure or starvation stared them in the face. Suddenly they saw a man. He came towards them. He proved to be a servant of Rogers, and claimed to know their whereabouts and the way to the fort. He affirmed that they were on South Bay and not Lake George. All day they followed their guide, at first on ice, and then on foot, through the slavish snow.
At night they halted. Creed and Kent had thrown off their coats and fur caps in the battle, and had on only their vests. Over their heads they tied handkerchiefs. For a single blanket they would have given worlds. The third day the guide promised that the fort would be reached. But at sunset their weary eyes beheld nothing but the same vast expanse of whiteness. The fourth day he said it would be impossible to fail, but the day passed with the prophecy unfulfilled. Again and again their snow-shoes broke, Again and again, with benumbed fingers they tried to tie and patch them up. Every few paces they sank up to the breast in the snow. The hardships were intolerable. They scrambled up mountains full of dangerous chasms and hidden holes. They made detours to avoid impassable forests of fallen timber, prostrated by some tornado.
At the outset their entire stock of food had been a link of bologna sausage and a little ginger. This had long since been exhausted, and for two days they had lived on some frozen berries and water. Their nights had been passed without cover, and with the scantiest fires; for without a hatchet, by their utmost efforts, they could only wrench a few twigs from the frozen trees for fuel. During the fifth day they struggled along a dreadful road in the mountains, with only one snow-shoe apiece.
Towards noon on the sixth day they came once more to the ice. At a single glance the unfortunate men perceived it to be the same spot which they had left a few days before. This terrible discovery paralyzed them with horror. Their only chance was to throw themselves into the hands of the French at Fort Carillon. All day and night the wind blew hard, and a freezing rain incrusted their clothes with ice. The remainder of the story we give in Captain Creed's own words.
"We traveled a few miles, but the snow driving full in our faces, made every thing appear as dark as the fog upon the banks of Newfoundland. As the storm cleared up we looked in vain for the fort. Proceeding onward by land we came to a large waterfall. I attempted to ford it, and almost had gained the opposite shore where the water reached my breast, when the rapidity of the stream hurried me off the slippery rocks and plunged me under water. I lost my fusee, and narrowly escaped being carried over the fall. Mr. Kent and the guide fared me no better, but the hopes of reaching a fire made us think lightly of the matter..
"As night approached we labored through the snow, being now certain that the fort was near; but our guide now confessed for the first time that he was at a loss. We plainly perceived that his brain was affected; he saw Indians all around him, and, though we have learned since that we had every thing to fear from them, yet that was a danger we did not think of. We even shouted to give notice where we were, but could neither see nor hear of any one to lead us right. If we halted we became pillars of ice. We therefore resolved to make a fire, though the dander was apparent. We had one dry cartridge on hand, but in trying to catch a fire with a little of it, by means of my pistol, Mr. Kent held the cartridge so neat as to have it blow up in our faces, almost blinding him and causing a great deal of pain. This appeared to be the last stroke of fortune.
"We had now no hopes of fire and were not anxious for life, but wished to carry the scene out in a manner becoming to soldiers. We made a path around a tree and there exercised all night, though scarcely able to stand or to prevent each other from sleeping. Our guide, notwithstanding repeated cautions, strayed from us, sat down, and died immediately. On the morning of the 20th we saw the fort, and approached it with a white flag. The officers ran violently toward us, and we were saved from a danger we did not apprehend, for we were informed that if the Indians, who were close after them, had seized us first, it would not have been in the power of the French to have prevented our being hurried to the camp, and perhaps the next day to Montreal, or killed for not being able to march."
The prisoners were afterwards exchanged by the French.
From this time on in the war the Rangers operated in larger bodies and in more important movements. All the companies were concentrated at Fort Edward. Rogers was raised to the ranks of major. Their history during the years of 1758 and 1759 is full of romance, adventure, and excitement. When we pass it over, we leave out their heroic service in the fatal attack of the British on Fort Ticonderoga, from which the army retreated, leaving two thousand of their number slain. We omit, too, the thrilling story of their exploits in the triumphant expedition against Crown Point. In these movements the Rangers formed a part of the general army, whose defeats and victories are a part of history.
When the British occupied Crown Point, they dispatched a messenger with a flag of truce and proposals of peace to the St. Francis Indians. They dwelt in the heart of Canada, midway between Montreal and Quebec, at a point three miles from the St. Lawrence River. They were notoriously attached to the French, and no other six tribes of Indians combined had done the English more injury than the single one of St. Francis. Their unspeakable ferocity, their exhaustless hatred and malicious industry, had resulted in the murder of over six hundred colonists during the years of war. On the 13th of September the commandant of Crown Point learned that his messenger, bearing the flag of truce, had been coolly taken prisoner and subjected to insult and indignity. Shortly after receipt of this news an orderly handed Major Rogers the following:"You are this night to take a detachment to Missisqui Bay, from which you will proceed to attack the enemy at the settlement of the St. Francis Indians, on the south side of the St. Lawrence River, in such a manner as shall most effectually disgrace and injure the enemy and redound to the honor and success of his majesty's arms. Remember the barbarities committed by the enemy's Indian scoundrels on every occasion where they have had opportunities of showing their infamous cruelties toward his majesty's subjects. Take your revenge, but remember that, although the villains have promiscuously murdered women and children of all ages, it is my order that no women or children should be killed or hurt. When you have performed this service, you will again join the army, wherever it may be.
|"Yours, etc.,||Jeff. Amherst.|
What a commission! Two hundred men ordered to make a journey of more than three hundred miles, Through a country barren of provisions, and occupied by the whole French and Indian army of fifteen thousand men; when at that distance from support and their base of supplies, to attack and destroy by stealth a powerful tribe of Indians, which had been a terror through the whole war, and after all this to effect a retreat by the same tremendous journey, only through a hostile country aroused by a knowledge of their presence, and exerting every effort to destroy them.
That night as the moon arose the little band sailed from the fort, and, with firm tread and rigid countenances, swiftly embarked in a fleet of canoes. Their progress down the lake was itself one of difficulty and danger. Its waters were patrolled incessantly by hostile schooners, armed with cannon, and other mischievous engines of war, for the discovery and destruction of the English. By night only did the Rangers advance.
On the fifth day a keg of gunpowder explodes in their camp, injuring a number of men, who together with some sick, were forced to return to Crown Point, making a defection of forty-four men, one-fourth of the entire company. At the end of ten days, Rogers, having successfully eluded the enemy, landed at Missisqui Bay. Here he stored the boats and provisions enough to take the Rangers back to Crown Point. Two trusty Indians were left in charge, with orders to remain until their return, unless the enemy should discover the boats and strike the trail of the Rangers. In this case the two guards were to follow the Rangers at the top of their speed, bringing the fatal news.
On the evening of the second day, as the Rangers went into camp, the two Indians left behind came running in, breathless and excited. Four hundred French and Indians had discovered the boats and destroyed them, and two hundred of them were now in pursuit if the Rangers. "This," says the dauntless Rogers, "caused us some uneasiness. Should the enemy overtake us, and we have the advantage in an encounter, they would be immediately be re-enforced, while we could expect no assistance being so far advanced of our military posts; and our boats and provision likewise being taken, cut off all hope of retreat by the route we came."
A hurried council of war was held. The situation was desperate. But the motto of Rogers was, "In boldness lies safety." It was determined to push on to their destination, at the highest possible speed, avoiding an encounter, simply by out-marching their pursuers, strike their blow at the St. Francis settlements, and retreat quickly. The survivors to make their way back by the roundabout route of the Connecticut River. Lieutenant McMullen was dispatched to Crown Point, to inform General Amherst of the disaster, and have him send relief and provisions at the Ammonoosuck River, "that being he way we should return, if we ever did return at all."
These arrangements were quickly made. McMullen, with a small sack of food, started back on his lonely journey to Crown Point; the others hurriedly prepared for the race with their pursuers. No sleep that night; the sunrise must find them many a mile on their way. Much of the time they advanced in double quick time, the hardy Rangers being able to run for hours in a sort of dog-trot. After the first night's march they uniformly began their day's advance one hour before dawn, and continued it without halt, their meals being eaten as they marched, until one hour after dark.
Nine days they marched through a spruce bog, where the ground was low and swampy, the greater part being covered with water a foot deep. When the weary Rangers encamped at night, it was necessary to go into the darkened forest and cut boughs from the trees and construct a kind a kind of hammock to protect themselves from the water. The day before their destination was reached, they came upon the St. Francis River, with its swift current. Placing the tallest men up stream, and joining hands in single line, the entire company passed the ford in safety. Their only loss was a few guns, which were recovered by diving to the bottom of the river. Towards evening of the twenty-second day from their departure from Crown Point, when the scout, as usual, climbed a tall tree for reconnoissance, he saw at a distance of three miles the unconscious village of the St. Francis Indians, over which hung the lightning-charged clouds of doom.
The Rangers were ordered to refresh themselves, and prepare for action on the following morning. Every gun was carefully dried and freshly loaded; ammunition bags were replenished, and such readjustment of clothing made as was possible. While the men rolled themselves in their blankets for a sound sleep, Rogers and two trusty companions stole out under the starry sky towards the fated settlement. As they drew softly near, wild shouts of merriment issued from the wigwams. Around enormous fires were dancing in frantic glee hilarious circles of warriors and maidens. It was a wedding dance. These wild Indians had turned aside, for the moment, from thoughts of war and bloodshed to the mild gentleness of love. A noble brave had chosen to himself a dusky bride. The chord of sentiment touched at the incident still trembled still trembled responsive in the savage beasts. Their festivities were bright, innocent, and happy, shining like a star in the midst of all the gloom and blackness of their lives.
All unconscious of their danger, the dance went on, each moment with madder, merrier glee. The squaws ran about, serving to all who wished the rare bounties of the wedding feast. The old men, stood apart from the revelers, smoking their pipes. Ever and anon their stately dignity gave way to unwonted outbursts of hideous laughter. Within the wigwam of bride and groom, was dispensed with careless hand the blazing draughts of rum to the happy throng.
At last these potations began to have their effect. One after another of the braves staggered to his wigwam, and sunk into drunken slumber. The fires burned lower. The circle of dancers grew smaller, until only a handful of uproarious fellows and their girls kept up their shrieking orgies. At two o'clock in the morning Rogers and his companions returned quickly to their camp. A shake of the shoulder and a whispered command roused each sleeping Ranger to his feet. Blankets were hastily rolled up, packs adjusted, and guns examined. A frugal meal was eaten standing.
By three o'clock the Rangers were in motion for the village. With stealthy step they advanced to within a quarter of a mile. Another halt was made. Rogers crawled forward to make another reconnoissance. Meanwhile the men lay flat on their faces. At five o'clock Rogers returned. The feast had ended. The last reveler was wrapped in oblivion, and the entire settlement was asleep. The Rangers were disencumbered of all their packs. Weapons formed their only load. The men were formed in three columns. They were to fall on the settlement on three sides at once.
The first faint flush of dawn reddening the east had only obscured a few stars as the men moved rapidly forward through the frosty air. When the settlement was reached each man knew his work. The nearest wigwams were entered. In a moment the throat of every sleeping warrior was cut from ear to ear. The knife only was used as yet. No guns were fired. In this way the deadly Rangers had massacred two-thirds of the warriors in the settlement before a single note of alarm. Many children and squaws, who slept soundly, were left undisturbed. Such was the case with the new bride, whom they found locked in her husband's arms. Poor sleeper; too soon, alas, too soon, would she awaken to find all joy, all light, all love, gone from his life. If, perchance, a child's wide wondering eyes opened as the glittering knife swept across its father's throat, it was the work of an instant to gag its mouth and hand it over as a prisoner.
At last, the groans of some dying brave, or the screams of an awakened squaw, gave the alarm. Small time was there for the warriors to reach for weapons. Their only safety lay in flight. Only one side lay open; that was the river. But as the canoes of the frightened savages pushed out into the current, the swift messages of lead sped from the gun of the destroyers and stilled every noble form in death. Five English captives were found and rescued. The scalps of more than six hundred murdered white men hung from the wigwam poles. These sights were not unnoticed by the Rangers. Snatching brands from the smoldering embers of the wedding fires, the wigwams were ignited. Black volumes of smoke, pierced by forked tongues of flame, rolled upward to the peaceful sky of the morning, and draped its blue canopy with the mournful color which all the world has chosen for the sign of sorrow.
By seven o'clock, with the exception of three wigwams, preserved for their own shelter, the Rangers had utterly destroyed the village and its inhabitants. Two hundred warriors had been slain, while of their own number but one had been killed and two or three wounded. From their prisoners, who, excepting two Indian boys and three girls, were shortly set at liberty, Rogers learned that his pursuers had missed him; but that their messengers had sent word of his approach; that only four miles down the river were a force of five hundred French and Indians, waiting at a settlement which was supposed to be Rogers's destination, instead of the St. Francis settlement. While this examination took place, the angers supplied themselves with corn from the granaries of the village. A council of war determined that instant retreat by way of the Connecticut River and Number Four must be begun.
The hardships of the retreat far exceeded those of the advance. The way led over barren mountains and through endless swamps. In one of these morasses, trusting an Indian squaw for guidance, they were led about three days, and brought back to their own tracks, to gain time for their pursuers. After eight days' travel, provisions gave out, and the Rangers divided into small groups of eight or ten each, for procuring subsistence from roots and berries.
One of these detachments, lingering behind the rest, was surprised by the enemy, and seven of their men taken prisoner. Two other detachments, similarly attacked, had nearly all their number slain. Some of the men, being still in fair condition, preferred to make their way directly to Crown Point. The bulk of the company, however, was to rendezvous at the mouth of the Ammonoosuck River, a hundred miles above Number Four (now Charleston, New Hampshire), where Rogers confidently expected provisions and relief, in accordance with the message sent to Crown Point by McMullen, after the news of the destruction of their boats.
When at last the straggling companies of wretched men reached the rendezvous, they found camp fires still burning, but no succor. They fired their guns, and shouted for help, but only the mocking echoes of the forest answered them. Not till some time later did they learn that in accordance with McMullen's message provisions had been sent to this spot in charge of a Lieutenant Stevens. Arriving there and not only finding Rogers, the fellow thought proper, after waiting only two days, to return, taking his provisions with him. His departure took place just two hours before the exhausted and famished Rangers arrived. The signal guns fired by the later were heard by Stevens, but only served to hasten his march, as he believed them to be fired by Indians.
The disappointment was cruel. It was evident that the men who, nerved by the hope of succor, had exhausted all their little remaining strength to reach the point, could proceed no farther. Relief must be had, or the whole party could die in the wilderness. "In this emergency," says Rogers, " I resolved to make the best of my way to Number Four, leaving the remainder of the party, now unable to proceed any farther, to obtain such wretched subsistence as the wilderness afforded, until I could relieve them, which I promised to do in ten days. Captain Ogden, myself, and a captive Indian boy, embarked upon a raft of dry pine trees. The current carried down the stream in the middle of the river, where we kept our miserable vessel with such paddles as could be split and hewn with small hatchets.
"The second day we reached White River Falls, and very narrowly escaped running over them. The raft went over, and was lost, but our remaining strength enabled us to land and march by the falls. At the foot of them Captain Ogden and the Ranger killed some red squirrels, also a partridge, while I attempted to construct another raft. Not being able to cut the trees, I burnt them at proper lengths. This was our third day's work after leaving our companions.
"The next day we floated down to Nattoquichie Falls, which are about fifty yards in length. Here we landed, and Captain Ogden held the raft by a with of hazel branches, while I went below the falls to swim in, board and paddle it ashore; this being our only hope for life, as we had not strength sufficient to make a new raft should this be lost. I succeeded in securing it, and nest morning we floated down within a short distance of Number Four. Here we found several men cutting timber, who relieved and assisted us to the fort. A canoe was immediately dispatched up the river with provisions, which reached the men at Coos in four days after, which, according to my agreement, was the tenth after I left them. Two days afterwards I went up the river with two other canoes to relieve others of my party who might be coming that way."
Relief parties were also sent out in other directions to hunt up stragglers. Slowly the haggard men were gathered at the fort at Number Four. It was two months before they had recovered sufficiently to proceed to Crown Point.
With this story of the unfortunate expedition against the St. Francis Indians, a military exploit which, for boldness and dexterity, is hardly equaled in the history of our country, Our recital of the story of Rogers's Rangers must close, They continued their operations until the close of the war in 1760, when they were directed to take formal possession of all the French forts west of the Alleghanies, in accordance with their surrender by France.
After performing this duty with approved success, Major Rogers went to England where he resided till the opening of the Revolutionary War. He then returned to America, and visited the American camp, but was refused admission by George Washington, who suspected him as a British spy. Rogers was, however, visited by Colonel Stark, and other old Rangers, who had since enlisted in the cause of the colonies. He seemed greatly chagrined by Washington's treatment, and soon after joined Lord Howe, who commanded the British army. I a short time, however, he returned to England, and never again visited the land in which he had won undying fame. It was the opinion of General Stark, and other friends, that Washington misjudged Rogers, and that he would have proved a true and valuable soldier in the American army had he not been mistrusted. He was denounced as a Tory before he had declared his principles.
Retyped and reformatted by Ray and Kathy Leigh