As the times became more violent and explosive, the colonists instinctively felt, rather than foresaw, that war was inevitable. In case this should come to pass, the leading men also rightly foresaw that the western tribes of Indians, always ready to strike a blow at the white invaders, would seize the opportunity to assail the colonies on the west, while England would levy war on the Canada frontier and along the coast. While the attitude of the western Indian was thus certainly hostile and dangerous, that of the Six Nations was more a matter of doubt. From the earliest times, the Iroquois, with the single exception of the Senecas, during the war of Pontiac, had been allies of the colonies and therefore of England. To which would the Indian allies incline if the colonies engaged in war with England?
Both parties to the contest saw that the alliance of the Six Nations was a strategic point. The powerful influence of the Johnsons and of Brant might be confidently counted on by England. The colonies relied mainly on the old friendships, and the influence of the patriotic missionaries. They hoped simply that the Iroquois would remain neutral. The Oneidas early took this position. In May, 1775, their chiefs wrote to the governor of New York, "You are two brothers of one blood. We are unwilling to join on either side in such a contest, for we bear an equal affection to both Old and New England. Should the great king of England apply to us for aid, we shall deny him; if the colonies apply we shall refuse. The present situation of you two brothers is new and strange to us. We Indians can not find, nor recollect, in the traditions of our ancestors, the like case or a similar instance."
Both British and Americans were busily engaged in feverish preparations for war. Sir John Johnson constructed heavy fortifications around his castle. Guy Johnson, alarmed at the popular threatenings, raised a band of several hundred Mohawk warriors, headed, by Brant, and re-enforced by the leading chiefs of the Senecas, Cayugas, and Onondagas. With this force he fled to Oswego and then to Canada, leaving his splendid mansion desolate and unoccupied.
On their return home, a plague broke out among the Mohawks. Like all ignorant people, they regarded it as a visitation from the Great Spirit. They believed that he was angry for their desertion of the cause of the king. Superstition is both blind and deaf. It has neither eyes to look at facts, nor ears to listen to argument. It transforms a man into a mummy. The Mohawks were superstitious. Many of them at once joined Brant's forces. A few, however, of the Lower clan still remained neutral. Probably they were not much troubled with the plague.
As a price of their neutrality, they demanded one thing, that Sir John Johnson be left at his house in peace. This gentleman on his part bound himself by agreement to remain neutral. This promise was a sham. He remained in his fortified castle with a strong force of Indians and tenantry. He intrigued incessantly to excite the remaining Iroquois to a revolt. He carried on constant correspondence with leading Tories. In other words, he was a spy.
The colonies resolved to arrest him. Troops were dispatched up the Mohawk Valley for that purpose. A messenger was sent in advance to quiet the nerves of the excitable Iroquois. In this way Sir John heard of the plan for the seizure of his person. He hurriedly buried his treasure in the garden, and, regretfully leaving his splendid home, plunged into the wilderness with a band of retainers, to make his way to Canada. After nineteen days of hardship and suffering the proud baronet, ragged, footsore, and starved, with such remnant of his famished followers as had not fallen by the weary wayside, arrived at Montreal. Such are the vicissitudes of war!
Meanwhile, Joseph Brant had been advanced to the position of principal war-chief of the Six Nations. Around his standard rallied the dark warriors of the great confederacy, in whose veins ran the blood of the most terrible fighters among the American Indians. Thayendanegea was a fit leader for them. He was tall, erect, and majestic, with the manners and bearing of a king of men. He was distinguished alike for his courage and his intelligence, for his prowess as a warrior and his skill as a diplomate. His name was a tower of strength among the nations of the confederacy. While in native genius and originality of intellect he was inferior to Powhatan, Philip, and Pontiac, he knew more of the world than either of his great predecessors. If he was not inspired by the burning loyalty to his race, by the lofty ambitions and purposes of the two latter, he at least had a much wider education and range of ideas. If he was less of an Indian, he was more of a white man.
Although Thayendanegea had pledged himself to the cause of the king, he still hesitated to take up the hatchet. The Americans opened the campaign in Canada with a brilliant victory. Our Indian friend had an eye to the main chance. He sailed for England, in the winter of 1775-6, to interview the king, and, no doubt, with a view to forming an estimate of the war strength of the English. The wily war-chief wanted to be on the winning side.
On his arrival in London he was conducted to a rather obscure inn, called "The Swan with the Two Necks." Statelier lodgings were soon provided for the great "Indian king," as the Englishmen called him. But Brant politely declined, declaring the kind treatment of his host at "The Swan" had won his heart, so that he could not think of leaving him.
In this Joseph showed his innocence. He mistook the broad smile and hearty handshake, which forms such an important part of the landlord's stock in trade, for the genuine article. If he was taken in by the patronizing airs of the shrewd tavern-keeper, Brant showed no other sings of verdancy. He dressed in European clothing. His courtly manners and clear-cut English caused the throng of titled men and jeweled women who sought his company and pressed upon him the honors of the capital to lose sight of the fact that this lordly gentleman of foreign accent and distinguished air was, in fact, a red-fisted savage, accustomed to lead his yelling band of braves to midnight massacres, a man whose flashing tomahawk eagerly brained the fallen foe, and whose nervous fingers had often clutched the bloody scalps of his victims.
When he appeared at court on visits of business or ceremony, he laid aside his European habit, and wore a gorgeous costume of the fashion of his own people. Bands of silver encircled his sinewy arms. Tall plumes adorned his head-dress, and highly colored fabrics, hung with copper pendants, formed his clothing. A glittering tomahawk and a scalping knife dangled carelessly from his belt. On such occasions he attracted the greatest attention.
Of course, the magnificent entertainments and presents which were pressed upon the war-chief of the Six Nations, together with the material splendor of England, the dazzling pageantry of the court, and the soldiery, with their equipment of cannon, small arms, ammunition, uniforms, and all the accoutrements of war, made a profound impression on his mind. When he sailed for America in April, he had pledged himself and his people to the cause of England in her conflict with the colonies.
He and his six hundred warriors in Canada at once joined the British army, and commenced vigorous hostilities. The great majority of the Iroquois still remained in their ancient seats in the Mohawk valley, and seemed peaceably inclined to the colonists. The people of the frontier built block-houses and organized parties of rangers for self-defense. They kept scouts constantly on the watch for an Indian outbreak. The isolated settlers moved into towns. At Cherry Valley, the most exposed point, the inhabitants, daily excited by the news of the battles of the Revolution were deeply anxious about the Indians. But months after month rolled by, and the Iroquois still lingered idly in their wigwams.
In the spring of 1777 Brant reappeared in the Mohawk valley. The influence of the great war-chief at once made itself felt in the remotest wigwam. Carefully concealing his plans, he commenced collecting an enormous war-party at the Indian town of Oghkwaga. There were further indications, as the excited and patriotic Whig settlers thought, of a Tory uprising in connection with Brant's movement. On June 15th, General Herkimer reached Cherry Valley with a force of three hundred local militia. He was an old acquaintance of Brant, and determined to have an interview with him. The meeting was near Unadillo.
On the first day Brant threw off the mask, and declared himself as a soldier of the king. By agreement, the conference was to be resumed in the morning. That night Herkimer laid a dark plot to massacre the chief and his few attendants when they returned to his camp the following day. Brant, however, was up to such tricks. At the appointed hour he appeared in Herkimer's camp with five hundred picked warriors, plumed and painted for war. The raw recruits with Herkimer were completely in the power of the Indians. With a haughty gesture Brant said, "You may go." The colonists took the hint, and went--at the highest possible speed.
At Cherry Valley the people selected the strongest house for a fort, surrounding it with embankments. Near this place the road ran along the edge of a precipice. A hundred and fifty feet below lay a gloomy glen, filled with a dense growth of evergreens. In this lonely spot, Brant and a half-dozen braves hid in ambush. Late one afternoon, a gallant young colonial officer, "well mounted, and clad in a suit of ash-colored velvet," spurred out of the settlement along the road by the glen on some errand of war. A few moments after the gentleman had left the village, the sharp crack of rifles were heard from the direction of the glen, and shortly the young officer's horse came galloping back, riderless, and the saddle crimsoned with blood.
A party of armed men at once started out to solve the mystery. Not till the following day, however, did they find the lifeless body of the gay lieutenant, gay no longer, but rather pale, mangled, and bloody. Brant, however, withdrew after this murder, without attacking Cherry Valley. He was deceived as to the strength of the place by some false dispatches found by him on the person of a captive whom he secured near the settlement. The man carried double dispatches, and, when captured, was smart enough to destroy the genuine and surrender the bogus documents.
While the settlers were being daily horrified by these and a hundred other isolated deeds of violence, information was brought them by friendly Indians and scouts of an impending danger of much greater magnitude. As Burgoyne descended from the north along Lakes Champlain and George, Colonel Barry St. Leger, with Thayendanegea's wild warriors was to rendezvous at Oswego, and then sweep down the Mohawk valley from the west, conquering and destroying, and form a junction with Burgoyne at Albany, whence the united armies would descend on the Hudson. At the upper end of the valley, on a strategic spot on the carrying path which led from the Mohawk River to Wood Creek, stood Fort Schuyler. Wood Creek flowed into Oneida Lake, from which the Oswego River led into Lake Ontario. The carrying path between the Mohawk and Wood Creek was thus the only interruption which the war canoes of the Iroquois would meet in their voyage from Oswego to Albany. The carrying path was the door to the Mohawk valley. Fort Schuyler was the lock on the door. To unlock that door was the first task of Colonel Barry St. Leger and Thayendanegea.
Fort Schuyler was an old fortification, originally built by the British during the French and Indian War, at an enormous expense. It was not a mere block-house, nor a stockade, but, as originally laid out, was a regular fort, costing over a quarter of a million of dollars. It was square, with a bastion at each corner. It had the traditional moat or ditch, the glacis or earth embankment, and the draw-bridge. A covered way led to a spring. In the center of the ditch had been planted rows of pickets. In the interior was constructed what was supposed to be a bomb-proof citadel. On one side, the fortification was further protected by a swamp. But at the outbreak of the Revolution the old fort was a miserable ruin. The ditch was filled up. The draw-bridge had fallen to pieces. The rows of pickets consisted of nothing but rotted stumps, projecting a foot or so from the ground. The ground about the fort, which had been cleared with infinite trouble of every obstruction which might afford a cover to the enemy, was once more overgrown with a dense forest which flung its shadows over the decaying fortification.
In the spring of 1777, Colonel Gansevoort took command of the feeble and sickly garrison. Such men as were able to work were employed in placing the fort in a defensible state. But their feeble labors made slight impression in the old ruin. The commandant ceased not to write for re-enforcements and supplies. On the 4th of July, when St. Leger's plan was already made known, the place was still in a deplorable condition. Cannon there were, but not a ball in the magazine. The rifle balls on hand were too large for the fire-locks, and there were no moulds to make others. The supply of powder was dangerously small. As for provision, a quantity of spoiled beef, sufficient, perhaps for six weeks, formed the larger part of the supplies.
From time to time, small re-enforcements had reached the fort, until the garrison was something over five hundred men. Of these, a hundred and fifty were employed in cutting and hauling timber to repair the fort and to build an obstruction in the channel of Wood Creek. As many more were required to keep guard over the workmen, for the woods were infested by hostile Indians. Others still out on scouting and foraging parties, so that the fort proper was left with scarcely a man behind the ramparts.
One morning two officers went gunning, to secure, if possible, some untainted meat. A mile and a half from the fort they were fired upon. Madison was killed outright, but Gregg was only wounded. The Indians sprang forward to secure the scalp. Gregg, with incomparable grit, feigned death, and endured the horrible pain of being scalped, without the quiver of a muscle, or utterance of a groan.
Some fishermen, a quarter of a mile distant, were that afternoon disturbed by a dog, who bounded toward them, and by lamentable howls, and every sign of distress, attracted their attention. The poor animal would run a short distance into the forest, and seeing they did not follow, would return and pull at their clothing, as if asking them to come with him. The men's suspicions were aroused, and they started to follow the dog, who at once gave a yelp of joy. Every time the men stopped he would resume his supplications.
At last the men reached the spot where lay the dog's fallen master, Captain Gregg, still breathing, but stupefied from pain and loss of blood. They bore him to the fort, with the corpse of his companion, followed by the faithful dog, who had seen his master's need. Gregg afterwards recovered.
On another day sixteen of the garrison were out cutting turf, about three-quarters of a mile away. All at once they discovered a party of thirty or forty Indians coming toward them at a rapid run. The men turned to fly. Only nine men reached the fort. Of these, two were badly wounded,; a third was dying in the arms of his companion.
This was not all. On the 3d of July, a little girl ran screaming toward the fort, with a basket in her hand, and her calico frock stained with blood. She and two others of her age had been picking berries in the neighborhood. The other children had been killed, while she herself, was wounded, though slightly.
While the garrison of Fort Schuyler were thus preparing, as well as they could, for the coming storm, of which the indications were so clear, the friendly Oneidas looked on the approach of Brant with as much uneasiness as the whites themselves. Their neutrality had incurred the wrath of the other tribes, and they feared, not without reason, that the indiscriminate fury of the invaders might involve them in destruction. They ceased not to urge the colonies to send prompt and powerful succor to Fort Schuyler. Ticonderoga had fallen before Burgoyne without the firing of a shot. "The chiefs," wrote the Oneidas, with cutting directness, "desire the commanding officers of Fort Schuyler not to make a Ticonderoga of it."
On the 2d of August, a re-enforcement of two hundred men, with two bateaux of provision, reached Fort Schuyler. The supplies were hurried into the fort as fast as possible, for the enemy was expected at any moment. All scouting and repairing parties had been called into the fort. The time for further strengthening their defenses were gone. The siege was about to begin. As the boats were just emptied of their cargoes, and the last armfuls were being hurried into the fort, the savages burst from the forest with loud yells. The captain of the expedition, with drawn sword, hurried his men forward. Too brave to enter the fort before his men, he remained to the last, and was unfortunately made prisoner.
The siege had begun. Inside the fort were seven hundred and fifty men, with supplies and ammunition for six weeks, and no longer. But the garrison was without a flag! In this emergency stripes of white from officer's shirts, of blue from a cloak captured from enemy, and of red from some ragged sashes, were sewed together, and the patchwork run up on the flag-staff. The besieging army numbered some seventeen hundred, composed of one thousand warriors under Thayendanegea, together with some Hessian and Canadian troops. They at once threw up redoubts for their batteries and commenced active hostilities.
Meanwhile, General Herkimer was marching to the relief of the defenders of Fort Schuyler, at the head of eight hundred militia-men from the anxious settlements farther down the valley. Thayendanegea was kept constantly informed of Herkimer's movements. He repeated the stratagem which had resulted in the destruction of Braddock's army and brought Bouquet's entire command so near to death.
A few miles below the fort, the Albany road, along which Herkimer was advancing, crossed a low marsh by means of a causeway. Just at this point the road was intersected by an immense lateral ravine, or depression. Here, with devilish sagacity, Thayendanegea ambushed his dark followers. They were arranged in a circle, in which a narrow segment was left open at the bridge, for the, militia-men to enter the trap. As soon as the main body had crossed the bridge, a band of warriors rushed in to close the gap of the circle, completely inclosing the colonists, with the exception of the rear guard, consisting of about sixty men, and the supply train, which had not entered the causeway.
A frightful struggle ensued. Herkimer was wounded at the first fire. Propped against the foot of a tree, with a pipe in his mouth, the brave old man continued to command his men. From every side the savages poured in the most galling fire. Everywhere that the men attempted, like wild beasts at bay, to break through the fatal lines which encircled them, they were beaten back with fearful slaughter. The men got stuck in the mire, and the vast boa-constrictor, which had wound its fearful coils about them, began to tighten. Yet many of the men fought bravely.
Observing that a savage, waiting till a colonist had discharged his gun from behind some tree, would rush forward and tomahawk him before he could reload, they placed two men behind each tree, one reserving his fire. Finding themselves pressed on all sides, the militia-men disposed themselves in a circle. It was a small wheel within a larger one.
Just as the Indians charged on their foes with desperate valor, to conquer them at the point of the murderous bayonet, a fearful thunder-storm broke over the dark field of battle. The trees of the forest writhed in the fury of the tempest. Unearthly bolts of lightening, followed by peal after peal of sky-splitting thunder, lent horror to the scene. In a moment a mighty flood of waters burst forth from the surcharged clouds. The conflict of men became puny in comparison with the conflict of elements. The noise of the battle was but a stillness contrasted with the awful roar of the storm. The awed combatants desisted. The dark clans of Thayendanegea withdrew in sullen rage to the sheltering distance.
The tempest, however, gradually subsided. Not so the fierce passions of the men. The Indians renewed the onset, re-enforced by a detachment of Johnson's "Greens." These were American Tories. Many of them were friends, or even relatives of the members of the colonial militia. In the close hand to hand fighting these foes recognized each other. With the fiercest rage these enemies flew at each others' throats like tigers.
War is horrible. Civil war is awful. These neighbors and acquaintances grappled each other, kicking, biting, stabbing, each refusing to let go of his antagonist until, at last, some fatal thrust opened the ruddy door through which the spirit took its flight. As a ruse de guerre, another detachment of Greens hurried forward to the front with hats disguised as Americans. The men were about to receive them as friends from the fort, when the counterfeit was at the last moment was discovered.
A militia-man ran forward to give his eager hand to an acquaintance. The hand was grasped, but not in friendship. The Tory sought to make his verdant friend a prisoner. In the struggle, Captain Gardenier, of the colonial forces, sprang forward and felled the would-be captor to the ground. Several Greens set on him, the first falling dead, the second severely wounded. His spur catching in the clothes of one, threw Gardenier to the ground. A bayonet was just entering his breast, when the brave man seized it, and, with a terrific effort, dragged his opponent down, and used him as a shield from the blows of two other assailants. One of the militia-men now ran to his relief. As his foes turned on the new enemy, Gardenier sprang to his feet, and buried his sword in the body of the man whom he had dragged down. This was but one of a thousand individual combats.
The militia-men fought hand to hand with the Indians and Greens. "Let me recall, gentlemen, to your recollection," said the eloquent Gouverneur Morris at a later time, "that bloody field in which Herkimer fell. There was found the Indian and the white man, born on the banks of the Mohawk, their left hand clenched in each other's hair, the right grasping in a gripe of death the knife plunged in each other's heart. Thus they lay frowning."
At last Thayendanegea reluctantly called off his braves, of whom so many were falling. They had determined to die in their tracks rather than yield. Two hundred of the Americans had been killed, and twice as many more wounded or taken prisoner. Hardly a cabin in the valley was there from which some father or son had not gone forth to return no more. Many of the unfortunate captives were tortured and put to death by the Indians. The direct reason for the withdrawal of the enemy was a spirited sally by the garrison of Fort Schuyler. So well conducted was the sortie that nearly the entire camp equipage of St. Leger fell into their hands.
Thus ended one of the bloodiest battles of the Revolution. Thayendanegea had commanded the enemy in person. Heavy as was the loss of the Americans, that of the enemy was still heavier. Two or three days afterward a solitary scout chanced to come the field of battle. "There I beheld the most shocking sight I had ever witnessed. The Indians and white men were mingled with one another just as they had been left when death had first completed his work. Many bodies also been torn to pieces by wild beasts."
General Herkimer did not long survive the battle. His wounded limb was unskillfully amputated. The flow of blood was not properly staunched. As the hemorrhage renewed again and again, the hero calmly called his friends about him. With mind unclouded, and a body almost free from pain, he read the thirty-eighth Psalm aloud, while the red tide ebbed fast away. "Make haste to help me, O Lord, my salvation." As the closing words of the Psalm died away on his pallid lips, the light of an unseen morning momentarily lit up his eye, and then it closed in eternal sleep.
Meanwhile the siege was resumed. One day an Indian entered St. Leger's camp. His clothes were riddled with shot. He was a half-crazy fellow, regarded by the Iroquois with considerable awe and superstition. With knowing looks and a few significant words, he led them to Fort Schuyler. He had, he said, been informed in a dream. A panic seized the Indian camp. Wigwams were hastily taken down and preparations made to decamp. St. Leger persuaded, threatened, and expostulated. In vain. The whole Indian army abandoned the siege, and fled in precipitation before nightfall. For St. Leger no alternative was left but retreat. As it turned out, the dreamer was a liar. Having been captured by the Americans and condemned to death, he was offered his liberty if he could frighten the Indians away from Fort Schuyler. His brother stood as hostage while the knave went on his errand, and, as we have seen, achieved success.
During the winter of 1777-78 Brant kept his head-quarters at Niagara, from which point he maintained constant communication with the western Indians, inciting them to co-operate with the Iroquois. As the spring advanced, he again returned suddenly to his old haunts at Unadillo on the Susquehanna. This was sufficient to cause innumerable patriotic hearts to pop into their owners' mouths. Brant, with a large force of warriors, secure enough behind his fortification, forthwith inspired and directed incessant raids up and down the defenseless valley.
Besides their Indian foes, the people were also torn by political animosities. In one locality the male settlers capable of bearing arms were summoned from far and wide to meet the king's commissioners at the house of Captain Mann, a wealthy loyalist. At the appointed day a large assemblage met. Numbers of Indians came, impressed by the warlike preparations. Each man was required to take the oath of allegiance to the king, and wear a scarlet badge on the hat. Earnest loyalists wore red caps. Less zealous ones pinned on a small piece of red cloth. Others, who were at heart Whigs, through fear of confiscation and arrest, contented themselves with a bit of red yarn. Two men refused absolutely to take the oath. Just as they were about to be arrested, a thick cloud of dust down the road betokened the approach of horsemen. In a moment a strong body of American cavalry, with drawn swords flashing in the sunlight, dashed up, and ordered the loyalist gathering to disperse.
Captain Mann made his escape. The orders were to take him alive, if possible, but dead, if not. Late at night, a young patriot, a neighbor lad, found him in a wheat-stack. He summoned Mann to surrender on pain of instant death. The latter answered with entreaties to be spared. The country boy hesitated to shoot down the richest man in the locality. He wavered. It was midnight. A heavy rain was falling. Perhaps, in the pitchy darkness, he did not see Mann edging away. Perhaps his heart softened, and at the crises his nerve became weak. The loyalist got away.
The whole country turned out to hound him down. In the search a party ran across a stray Indian. He wore a bit of scarlet cloth in his hat. Unstrung by excitement, the whites absolutely butchered the poor fellow. The badge may have been that of a loyalist. More likely the bright color had caught the barbarian's eye, and he wore it as an ornament. After fifteen days' search, Mann was captured in the mountains. He was thrown into a prison at Albany, and detained until the war was over.
During the year 1778 the valley was filled with a thousand frightful rumors. Many of these were true. Innumerable lonely farm-houses were plundered and burned, and their occupants massacred. Rage is often near-sighted. In their indiscriminate fury the Indians massacred a woman and six children. She was the wife of a Tory.
But a greater surprise was at hand. The valley of Wyoming, in North-eastern Pennsylvania, is one of the loveliest spots on earth. It is a second Eden. It has been the burden of the poet's song and of the historian's admiration. Yet from the earliest time this paradise had been the scene of the bloodiest contentions. Indian tribes had warred over it until both of the contending parties were extinct. A civil war had broken out there between rival settlers from Connecticut and Pennsylvania, and again drenched its soil with blood. But in the year 1778, the sounds of violence had long since died away in this sequestered vale, and the crimson foot-prints of war had been effaced. From many a rude cabin chimney the blue smoke curled peacefully upward toward the sky. Around many a fireside sat happy families.
Towards this lovely spot the English commanders at Niagara turned their cruel eyes. A large force of whites and Indians pushed across the country on their first mission of destruction. Two or three days before the 1st of July wild reports of their approach were carried down the valley by galloping horsemen. These reports were followed by others even more dreadful. Nine men at work in a field had been murdered. Two forts near the upper end of the valley had been captured and burnt. Colonel Zebulon Butler at once toiled day and night to collect a force of settlers to resist the enemy. The country was already drained of its men to fill the ragged, but heroic, ranks of the American army. Still, from far and near, they came, with their fire-locks and ammunition, until about three hundred men assembled in Fort Forty.
The name of this fort is a history in itself. At one time, in the earlier border wars, it had been defended by forty men against fearful odds. The enemy took possession of Fort Wintermoot, farther up the valley. The impatient and undisciplined militia-men, roused by the unusual occasion to a fever of martial excitement, demanded that they advance to attack the foe. Of course, the attempt at a surprise failed. The whites, under Colonel John Butler, fought the settlers from the front. In this engagement the militia gained a slight advantage. They were pressing forward to pursue it.
Suddenly a terrific yell from hundreds of savage throats, just in their rear, thrilled every patriot with horror. The Indians, under their leader, for a long time supposed to have been Brant himself, had passed around to the rear of the Americans. The latter fought with boldness. But it was useless. They were being crushed between the two forces. Besides this, some one blundered. The drummer beat a retreat when the order was an advance. They broke and ran--ran for life. The Indians leaped after them, flinging down their rifles, and using only the tomahawk. They pursued every straggling runner. Only sixty out of the noble three hundred escaped unhurt. Some of these did so by swimming the river, others by fleeing to the mountains.
This was not a battle. History calls it a MASSACRE. An eye-witness, an Englishman, slightly changes these figures. He says there were three hundred and forty Americans, and that forty only escaped. The other statement was frightful enough. But for this latter unquestionable testimony, the former report would have been regarded as an exaggeration.
As the news of the defeat was carried down the valley by the hunted fugitives, the women and children fled panic-stricken into the wilderness. Colonel Zebulon Butler managed to make a stand in Fort Wyoming, where large numbers of settlers were huddled together. Concerning what followed, there is a bitter historical dispute. The earliest writers relate the following: On the morning of July 4th, the invaders demanded surrender of the fort. A parley was proposed. A large body of Americans marched to the appointed place. Instead of the truce being respected, the Indians suddenly sprang, howling, upon them from the shadowy recesses in the forest, and commenced a second and more horrible massacre, slaughtering nearly all in cold blood. "A remnant only regained the fort. A demand was sent in for surrender, accompanied by one hundred and ninety-six bloody scalps, taken from those who had just been slain. When the best terms were asked, the infamous Butler replied, the hatchet." It will be observed that the hostile commanders bore the same name. They were cousins and old friends.
Some of the occupants of the fort, including Colonel Zebulon Butler, managed to escape the wilderness. The rest, with those who were found in the settlement--men, women, and children--were locked up in the houses, which were set on fire, and "the whole consumed together." This was not all. Another fort was near by with seventy soldiers. They surrendered, under solemn promises that their lives would be spared. They were butchered to a man. Some details have been handed down to us. "One of the prisoners, a Captain Badlock, was committed to torture, by having his body stuck full of splinters of pine knots, and a fire of dry wood made around him, when his two companions, Captains Rauson and Durkee were thrown into the same fire and held down with pitchforks until consumed. One Partial Terry, the son of a man of respectable character, having joined the Indian cause, with his own hands, murdered his father, mother, brothers, and sisters, stripped off their scalps, and cut off his father's head!"
These were the earliest reports of the Wyoming tragedy. Later and more critical authorities deny them. It is creditable to human nature to disbelieve them. Whether the particular incidents recorded took place or not is of no importance. All agree that a Reign of Terror was inaugurated in the peaceful valley. At the best, history is only approximately true. Froude, Gibbon, Macaulay, Bancroft, have alike drawn on their imagination for details. The outline of history only is correct. The "historical imagination" is what makes history readable. It furnishes one a picture of the past.
Whether the particular details are true is immaterial. The scene, as a whole, may be true, nevertheless. Who doubts that one of Dickens's novels presents us a better view of English life and manners than any of history do? Yet the whole book is a tissue of fiction. The truth or falsity of history is not to be determined merely by the pictorial and graphic details, which give life and animation to the scene. The real test is, whether the general outline, the perspective, the tone, proportion, and coloring is true to the original. Any thing else is impossible. No two witnesses will ever agree as to the exact details of a street brawl. Yet a hundred will substantiate each other as to the general and obvious facts.
One of the disputes over the Wyoming tragedy was, the leadership of the Indians. Early reports charged it to Brant. The poet Campbell, acting on this authority, gave him an immortality of shame in his "Gertrude of Wyoming." In his later years, however, Brant's son went to England and charged the poet with traducing his father. Indeed, the proofs strongly indicate that Brant was not present at the invasion of Wyoming.
Retyped and reformatted by Ray and Kathy Leigh