The keys to history are the names of its epochs. Every remarkable period somehow and from somewhere takes to itself a name. It is the way the people have of writing history. The great masses of humanity have neither time to write elaborate histories of the age in which they live, nor have their posterity time to read them. The millions simply give a name to their age. They place an everlasting brand upon its brow, which it must wear forever amid the great procession of historic periods. The mighty artist paints the picture complete at a single stroke. Such a name was given by the French to the climax of their revolution--the Reign of Terror. It is itself a panorama. It is a whole historical library. Others may write and elaborate the details. These words tell it all.
Of this sort is the title of this chapter. Among the settlers of the Ohio valley the year 1777 stood out in a solitude of horror. Standing in the midst of a long series of years darkened by ceaseless conflict with the savages, it was darker than the darkest. It was bloodier than the bloodiest. It stood alone, a lofty mountain peak, amid a rage of nestling hills. Then the settlers of the valley, as if by instinct, gave that year a name. It is also that of this chapter. Earth has run red with other wars when they were at rest forever. But so long as men look at the past, so long as the lovely valley of the Ohio unrolls its laughing landscapes to the sunlight, the children of the settlers, hearing that name, may not forget the sorrows of their fathers.
KENTUCKI! This was the land of promise toward which the boldest spirits of the colonies had been looking for several years before the outbreak of the Revolutionary war. New-year's day, of 1777, with its heavy snow-fall and extreme cold, was celebrated in this wilderness by several hundred settlers. There were forts already built at Harrodsburg, Boonesborough, and at the present town of Stanford. Amid the frolic of this New-year's day were uplifted the cheery voices of wives and mothers and the romping noise of children, as well as the loud laugh of shaggy hunters and pioneers. In the cabins at the forts, huge fires burned in immense fire-places. Before these roasted and sizzled the smoking game of rarest flavor, while the bright yellow of the sweet but homely corn-dodger silently deepened into a richer brown.
When at last the women, with faces which had caught the ruddy tint of the roaring fire, announced that dinner was ready, there was great clatter to drag up rude seats to the puncheon table. If the feast lacked variety, it was toothsome, and the mighty appetites of the family and guests would put to blush the dainty eaters of a later day. Nor was the entertainment thought complete without a hearty draughts of liquors that are now proscribed. In the wild loneliness of their lives the brave people forgot not the holidays which had been used to celebrate amid gentler surroundings. Amid their rough and dangerous career these days shone out bright, joyous and happy.
The snow had not yet melted from the cleared fields around the Harrodsburg fort, in March, 1777, when signs became manifest of an unusual disturbance among the Indians. Four miles from the fort, Coomes, Shores, and the two Ray boys were felling trees. Without a moment's warning a rifle ball, aimed by a dusky hand, killed William Ray.
The rest undertook to escape by flight. Shores was overtaken and captured. Coomes, unable to maintain his terrific speed, flung himself among some briers and was overlooked. James Ray was a wonderful runner. The swiftest warriors could not get within gunshot of him. In thirty minutes he dashed into the fort and gave the alarm. There was a disagreement as to the course to pursue. McGary, father-in-law of William Ray, wanted to go to the rescue. Harrod opposed it. In the heat of the moment the men raised their guns to shoot. McGary's wife rushed between and snatched her husband's weapon. McGary galloped of with thirty men. The bleeding corpse of ray was found. Coomes was rescued. Poor Shores and his captors were gone.
A few days after this tragedy a cabin outside of the stockade was seen to be on fire. When the whites attempted to extinguish it, a large number of Indians sprang into sight, and, after a sharp struggle, drove them back into the fort. The Indians camped in full view. For days they acted as if no such thing as a white man's fort was anywhere near. It was a ruse. One afternoon, without a single indication of their purpose, the whole force rushed forward to the fort. The scheme failed. In three minutes forty men leveled their rifles through the port-holes of the fort, and checked the advance with fatal volleys.
During the night the Indians decamped, and proceeded to Boonesborough. After an unsuccessful attack, they again changed their purpose, and advanced to Logan's Fort, one mile west of the present town of Stanford. This little redoubt and its precious population of mothers and children was defended by thirteen men.
One morning the women, attended by half the garrison, went out to milk the cows. The Indians, concealed in a canebrake, at once fired, killing three men outright. A fourth fell wounded. The rest fled to the fort. In a few moments the wounded man was seen dragging himself, with great difficulty, to the fort. His strength gave out; he could proceed no farther. The Indians withheld their fire, hoping to decoy a party out of the fort to rescue the poor fellow. His wife and children were agonized at the sight, but could do nothing. Benjamin Logan, the builder of the fort, called for volunteers to join him in a rescue. One man responded.
Thus attended, Logan started. At the gate his companion's heart failed him. Logan went on alone. In a shower of balls Logan ran down the hill, seized the wounded man, and started back. A shot brought him to his knees, but he struggled on till the great wooded gate shut out the danger. A furious assault followed. The nine men within the fort fought the two hundred without. Blind with rage, the assailants again and again swarmed up the hill, and again and again retreated in confusion before the deadly firing from the fort. Foiled in their attempt to carry it out by storm, the savages determined to reduce it by famine.
Days passed. The supply of provisions at the fort grew smaller. Their ammunition could not hold out much longer. When it was gone, the savages would beat down the wooden gates, and the defenders of the fort would be conquered. Harrodsburg and Boonesborough would not be able to divide their own dwindling supplies, even if they could be reached.
In this emergency, the lion-hearted Logan determined to make his way to the nearest settlement in Virginia. On a dark and stormy night he left the fort, crawled through the lines of the Indian encampment, and struck out through the wilderness. He reached his destination. He loaded himself down with gunpowder and lead. The settlement refused to send a relief party, but promised to dispatch a messenger to the Virginia government with news of the alarming condition of affairs in Kentucky. With this promise, he hastened to return. His way was beset with difficulties. Rains came near ruining his gunpowder, rivers almost overwhelmed him, savages pursued him. Yet he reached the little fort in safety. He brought relief. Days and weeks passed. Still the stubborn besiegers did not move. The situation at the fort again grew desperate. At this point a relief party, under command of Colonel Bowman, arrived. The agony was ended. Logan's fort was saved.
This, however, by no means relieved the settlers. Indians continued to swarm into the country from all directions. Boonesborough and Harrodsburg were practically in a continued siege. Throughout the summer a camp of five hundred Indians was maintained within a quarter of a mile of Harrodsburg. To procure game for the fort was full of difficulty and danger. Yet it was indispensable. It had been impossible to go out of the fort to raise a crop of corn in the cleared land. The old supply was exhausted. For weeks they had lived in the fort without bread. Yet the daring hunters at the fort braved every danger. McGary, Harrod, and Ray would slip out of the fort at night, make their way to some distant cover, load themselves with the spoils of the chase, and return as they went, by night.
The details of personal heroism can not be followed. One day, Ray and McConnell had incautiously gone outside the stockade to practice shooting. While they used a tree, some Indians used them for the target. McConnell was killed. Ray started for the fort, but the gate was closed against him. Twenty feet from the wall was a stump, behind which he threw himself. He lay in this situation four hours, the balls of the enemy striking within a few inches of him. At last a hole was dug under the wall, and he was taken into the fort in that way.
Winter alone brought relief to the Kentuckians. The year had been one of unparalleled hardship. They were unable to leave the country, and, reduced almost to starvation, had carried on a defensive war with overwhelming forces of Indians for nearly a year. Of the causes of this bloody invasion the Kentuckians knew little. History, however, shows that it was a part of the Revolutionary War. While England fought the colonies from the north and east, her emissaries incited the Indians to become her allies, and attack the exposed settlements of the west. Far more terrible was the conflict of the bloody and ominous year of the three sevens in the western part of Virginia than in Kentucky.
In the war of 1774 in this region, known as "Lord Dunmore's war," the great Shawanese chief, Cornstalk, had shared with his warriors the crushing defeat of Point Pleasant. When, therefore, the agents of Great Britain induced all the tribes north-west of the Ohio to unite for an attack on the whites, and held out the hope that the tide of pioneers could thus be rolled back even beyond the Blue Ridge, Cornstalk alone refused to enter the confederacy. His voice alone was lifted to warn of the hopelessness of a struggle with the white man. Unable to control his warriors, he went to the fort at Point Pleasant, and laid before the officers the details of the great conspiracy. It was decided to detain and his company as hostages, as security for the neutrality of his tribe. To this he assented. A small force of colonial troops was also collected at Point Pleasant.
One August morning Cornstalk was drawing in charcoal on the cabin floor a map of the route the Indian army would take. Suddenly a halloo was heard from the opposite shore of the Ohio. Cornstalk recognized it as the voice of his son Elenipsico. He had grown uneasy at his father's absence. The meeting of father and son was full of joy. The next day two soldiers, out hunting across the river, were fired on from a thicket. Gilmore was killed. The shots, and the flight of the other hunter to the shore of the river, were perceived at the fort. A canoe full of men at once crossed the river. Hamilton was rescued. Gilmore's scalped and bloody corpse was recovered.
The soldiers at the fort were enraged beyond measure. Many of them had suffered from the savages. One had been a captive. Another's parents had been massacred. Yet another's wife had been carried into captivity and never heard of more. The entire family of the dead Gilmore had been massacred twelve years before. These cruelties had filled their hearts with hatred for the savages. They brooded over the awful injuries.
At the first note of war they had taken the field against the Indians. Now, when the "poor, poor, dumb mouths" of Gilmore's wounds spoke in silent eloquence of the bloody wrong, a dreadful cry arose. "KILL THE INDIANS IN THE FORT!" The crowd at the river shore where the canoe had landed, inflamed by the cry, became a maddened mob. Up the hill they started in headlong fury to carry out the horrible threat. Two officers, hearing the riot, rushed out to turn aside the men from their awful purpose. But the flood-gates of murder were open, and the red tide would have its way. "Interfere with us, and you are dead men!" A score of rifles were leveled at the two young officers.
On towards the fort swept the mob, as if possessed by some raging demon, their faces crimson with fury, and every voice lifted in hoarse yells of rage. A woman saw them coming. She listened. She caught the advancing cry of "Kill the Indians." She ran to their cabin, and told them in hurried accents that the soldiers believed that Elenipsico had brought with him the Indians who had killed Gilmore, and were coming to kill them. The young chief vehemently denied the charge. Lifting his hand to heaven, he called on the Great Spirit to bear witness to his innocence. As the shouts of the mob grew plainer he trembled with excitement. Cornstalk spoke soothingly to him. "Die like a man. The Great Spirit has sent you here to die with your father, that you may not live to see the sorrows of your people. It is best."
The words quieted Elenipsico. He seated himself on a stool to rise no more. Red Hawk attempted to hide in the chimney. The murderers were at the door. Cornstalk, with folded arms and a look of unspeakable majesty and courage, advanced to receive them. No word escaped his lips. The soldiers fired. Without a groan the mighty chieftain fell dead, pierced by seven balls, slain in cold blood by the very men whom he was trying to serve and to save. Elenipsico remained quiet. In a moment he was quiet forever. He met his fate in a manner worthy of his fallen sire. Red Hawk was dragged from his hiding-place, and killed. A fourth Shawanese was then dispatched with the clubs of the murderers' guns, and the horrid massacre was ended.
That the whites murdered their friends is beyond doubt. The killing of Gilmore, the only evidence which caused them to think Elenipsico had brought the Indians with him, and the only evidence which has ever been adduced to prove his guilt, really tended strongly to prove his innocence. Had the Indians been his companions and friends of Elenipsico they would never have committed such a murder while their own great chief, Cornstalk and his son, their friend, were defenseless and in the power of the soldiers at the neighboring fort.
It is said that after the battle of Point Pleasant, three years before, Cornstalk called his warriors together, and said: "The Long Knives are coming to burn our town, and will soon be in sight. What shall we do." After a long silence Cornstalk arose and said: "You have proposed nothing. We have been beaten in a great battle. The Long Knives are pursuing us. When the sun rises, he will look upon the ashes of our wigwams and the corpses of our people. I have a plan. Let us kill our women and children; then let our warriors go out and fight until they too are killed." Still there was no response. "Then," said he, striking his tomahawk into the tent-post, "I will go and make peace." He did so. Dunmore's war was ended. From that time he was the firm friend of the whites. For this friendship, he and his son, the pride of his life, the flower of the tribe, were murdered by an insane mob.
The murderers of Cornstalk were rewarded. During the time he was at the fort, messengers had been dispatched to the Virginia authorities, carrying the warning of the coming storm, and asking help. But the eyes of the people were turned in another direction. The thirteen colonies were adrift upon the stormy sea of revolution. Every purse was emptied, every arm lifted, every nerve strained. The new British commander, Burgoyne, with his splendid army, was sweeping down from the north, along the shores of Champlain and George, carrying every thing before him. Crown Point, Ticonderoga, Fort Edward, Fort Ann, one after another were falling. But there yet lay in his path, to the heart of the colonies, the army of the north, under General Gates.
Toward the conflict which was shortly to ensue, every patriot looked with anxiety and apprehension. But the invasion of Burgoyne was not the only danger. Lord Howe was beginning his advance upon Philadelphia, the capital of the confederacy. Opposed to him was George Washington, with his army of the south, that immortal band which had seven months before startled the world with their memorable escape over the crumbling ice of the Delaware, at Trenton, and who were destined to make another retreat not less famous, in which their bare and bleeding feet were to mark the path to Valley Forge with the red insignia of suffering.
The patriots felt that the eyes of the world were upon them. The ragged un-uniformed, bare-footed soldiery, transfigured and inspired by immortal ideas, suffered and fought with a consciousness that all that was good in the past, and all that was bright in the future of humanity, was stalked upon the issue of the war. The women of the colonies toiled in field and kitchen, at the loom, and in the hospital, to supply food, clothing, and medicine to the starved and bleeding troops. Men were spending every dollar of their private fortune in the cause of liberty and independence. The very children caught the spirit of self-sacrifice from their sires. Memorable struggle! Immortal victory!
What then could Virginia, the home of Washington, Jefferson, and Patrick Henry do for the frontier? Nothing. Her zeal, her attention, her resources, were all absorbed in the momentous conflict of the Revolution. On receipt of the news from Point Pleasant, the Virginia authorities were filled with dismay. Not a man could be spared to repel the Indian invasion. A small quantity of ammunition was sent to each of the four forts which at that time guarded the entire frontier--Red Stone, on the Monongahela, Fort Pitt, Fort Henry, at Wheeling, and the one at Point Pleasant. Of these, Fort Henry had no regular garrison at all. The settlers who might take refuge in it were its only defenses.
In addition to the little supply of ammunition, the Virginia government dispatched mounted messengers along the frontier, carrying the news of the approaching invasion to the scattered cabins, and of the government's inability to send relief, and advising them to abandon their exposed situations, and fly to places of safety. In some localities these tidings of alarm were followed by hurried preparations for flight, but generally the brave frontiersmen were reluctant to abandon their little properties, won from the wilderness by such persistent toil, and began to erect block-houses, store provisions, and drive their cattle into stockades, by way of defense against the painted invaders.
During the summer, isolated murders and depredations became more and more frequent along the frontier, but it was not till the latter part of August that the scouts brought word to the settlements that the Indians of the west were on the war-path, and would shortly be upon them. Where the blow would fall, no one could tell. The anxious settlers gathered in their forts and block-houses.
Wheeling, a village of thirty houses, was, with the exception of Pittsburg, the most important place on the Ohio River. Fort Henry was its citadel. The fort stood on a lofty bluff. It was an oblong square, of oak palisades, inclosing two or three acres of ground. At the corners of the stockade were block-houses. Inside were the magazine and a few solid cabins, quarters for the neighboring settlers who might take refuge there. In the few years since their coming, the founders of Wheeling had made the wilderness to blossom as the rose. Standing on the ramparts of Fort Henry, looking out over the landscape, one might have seen not only the encircling forests, the distant purple of the mountains, and the winding river, but also green pastures, populated with contented cattle, waving fields of yellow grain, leafy orchards, from which peeped the blushing fruit, and solid barns to store the products of the farms.
On the 31st of August, 1777, scouts brought definite information of the approach of five hundred Indians, all armed with the best weapons, and abundantly supplied by the British Government with ammunition. They were commanded by a white man. On receipt of this intelligence, every one repaired to the fort. The cattle were driven into the stockade. Provisions and ammunition were hurriedly carried up the bluff, and lodged in the store-house and magazine. Camp fires were built inside the stockade.
As night came on, the women and children spread improvised beds on the floors of the cabins. But, although they retired, they were wide-awake. The women talked to each other in excited whispers. The crackling of a twig caused shudders of apprehension. Forty times during the night, it was said: "There they are!" The men remained outside to watch. They sat around the camp-fire, gun in hand, saying little, constantly on the alert, and grimly awaiting the attack. There were just sixty men in the fort. But the night passed without any indication of the presence of the foe. The truth was the Indians had come within sight of the fort. They had seen the sparks from the camp-fires, and the light in the block-houses. This showed that the garrison was awake. The night attack was abandoned.
For this disappointment the Indians resolved to compensate themselves. An ambuscade would be about as gratifying as the night attack. They ranged themselves in a double line across the fields. When the sun rose they lay hidden in the weeds. The people at the fort did not suspect the trap. A white man and a negro went out to drive in some horses which had been over looked the night before. They walked into the snare. Six Indians sprang up. The white man was killed. But the negro was purposely allowed to escape, that he might carry word to the fort and induce more men to come out. The scheme succeeded. He reported that there were six Indians down there. Fourteen men under Captain Mason, at once set out to punish the murderers. Sure enough they found six Indians retreating across the field. The pursuers fired. As if by magic the field was instantly blackened with Indians starting up from their concealment. Retreat was cut off. The white men fell on the encircling lines with the fury of despair. They hacked, clubbed, cut, gashed, and beat their way through. We said "they." Who? The fifteen? No, the four! Eleven never got through. Mason and three men started to run for the fort. William Shepherd's foot caught in a grape vine. He fell. Before he could rise, a tomahawk clove asunder his skull. Another was shot as he ran. Mason snatched his gun. He, himself, was wounded twice, but he pressed on in the race for life. He felt the warm breath of his pursuer. He stopped short, tripped up the savage, and shot him. He could proceed no farther. He crawled into a hollow log, and lay there till the pursuers ceased to be such.
The discharge of guns and the yells of the Indians had been the only information at the fort of the ambuscade. As has been said, it was a little after sunrise. A dense fog from the river made it impossible to see an object ten feet off. The defenders of the fort saw nothing. Captain Ogle took twelve men and went to the rescue. He was a little in the rear of his party. Suddenly a ring of Indians was discovered to have completely surrounded the party in the fog. Ogle alone was left outside that circle. The scene that followed was the worst sort of butchery. In two minutes all but two of Ogle's men were killed. Ogle hid himself in a fence corner. An Indian came, and sat just above him on the fence. He was wounded and in pain. He did not notice the white man. When the wounded Indian left, Ogle made his way to the fort. They were making a list of the dead. Twenty-seven of the best men had left the fort. Only four had returned alive, and they were wounded.
There was no time to grieve. The whole force of Indians was starting up the hill, flourishing the bloody scalps of the slain, for an assault on the fort. These scalps were valuable. Colonel Hamilton, the British commandant at Detroit, who had fitted out this terrible war-party, paid thirty dollars for every settler's scalp. Twenty-three scalps were worth six hundred and ninety dollars. Hamilton is known to history as the "hair buyer." There were thirty-three men and about a hundred women and children left in the fort. Every heart was heavy with grief from the terrible disasters of the morning. The Indians called for a surrender. But the weakened garrison replied that death alone could conquer them.
The Indians began the attack. At first, they fought at long range, firing into the walls of the palisade, and doing no execution. The defenders of the fort reserved their fire. At last, the Indians started in a dead run for the gates of the palisade, to tear them down and force an entrance. They were met by a deadly fire at point-blank range. The charging column wavered. To hesitate in a charge is to retreat. The Indians retreated.
It was an hour before this maneuver was repeated. This time the danger to the fort was great. Its defenders were splendid marksmen. Many a noble form was stretched lifeless in the grass as the Indians swarmed up the slope. But the numbers of the foe were so great that it seemed almost impossible to beat them back. Instead of retreating at the first fire, the survivors continued to advance.
The women of the fort were busy. Some moulded bullets. Others loaded guns, and handed them to the men, who could, as a consequence, fire three times where they could only have done so once. The garrison seemed to multiply itself. Some of the women stood at port-holes, loading and firing with all the skill and precision of the men. The battle is said to have lasted twenty-three hours. During the lulls in the conflict, the women would carry bread and meat to the smoke-blackened men at the port-holes. It seemed as if the strength of the Indians would never be weakened. It seemed as if their persistence would never be wearied out. During all that time, not an eye was closed in slumber, not a hand removed from a rifle.
There were many incidents of personal heroism during the siege. As there was another siege of Fort Henry in 1782, there has been great dispute as to which siege the respective incidents belong. The best authorities differ. But for our purpose, this doubt is unimportant. The place, persons, and circumstances were the same at both sieges. The defenses were equally heroic. This is not a critical history. It is a popular recountal. We will take advantage of the doubt as to time. We will range ourselves with those authorities which hold that Elizabeth Zane's gunpowder exploit and Sam. McCullough's leap for life occurred in the siege of 1777. It would be interesting to relate this historical dispute. Both sides rest their argument on the sworn testimony of eye-witnesses. Either account, taken by itself and judged by the canons of historical criticism, would appear unimpeachable. Yet they are absolutely contradictory. They differ not only as to time, but as to the actors themselves., and as to the transaction itself.
One woman, who was an eye-witness, swears that she saw the gunpowder exploit performed by Mollie Clark, in 1782, that she herself handed out the gunpowder, that the supply had run short, not at the fort, but at Colonel Zane's cabin outside the stockade, and that Elizabeth Zane was not present at the siege at all. On the other hand, the first published accounts of the affair were prepared by scrupulously careful writers who obtained their whole information from the people of Wheeling, who were participants in the siege. They say the exploit was performed at the first siege, and relate it as we give it herein. This dispute shows how apt eye-witnesses are, after a shorter or longer lapse of time, to exaggerate, to pervert it, to wholly change the facts, no matter how honest their intentions. It illustrates the slenderness of so much of what is called historical evidence. It warns us to be cautious as to how we receive accounts of marvelous and unusual occurrences, and explains in a very practical way the growth of legends and historical myths.
During the afternoon of the first day, the supply of gunpowder was perceived to be dangerously small. Colonel Zane, the founder of Wheeling, remembered that in his cabin, sixty yards from the fort, was a full keg of powder. He called the men about him, told them the facts, and asked for volunteers to procure the keg of powder. Several brave fellows offered, but at this point, Elizabeth Zane, a handsome and vivacious girl, stepped forward.
She was a younger sister of the colonel, and had just come from Philadelphia, where she had been educated in the best school for young ladies in the city. Though wholly unfamiliar with border warfare, she had thrown herself into the work of casting bullets, making cartridges, and loading rifles, with the greatest zeal and courage. Now she bounded forward and imperiously announced, "No one shall go but myself!" The men turned quickly as her clear voice rang out in the air. Her flashing eyes and mounting color added emphasis to the bold declaration. At first, her offer was peremptorily refused, but the high-spirited girl was not to be denied. She argued that the enfeebled garrison could better spare her than any of the men.
In a moment she opened the heavy gate, and flew towards the cabin. The Indians saw her and watched her movements. When she came out of the building, and, with the keg of powder in her arms, sped with the fleetness of a fawn toward the fort, they sent a heavy volley of bullets after her, but not a ball touched the person of the daring girl. The gates were opened. She entered safely with her prize. A loud cheer welcomed her, and every man, inspired by her heroism, and thrilled with her loveliness, resolved to repulse the foe or die in the effort. The young heroine lived to a ripe age, becoming the founder of Zanesville, Ohio, it is said. "The story of Elizabeth Zane," says Lossing, "ought to be perpetuated in marble and preserved in the Valhalla of our Revolutionary heroes."
During the night the savages kept up their assaults with unwearied vigor. About midnight they began to fire the houses of Wheeling, one after another. Meanwhile, relief was coming from two directions. How news flies so rapidly in a wilderness where there are neither telegraphs, railroads, mails, stagecoaches, couriers, nor travelers, is a mystery impossible to explain. However it may be, Major Sam. McCullough, at the head of forty mounted men, was on his way from the Short Creek settlement, and Colonel Swearinger, with fourteen men, was coming down the river in a boat from Halliday's fort. About four o'clock in the morning McCullough's men dashed through the burning village and up to the fort. McCullough himself reined in, refusing to go in till all of his men had entered. The Indians made a rush to intercept the relief party, but were too late for any one except McCullough. He was left outside as the gates closed. They could have killed him, but desired to take him alive and save him for torture, to avenge themselves for the many injuries he had inflicted on them. McCullough, the hero of many a close encounter, put spurs to his horse and dashed along the hillside, toward Van Meter's block-house, several miles away. He had reached the top of Wheeling Hill, fairly distancing his pursuers, when a body of Indians appeared just ahead of him, moving rapidly to surround him.
A glance taught him the peril of the situation. On one side was a steep precipice; on the others were his foes. He hesitated not an instant, but curved his horse abruptly toward the precipice, and, with a leap disappeared from the view of his astounded pursuers. The hill was very high and exceedingly abrupt in its declivity. The Indians ran to the brink, expecting to see his mangled corpse on the rocks below. Instead of this, they saw him firmly seated in his saddle, galloping rapidly around a point of rocks safe from their pursuit.
Swearinger's party, coming down the dark and foggy river, now running ashore, now far out in mid-stream, out of sight of land, half rowing, half drifting, were apprehensive lest they should pass Wheeling in the pitchy darkness. Their fears were groundless. Long before they reached the place, a red and angry glare lit up the canopy of clouds which overhung the unfortunate settlement.
It was dawn before they reached their destination. Half-stifled by the smoke from the ruined cabins, they crawled up to the fort and entered. Not an Indian was visible. A furious attack had been repulsed and was followed by an unusual stillness. Two bold scouts went out to reconnoiter. They returned without discovering the whereabouts of the foe. Then Colonel Zane took twenty men and explored the field and forest where the savages had so lately encamped. They were gone. Discouraged by the re-enforcement of Colonel McCullough's men, they had abandoned the siege, after burning the village and killing three hundred cattle.
A day passed. No signs of Indians were visible. The settlers ventured out of the fort to the desolate site of their frontier homes. Many a family had lost not only their home, but the strong right arm of the husband and father, which could have replaced the home. Place and prospect were to them but a vista on dreariness. With many a stifled sigh the survivors took up again the burden of life. In a day or two Captain Foreman arrived with more re-enforcements from Hampshire. For several weeks the people at Wheeling kept their guard. That the Indians had returned to their towns in the west seemed possible.
On September 26th a cloud of smoke seemed to be rising from the region of Tomlinson's place, twelve miles below Wheeling. To ascertain the facts and lend assistance if necessary, Foreman took a strong party and started in the direction of the smoke. Grave Creek, as the place was called, was found all safe. The men remained over night and commenced their return trip.
Foreman, a thick-headed fellow, inexperienced in Indian fighting, indulged in fatal recklessness. In his company was a weather-beaten scout, named Lynn. His crafty eye took in the danger of this proceeding, and after a caution to Foreman, he and two or three of his fellows withdrew to a dark spot in the forest for their night's repose. About two o'clock in the morning, a faint plashing could be heard by a practiced ear. It came from the other side of the river. It was too regular and rythmical to be occasioned by the dash of the current on a hidden rock, or the sportive leapings of the fish from the dark depths. Lynn awoke. He listened. He made his way over to Foreman, roused him, and told him that he believed that Indians had seen their camp-fire, and were embarking from the opposite shore of the river on rafts, for an attack. Foreman repulsed him rudely, and turning over went to sleep. A shade fell on the honest face of the scout. He withdrew again into the forest. But he remained wide awake. He stood behind a tree, his finger on the trigger of his musket. He watched.
But the enemy, if present, gave no indications of it. With the morning came the order for marching. There were two routs. One along the river bottom, the other along a ridge of hills. Lynn urged the latter, as being safer from ambuscade, and a different way from the one by which they came. Whom the gods wish to destroy, they first make mad. Foreman was mad. He scoffed at the rusty-looking scout. The fatal command was given to take the lower route.
Lynn and a half dozen companions left the company to return by the ridge. It was well. As Foreman's party proceeded the men discovered some Indian trinkets on the ground. A man in advance picked them up. Such a find is unusual. The backwoodsman is, after all, a man. He has curiosity. But his life is barren. Of the splendors of a great city, with its magnificent store windows, filled with dazzling and brilliant displays, he has no conception. A few beads are to him an object of wonder. To find them in the woods is a miracle. The men crowded eagerly around the finder of the treasure. The big, rough fellows, brave as lions, behaved like children. They jostled and crowded each other to get a better sight of the toy. They were intently absorbed. Every eye was on the treasure. Had one of them looked around he would have seen that they were surrounded by Indians.
There was a fearful explosion. The unseen circle of enemies had fired. Twenty-one white men fell dead on the spot. The rest would have fallen at the second fire. But suddenly there were heard terrific yells from the top of the hill. The Indians turned to listen. It seemed as if a whole army was coming. The Indians broke and ran; the faster the better. In a moment they were gone. The yells did not come from an army. They came from Lynn and his companions. The remainder of Foreman's party was saved. He, himself, had paid the penalty for his obstinacy. But it was small recompense for the poor fellows lying cold in death.
Retyped and reformatted by Ray and Kathy Leigh