Strange Stories Of Colonial Days - Part 13

Part 13

Rogers' Rangers were a famous partisan corps during the old French War.

Besides the regular forces employed, there were irregular or partisan bodies, composed of Canadian French and their Indian allies on one side, and English frontiersmen on the other. They acted as scouts and rangers for either army, guarding trains, procuring intelligence, and intercepting supplies destined for the enemy. Both were composed of picked men, skilled in woodcraft, and excellent marksmen. One of Rogers'

companies was composed entirely of Indians in their native costume.

The Rangers were a body of hardy and resolute young men, from New Hampshire. They were accustomed to hunting and inured to hardships, and from frequent contact with the Indians they had become familiar with their language and customs. Every one of these rugged foresters was a dead shot, and could hit an object the size of a dollar at a hundred yards.

There was no idleness in the Rangers' camp. They were obliged to be constantly on the alert, and to keep a vigilant watch upon the enemy.

They made long and fatiguing journeys into his country on snow-shoes in midwinter in pursuit of his marauding parties, often camping in the forest without a fire, to avoid discovery, and without other food than the game they had killed on the march. On more than one occasion they made prisoners of the French sentinels at the very gates of Crown Point and Ticonderoga, their strongholds. They were the most formidable body of men ever employed in Indian warfare, and were especially dreaded by their French and Indian foes.

It was in this school that Israel Putnam, John Stark, and others were trained for future usefulness in the struggle for American Independence.

Several British officers, attracted by this exciting and hazardous as well as novel method of campaigning, joined as volunteers in some of their expeditions. Among them was the young Lord Howe, who during this tour of duty formed a strong friendship for Stark and Putnam, both of whom were with him when he fell at Ticonderoga shortly afterwards.

Major Robert Rogers, who raised and commanded this celebrated corps, was a native of Dunbarton, New Hampshire. Tall and well proportioned, but rough in feature, he was noted for strength and activity, and was the leader in athletic sports, not only in his own neighborhood, but for miles around.

Rogers' lieutenant was John Stark, afterwards the hero of Bennington.

When in his twenty-fourth year Stark, while out with a hunting-party, was captured by some St. Francis Indians and taken to their village.

While here he had to run the gauntlet. For this cruel sport the young warriors of the tribe arranged themselves in two lines, each armed with a rod or club to strike the captive as he pa.s.sed them, singing some provoking words taught him for the occasion, intended to stimulate their wrath against the unfortunate victim.

Eastman, one of Stark's companions when he was taken, was the first to run the gauntlet and was terribly mauled. Stark's turn came next. Making a sudden rush, he knocked down the nearest Indian, and wresting his club from him, struck out right and left, dealing such vigorous blows as he ran that he made it extremely lively for the Indians, without receiving much injury himself. This feat greatly pleased the old Indians who were looking on, and they laughed heartily at the discomfiture of the young men.

When the Indians directed him to hoe corn, Stark cut up the young corn and flung his hoe into the river, declaring that it was the business of squaws and not of warriors. Stark was at length ransomed by his friends on payment of 100 to his captors.

During the Revolutionary war Stark's services were rendered at the most critical moments, and were of the highest value to his country. At Bunker Hill he commanded at the rail fence on the left of the redoubt, holding the post long enough to insure the safety of his overpowered and retreating countrymen. At the capture of the Hessians at Trenton he led the van of Sullivan's division, and at Bennington he struck the decisive blow that paralyzed Burgoyne and made his surrender inevitable.

Skilful and brave as were the Rangers, they were not always successful.

The French partisans, under good leaders, with their wily and formidable Indian allies, well versed in forest strategy, on one occasion inflicted dire disaster upon them.

Near Fort Ticonderoga, in the winter of 1757, Rogers with 180 men attacked and dispersed a party of Indians, inflicting upon them a severe loss. This, however, was but a small part of the force which, under De la Durantaye and De Langry, French officers of reputation, were fully prepared to meet the Rangers, of whose movements they had been thoroughly informed beforehand. The party Rogers had dispersed was simply a decoy.

The Rangers had thrown down their packs, and were scattered in pursuit of the flying savages, when they suddenly found themselves confronted with the main body of the enemy, by whom they were largely outnumbered and of whose presence they were wholly unsuspicious. Nearly fifty of the Rangers fell at the first onslaught; the remainder retreated to a position in which they could make a stand. Here, under such cover as the trees and rocks afforded, they fought with their accustomed valor, and more than once drove back their numerous foes. Repeated attacks were made upon them both in front and on either flank, the enemy rallying after each repulse, and manifesting a courage and determination equal to those of the Rangers. So close was the conflict that the opposing parties were often intermingled, and in general were not more than twenty yards asunder. The fight was a series of duels, each combatant singling out a particular foe--a common practice in Indian fighting.

This unequal contest had continued an hour and a half, and the Rangers had lost more than half their number. After doing all that brave men could do, the remainder retreated in the best manner possible, each for himself. Several who were wounded or fatigued were taken by the pursuing savages. A singular circ.u.mstance about this battle was that it was fought by both sides upon snow-shoes.

Rogers, closely pursued, made his escape by outwitting the Indians who pressed upon him--such at least is the tradition. The precipitous cliffs near the northern end of Lake George, since called Rogers' Rock, has on one side a sharp and steep descent hundreds of feet to the lake. Gaining this point, Rogers threw his rifle and other equipments down the rocks.

Then, unbuckling the straps of his snow-shoes, and turning round, he replaced them, the toes still pointing towards the lake. This was the work of a moment. He then walked back in his tracks from the edge of the cliff into the woods and disappeared just as the Indians, sure of their prey, reached the spot. To their amazement, they saw two tracks towards the cliff, none from it, and concluded that two Englishmen had thrown themselves down the precipice, preferring to be dashed to pieces rather than be captured. Soon a rapidly receding figure on the ice below attracted their notice, and the baffled savages, seeing that the redoubtable Ranger had safely effected the perilous descent, gave up the chase, fully believing him to be under the protection of the Great Spirit.

By a wonderful exercise of his athletic powers, Rogers, availing himself of the projecting branches of the trees which lined the rocky ravines in his course, had succeeded in swinging himself from the top to the bottom of this precipitous cliff. It was a fortunate escape for him, for if captured he would surely have been burned alive.

In this unfortunate affair the Rangers had eight officers and one hundred men killed. Their losses, however, were soon repaired, and they continued to render efficient service until the close of the war.



How Detroit was Saved in 1763

The long contest between England and France for the right to rule over North America, which lasted seventy years, and inflicted untold misery upon the hapless settlers on the English frontier, was at last brought to an end. England was victorious, and in 1763 a treaty was made by which France gave up Canada and all her Western posts.

With the exception of the Six Nations, the Indian tribes had fought on the side of the French, whose kind and generous course had won their affection. But the claims to the country which they and their forefathers had always possessed were utterly disregarded by both parties. Said an old chief on one occasion:

"The French claim all the land on one side of the Ohio, and the English claim all the land on the other side. Where, then, are the lands of the Indian?"

The final overthrow of the French left the Indians to contend alone with the English, who were steadily pushing them towards the setting sun.

Seeing this, and wishing to rid his country of the hated pale-faces, who had driven the red men from their homes, Pontiac, the great leader of the Ottawas, determined--to use his own words--"to drive the dogs in red clothing" (the English soldiers) "into the sea."

This renowned warrior, who had led the Ottawas at the defeat of General Braddock, was courageous, intelligent, and eloquent, and was unmatched for craftiness. Besides the kindred tribes of Ojibways, or Chippewas, and Pottawattomies, whose villages were with his own in the immediate vicinity of Detroit, a number of other warlike tribes agreed to join in the plot to overthrow the English. Pontiac refused to believe that the French had given up the contest, and relied upon their a.s.sistance also for the success of his plan.

All the English forts and garrisons beyond the Alleghanies were to be destroyed on a given day, and the defenceless frontier settlements were also to be swept away.

The capture of Detroit was to be the task of Pontiac himself. This terrible plot came very near succeeding. Nine of the twelve military posts on the exposed frontier were taken, and most of their defenders slaughtered, and the outlying settlements of Pennsylvania and Virginia were mercilessly destroyed.

On the evening of May 6, 1763, Major Gladwin, the commander at Detroit, received secret information that an attempt would be made next day to capture the fort by treachery. The garrison was weak, the defences feeble. Fearing an immediate attack, the sentinels were doubled, and an anxious watch was kept by Gladwin all that night.

The next morning Pontiac entered the fort with sixty chosen warriors, each of whom had concealed beneath his blanket a gun, the barrel of which had been cut short. His plan was to demand that a council be held, and after delivering his speech to offer a peace belt of wampum. This belt was worked on one side with white and on the other side with green beads. The reversal of the belt from the white to the green side was to be the signal of attack. The plot was well laid, and would probably have succeeded had it not been revealed to Gladwin.

The savage throng, plumed and feathered and besmeared with paint to make themselves appear as hideous as possible, as their custom is in time of war, had no sooner pa.s.sed the gateway than they saw that their plan had failed. Soldiers and employes were all armed and ready for action.

Pontiac and his warriors, however, moved on, betraying no surprise, and entered the council-room, where Gladwin and his officers, all well armed, awaited them.

"Why," asked Pontiac, "do I see so many of my father's young men standing in the street with their guns?"

"To keep the young men to their duty, and prevent idleness," was the reply.

The business of the council then began. Pontiac's speech was bold and threatening. As the critical moment approached, and just as he was on the point of presenting the belt, and all was breathless expectation, Gladwin gave a signal. The drums at the door of the council suddenly rolled the charge, the clash of arms was heard, and the officers present drew their swords from their scabbards. Pontiac was brave, but this decisive proof that his plot was discovered completely disconcerted him.

He delivered the belt in the usual manner, and without giving the expected signal.

Stepping forward, Gladwin then drew the chief's blanket aside, and disclosed the proof of his treachery. The council then broke up. The gates of the fort were again thrown open, and the baffled savages were permitted to depart.

Stratagem having failed, an open attack soon followed, but with no better success. For months Pontiac tried every method in his power to capture the fort, but as the hunting-season approached, the disheartened Indians gradually went away, and he was compelled to give up the attempt.

In the campaign that followed, two armies were marched from different points into the heart of the Indian country. Colonel Bradstreet, on the north, pa.s.sed up the lakes, and penetrated the region beyond Detroit, while on the south Colonel Bouquet advanced from Fort Pitt into the Delaware and Shawnee settlements of the Ohio Valley. The Indians were completely overawed. Bouquet compelled them to sue for peace, and to restore all the captives that had been taken from time to time during their wars with the whites.

The return of these captives, many of whom were supposed to be dead, and the reunion of husbands and wives, parents and children, and brothers and sisters, presented a scene of thrilling interest. Some were overjoyed at regaining their lost ones; others were heartbroken on learning the sad fate of those dear to them. What a pang pierced that mother's breast who recognized her child only to find it clinging the more closely to its Indian mother, her own claims wholly forgotten!

Some of the children had lost all recollection of their former home, and screamed and resisted when handed over to their relatives. Some of the young women had married Indian husbands, and, with their children, were unwilling to return to the settlements. Indeed, several of them had become so strongly attached to their Indian homes and mode of life that after returning to their homes they made their escape and returned to their husbands' wigwams.

Even the Indians, who are educated to repress all outward signs of emotion, could not wholly conceal their sorrow at parting with their adopted relatives and friends. Cruel as the Indian is in his warfare, to his captives who have been adopted into his tribe he is uniformly kind, making no distinction between them and those of his own race. To those now restored they offered furs and choice articles of food, and even begged leave to follow the army home, that they might hunt for the captives, and supply them with better food than that furnished to the soldiers. Indian women filled the camp with their wailing and lamentation both night and day.

One old woman sought her daughter, who had been carried off nine years before. She discovered her, but the girl, who had almost forgotten her native tongue, did not recognize her, and the mother bitterly complained that the child she had so often sung to sleep had forgotten her in her old age. Bouquet, whose humane instincts had been deeply touched by this scene, suggested an experiment. "Sing the song you used to sing to her when a child," said he. The mother sang. The girl's attention was instantly fixed. A flood of tears proclaimed the awakened memories, and the long-lost child was restored to the mother's arms.