The Scouts of the Valley by Joseph A. Altsheler
Chapter VIII. A Change of Tenants
The five were engaged upon one of their most dangerous tasks, to keep with the Indian army, and yet to keep out of its hands, to observe what was going on, and to divine what was intended from what they observed. Fortunately it, was early summer, and the weather being very beautiful they could sleep without shelter. Hence they found it convenient to sleep sometimes by daylight, posting a watch always, and to spy upon the Indian camp at night. They saw other reinforcements come for the Indian army, particularly a strong division of Senecas, under two great war chiefs of theirs, Sangerachte and Hiokatoo, and also a body of Tories.
Then they saw them go into their last great camp at Tioga, preparatory to their swift descent upon the Wyoming Valley. About four hundred white men, English Canadians and Tories, were present, and eight hundred picked warriors of the Six Nations under Thayendanegea, besides the little band of Wyandots led by the resolute Timmendiquas. "Indian" Butler was in general command of the whole, and Queen Esther was the high priestess of the Indians, continually making fiery speeches and chanting songs that made the warriors see red. Upon the rear of this extraordinary army hung a band of fierce old squaws, from whom every remnant of mercy and Gentleness had departed.
From a high rock overlooking a valley the five saw "Indian" Butler's force start for its final march upon Wyoming. It was composed of many diverse elements, and perhaps none more bloodthirsty ever trod the soil of America. In some preliminary skirmish a son of Queen Esther had been slain, and now her fury knew no limits. She took her place at the very head of the army, whirling her great tomahawk about her head, and neither "Indian" Butler nor Thayendanegea dared to interfere with her in anything great or small.
Henry and his comrades, as they left their rock and hastened toward the valley of Wyoming, felt that now they were coming into contact with the great war itself. They had looked upon a uniformed enemy for the first time, and they might soon see the colonial buff and blue of the eastern army. Their hearts thrilled high at new scenes and new dangers.
They had gathered at Pittsburgh, and, through the captivity of the four in the Iroquois camp, they had some general idea of the Wyoming Valley and the direction in which it lay, and, taking one last look at the savage army, they sped toward it. The time was the close, of June, and the foliage was still dark green. It was a land of low mountain, hill, rich valley, and clear stream, and it was beautiful to every one of the five. Much of their course lay along the Susquehanna, and soon they saw signs of a more extended cultivation than any that was yet to be witnessed in Kentucky. From the brow of a little hill they beheld a field of green, and in another field a man plowing.
"That's wheat," said Tom Ross.
"But we can't leave the man to plow," said Henry, "or he'll never harvest that wheat. We'll warn him."
The man uttered a cry of alarm as five wild figures burst into his field. He stopped abruptly, and snatched up a rifle that lay across the plow handles. Neither Henry nor his companions realized that their forest garb and long life in the wilderness made them look more like Indians than white men. But Henry threw up a hand as a sign of peace.
"We're white like yourselves," he cried, "and we've come to warn you! The Iroquois and the Tories are marching into the valley!"
The man's face blanched, and he cast a hasty look toward a little wood, where stood a cabin from which smoke was rising. He could not doubt on a near view that these were white like himself, and the words rang true.
"My house is strong," he said, "and I can beat them off. Maybe you will help me."
"We'd help you willingly enough," said Henry, "if this were any ordinary raiding band, but 'Indian' Butler, Brant, and Queen Esther are coming at the head of twelve or fifteen hundred men. How could we hold a house, no matter how thick its walls, against such an army as that? Don't hesitate a moment! Get up what you can and gallop."
The man, a Connecticut settler-Jennings was his name-left his plow in the furrow, galloped on his horse to his house, mounted his wife and children on other horses, and, taking only food and clothing, fled to Stroudsburg, where there was a strong fort. At a later day he gave Henry heartfelt thanks for his warning, as six hours afterward the vanguard of the horde burned his home and raged because its owner and his family were gone with their scalps on their own heads.
The five were now well into the Wyoming Valley, where the Lenni-Lenape, until they were pushed westward by other tribes, had had their village Wy-wa-mieh, which means in their language Wyoming. It was a beautiful valley running twenty miles or more along the Susquehanna, and about three miles broad. On either side rose mountain walls a thousand feet in height, and further away were peaks with mists and vapors around their crests. The valley itself blazed in the summer sunshine, and the river sparkled, now in gold, now in silver, as the light changed and fell.
More cultivated fields, more houses, generally of stout logs, appeared, and to all that they saw the five bore the fiery beacon. Simon Jennings was not the only man who lived to thank them for the warning. Others were incredulous, and soon paid the terrible price of unbelief.
The five hastened on, and as they went they looked about them with wondering eyes-there were so many houses, so many cultivated fields, and so many signs of a numerous population. They had emerged almost for the first time from the wilderness, excepting their memorable visit to New Orleans, although this was a very different region. Long Jim spoke of it.
"I think I like it better here than at New Or-leeyuns," he said. "We found some nice Frenchmen an' Spaniards down thar, but the ground feels firmer under my feet here."
"The ground feels firmer," said Paul, who had some of the prescience of the seer, "but the skies are no brighter. They look red to me sometimes, Jim."
Tom Ross glanced at Paul and shook his head ominously. A woodsman, he had his superstitions, and Paul's words weighed upon his mind. He began to fear a great disaster, and his experienced eye perceived at once the defenseless state of the valley. He remembered the council of the great Indian force in the deep woods, and the terrible face of Queen Esther was again before him.
"These people ought to be in blockhouses, every one uv 'em," he said. "It ain't no time to be plowin' land."
Yet peace seemed to brood still over the valley. It was a fine river, beautiful with changing colors. The soil on either side was as deep and fertile as that of Kentucky, and the line of the mountains cut the sky sharp and clear. Hills and slopes were dark green with foliage.
It must have been a gran' huntin' ground once," said Shif'less Sol.
The alarm that the five gave spread fast, and other hunters and scouts came in, confirming it. Panic seized the settlers, and they began to crowd toward Forty Fort on the west side of the river. Henry and his comrades themselves arrived there toward the close of evening, just as the sun had set, blood red, behind the mountains. Some report of them had preceded their coming, and as soon as they had eaten they were summoned to the presence of Colonel Zebulon Butler, who commanded the military force in the valley. Singularly enough, he was a cousin of "Indian" Butler, who led the invading army.
The five, dressed in deerskin hunting shirts, leggins, and moccasins, and everyone carrying a rifle, hatchet, and knife, entered a large low room, dimly lighted by some wicks burning in tallow. A man of middle years, with a keen New England face, sat at a little table, and several others of varying ages stood near.
The five knew instinctively that the man at the table was Colonel Butler, and they bowed, but they did not show the faintest trace of subservience. They had caught suspicious glances from some of the officers who stood about the commander, and they stiffened at once. Colonel Butler looked involuntarily at Henry-everybody always took him, without the telling, for leader of the group.
"We have had report of you," he said in cool noncommittal tones," and you have been telling of great Indian councils that you have seen in the woods. May I ask your name and where you belong?"
"My name," replied Henry with dignity, "is Henry Ware, and I come from Kentucky. My friends here are Paul Cotter, Solomon Hyde, Tom Ross, and Jim Hart. They, too, come from Kentucky."
Several of the men gave the five suspicious glances. Certainly they were wild enough in appearance, and Kentucky was far away. It would seem strange that new settlers in that far land should be here in Pennsylvania. Henry saw clearly that his story was doubted.
"Kentucky, you tell me?" said Colonel Butler. "Do you mean to say you have come all that tremendous distance to warn us of an attack by Indians and Tories?"
Several of the others murmured approval, and Henry flushed a little, but he saw that the commander was not unreasonable. It was a time when men might well question the words of strangers. Remembering this, he replied:
"No, we did not come from Kentucky just to warn you. In fact, we came from a point much farther than that. We came from New Orleans to Pittsburgh with a fleet loaded with supplies for the Continental armies, and commanded by Adam Colfax of New Hampshire."
The face of Colonel Butler brightened.
"What!" he exclaimed, "you were on that expedition? It seems to me that I recall hearing of great services rendered to it by some independent scouts."
"When we reached Pittsburgh," continued Henry, ""it was our first intention to go back to Kentucky, but we heard that a great war movement was in progress to the eastward, and we thought that we would see what was going on. Four of us have been captives among the Iroquois. We know much of their plans, and we know, too, that Timmendiquas, the great chief of the Wyandots, whom we fought along the Ohio, has joined them with a hand of his best warriors. We have also seen Thayendanegea, every one of us."
"You have seen Brant?" exclaimed Colonel Butler, calling the great Mohawk by his white name.
"Yes," replied Henry. "We have seen him, and we have also seen the woman they call Queen Esther. She is continually urging the Indians on."
Colonel Butler seemed convinced, and invited them to sit down. He also introduced the officers who were with him, Colonel John Durkee, Colonel Nathan Dennison, Lieutenant Colonel George Dorrance, Major John Garrett, Captain Samuel Ransom, Captain Dethrie Hewitt, and some others.
"Now, gentlemen, tell us all that you saw," continued Colonel Butler courteously." You will pardon so many questions, but we must be careful. You will see that yourselves. But I am a New England man myself, from Connecticut, and I have met Adam Colfax. I recall now that we have heard of you, also, and we are grateful for your coming. Will you and your comrades tell us all that you have seen and heard?"
The five felt a decided change in the atmosphere. They were no longer possible Tories or renegades, bringing an alarm at one point when it should be dreaded at another. The men drew closely around them, and listened as the tallow wicks sputtered in the dim room. Henry spoke first, and the others in their turn. Every one of them spoke tersely but vividly in the language of the forest. They felt deeply what they had seen, and they drew the same picture for their listeners. Gradually the faces of the Wyoming men became shadowed. This was a formidable tale that they were hearing, and they could not doubt its truth.
"It is worse than I thought it could be," said Colonel Butler at last." How many men do you say they have, Mr. Ware?"
"Close to fifteen hundred."
"All trained warriors and soldiers. And at the best we cannot raise more than three hundreds including old men and boys, and our men, too, are farmers."
"But we can beat them. Only give us a chance, Colonel!" exclaimed Captain Ransom.
"I'm afraid the chance will come too soon," said Colonel Butler, and then turning to the five: "Help us all you can. We need scouts and riflemen. Come to the fort for any food and ammunition you may need."
The five gave their most earnest assurances that they would stay, and do all in their power. In fact, they had come for that very purpose. Satisfied now that Colonel Butler and his officers had implicit faith in them they went forth to find that, despite the night and the darkness, fugitives were already crossing the river to seek refuge in Forty Fort, bringing with them tales of death and devastation, some of which were exaggerated, but too many true in all their hideous details. Men had been shot and scalped in the fields, houses were burning, women and children were captives for a fate that no one could foretell. Red ruin was already stalking down the valley.
The farmers were bringing their wives and children in canoes and dugouts across the river. Here and there a torch light flickered on the surface of the stream, showing the pale faces of the women and children, too frightened to cry. They had fled in haste, bringing with them only the clothes they wore and maybe a blanket or two. The borderers knew too well what Indian war was, with all its accompaniments of fire and the stake.
Henry and his comrades helped nearly all that night. They secured a large boat and crossed the river again and again, guarding the fugitives with their rifles, and bringing comfort to many a timid heart. Indian bands had penetrated far into the Wyoming Valley, but they felt sure that none were yet in the neighborhood of Forty Fort.
It was about three o'clock in the morning when the last of the fugitives who had yet come was inside Forty Fort, and the labors of the five, had they so chosen, were over for the time. But their nerves were tuned to so high a pitch, and they felt so powerfully the presence of danger, that they could not rest, nor did they have any desire for sleep.
The boat in which they sat was a good one, with two pairs of oars. It had been detailed for their service, and they decided to pull up the river. They thought it possible that they might see the advance of the enemy and bring news worth the telling. Long Jim and Tom Ross took the oars, and their powerful arms sent the boat swiftly along in the shadow of the western bank. Henry and Paul looked back and saw dim lights at the fort and a few on either shore. The valley, the high mountain wall, and everything else were merged in obscurity.
Both the youths were oppressed heavily by the sense of danger, not for themselves, but for others. In that Kentucky of theirs, yet so new, few people lived beyond the palisades, but here were rich and scattered settlements; and men, even in the face of great peril, are always loth to abandon the homes that they have built with so much toil.
Tom Ross and Long Jim continued to pull steadily with the long strokes that did not tire them, and the lights of the fort and houses sank out of sight. Before them lay the somber surface of the rippling river, the shadowy hills, and silence. The world seemed given over to the night save for themselves, but they knew too well to trust to such apparent desertion. At such hours the Indian scouts come, and Henry did not doubt that they were already near, gathering news of their victims for the Indian and Tory horde. Therefore, it was the part of his comrades and himself to use the utmost caution as they passed up the river.
They bugged the western shore, where they were shadowed by banks and bushes, and now they went slowly, Long Jim and Tom Ross drawing their oars so carefully through the water that there was never a plash to tell of their passing. Henry was in the prow of the boat, bent forward a little, eyes searching the surface of the river, and ears intent upon any sound that might pass on the bank. Suddenly he gave a little signal to the rowers and they let their oars rest.
"Bring the boat in closer to the bank," he whispered. Push it gently among those bushes where we cannot be seen from above."
Tom and Jim obeyed. The boat slid softly among tall bushes that shadowed the water, and was hidden completely. Then Henry stepped out, crept cautiously nearly up the bank, which was here very low, and lay pressed closely against the earth, but supported by the exposed root of a tree. He had heard voices, those of Indians, he believed, and he wished to see. Peering through a fringe of bushes that lined the bank he saw seven warriors and one white face sitting under the boughs of a great oak. The face was that of Braxton Wyatt, who was now in his element, with a better prospect of success than any that he had ever known before. Henry shuddered, and for a moment he regretted that he had spared Wyatt's life when he might have taken it.
But Henry was lying against the bank to hear what these men might be saying, not to slay. Two of the warriors, as he saw by their paint, were Wyandots, and he understood the Wyandot tongue. Moreover, his slight knowledge of Iroquois came into service, and gradually he gathered the drift of their talk. Two miles nearer Forty Fort was a farmhouse one of the Wyandots had seen it-not yet abandoned by its owner, who believed that his proximity to Forty Fort assured his safety. He lived there with his wife and five children, and Wyatt and the Indians planned to raid the place before daylight and kill them all. Henry had heard enough. He slid back from the bank to the water and crept into the boat.
"Pull back down the river as gently as you can," he whispered, "and then I'll tell you."
The skilled oarsmen carried the boat without a splash several hundred yards down the stream, and then Henry told the others of the fiendish plan that he had heard.
"I know that man," said Shif'less Sol. "His name is Standish. I was there nine or ten hours ago, an' I told him it wuz time to take his family an' run. But he knowed more'n I did. Said he'd stay, he wuzn't afraid, an' now he's got to pay the price."
"No, he mustn't do that," said Henry. "It's too much to pay for just being foolish, when everybody is foolish sometimes. Boys, we can yet save that man an' his wife and children. Aren't you willing to do it?"
"Why, course," said Long Jim. "Like ez not Standish will shoot at us when we knock on his door, but let's try it."
The others nodded assent.
"How far back from the river is the Standish house, Sol?" asked Henry.
"'Bout three hundred yards, I reckon, and' it ain't more'n a mile down."
"Then if we pull with all our might, we won't be too late. Tom, you and Jim give Sol and me the oars now."
Henry and the shiftless one were fresh, and they sent the boat shooting down stream, until they stopped at a point indicated by Sol. They leaped ashore, drew the boat down the bank, and hastened toward a log house that they saw standing in a clump of trees. The enemy had not yet come, but as they swiftly approached the house a dog ran barking at them. The shiftless one swung his rifle butt, and the dog fell unconscious.
"I hated to do it, but I had to," he murmured. The next moment Henry was knocking at the door.
"Up! Up!" he cried, "the Indians are at hand, and you must run for your lives!"
How many a time has that terrible cry been heard on the American border!
The sound of a man's voice, startled and angry, came to their ears, and then they heard him at the door.
"Who are you?" he cried. "Why are you beating on my door at such a time?"
"We are friends, Mr. Standish," cried Henry, "and if you would save your wife and children you must go at once! Open the door! Open, I say!"
The man inside was in a terrible quandary. It was thus that renegades or Indians, speaking the white man's tongue, sometimes bade a door to be opened, in order that they might find an easy path to slaughter. But the voice outside was powerfully insistent, it had the note of truth; his wife and children, roused, too, were crying out, in alarm. Henry knocked again on the door and shouted to him in a voice, always increasing in earnestness, to open and flee. Standish could resist no longer. He took down the bar and flung open the door, springing back, startled at the five figures that stood before him. In the dusk he did not remember Shif'less Sol.
"Mr. Standish," Henry said, speaking rapidly, "we are, as you can see, white. You will be attacked here by Indians and renegades within half an hour. We know that, because we heard them talking from the bushes. We have a boat in the river; you can reach it in five minutes. Take your wife and children, and pull for Forty Fort."
Standish was bewildered.
"How do I know that you are not enemies, renegades, yourselves?" he asked.
"If we had been that you'd be a dead man already," said Shif'less Sol.
It was a grim reply, but it was unanswerable, and Standish recognized the fact. His wife had felt the truth in the tones of the strangers, and was begging him to go. Their children were crying at visions of the tomahawk and scalping knife now so near.
"We'll go," said Standish. "At any rate, it can't do any harm. We'll get a few things together."
"Do not wait for anything! "exclaimed Henry. "You haven't a minute to spare! Here are more blankets! Take them and run for the boat! Sol and Jim, see them on board, and then come back!"
Carried away by such fire and earnestness, Standish and his family ran for the boat. Jim and the shiftless one almost threw them on board, thrust a pair of oars into the bands of Standish, another into the hands of his wife, and then told them to pull with all their might for the fort.
"And you," cried Standish, "what becomes of you?"
Then a singular expression passed over his face-he had guessed Henry's plan.
"Don't you trouble about us," said the shiftless one. "We will come later. Now pull! pull!"
Standish and his wife swung on the oars, and in two minutes the boat and its occupants were lost in the darkness. Tom Ross and Sol did not pause to watch them, but ran swiftly back to the house. Henry was at the door.
"Come in," he said briefly, and they entered. Then he closed the door and dropped the bar into place. Shif'less Sol and Paul were already inside, one sitting on the chair and the other on the edge of the bed. Some coals, almost hidden under ashes, smoldered and cast a faint light in the room, the only one that the house had, although it was divided into two parts by a rough homespun curtain. Henry opened one of the window shutters a little and looked out. The dawn had not yet come, but it was not a dark night, and he looked over across the little clearing to the trees beyond. On that side was a tiny garden, and near the wall of the house some roses were blooming. He could see the glow of pink and red. But no enemy bad yet approached. Searching the clearing carefully with those eyes of his, almost preternaturally keen, he was confident that the Indians were still in the woods. He felt an intense thrill of satisfaction at the success of his plan so far.
He was not cruel, he never rejoiced in bloodshed, but the borderer alone knew what the border suffered, and only those who never saw or felt the torture could turn the other cheek to be smitten. The Standish house had made a sudden and ominous change of tenants.
"It will soon be day," said Henry, "and farmers are early risers. Kindle up that fire a little, will you, Sol? I want some smoke to come out of the chimney."
The shiftless one raked away the ashes, and put on two or three pieces of wood that lay on the hearth. Little flames and smoke arose. Henry looked curiously about the house. It was the usual cabin of the frontier, although somewhat larger. The bed on which Shif'less Sol sat was evidently that of the father and mother, while two large ones behind the curtain were used by the children. On the shelf stood a pail half full of drinking water, and by the side of it a tin cup. Dried herbs hung over the fireplace, and two or three chests stood in the corners. The clothing of the children was scattered about. Unprepared food for breakfast stood on a table. Everything told of a hasty flight and its terrible need. Henry was already resolved, but his heart hardened within him as he saw.
He took the hatchet from his belt and cut one of the hooks for the door bar nearly in two. The others said not a word. They had no need to speak. They understood everything that he did. He opened the window again and looked out. Nothing yet appeared. "The dawn will come in three quarters of an hour," he said, "and we shall not have to wait long for what we want to do."
He sat down facing the door. All the others were sitting, and they, too, faced the door. Everyone had his rifle across his knees, with one hand upon the hammer. The wood on the hearth sputtered as the fire spread, and the flames grew. Beyond a doubt a thin spire of smoke was rising from the chimney, and a watching eye would see this sign of a peaceful and unsuspecting mind.
"I hope Braxton Wyatt will be the first to knock at our door," said Shif'less Sol.
"I wouldn't be sorry," said Henry.
Paul was sitting in a chair near the fire, and he said nothing. He hoped the waiting would be very short. The light was sufficient for him to see the faces of his comrades, and he noticed that they were all very tense. This was no common watch that they kept. Shif'less Sol remained on the bed, Henry sat on another of the chairs, Tom Ross was on one of the chests with his back to the wall. Long Jim was near the curtain. Close by Paul was a home-made cradle. He put down his hand and touched it. He was glad that it was empty now, but the sight of it steeled his heart anew for the task that lay before them.
Ten silent minutes passed, and Henry went to the window again. He did not open it, but there was a crack through which he could see. The others said nothing, but watched his face. When he turned away they knew that the moment was at hand.
"They've just come from the woods," he said, "and in a minute they'll be at the door. Now, boys, take one last look at your rifles."
A minute later there was a sudden sharp knock at the door, but no answer came from within. The knock was repeated, sharper and louder, and Henry, altering his voice as much as possible, exclaimed like one suddenly awakened from sleep:
"Who is it? What do you want?"
Back came a voice which Henry knew to be that of Braxton Wyatt:
"We've come from farther up the valley. We're scouts, we've been up to the Indian country. We're half starved. Open and give us food!"
"I don't believe you," replied Henry. "Honest people don't come to my door at this time in the morning."
Then ensued a few moments of silence, although Paul, with his vivid fancy, thought he heard whispering on the other side of the door.
"Open!" cried Wyatt, "or we'll break your door down!" Henry said nothing, nor did any of the others. They did not stir. The fire crackled a little, but there was no other sound in the Standish house. Presently they heard a slight noise outside, that of light feet.
"They are going for a log with which to break the door in," whispered Henry. "They won't have to look far. The wood pile isn't fifty feet away."
"An' then," said Shif'less Sol, "they won't have much left to do but to take the scalps of women an' little children."
Every figure in the Standish house stiffened at the shiftless one's significant words, and the light in the eyes grew sterner. Henry went to the door, put his ear to the line where it joined the wall, and listened.
"They've got their log," he said, "and in half a minute they'll rush it against the door."
He came back to his old position. Paul's heart began to thump, and his thumb fitted itself over the trigger of his cocked rifle. Then they heard rapid feet, a smash, a crash, and the door flew open. A half dozen Iroquois and a log that they held between them were hurled into the middle of the room. The door had given away so easily and unexpectedly that the warriors could not check themselves, and two or three fell with the log. But they sprang like cats to their feet, and with their comrades uttered a cry that filled the whole cabin with its terrible sound and import.
The Iroquois, keen of eyes and quick of mind, saw the trap at once. The five grim figures, rifle in hand and finger on trigger, all waiting silent and motionless were far different from what they expected. Here could be no scalps, with the long, silky hair of women and children.
There was a moment's pause, and then the Indians rushed at their foes. Five fingers pulled triggers, flame leaped from five muzzles, and in an instant the cabin was filled with smoke and war shouts, but the warriors never had a chance. They could only strike blindly with their tomahawks, and in a half minute three of them, two wounded, rushed through the door and fled to the woods. They had been preceded already by Braxton Wyatt, who had hung back craftily while the Iroquois broke down the door.