The Scouts of the Valley by Joseph A. Altsheler
Chapter IX. Wyoming
The five made no attempt to pursue. In fact, they did not leave the cabin, but stood there a while, looking down at the fallen, hideous with war paint, but now at the end of their last trail. Their tomahawks lay upon the floor, and glittered when the light from the fire fell upon them. Smoke, heavy with the odor of burned gunpowder, drifted about the room.
Henry threw open the two shuttered windows, and fresh currents of air poured into the room. Over the mountains in the east came the first shaft of day. The surface of the river was lightening.
"What shall we do with them?" asked Paul, pointing to the silent forms on the floor.
"Leave them," said Henry. "Butler's army is burning everything before it, and this house and all in it is bound to go. You notice, however, that Braxton Wyatt is not here."
"Trust him to escape every time," said Shif'less Sol. "Of course he stood back while the Indians rushed the house. But ez shore ez we live somebody will get him some day. People like that can't escape always."
They slipped from the house, turning toward the river bank, and not long after it was full daylight they were at Forty Fort again, where they found Standish and his family. Henry replied briefly to the man's questions, but two hours later a scout came in and reported the grim sight that he had seen in the Standish home. No one could ask for further proof of the fealty of the five, who sought a little sleep, but before noon were off again.
They met more fugitives, and it was now too dangerous to go farther up the valley. But not willing to turn back, they ascended the mountains that hem it in, and from the loftiest point that they could find sought a sight of the enemy.
It was an absolutely brilliant day in summer. The blue of the heavens showed no break but the shifting bits of white cloud, and the hills and mountains rolled away, solid masses of rich, dark green. The river, a beautiful river at any time, seemed from this height a great current of quicksilver. Henry pointed to a place far up the stream where black dots appeared on its surface. These dots were moving, and they came on in four lines.
"Boys," he said, "you know what those lines of black dots are?"
"Yes," replied Shif'less Sol, "it's Butler's army of Indians, Tories, Canadians, an' English. They've come from Tioga Point on the river, an' our Colonel Butler kin expect 'em soon."
The sunlight became dazzling, and showed the boats, despite the distance, with startling clearness. The five, watching from their peak, saw them turn in toward the land, where they poured forth a motley stream of red men and white, a stream that was quickly swallowed up in the forest.
"They are coming down through the woods on the fort, said Tom Ross.
"And they're coming fast," said Henry. "It's for us to carry the warning."
They sped back to the Wyoming fort, spreading the alarm as they passed, and once more they were in the council room with Colonel Zebulon Butler and his officers around him.
"So they are at hand, and you have seen them?" said the colonel.
"Yes," replied Henry, the spokesman, "they came down from Tioga Point in boats, but have disembarked and are advancing through the woods. They will be here today."
There was a little silence in the room. The older men understood the danger perhaps better than the younger, who were eager for battle.
"Why should we stay here and wait for them?" exclaimed one of the younger captains at length-some of these captains were mere boys. "Why not go out, meet them, and beat them ?"
"They outnumber us about five to one," said Henry. "Brant, if he is still with them, though be may have gone to some other place from Tioga Point, is a great captain. So is Timmendiquas, the Wyandot, and they say that the Tory leader is energetic and capable."
"It is all true!" exclaimed Colonel Butler. "We must stay in the fort! We must not go out to meet them! We are not strong enough!"
A murmur of protest and indignation came from the younger officers.
"And leave the valley to be ravaged! Women and children to be scalped, while we stay behind log walls!" said one of them boldly.
The men in the Wyoming fort were not regular troops, merely militia, farmers gathered hastily for their own defense.
Colonel Butler flushed.
"We have induced as many as we could to seek refuge," he said. "It hurts me as much as you to have the valley ravaged while we sit quiet here. But I know that we have no chance against so large a force, and if we fall what is to become of the hundreds whom we now protect?"
But the murmur of protest grew. All the younger men were indignant. They would not seek shelter for themselves while others were suffering. A young lieutenant saw from a window two fires spring up and burn like torch lights against the sky. They were houses blazing before the Indian brand.
"Look at that!," he cried, pointing with an accusing finger, "and we are here, under cover, doing nothing!"
A deep angry mutter went about the room, but Colonel Butler, although the flush remained on his face, still shook his head. He glanced at Tom Ross, the oldest of the five.
"You know about the Indian force," he exclaimed. What should we do?"
The face of Tom Ross was very grave, and he spoke slowly, as was his wont.
"It's a hard thing to set here," he exclaimed, "but it will be harder to go out an' meet 'em on their own ground, an' them four or five to one."
"We must not go out," repeated the Colonel, glad of such backing.
The door was thrust open, and an officer entered.
"A rumor has just arrived, saying that the entire Davidson family has been killed and scalped," he said.
A deep, angry cry went up. Colonel Butler and the few who stood with him were overborne. Such things as these could not be endured, and reluctantly the commander gave his consent. They would go out and fight. The fort and its enclosures were soon filled with the sounds of preparation, and the little army was formed rapidly.
"We will fight by your side, of course," said Henry, "but we wish to serve on the flank as an independent band. We can be of more service in that manner."
The colonel thanked them gratefully.
"Act as you think best," he said.
The five stood near one of the gates, while the little force formed in ranks. Almost for the first time they were gloomy upon going into battle. They had seen the strength of that army of Indians, renegades, Tories, Canadians, and English advancing under the banner of England, and they knew the power and fanaticism of the Indian leaders. They believed that the terrible Queen Esther, tomahawk in hand, had continually chanted to them her songs of blood as they came down the river. It was now the third of July, and valley and river were beautiful in the golden sunlight. The foliage showed vivid and deep green on either line of high hills. The summer sun had never shown more kindly over the lovely valley.
The time was now three o'clock. The gates of the fort were thrown open, and the little army marched out, only three hundred, of whom seventy were old men, or boys so young that in our day they would be called children. Yet they marched bravely against the picked warriors of the Iroquois, trained from infancy to the forest and war, and a formidable body of white rovers who wished to destroy the little colony of "rebels," as they called them.
Small though it might be, it was a gallant army. Young and old held their heads high. A banner was flying, and a boy beat a steady insistent roll upon a drum. Henry and his comrades were on the left flank, the river was on the right. The great gates had closed behind them, shutting in the women and the children. The sun blazed down, throwing everything into relief with its intense, vivid light playing upon the brown faces of the borderers, their rifles and their homespun clothes. Colonel Butler and two or three of his officers were on horseback, leading the van. Now that the decision was to fight, the older officers, who had opposed it, were in the very front. Forward they went, and spread out a little, but with the right flank still resting on the river, and the left extended on the plain.
The five were on the edge of the plain, a little detached from the others, searching the forest for a sign of the enemy, who was already so near. Their gloom did not decrease. Neither the rolling of the drum nor the flaunting of the banner had any effect. Brave though the men might be, this was not the way in which they should meet an Indian foe who outnumbered them four or five to one.
"I don't like it," muttered Tom Ross.
"Nor ' do I," said Henry, "but remember that whatever happens we all stand together."
"We remember!" said the others.
On-they went, and the five moving faster were now ahead of the main force some hundred yards. They swung in a little toward the river. The banks here were highland off to the left was a large swamp. The five now checked speed and moved with great wariness. They saw nothing, and they heard nothing, either, until they went forty or fifty yards farther. Then a low droning sound came to their ears. It was the voice of one yet far away, but they knew it. It was the terrible chant of Queen Esther, in this moment the most ruthless of all the savages, and inflaming them continuously for the combat.
The five threw themselves flat on their faces, and waited a little. The chant grew louder, and then through the foliage they saw the ominous figure approaching. She was much as she had been on that night when they first beheld her. She wore the same dress of barbaric colors, she swung the same great tomahawk about her head, and sang all the time of fire and blood and death.
They saw behind her the figures of chiefs, naked to the breech cloth for battle, their bronze bodies glistening with the war paint, and bright feathers gleaming in their hair. Henry recognized the tall form of Timmendiquas, notable by his height, and around him his little band of Wyandots, ready to prove themselves mighty warriors to their eastern friends the Iroquois. Back of these was a long line of Indians and their white allies, Sir John Johnson's Royal Greens and Butler's Rangers in the center, bearing the flag of England. The warriors, of whom the Senecas were most numerous, were gathered in greatest numbers on their right flank, facing the left flank of the Americans. Sangerachte and Hiokatoo, who had taken two English prisoners at Braddock's defeat, and who had afterwards burned them both alive with his own hand, were the principal leaders of the Senecas. Henry caught a glimpse of "Indian" Butler in the center, with a great blood-red handkerchief tied around his head, and, despite the forest, he noticed with a great sinking of the heart how far the hostile line extended. It could wrap itself like a python around the defense.
"It's a tale that will soon be told," said Paul.
They went back swiftly, and warned Colonel Butler that the enemy was at band. Even as they spoke they heard the loud wailing chant of Queen Esther, and then came the war whoop, pouring from a thousand throats, swelling defiant and fierce like the cry of a wounded beast. The farmers, the boys, and the old men, most of whom had never been in battle, might well tremble at this ominous sound, so great in volume and extending so far into the forest. But they stood firm, drawing themselves into a somewhat more compact body, and still advancing with their banners flying, and the boy beating out that steady roll on the drum.
The enemy now came into full sight, and Colonel Butler deployed his force in line of battle, his right resting on the high bank of the river and his left against the swamp. Forward pressed the motley army of the other Butler, he of sanguinary and cruel fame, and the bulk of his force came into view, the sun shining down on the green uniforms of the English and the naked brown bodies of the Iroquois.
The American commander gave the order to fire. Eager fingers were already on the trigger, and a blaze of light ran along the entire rank. The Royal Greens and Rangers, although replying with their own fire, gave back before the storm of bullets, and the Wyoming men, with a shout of triumph, sprang forward. It was always a characteristic of the border settler, despite many disasters and a knowledge of Indian craft and cunning, to rush straight at his foe whenever he saw him. His, unless a trained forest warrior himself, was a headlong bravery, and now this gallant little force asked for nothing but to come to close grips with the enemy.
The men in the center with "Indian" Butler gave back still more. With cries of victory the Wyoming men pressed forward, firing rapidly, and continuing to drive the mongrel white force. The rifles were cracking rapidly, and smoke arose over the two lines. The wind caught wisps of it and carried them off down the river.
"It goes better than I thought," said Paul as he reloaded his rifle.
"Not yet," said Henry, "we are fighting the white men only. Where are all the Indians, who alone outnumber our men more than two to one?"
"Here they come," said Shif'less Sol, pointing to the depths of the swamp, which was supposed to protect the left flank of the Wyoming force.
The five saw in the spaces, amid the briars and vines, scores of dark figures leaping over the mud, naked to the breech cloth, armed with rifle and tomahawk, and rushing down upon the unprotected side of their foe. The swamp had been but little obstacle to them.
Henry and his comrades gave the alarm at once. As many as possible were called off immediately from the main body, but they were not numerous enough to have any effect. The Indians came through the swamp in hundreds and hundreds, and, as they uttered their triumphant yell, poured a terrible fire into the Wyoming left flank. The defenders were forced to give ground, and the English and Tories came on again.
The fire was now deadly and of great volume. The air was filled with the flashing of the rifles. The cloud of smoke grew heavier, and faces, either from heat or excitement, showed red through it. The air was filled with bullets, and the Wyoming force was being cut down fast, as the fire of more than a thousand rifles converged upon it.
The five at the fringe of the swamp loaded and fired as fast as they could at the Indian horde, but they saw that it was creeping closer and closer, and that the hail of bullets it sent in was cutting away the whole left flank of the defenders. They saw the tall figure of Timmendiquas, a very god of war, leading on the Indians, with his fearless Wyandots in a close cluster around him. Colonel John Durkee, gathering up a force of fifty or sixty, charged straight at the warriors, but he was killed by a withering volley, which drove his men back.
Now occurred a fatal thing, one of those misconceptions which often decide the fate of a battle. The company of Captain Whittlesey, on the extreme left, which was suffering most severely, was ordered to fall back. The entire little army, which was being pressed hard now, seeing the movement of Whittlesey, began to retreat. Even without the mistake it is likely they would have lost in the face of such numbers.
The entire horde of Indians, Tories, Canadians, English, and renegades, uttering a tremendous yell, rushed forward. Colonel Zebulon Butler, seeing the crisis, rode up and down in front of his men, shouting: "Don't leave me, my children! the victory is ours!" Bravely his officers strove to stop the retreat. Every captain who led a company into action was killed. Some of these captains were but boys. The men were falling by dozens.
All the Indians, by far the most formidable part of the invading force, were through the swamp now, and, dashing down their unloaded rifles, threw themselves, tomahawk in hand, upon the defense. Not more than two hundred of the Wyoming men were left standing, and the impact of seven or eight hundred savage warriors was so great that they were hurled back in confusion. A wail of grief and terror came from the other side of the river, where a great body of women and children were watching the fighting.
"The battle's lost," said Shif'less Sol,
"Beyond hope of saving it," said Henry, "but, boys, we five are alive yet, and we'll do our best to help the others protect the retreat."
They kept under cover, fighting as calmly as they could amid such a terrible scene, picking off warrior after warrior, saving more than one soldier ere the tomahawk fell. Shif'less Sol took a shot at "Indian" Butler, but he was too far away, and the bullet missed him.
"I'd give five years of my life if he were fifty yards nearer," exclaimed the shiftless one.
But the invading force came in between and he did not get another shot. There was now a terrible medley, a continuous uproar, the crashing fire of hundreds of rifles, the shouts of the Indians, and the cries of the wounded. Over them all hovered smoke and dust, and the air was heavy, too, with the odor of burnt gunpowder. The division of old men and very young boys stood next, and the Indians were upon them, tomahawk in hand, but in the face of terrible odds all bore themselves with a valor worthy of the best of soldiers. Three fourths of them died that day, before they were driven back on the fort.
The Wyoming force was pushed away from the edge of the swamp, which had been some protection to the left, and they were now assailed from all sides except that of the river. "Indian" Butler raged at the head of his men, who had been driven back at first, and who had been saved by the Indians. Timmendiquas, in the absence of Brant, who was not seen upon this field, became by valor and power of intellect the leader of all the Indians for this moment. The Iroquois, although their own fierce chiefs, I-Tiokatoo, Sangerachte, and the others fought with them, unconsciously obeyed him. Nor did the fierce woman, Queen Esther, shirk the battle. Waving her great tomahawk, she was continually among the warriors, singing her song of war and death.
They were driven steadily back toward the fort, and the little band crumbled away beneath the deadly fire. Soon none would be left unless they ran for their lives. The five drew away toward the forest. They saw that the fort itself could not hold out against such a numerous and victorious foe, and they had no mind to be trapped. But their retreat was slow, and as they went they sent bullet after bullet into the Indian flank. Only a small percentage of the Wyoming force was left, and it now broke. Colonel Butler and Colonel Dennison, who were mounted, reached the fort. Some of the men jumped into the river, swam to the other shore and escaped. Some swam to a little island called Monocacy, and hid, but the Tories and Indians hunted them out and slew them. One Tory found his brother there, and killed him with his own hand, a deed of unspeakable horror that is yet mentioned by the people of that region. A few fled into the forest and entered the fort at night.