Three Rivers
History From America's Most Famous Valleys

Border Wars

by Elizabeth Eggleston Seelye
Assisted by Edward Eggleston
New York
Dodd, Mead and Company, Publishers, 1879.



BRANT was again at Oquaga in 1778, the terror of the border. Women turned pale, and children trembled at his very name. Joined with him were forces of loyalist settlers embittered by the loss of their homes and ready to strike terrible blows at their old neighbors. The Indians, from time to time, destroyed isolated families who lived on the defenceless outskirts of the frontier. It was, over and over again, the same old story, a war-whoop, a short and bloody struggle, massacre, fire, and captivity. In the bitter animosity of the day no story of cruelty was too black to be laid upon Brant, the great chief of these savage warriors. He was even accused of the famous massacre at the Wyoming Valley, which was long exaggerated in its horrors, and which is immortalized in Campbell's well-known poem.

Brant felt keenly the hatred with which he was regarded in after-life among frontier-men. The proud chief wished, according to his ideas, to be a gentlemen in every respect. He always denied that he had ever committed any act of cruelty during this cruel war, and none has been proved against him, while many stories of his mercy are well authenticated. He led indeed a savage force and fought in the savage way, as the English officials who managed the Indian alliance desired. When Indians were accused of cruelty Brant would return the charge upon the whites, who sometimes, in fact, almost excelled the savages in, their revengeful barbarity. To Brant the civilized custom of imprisoning men was the worst of cruelty. A man's liberty, he held, was worth more than his life. Of the Indian custom of torture he did not approve, but when a man must die for a crime, he thought it better to give him some chance to make atonement in a courageous and warrior-like death than to execute him after the manner of the whites by the humiliating gallows. Brant used in afterlife to defend the Indian mode of warfare. He said the Indians had neither the artillery, the numbers, the forts; nor the prisons of the white men. In place of artillery they must use stratagem; as their forces were small, they must use every means to kill as many of the enemy with as small a loss to themselves as possible, and, as they had no prisons, their captives must in some cases be killed. He held it more merciful to kill a suffering person, and thus put an end to his misery.

During the summer of 1778, when every borderer trembled for his life, a boy named William M'Kown was one day raking hay in a field alone. Happening to turn around, he saw an Indian very near him. He involuntarily raised his rake for defence.

" Don't be afraid, young man; I shan't hurt you," said the Indian. "Can you tell me where Foster's house is ?"

The youth gave the directions to the loyalist's house, and then said, " Do you know Mr. Foster?"

" I am partially acquainted with him. I saw him once at Half-way Creek," answered the Indian. " What is your name ?"

" William M'Kown."

" Oh, you are a son of Captain M'Kown, who lives in the north-east part of the town, I suppose. I know your father very well; he lives neighbor to Captain M'Kean. I know M'Kean very, very well, and a very fine fellow he is too."

" What is your name ?" the boy ventured to ask.

The Indian hesitated a moment and then said:

" My name is Brant."

" What! Captain Brant ?" cried the boy, eagerly.

" No; I'm a cousin of his," answered the chief, smiling as he turned away.

The first blow that Brant struck in 1778 was at a small settlement about ten miles from Cherry Valley. The inhabitants were aroused by the terrible war-whoop in the dead of night. Some escaped, the rest were taken prisoners. Under Brant's guidance there was no massacring of helpless women and children. The houses and barns were fired, and their flames lighted up the country. The men were tied and carried into captivity. Brant had left one house unburnt. Into this he gathered the women and children, and here he left them unharmed.

The alarming news that Brant's forces were increasing, and that he was fortifying himself at Unadilla, reached Cherry Valley. Captain. M'Kean, with five men, started out to reconnoitre. They stopped at the house of a Quaker named Sleeper. The Quaker said that Brant had been there that very day with fifty men, and would return again at night.

" Your house, Friend Sleeper, shall be my fort to-night," said M'Kean, examining the stout log structure. " I have five good marksmen with me, and I am not myself deficient in that qualification of a soldier."

The Quaker objected. He wished to remain neutral, and if the borderers carried out their wild plan he would lose his property, and perhaps his life. So M'Kean returned to the settlement, "contenting himself with writing a challenge to Brant to meet him either in single combat or with an equal number of men, with the insulting addition that if Brant would come to Cherry Valley they would change him " from a Brant to a goose." This letter was put in the Indian post-office; in other words, it was tied to a stick and put in an Indian foot-path, and was sure to reach the chief. In a letter to a loyalist, a few days after, Brant added this postscript: " I heard the Cherry Valley people is very bold and intended to make nothing of us ; they call us wild geese, but I know the contrary." In the letter he said: " I mean now to fight the cruel rebels as well as I can."

Brant on one of his predatory expeditions, in company with loyalists, was met by a brave handful of men under Captain Patrick. An open battle ensued. The white men were surrounded. The captain and twenty-one men were killed. Only five men escaped, and they were all wounded. The victorious enemy turned upon the settlements and destroyed them by fire.

The loyalist and Indian forces fell at one time upon the Schoharie settlement, killing and capturing the inhabitants, burning their property, and besieging the small fort, whose commander had not the courage to attempt anything for the relief of the settlers.

Disgusted with his commander, Colonel Harper, who was within the fort, succeeded in making his escape on horseback through the enemy's forces, and rode for Albany, hoping to procure assistance. Several loyalists and Indians, discovering his escape, pursued him. They overtook him where he lodged the first night. He heard the noise of their arrival, and, jumping up from his bed, he was ready for them. When they broke open his door he threatened to kill the first man who offered to enter. No one made the attempt, and he stood thus on guard all night. Toward morning he succeeded in again getting to his horse and escaping. He was pursued almost to Albany by an Indian trying to get a shot at him.

"When the Indian would near him Harper would turn and gallop towards him. The Indian would retreat, only to renew his attempts again when the colonel turned his back. At Albany, Harper procured a detachment, which rode all night and into the settlement at early morning, to the great joy of the surviving inhabitants. A charge was sounded upon the besieging forces, and they retreated precipitately.

The borderers became savage Indian fighters. They fought the Indians with their own weapons of stratagem and surprise. One man was taken prisoner by a party of seven Indians. They marched him off into the woods. When night came they bound him and laid down to sleep. During the night he managed to release himself from his bonds. He cautiously slipped a tomahawk from the girdle of one of the sleeping Indians. With swift blows he killed six of the Indians. The seventh one was wounded, but escaped, while the white man, having thus released himself, returned home without fear of being chased by his captors.

One of the daring border characters was Tim Murphy, a Virginian, who had joined the militia, and, after his term had expired, remained on the frontier to wage war on his own account, just from a delight in adventure. His was an unerring aim, and he had a double-barrelled rifle which at first struck terror to the hearts of the Indians, who supposed he could fire all day without reloading. When they at last learned the true powers of the mysterious gun, they thought themselves safe in attacking the owner after his second fire. Many were the attempts made on his life by the savages. Murphy was one day pursued by some Indians. He outran them all except one, whom he turned "upon and shot. He supposed the others had given over the chase, and stopped to plunder the body of the fallen Indian. Before he knew it the pursuers were upon him. Picking up the rifle of the dead Indian, he fired upon the foremost pursuer. The Indians then rushed upon him, thinking themselves safe after the second shot. The savages thought they now had their invincible foe, when he turned upon them and killed one of their number with the remaining barrel of his own gun. The pursuers fled, sure that Murphy could fire all day without loading. This Murphy could take a scalp with as much gusto as a savage, and he boasted after the war was over that he had slain forty Indians.

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