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.



THE finest and richest part of the Mohawk Valley was known as the German Flats. Here was a thriving settlement, barns well filled from an abundant crop, and here stood a stone church built by Sir William Johnson. Brant, with his Indian army, made his swift march upon this settlement in the early fall of 1778. Fortunately four scouts from the settlement were out. Three of them were killed by the Indians, but the fourth one escaped to warn the settlers. Men, women, and children took to Fort Dayton and Fort Herkimer for safety. Some of their most valuable property was hastily thrown into boats and taken to the forts. The stealthy Indians neared the settlement. The evening was very dark and rainy. Brant did not know that his approach was expected. He waited for the abating of the storm in a ravine near Mr. Shoemaker's house, where young Butler and Hon-Yost had been captured the year before. Before morning the storm broke away and the Indians were on the move. They swept into the settlement from different directions, that they might take it entirely by surprise. They found the houses deserted. A moment more and the settlement was in a blaze. Each family could see from the fort its own home and the stored-up fruits of their year's labor fast burning up. But they might indeed be thankful they were not in the houses. The Indians dared not brave the artillery of the forts. As day dawned they could be seen rushing into the meadows after the cattle, and driving away sheep and horses. They left the settlers nothing, but fortunately they had found only two men to kill.

The friendly Oneida Indians undertook an expedition against Brant's villages in return, and did some damage. They came back with prisoners whom they presented to the settlers for slaves, as they said.

A war of retaliation was now begun. A regiment of American troops marched upon Brant's headquarters. They approached Unadilla with the greatest caution, thinking to surprise the Indians in their homes, but Indians are not often so surprised. They found that Unadilla had been deserted for some days. Capturing a loyalist, they made him guide them to Oquaga. This town had been but just deserted in the greatest confusion, and much of the Indians' portable property was left behind. Here were a number of well-built houses which denoted Brant's efforts at civilization. The soldiers feasted upon the poultry and vegetables of the Indians, and then everything was set on fire and destroyed.

Near to this place was an Indian fortification. This, too, was laid in ruins. On the return two mills were burned, and the village of Unadilla was left in a blaze.

From his ruined villages Brant returned to Niagara for winter quarters. He was met on the way by the young Butler who had been imprisoned among the Americans. Butler, with a force of loyalists, was marching to attack the settlements. He brought orders for Brant to join him. The Mohawk chief was much displeased to be put in a subordinate position under this young man, whom he disliked. He was at length persuaded to join him, however, with some five hundred warriors.

It was late in the fall. The scattered settlers had returned to their homes, thinking it too late in the season for further danger from the Indians. Cherry Valley's fort was the church surrounded with a stockade and in the care of eastern soldiers, who knew little of Indian fighting'. They received some intelligence of an approach from the Indians, but contented themselves with sending out scouts, who when night came on built a fire and lay down to sleep by it. They awoke to find themselves prisoners. Butler and Brant approached the settlement on a stormy night. They fired upon a straggling settler, who escaped to give the alarm, but the infatuated commander of the garrison did not yet believe that the Indians were there in force. The wild army were about to enter the village. Unfortunately Butler's men halted to examine their arms, as their powder had been injured by the rain. The Indians pressed forward, and foremost of all the Senecas, uncontrollable in their ferocity. The house of Mr. Wells, a prominent citizen, was first surrounded. Every person in the house was killed. The officers of the garrison had been quartered among the settlers. The commander, Colonel Alden, was pursued down a hill by an Indian. He turned and snapped his pistol repeatedly upon his pursuer, but the savage threw his tomahawk at the officer's head and laid him dead. Several families were entirely cut off. One man returned from the field to find his wife and children all killed. There was nothing left for him but to remove their bodies tenderly to the fort. The murderers entered the house of an old man, killed his wife, and were about to kill him and his daughter, when Little Aaron, a Mohawk chief, led the old man tottering with age and the others to the door and stood guard over them. The loyalists assisted in the massacre. Thirty-two settlers, mostly women and children, and sixteen soldiers were killed. Some of the settlers escaped to the woods, and from there to the Mohawk Valley.

Brant was much chagrined at the murder of the Wells family, with whom he was well acquainted. He had tried to anticipate the Indians and reach the Wells house first, but did not succeed. His next care was to ask after Captain M'Kean. He was told that he had probably escaped to the Mohawk with his family.

" He sent me a challenge once," said Brant. " I have now come to accept it. He is a fine soldier thus to retreat."

" Captain M'Kean would not turn his back upon an enemy when there was any probability of success," answered his informer.

" I know it," said Brant. " He is a brave man, and I would have given more to take him than any other man in Cherry Valley, but I would not have hurt a hair of his head."

During the massacre Brant entered a house where he found a woman going about her regular duties.

" How does it happen you are at this kind of work while your neighbors are all murdered around you ?" exclaimed the chief.

" We are king's people," answered the woman.

" That plea won't save you to-day," said Brant.

" There is one Joseph Brant; if he is with the Indians, he will save us," said the woman. "I am Joseph Brant," answered the chief; "but I am not in command, and I don't know that I can save you, but I will do what I can."

At this moment some Senecas approached the house. " Get into bed and pretend you are sick," said Brant. The woman hurried into bed and Brant met the Senecas.

" There's no one here but a sick woman and her children," said he. He prevailed upon the Indians to leave, after a little conversation. When they were out of sight he went to the door and gave a long, shrill yell. Immediately some Mohawks came running across the fields,

"Where is your paint?" Brant called out to them. " Here, put my mark upon this woman and her children." The Mohawks obeyed, and Brant turned to the woman, saying, " You are now probably safe."

The garrison of the fort dared make no sally, on account of the superior numbers of the Indians send loyalists, who, on their part, gained no success in an attempted assault. The enemy encamped for the night in the valley. The prisoners, some thirty or forty men, women, and children, were gathered around a great fire while their captors, by the light of numerous surrounding fires, were distributing and dividing plunder. The prisoners spent a sleepless night. They feared that torture was reserved for them. In the morning they were divided into small companies and distributed among the various Indian bands. The whole force then began its march down Cherry Valley Creek. On the morning of the following day the prisoners were all gathered together, and were informed that the women and children were all to be sent back with the exception of Mrs. Campbell and her children and Mrs. Moore and her children. The husbands of these two women had been active in border warfare, and it was resolved, as a punishment, to keep their families in captivity. Mrs. Campbell was taken into the Seneca country. She was separated from her little children, one of them a baby. The children were adopted into different families. She made herself useful to the family who adopted her by making them garments, and it was with great difficulty that they were persuaded to give her up when she and her children were exchanged for British prisoners among the Americans.

An incident happened while these prisoners were in captivity which shows that " Miss Molly," who was now living at Niagara, was very much like other Indian women. For some reason, founded, perhaps, on something happening in her life at Johnson Hall, Molly Brant had a mortal hatred for Colonel Stacia, who was one of the captives. In true Indian fashion she dreamed, and came to Colonel Butler with her dream. It was that she had the " Yankee's head," and she and her countrymen were kicking it about the fort. Colonel Butler answered this bloodthirsty hint by sending her a small, painted keg of rum. But she came to the Colonel with a second dream. This time she was kicking the " Yankee's head " about with a hat upon it. But Butler again presented her with a keg of rum, and told her decidedly that Stacia would not be given into the hands of the Indians.

Among other captives, Brant had carried away a man named Vrooman, who was an old friend of the chief. Desiring to give his friend a chance to escape, Brant sent him back about two miles to get some birch-bark. He, of course, expected to see no more of him, but what was his surprise when, a few hours after, Vrooman came hurrying up with the bark, which the chief did not want. Brant said afterwards that he had sent Vrooman back on purpose to give him a chance to escape, but he was such a big fool that he did not do it, and he was forced to take him to Canada.

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