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.



WASHINGTON was long- known among the Iroquois Indians under the name of Town-Destroyer. They well knew that he had planned the great invasion into their country in 1779. Two divisions moved into the country of the Six Nations at once. One from Pennsylvania, under General Sullivan, was to ascend the Susquehanna to the Tioga River, where it would be met by the other from the north, under the command of General Clinton. A large amount of stores were thrown into Fort Stanwix to be used in case of necessity, and Clinton's army was ready to proceed from the Mohawk Valley. They must first traverse a portage of about twenty miles to Otsego Lake. Stores were carried across and two hundred boats drawn over this long, rough portage. It took four horses to draw a boat. The regiments were stationed along the road to guard the carry, and to assist in the most difficult places.

The Oneida Indians were invited to join General Clinton, but they preferred to stay and guard their homes, fearful lest the British or their sister-nations should wreak vengeance on them. General Clinton built a dam across the outlet of Otsego Lake and thus greatly increased its depth.

The Indians, meantime, were hovering around the army. Elerson, a famous frontier rifleman, wandered away from the camp to gather some pulse for his dinner. He filled his knapsack with the herb and had just thrown it over his shoulder, when he heard a rustling in the tall, coarse grass. He turned and saw ten or twelve Indians, who were just on the point of jumping upon him to make him a prisoner. The hunter grasped his rifle, standing at his side, and with a spring tried to escape. A shower of tomahawks were thrown at his head. Elerson, however, had already reached a thicket. One of the hatchets hit him on the hand, nearly cutting off one of his fingers. Elerson did not pause a moment, but scrambled over an old brush fence and into the woods, with the Indians after him. He led them a lively chase. Despairing of catching him alive, they fired but did not succeed in wounding him. From eleven in the morning until three in the afternoon Elerson kept up his breathless pace. He used every dodge and device to deceive his pursuers and put them upon the wrong track, but in vain. At last he stopped a moment to breathe, believing he had outrun the savages. Instantly an Indian sprang up in front of him. Elerson raised his rifle, when he received a flesh-wound in the side from another quarter and heard the crack of still another rifle. The Indian in front had disappeared when Elerson's rifle had been pointed at him. Elerson fled again, his wounded side bleeding a little. He crossed a ridge and descended into a valley. He lay down by the little stream which ran through it to take a drink, for he was very thirsty. Scarcely had he done so when he saw an Indian's head appear over the crest of the hill. He raised his rifle to shoot, but his arm trembled so that he could not steady it. The Indian was coming; in a moment more he would be upon the white man. The exhausted man managed to rest his gun against a tree, and, with unerring aim, he brought his pursuer tumbling down the hill. Hastily he reloaded his gun, when the rest of his pursuers came rushing over the ridge. Elerson now gave himself up for lost. He hid, however, behind the trunk of a large hemlock, but he knew that the Indians' quick eyes could not fail to discover him. Their attention was, for the moment, attracted to the wounded Indian, who was not yet dead. They drew a circle around him and began the death-wail. Taking advantage of this momentary pause, Elerson sped away. He buried himself deep in a hemlock thicket and crept into a hollow tree. Here he took breath, having run twenty-five miles. For two days he stayed, and then, stealing from his hiding-place, moved cautiously along, not knowing where he was. He soon found familiar landmarks and reached the settlement of Cobbleskill.

There stood on the outskirts of the Cherry Valley settlement one house which had been missed in the destruction of the settlement. The owner, Mr. Shankland, had removed his family to the Mohawk for safety, but he and his son were staying in the house. Failing in their attempt to capture Elerson, the Indians discovered this lonely house and assailed it. They cut away at the door with their hatchets and awakened the inmates. Shankland sprang up, and, taking two guns, ordered his son to load them while he fired. He could not get an aim at the Indians, however, and resolved to make a sally with a spear which he happened to have in the house. Carefully unbarring the door, he suddenly rushed violently at the Indians. The Indians tumbled back in astonishment. One of them fell over a log; Shankland Struck at him, but his spear entered the log and parted from the handle. He stopped to wrench it out, and then retreated into the house and barred the door, the Indians having been too much astonished to fire at him. Meantime the son had escaped from the house and tried to reach the woods. He was, however, pursued and captured. Shankland continued the fight from within, firing upon the besiegers and wounding some of them, while they could but shoot at random through the windows. He meditated rushing out and fighting the Indians, selling his own life with as many of theirs as possible. But he reflected that they would then wreak vengeance on his son. The Indians at last set fire to the house. As the flames burst up through the building they danced around in savage glee, sure now of their victim. But Shankland had quietly crept out at the back of his house into a field of hemp, and, hidden by this, to the woods. Meantime the Indians watched around the house until it was consumed, and, sure that their victim had died in the flames, they raised a triumphant shout and left with their prisoner whose life they saved.

Meantime General Clinton was impatiently waiting at Otsego Lake for the order from General Sullivan to move forward. When early in August this came, a strange thing happened to the Indians. It was a very dry season, there had been no rains, but suddenly the Susquehanna came rushing down in a roaring torrent, overspreading its banks into their very fields, and destroying their corn and vegetables at Oquaga and in the neighborhood. Clinton had broken his dam and released the accumulated water at Otsego Lake, and in a short time the great boats of the white man's army came down where nothing but Indian canoes had ever been seen before. The savages concluded that the Great Spirit must have made the flood to show that he was angry with them.

The two armies met at Tioga in the latter part of August, forming together an army of five thousand men, which began its march up the Chemung River. They soon destroyed the first Indian town and standing corn. Washington's orders had been that the destruction of the Indian villages should be thoroughly completed before any terms were made.

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