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 resolved to defend his country, if possible, from the ravages of the Americans. The English supported their Indian allies in their defence. The elder and younger Butler, and Sir John and Guy Johnson, with two hundred and fifty regular troops and rangers, were with Brant and his Indians. The Americans estimated that Brant had more than a thousand Indians under his command, but an English writer states it at scarcely more than half that number. Brant certainly had all the force he could command from the depleted villages of the warlike Iroquois. He had had ample time to prepare while the clumsy white man's army was making its slow movements into his country. He was stationed near the present site of Elmira. The Indians and loyalists had built them a breastwork half a mile in length, partially protected by a bend in the river, and by a steep ridge upon which it rested. Besides the natural woods and brush the Indians had cut down a great many low shrub oaks and stuck them in the ground around their breastwork to mask it.

The advance-guard of the American army discovered the enemy about eleven o'clock on the morning of the 29th of August. Skirmishing instantly began, small parties of Indians sallying out, from time to time, and attacking the white forces with fearful war-whoops. When the main army had come up, Sullivan conjectured that the: savages had possession of the hill. He ordered General Poor's brigade to wheel off and attempt: to gain the enemy's left flank, while the main force attacked the front. The Indians gave battle from every side ferociously. Each tree, bush, and rock was alive with an Indian, and the woods resounded with their whoops and yells. Always in the thickest of the fight was Brant, shouting and encouraging his warriors on to victory. Both Indians and loyalists stood their ground bravely. They only gave way inch by inch before the superior force. As Sullivan's troops gradually forced them from tree to tree they contested their ground at the point of the bayonet, so much were they in earnest. The artillery now began to play in a way that Sullivan pronounced "elegant," and which sent dismay into the hearts of the Indians. They still, however, fought bravely. Brant was the first to guess the enemy's designs. Assisted by a battalion of the rangers, he gave Poor's brigade a brave fight as they attempted to ascend the hill. During the contest the chief was rushing from point to point, everywhere at once, animating his men and encouraging them to hold out. But it was of no use. Poor gained the summit and turned the flank of Brant's little army. The latter saw that his men were likely to be surrounded.

" Oonah ! oonah!" arose from all sides, and the Indian forces made a swift retreat across the river, dropping tomahawks and scalping-knives on the way. They had carried off their dead during the battle as usual, but in the hurry of retreat they left eleven bodies upon the field, and fourteen more were subsequently discovered hastily buried among the leaves. The American forces pushed them in their flight at the point of the bayonet, and eight scalps were taken by the Americans during the pursuit. Brant had lost more warriors than he could afford to lose. The American loss was but half a dozen killed and forty or fifty wounded.

From the battlefield a flying campaign was begun. Only some small field-pieces were taken with the army, and the men were put upon short rations. Several small Indian villagers were destroyed, and large cornfields laid waste. The soldiers now had a rough journey before them through dangerous defiles, where the Indians, had they not been demoralized by their defeat, might have done them serious injury. Several times the troops had to ford streams, the men up to the waist in water. Once the rear of the army spent the night in a great swamp, the men being too tired to move further. Fortunately for them the Indians, who were feasting on roast corn a few miles from the place, did not dream of Sullivan advancing on so dark a night through so bad a way.

Early in September the army reached the head of Seneca Lake. Here an Indian town was burned, corn destroyed, and even the very orchards hacked down. Some of the American officers objected to this as wanton.

" The Indians shall see that there is malice enough in our hearts to destroy everything that contributes to their support," said General Sullivan. The Americans had been exasperated by a long border war. Every town was destroyed, every field laid waste, ancient orchards and even pear and peach trees were hacked down.

Meantime Brant, with his Indian forces, was hovering near the destroying army, bent on harassing them as much as possible. Perhaps he would have accomplished more had it not been for the divisions among his own warriors; for an Indian chief has to be controlled by the fickle courage of the independent Indians whom he leads. Brant always ascribed much of his people's misfortunes in this campaign to Red Jacket. This ambitious young politician was bent on acquiring influence in some way or other. He would be of small consequence following the policy of Brant, Cornplanter, and the older chiefs. Defeat always produces dissatisfaction in Indian forces. Red Jacket joined the dissatisfied party. He held secret council among the young warriors and younger chiefs. He used his eloquence, perhaps not unwisely, in favor of conciliating the enemy. At Red Jacket's suggestion a messenger was sent to Sullivan with information of the disaffection in Brant's camp, and inviting peaceful propositions. But Brant, by some means, had information of this move, so contrary to his own policy, and so humiliating to his pride. He feared the consequences in his own camp if the Americans should propose peace. Brant settled the matter in a truly Indian way. He sent out two confidential runners to waylay the messenger on his way from the American camp, and to put him to death. Thus a stop was put to Red Jacket's manoeuvres and to all peaceful proposals.

Cornplanter had planned to make a stand against a detachment of Sullivan's forces at the Indian town of Canandaigua. When the Americans approached, Red Jacket and some of the Indians began to retreat. Cornplanter tried to rally his men. He sprang in front of Red Jacket and vehemently encouraged him to fight. It was of no use, and the Seneca chief had to abandon his undertaking.

" Leave that man; he is a coward!" said the wrathful Cornplanter to Red Jacket's wife.

The Indians found that Sullivan intended to advance even upon their beautiful Genesee country. After holding a council they decided to strike another blow at the invaders. Placing their women and children at a safe distance within the woods, they laid an ambuscade on the path of the army. Without waiting till they got the main army within their clutches, however, they arose and fired upon the advance-guard. There was a lively skirmish, and the advance-guard fell back upon the main army. The Indians gained nothing but the capture of two Oneidas, who had been serving as guides to Sullivan's army. This sad civil war had not only divided the families of white people but those of Indians. One of the Oneidas had a brother among the hostile Indians who had vainly tried to persuade him to join the British cause at the outset of the war. This Indian now strode up to his captive brother and delivered this speech:

" Brother ! You have merited death, and shall die by our hands. When those rebels had driven us from the fields of our fathers to seek out new houses, it was you who dared to step forth as their pilot and conduct them even to the doors of our wigwams to butcher our children and put us to death. No crime can be greater. But though you have merited death and shall die on this spot, my hands shall not be stained with the blood of a brother. Who will strike ?"

A moment's pause, and the chief Little Beard stepped out. His hatchet flashed, and the Oneida lay dead. Little Beard turned to the other captive.

" I am fighting only against the whites, and your life shall be spared," said he.

General Sullivan dispatched Lieutenant Boyd with twenty-six men to reconnoitre Little Beard's town, which was fortified. Boyd had performed his mission, and had found but two Indians in the deserted town. These were killed and scalped, after the manner of white men engaged in savage warfare. On his return, Boyd was intercepted by Brant with some five hundred warriors. Surrounded by Indians, Boyd resolved to try to cut his way through them. In his first attempt he and his men killed several Indians without any loss to themselves. Boyd was, however, forced back. He attempted a second and a third time to cut his way out, and his men fell all around him. He was left with a band of but eight. Some of these were killed, and others succeeded in escaping by flight. Among them was Murphy, the famous rifleman. Boyd was captured. He asked permission to speak with Brant, and told him that he was a mason. Brant promised to protect him. He conducted him to Little Beard's town, where the Indian and Tory forces were now assembled. Brant was called away, and it is asserted that he was left in charge of the loyalist Butler, and that on his refusing to give information with regard to the Americans, Butler delivered him into the hands of the Indians. It is certain that a band of Senecas, among whom was Little Beard, by some means got possession of him, and he was most cruelly tortured to death.

Sullivan attempted to gain the enemy's rear, but the Indians retreated precipitately. The Americans marched forward to the Genesee Valley. They were surprised to see a smiling country, evidently long under cultivation. The troops immediately began their work of destruction. The palisaded fortress was burned, and the fields were laid waste. The town of Genesee, containing twenty-eight large houses, was burned. It was surrounded by miles of corn and vegetable fields. The ears of corn were sometimes twenty-two inches long. In one orchard fifteen hundred fruit-trees were cut down.

From Genesee the army returned, having destroyed some forty or fifty towns and innumerable orchards and fields of grain. It was, perhaps, the only way to chastise the slippery Indians. Numbers of them died of famine, and the pestilence which goes hand in hand with famine, in the ensuing winter. Many of them were driven to seek subsistence at the British post of Niagara, where Brant had his winter quarters. The winter was an unusually cold one, but in spite of cold and want the Indians followed Brant in an expedition of vengeance upon the Oneidas. Their fortress, their homes, and their little church were destroyed. They, in turn, were driven back upon the United States for support during the remainder of the war.

Another expedition was sent out from Pittsburg under Colonel Brodhead, which succeeded in defeating a small band of Indians and laying- waste well-built towns and fertile cornfields belonging to the Iroquois.

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