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.



ONE of the Cherry Valley captives. Miss Moore, was courted by a British officer of the Niagara garrison. The marriage took place during the winter. It was a great event for the lonely wilderness post, and was celebrated with a great deal of enjoyment by the British and loyalist officers. Brant was invited to the wedding. Brant's second wife had died, and he was now living with a third. He took the opportunity to have the marriage ceremony performed. It was doubtless celebrated with a great deal of enjoyment on the part of the garrison. Brant wore at this time leggins and breech-cloth of very fine blue cloth, moccasins beautifully ornamented with beads, a short green coat, silver epaulets, and a small round hat trimmed with lace. At his side hung a handsome silver-mounted cutlass. Over all was a blue broadcloth blanket with a gorgeous red border. This he took pains to drop off of his shoulders, that the silver epaulets might be seen. We may be sure the bride was dressed in a costume of the gayest broadcloth, richly embroidered with beadwork.

In the early spring of 1780 Brant was again on the war-path. He led a small band of Indians and Tones upon the settlement of Harpersfield. Fortunately most of the inhabitants had left so exposed a home. Few were killed, and but nineteen made prisoners. Brant now crept upon the upper fort of Schoharie, hoping to take it if he found it weak enough. Before he reached the fort, however, he came upon thirteen of its men under Captain Alexander Harper, busy making maple sugar for the use of the garrison, The small band of Indians and Tones then under Brant crept up around the unsuspecting sugar-makers. At the first shot three of them fell dead. Brant immediately rushed out from behind the trees, and going up to Captain Harper, tomahawk in hand, said, " Harper, I'm sorry to find you here."

"Why are you sorry, Captain Brant?" boldly asked Harper.

" Because," said Brant, raising the tomahawk, " I must kill you, although we were schoolmates in our youth." Suddenly his arm fell. He looked at Harper very sharply and asked, " Are there any regular troops at the forts in Schoharie?"

Harper knew that if he told the truth Brant would fall upon the almost defenceless settlement. With a pause, and returning Brant's scrutiny unblushingly, he answered, " Yes; a reinforcement of three hundred Continental soldiers arrived at the Schoharie forts only a day or two ago."

Brant was much disconcerted at this news. He forbade the prisoners being touched for the time being, and called a council. Night had come on. The eleven prisoners were shut up in a pen of logs, and guarded by the seven loyalists who accompanied the expedition. Their leader was a brutal fellow named Becraft. The debate in the Indian council as to whether the prisoners should be killed or carried to Niagara occupied them nearly all night. Harper could hear the loud words of the speakers, and, understanding their language, could gather the import of what was said. They were in favor of death. Becraft meantime took pleasure in tantalizing them, saying, with an oath, "You'll be in hell before morning." Brant, however, finally overcame the majority in favor of death.

In the morning Harper was called into council to be examined. Brant looked at him very hard and told him that they were suspicious that he had not told the truth. Harper coolly answered that his story was true, and repeated his statements. Brant then reluctantly resolved to return to Niagara. He told Harper that he had designed to attack the fort, having heard that it was almost undefended. Brant's Indians were much disappointed thus to be deprived of the plunder which they had expected. It was with difficulty that Brant could keep them from massacring the prisoners in their chagrin.

The Indians began their return march. The captives were loaded with heavy packs of the plunder taken at Harpersfield. They moved first down the Delaware to a mill, where they provided themselves with provisions. The miller, who was a Tory, advised the Indians to kill their prisoners. On the following day they were met by a loyalist who knew Brant and his prisoners well. He assured Brant that there were no troops at the Schoharie forts. Harper was again brought up for examination. Brant again seemed to look him through and through, and Harper again told so straight a story that the chief was inclined to believe him. An old man and two grandsons were captured soon after. The old man was not able to keep up with the Indians, and saw that he must die. He bade the boys an affectionate farewell, and then lagged behind. A young warrior, whose face was painted black to denote him as the executioner, lingered too and soon came up with the old man's scalp.

On their long, rough journey, with very heavy burdens, the prisoners seemed likely to be forced to lag behind like the old man. Fortunately for them, however, Brant was attacked with the ague, and was unable to travel on every alternate day. He used a characteristic Indian remedy for his disease. He sought a rattlesnake's haunt, and here he watched for a snake to creep out to enjoy the spring sunshine. Having caught one, he had it made into soup. He took this soup and recovered from his chills.

A very unfortunate incident for the prisoners now happened. On setting out from Niagara, Brant had detached a small band of warriors to again fall upon the Minisink settlement. They had succeeded in capturing five stalwart frontiersmen. On their return, while the Indians were one night sleeping soundly, one of the prisoners managed to get one hand out of his bonds. With this he released himself, and very quietly unbound his four companions. They then each slipped a tomahawk from an Indian belt and fell upon their captors. They killed nine Indians almost instantly, and the two survivors attempted to escape. They struck one of them a blow between the shoulders, and then made good their own retreat toward home. The remaining Indian returned to watch over his wounded companion. While Brant's party was now journeying toward Niagara one of the warriors gave a whoop. It was answered by a lonely voice with the death-yell. Startled, they ran in the direction of the noise. They were met by the only survivor from the detachment that had gone against Minisink. As they gathered around him he told them his story. Instantly they were bent on revenge. They encircled their prisoners with menacing looks and prepared to kill them. The hatchets were raised for the massacre, when the survivor, who had excited them to revenge by his pitiful story, rushed into the circle and made an appeal in behalf of the prisoners. He said that they were not the murderers of his brothers and ought not to be punished for it. With an earnest speech he appeased the enraged Indians, and the prisoners' lives were again saved.

Both the Indians and their captives suffered much from hunger during the remainder of the journey. What little they had was always divided with the utmost fairness, under the supervision of Brant. They had now but a handful of corn apiece for their dinner. They found at one time, however, a dead horse. He had been left by Sullivan's expedition, and had died in the cold of the severe winter. The wolves had eaten the poor horse's bones bare, but on the under side there remained flesh that they could not get at. This was equally divided and distributed, under Brant's direction. Reaching the Genesee River, the famished party found a band of Indians preparing to plant corn. They had a fine horse, which was killed and dressed by Brant's order. The chief showed the prisoners how to use the white ashes of wood for salt, and they all had a feast.

It was customary among the Indians to send a runner ahead of the returning war-party to announce the results and the number of prisoners. Thus they were sure to be met by men, women, and children on their arrival at the village, and must run the gauntlet for their amusement. At Genesee, Brant forwarded the customary messenger to Niagara. The Tories of the party amused themselves in describing to the prisoners the horrors of the ordeal through which they must pass when they should enter the two Indian encampments this side of Niagara, at which the main body of the Six Nations was now gathered. The prisoners were bordermen and knew well what to expect. They knew that even Brant could not save them from this. What was their surprise, on entering the first encampment, that, instead of being met by a hooting, whooping crowd armed with hoes, clubs, knives, and tomahawks, they found the Indians gone and a regiment of British soldiers in their place! " Never mind," said the disappointed prophets, " there is another one to come, and the Indians of that camp are especially fierce." But here, also, the Indians were absent, and the war-party marched through two parallel lines formed by another regiment of soldiers.

The secret of it all lay with the dignified chief. The Miss Moore who had been married to a British officer was Captain Harper's niece. Harper, however, did not know of her marriage, nor even that she was at Niagara. Brant had remained perfectly silent about the whole matter, although he knew of the relationship very well. When he arrived at Genesee, desirous of saving his old-time friend from the gauntlet, under pretence of sending ahead the usual runner he had sent a message to Miss Moore's husband informing him of the approach of his wife's uncle, and proposing a trick by which he might be saved from Indian cruelty. Consequently the Indians had been enticed away to a feast supplied from the public store, and, to further protect the prisoners from the violence of any straggling Indians around the camps, the two regiments were sent out. With this ruse Brant had saved his prisoners from injury. We may be sure Captain Harper had a pleasant surprise in meeting his niece at Niagara.

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