History From America's Most Famous Valleys
STORIES OF THE REVOLUTION
With an account of the lost child of the Delaware: Wheaton and the Panther, &c.
Thanks to Willis Barshied Jr. for the donation.
Printed by Hoffman and White,
No. 71 State Street 1836.
THE ESCAPE OF McKEAN'S SCOUTING PARTY IN OTSEGO COUNTY:
As related by William McKown.
Such was the purturbed state of the minds of the inhabitants, for a year preceding the burning of Cherry Valley, that their ordinary business was attended to under the most painful apprehensions, not only of being attacked by a British force of Indians, but of being murdered in their houses and beds, by marauding parties of tories, painted and disguised so that even neighbours could not know each other.
But in order to live as securely as possible, they watched by day with their guns at hand, while they went on with the work of the fields, and at night when the weather would possibly admit, they slept in the woods, wives, children and all, in some place as hidden as could be contrived ; securing their valuables as well as they could, the possession of which seemed to be the chief object of the Tories, as well as that of their scalps.
At a certain time intelligence was received, that at the mouth of the Unadilla river, which is now the extreme southern boundary of the County of Otsego, a body of Indians had come from Niagara, and were fortifying that spot, as a place of general rendezvous, a depository of plunder, scalps, and prisoners.
A considerable reward was now offered to any person or persons, who would go and reconnoitre the place, ascertain their strength and numbers, and return with the intelligence.
Captain Robert McKean offered to go without a reward, if he might be permitted to select five men to accompany him in the dangerous enterprise. The persons he selected, were Joseph Mayall, Azariah Halbert, Aaron Thompson, Nicholas Coonrod, and Robert McKown, father of the Honorable Judge McKown, Recorder of the City of Albany.
Arms, ammunition, and provisions being prepared, they departed with the blessings and prayers of the deeply interested inhabitants of Cherry Valley. We soon reached the foot of Otsego Lake, which is the head of the Susquehanna, where we choose to keep down on the east side of that stream as being the most unfrequented by the Indians, so that if they were already on their way up, we might not be exposed to meet them.
In following this course, we had not proceeded more than ten miles, when to our surprise we discovered the track of a white man, which was easily distinguishable from that of an Indian. Immediately we felt assured that our plan was discovered, and did not doubt but it was by the vigilance of a tory named Regnal, who lived exactly where the house now stands which was built by the noted Bowers, at the foot of Otsego, on the east side.
If this was a correct conclusion, then it followed that already the Indians at Unadilla point, whose position we were going to examine, were on the look out for us, and would doubtless endeavour to meet, captivate, and destroy us, so that we should not return with the desired information.
Our captain had been in the old French war, several years a prisoner among the Indians, and therefore knew all their manners and customs as well as any native among them. Accordingly we were on the look out, not suffering ourselves to speak above our breath, stepping as carefully as possible, lest we might tread on a dry stick and betray ourselves.
We had gone on about ten miles further, which brought us as low down as where Colier's bridge now crosses the river, here we imagined that the Indians were possibly as cunning as ourselves and would doubtless take the most obscure way, and endeavour to meet us on the east side. On which account we waded the stream and struck into the woods, crossing the Indian path toward a place now called Craft town. McKean happening to be the hindermost man, had barely gone over the path, and was lingering a little to listen, when he distinctly heard the sound of feet. He then made motions to the nearest man, and he to the next and so on to squat instantly and not to stir as that there were evidently people of some kind now passing by on the course of the Cherry Valley.
After having squatted a long time, our Captain rose up and beckoned us together, stateing that he would go alone to the path and endeavour to discover whether Indians or white men had now gone by and how many there were.
Accordingly he did, and following on till he came to a wet spot; he soon returned, saying, they are Indians, and not less than fifty in number. If we had been a minute or two later in crossing their path, we should most evidently have fallen into their hands, at a moment when we supposed every step was securing us more and more from such a calamity.
Now it was no longer necessary for us to continue our route to the Unadilla repository, as it was evident that the whole body of them were on their way to cut off the defenceless inhabitants of Cherry Valley, having doubtless received information of our situation by means of the man whose track owe had discovered, supposed to be that of Regnal the tory.
The captain and his six men now clambered up a steep mountain exactly opposite that of the Crumhorn, probably very near where the saw miil is situated, a little above Colier's tavern on the Cooperstown road; and looking round, said to McKown, I am tired and cannot hold out much farther ; there is a man by the name of Sleeper, living not far from this, but where I know not; will you McKown pilot us to this man's house, as you are more acquainted with these woods than I am.
He answered, the course to find his house will not vary much from that the Indians are now pursuing, and have no doubt but I can easily find it. Accordingly the sun was but about an half hour high when we arrived there. This Sleeper was a QUAKER, who, the moment he saw us, appeared much agitated, and groaning audibly, touched Robert McKown on the shoulder and took him one side, saying, is not your captain Robert McKean ; I answered, yes. He then, on perceiving that we were whigs, knowing from information the character of McKean, exclaimed, My God Robert you must leave the house in a moment, or you are all dead men ; for this very hour fifty-four Indians and tories have called here to tarry all night, and are now only gone out to shoot something for their supper.
To this captain McKean replied, Daddy Sleeper your house must be my fort to-night. But the quaker used so many entreaties that they concluded not to stay there, but to go about a mile and a half to a deserted log house ; the Quaker faithfully promising not to betray them, which he did not. This man's counsel was God's providence and saved their lives.
On the next morning we moved as silently and as rapidly away as possible, but notwithstanding, the Indians were ahead of us, for on coming near the foot of the lake we discovered the smoke of the Indian's fires, where they had just breakfasted and gone.
Two of the strongest and most fleet among us was now selected to make their way as quickly to Cherry Valley as was possible, as our captain tired out, and alarm the inhabitants of the approach of the enemy. But this was useless, as that Colonel Alden had already arrived with a company of troops, which saved the place for this time , the enemy keeping aloof, killing here and there a family.
At length McKean and the rest of his party came in safe, thus ended the perilous expedition to Unadilla, which, as it happened, was of no manner of use, otherwise than out of it arises an exhibition of the intrepidity of character which marked the struggle of our forefathers in achieving the independence of our country.
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