Three Rivers
History From America's Most Famous Valleys

The Frontiersmen of New York
by Jeptha R. Simms
Albany, NY 1883

Men in the Battle of Oriskany
Volume II, Page 96-102.

The Seebers.--Maj. William Seeber, then nearly 60 years old, as already shown, was mortally wounded in the battle (Oriskany), where his son Audolph was slain, and Capt. Jacob H. fell with a broken thigh. To show the pluck of the latter here is a well known fact. He cut staddles and attempted to withe them about his broken leg, to enable him to escape, but could not stand upon it, and gave up expecting to be slain. Henry Failing, an acquaintance soon after came to him, and offered to attempt his removal for greater safety, but this he declined telling his friend to load his gun, take the remainder of his cartridges, and leave him to his fate. He was afterwards removed, as already stated, and died at Fort Herkimer. Failing was also severely wounded, but was removed and recovered. --William Seeber. There were two Henry Failings in the battle, the one above named who was the son of John Failing, and Henry N. Failing, a son of Nicholas Failing, who is hereafter mentioned as befriending Capt. Watts.

Lieut. Col. Peter Wagner, of the Palatine Battalion, held a lieutenant's commission under Sir William Johnson in the French war of 1755. He was in the Oriskany battle with three of his sons, Lieut. Peter Wagner, Jr., John and George. The last named was wounded. He was in the act of leveling his own gun to fire at a foemen, when a bullet plowed a furrow through the fleshy part of his arm. As though he were a surgeon, a fellow soldier in the next instant (whose name is believed to have been Wormuth), had torn off the nether part of his own shirt, and stepping forward firmly bound it around the bleeding arm; and so gratefully did Wagner regard this generous act that it was the means of originating a friendship which lasted through life.

Garret Walrath, a soldier in the Canajoharie battalion, was at Oriskany, and is represented, by those who remember him, as one who never feared flesh or the devil. In one of the terrible encounters in the early part of the engagement, he was made prisoner, pinioned and told to keep close behind an Indian, who claimed all his attention. He often purposely ran against his captor, whining and complaining that his arms were so tightly drawn back, and the Indian as often turned half-round and growled at him. This, as the reader will perceive, was done with a motive. At this period not only the Indians but the whites, especially those accustomed to hunting, carried a sharp, well pointed knife fastened in a belt and ready for any emergency. After Walrath had practiced the war dance behind his new master long enough to mature his plan for making a bold strike for liberty, he cautiously grasped the handle of his knife, and watching his opportunity, in one of his stumbles over the heels of his captor, he adroitly plunged the knife into his body, and in the next instant he was a disemboweled and dead Indian. The liberated captive, with his bloody knife in hand, cautiously sought his way back, and in an hour or two was welcomed by his surviving companions, who soon saw him again armed with a gun. The manner of his deliverance was a theme often talked over, and no one ever doubted that he once made a telling strike for liberty.

Capt. Henry Diefendorf.-- This was a brave militia captain, whose home was in the present town of Minden, where his descendants still reside. In the discharge of his duties he was shot down by an Indian under the cover of a tree, evidently through his lungs, for when he breathed his shirt was moved by the air through the wound. He fell in the latter part of the engagement, and standing near him when he fell, were William Cox, Henry Sanders, and probably other of his company. He begged for water, and Sanders stamped a hole in the marshy soil, and as the water settled into it, he took off his shoe and in it gave the dying man a drink, which afforded temporary relief, but he soon expired. Seeing by the smoke from whence the shot came that struck down his captain, Cox registered the oath--"D--n my soul, but I'll have a life for that one!" He ran to the tree before the foe could possibly reload his gun, where he found a large Indian down with a broken leg. As Cox leveled his rifle, the warrior threw up his hand imploringly and shouted, "You-ker! you-ker!" which his adversary supposed was a cry for quarters. "I'll give you you-ker," said Cox, as he quickly sent a bullet crashing through his brain. He rejoined his comrades a few moments later with the Indian's gun. These particulars have been preserved by David T. Timmerman, of Minden, who heard them often told by Sanders above named, who was his mother's father.

Capt. John James Davis, how Killed and how Avenged.-- This intrepid officer was a Captain in the regiment of Col. Visscher, and was killed in the latter part of the action. At the time he and his Ensign, Richard Putman (a son of Lodowick Putman, of the Johnstown settlement), were both sheltered by the same tree, and under cover of a tree close by stood Isaac Covenhoven, or, as now written, Conover, member of Capt. Gardinier's company. The sortie of Col. Willet at the fort above was attended by the firing of cannon, which prophetically alarmed the enemy, as it seemed to imply business in another direction, for they began to hoot and run, and in a little more time they had mostly stolen away to learn what the firing meant, thus leaving the Americans masters of the field. In the midst of this lull, said Putman to Capt. Davis, "I believe the red devils have pretty much all left us." To which the Captain replied, "They are not all gone, some of them are lurking about here yet." Scarcely were those words uttered,when a bullet passed through the throat of Captain Davis, who fell and instantly expired.

Putman, from whence the shot came, saw an Indian running from a clump of bushes, and dispatched a leaden messenger after him. It took a fatal effect, but before the Indian fell he ran several rods, to use the words of our informant, "As though the devil was after him." Putman ran to him to be sure that he had got a lasting furlough, and took from his person a pocket compass, an indispensable article in a woodman's outfit at that period. This souvenir the patriot kept in his possession as long as he lived; which was to the age of 89. His wife, who was Nettie Van Brocklin, lived to the age of 100 years and 7 months. Capt. Davis had a brother, Martinus, who went into the battle and was never heard of afterwards. Scores of men, on both sides, were shot in this battle while running. The facts in this narrative were obtained, in 1844, from Isaac Conover, * corroborated, in 1852 by Peter, a son of Richard Putman, a stranger to Conover.

*The Conover and Hall families resided in the back part of Glen, before the Revolution. William Hall, of this family, was Second Lieutenant of Capt. Gardinier's company at Oriskany. Isaac Conover, who was also in the Johnstown battle, had two patriotic brothers, Abram and Peter.

Henry Thompson.--Sometimes an incident novel, if not ludicrous, will arise at a serious and unlooked for moment, and here is one of that kind to be recorded among the graver ones of that eventful day: Capt. Gardinier was a blacksmith, and resided near the present village of Fultonville. He had a man in his workshop by the name of Henry Thompson, a native of New Jersey, who was tall and ungainly looking, but as courageous as he was homely. Into Oriskany he followed his brave employer: and after the battle had raged for hours, he approached the latter and told him he was hungry. "Fight away!" shouted the Captain. "I can't with eating," said the soldier. "Then get you a piece and eat," was the reply. He did so, and sitting upon the body of a dead solder, he eat with real zest,while the bullets whistled in the air about his head. His lunch finished, he arose and was again seen with renewed energy where peril was the most imminent. This is a remarkable instance of cool recklessness to fate. Facts from Martin, a son of Capt. Gardinier, in 1844, who well knew this Thompson.

Robert Crouse and his Cruel Fate.-- At the beginning of the Revolution, there dwelt at Fort Plain, two brothers named George and Robert Crouse. The former was a man of family, and his sons, Col. Robert and Deacon Henry Crouse, are well remembered in this community, where four sons of the latter still reside. Robert was a bachelor. Those brothers were remarkably large and well formed men, and would have served a sculptor as a model for a giant race. Robert was the tallest, and came to be called a seven footer; and is believed to have stood full six and a half feet in his boots, and well proportioned. His great strength became proverbial, and two anecdotes have been preserved in the memory of our venerable friend, William H. Seeber, going to prove it. In Jan., 1776, on the occasion of Gen. Schuyler's assembling troops at Caughnawaga, now Fonda, to arrest Sir John Johnson, the Tryon county militia were ordered thither by Gen. Tenbroeck of Albany, to whose brigade they then belonged. Nicholas Herkimer, then the senior Colonel of Tryon county troops, assembled them as directed.*

*The Tryon county militia became a separate brigade in Sept., 1776, with Col. Herkimer as its acting General.

While there the brigade was paraded on the ice in the river, and Robert Crouse was designated to bear the flag in saluting the Generals. He waved it so easily and gracefully with one hand, when hardly another man present could thus have handled it with both hands; that not only the Generals, but the entire assemblage was excited to admiration, and a significant murmur of applause was echoed from the hills hemming the the valley. Gen. Schuyler said to the officers near him, that man ought to have a commission; and one is said to have been tendered him which he declined. This incident probably accounts for the fact that Lieut. Sammons placed him among the officers killed at Oriskany, as he must have been present on the occasion referred to.

Henry Walrath, the strongest man by reputation in the Palatine settlements, came from Stone Arabia in the winter of 1775 and 1766, bringing a friend with him, as he told Robert Crouse, expressly to see which was the strongest man of the two. "Well," said Crouse, "you go home and put 50 skipples of wheat on your sleigh, and I will put 50 skipples with it, and the strongest one shall have the 100 skipples, 75 bushels. The Stone Arabia bully never put in an appearance, which left Crouse the acknowledged champion.

Robert Crouse was made a prisoner at Oriskany, and, as his friends afterwards learned, by fellow prisoners who knew him, he was most inhumanly murdered. Agreeable to the affidavit of Dr. Moses Younglove, who was also a prisoner from that battlefield, the Indians killed some of the prisoners at their own pleasure, and to his knowledge they tortured to death at least half a dozen. Of this number was Robert Crouse, who was the selected victim at one of their hellish orgies, as the late William Crouse, a nephew, learned subsequently by other prisoners who knew him. His remarkable stature possibly gave them a new idea of derisive torture, for, with their knives they began by amputating his legs at the knee joints, and when accomplished they, with jeers, held him up on those bleeding limbs, derisively told him he was then as tall as those around him, and bade him to walk. As his life was fast ebbing they sought other modes of torture, and at length dispatching him, they tore off and secured for market his reeking scalp. Whether they ate any of the flesh is unknown, but it is not improbable they did as numbers of the Indians engaged in this contest had feasted on prisoners in earlier wars. Thus ignobly fell, not only the largest but one of the best men in the Mohawk Valley. Young reader, here again learn at what terrible cost your liberty was purchased, and with what watchful care you should guard it.

George Shults, a young soldier of Stone Arabia, was in the Oriskany battle, and on some occasion when it became necessary for him to run, a strap broke which held up his pantaloons and let them down upon his shoes, thus impeding his progress. Quick as thought his hand was on his knife, and in the next moment had had slid it down both legs and cut himself free of the encumbrance. His ludicrous appearance among his fellows cause them no little merriment at his expense, and who, had his nether garment been of tartan plaid, might have supposed him suddenly transposed to a Scotsman in kilt. Whether he returned home in such a plight, or whether he obtained the needed garment from a fallen comrade, we are not advised; but long after that eventful day were his neighbors jolly at his expense, for so suddenly adopting a Highland dress. Often has a ludicrous incident transpired to change the current of thought as did this, at a most serious and trying moment.

Capt. Stephen Watts, how cared for.-- This incident of a Tory chieftain, of Oriskany, deserves a mention in this connection. Sir John Johnson married a daughter of John Watts, Esq., of New York city, and her brother, Stephen Watts, cast his fortunes in the scale with those of the Johnson family and went to Canada, from whence he came down with the enemy as already shown. In making a desperate charge, he was wounded and made a prisoner, but as the Americans could not be encumbered with their wounded foes, he was left to his fate, and not dispatched and scalped as were all wounded Americans found by the enemy. Being discovered by Henry N. Failing, a private soldier from the Canajoharie district, he kindly carried him to a little stream of water that he might there slake his thirst and die more easily. To his thanks for the soldier's kindness he added the gift of his watch, a silver cased one, and of a style known at that period as "bull's eye," from its resemblance in shape. Two days after, Capt. Watts was discovered alive by some straggling Indians looking for plunder, was taken to the enemy's camp, properly cared for and finally recovered. We may imagine, if we can, what his mental suffering must have been, and especially nights in the dismal forest, where he was possibly kept awake by the growl of a wolf, attracted hither by the scent of blood.

The statement of some modern writer, that Capt. Watts was led by the Americans two miles from the from the battlefield and left beside the Oriskany creek, is not only a false but an incredible story; since he was unable to stand up. Besides the Americans found it difficult to care for all their own wounded. They knew the enemy would return and if they found life in any of their own men they would be cared for. The truth is, his friends found him at the little brooklet in the Oriskany ravine, to which Henry N. Failing had born him. This Henry N. Family, was the father of Henry and Jacob, and grandfather of Reuben and John Adam Failing. Capt. Lawrence Gros, of the Revolution, married a daughter of Nicholas Failing.

*In my Schoharie County, etc., I stated that Mr. Van Alstyne thus cared for Capt. Watts, but John R. Failing, of Fort Plain, and Henry Failing, of St. Johnsville, in 1845, gave the statement as in the context.

The subsequent history of this watch was as follows: Not long after he obtained it, Failing sold it to Martin G. Van Alstyne for $300 in Continental currency, then worth $20 on the hundred, who retained it in his possession during his lifetime. A relative of Henry Failing, the late John R. Failing of Fort Plain, an ingenious mechanic, assured the writer that he had repeatedly repaired this watch in his earlier days. What finally became of this relic of that bloody field is unknown. The late Joshua Reed, of Palatine Bridge, assured the writer nearly 40 years ago, that the Watts family learning where this watch was, tried through a friend at one time to purchase it, but Van Alstyne would not sell it.

Fate of William Merckley, of Stone Arabia,-- In the heat of battle though a little one side from the main body, Merkley was shot down near his neighbor Valentine Fralick, by an Indian marksman. fralick ran to him and kindly offered to assist him. "Take care of yourself and leave me to my fate!" was the herioc reply. In the next mmmoment seeing several Indians approaching, Fralick concealed himmmself beneath a fallen tree, and although hisfoes passed over it they did not discover him. After they had gone back from whence they came, he again sought his companion, but alas! the tomahawk and scalping knife had done their work. Thus were the Indians scouring every accessible part of the field, to extinguish the last spark of life and secure scalps for the Canadian market.

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