History From America's Most Famous Valleys
Thanks to Herbert
R. Groff, typing volunteer!
Article is from a very old newspaper of unknown date and origin
EARLY TROUBLES WITH THE MOHAWKS
HAPPENINGS IN THE DARK DAYS OF THE SPRING OF 1777
Americans Had Failed in Their Attack Upon Canada and it
Was Feared That the Men Who Held
The Frontier Would be Massacred By the Six Nations.
The early history of the Revolution as published in a recent issue of the New York Herald is herewith printed:
There were fear and trouble in the house of every settler along the valley of the Mohawk and southward to where the Catskills loomed faint and blue against the sky in the dark days of the spring of 1777. The British had been driven from Boston, it is true, but the Americans had failed in their attack on Canada, and General Washington had been compelled to flee from New York before the red coats and the Hessians under Lord Howe. The cause of the patriots seemed all but lost.
To make matters worse General Burgoyne was gathering in his army to invade New York by way of Lake Champlain. Nobody could tell what was going to happen, but what alarmed the men who held the frontier was not so much the possibility that Burgoyne would reach them as the danger that the agents of the British would persuade the Indians of the fierce Six Nations to fall upon them with tomahawk and scalping knife, burn their scattered farms and villages and carry their children into captivity.
That such a thing might happen was a sorrow to Lightfoot. He was only a boy but he had been brought up among the Mohawks, who had captured him when he was too young to remember anything and although he now knew he was white and not red, it made him sad to think that there would be war between his kindred and his savage friends who had adopted him and with whom he had lived for many years.
He was thinking of these things one morning, working away meanwhile at the woodpile, when Jack Harper, Colonel John Harper’s son, came running into the yard.
"Come on!" he said, "Father wants You".
"What’s the matter?" Lightfoot asked, his heart giving a bound as the thought came to him that perhaps the Indians had already taken the warpath.
"Don’t know" Jack Harper replied. "Better hurry," and he ran off to deliver another message.
Lightfoot ran to Colonel Harper’s house. Half a dozen long rifles were leaning beside the door, and the wide living room seemed full of men as he entered. Colonel Harper, who commanded the fort at Schoharie was standing before the fireplace and had evidently been speaking.
"Come in Lightfoot," he said with a nod, "Sit down and listen. We are going to want you."
Everybody spoke to the boy by his Indian name because it seemed to suit him so well. They used to say to him jokingly that he would always be more Indian than white, he had lived as an Indian so long.
"As I was saying," Colonel Harper continued addressing the men who stood or sat about him in silence, "I rode over the top of the hill and saw a band of Indians not a dozen yards away. I was too late of course to turn back, because they saw me soon as I saw them. I knew that my overcoat would hide my uniform, so I kept on and rode closer to them. One of them I recognized as Peter, a Mohawk, Do you know him Lightfoot?".
"Yes" the boy replied. "He isn't good for much."
"Well", Colonel Harper went on, "they did not know me. They seemed to think I was some Tory, and they spoke in such a friendly was that I stopped a moment to ask them where they were going. They said they had taken up the hatchet for the King and that they were on their way to capture the Johnstone settlement on the Susquehanna. This was last night. It will take them a day or two to reach there, as they have no horses."
"What are you going to do?" asked one of the men.
"Do?" cried Colonel Harper, "Why, we are going to save the settlement, of course! We can overtake them before they reach the place."
"But how shall we know which way they went?" said the man
"I am going to take Lightfoot along," Colonel Harper replied. "He knows all the Indian ways, and if we miss the track he’ll find it for us."
All turned and looked at Lightfoot, which made feel uncomfortable,
"This would be no child’s play," Ezra Price, one of the older men said. "Lightfoot comes very near being an Indian himself. How do you know that he will not betray us?"
This speech made the boy’s cheeks flush and he jumped to his feet. "You have no right to say that!’ he exclaimed hotly. "I am as white as you are. The Indians have been my friends and I would be sorry to see harm befall them, but I stand with those of my own blood."
"Well spoken, my boy!’ cried Colonel Harper, "I knew he was all right. We have no time to waste if we are going to save the settlement. Get your horses. Let every man carry a rope and provisions for two days. Meet me here in an hour."
They were on the road before noon. Each rider had his rifle slung at his back and a length of rope wound about his waist. They went far and fast, striking through the forest along the straightest trails toward the place where Colonel Harper had seen the Indian band. Lightfoot rode without a saddle on a young horse that danced under him as they set out. The boy stuck as firmly to his back as if he had been part of the horse himself.
By the time they reached the spot where Colonel Harper had met the Indians the sun was low. It was at that season of the year when the surface of the ground softened during the day and becomes frozen again at night. Knowing the general direction that the Indians must have taken in their march on the Johnstone settlement, the pursuing party had no difficulty in following the trail while daylight lasted. They had made good progress when night fell and compelled them to slacken their pace.
They made a halt for supper. There was a full moon and, luckily, the sky was cloudless. After consultation they decided to push on as long as they could be certain they were on the right track. It was Colonel Harper’s plan to take the Indians by surprise, and for this reason it was essential that they should not miss the trail as they drew nearer to them. It was possible, of course, that the savages might turn into some ravine to camp for the night, and that the white men might pass them without knowing it. Colonel Harper placed Lightfoot up front.
"Go on foot boy," he said "and let us see your skill. "I will lead your horse for you."
"I’ll do my best," Lightfoot said simply.
Strict instructions were given by the Colonel that nobody in the party was to utter a word and that all were to use the utmost care to avoid making unnecessary noise. Lightfoot led the way, his moccasins making no sound. He bent his head forward and kept his eyes fixed on the faint traces which told him where the Indians had passed.
He knew from the fact that where their footsteps showed in stretches of damp ground the edges of the impressions had frozen sharp and not rounded, as they would have done had the sun shown on them long, that the party had passed not many hours before and could not be far in advance. To the ordinary eye there was nothing to mark the trail. But Lightfoot knew where the leaves had been disturbed and where the twigs had been snapped by the pressure of feet and not once was he in doubt. He led the way with long steps, which kept the horses at a rapid walk and thus they proceeded mile after mile. The night was far spent and the dawn was at hand when he held up a warning hand.
"What is it?" Colonel Harper whispered, leaning down from his saddle. "Smoke!" Lightfoot replied in a whisper.
His keen nostrils had caught the faint odor of smoke and he knew that the chances were that it came from the Indians camp fire.
By order of Colonel Harper the horses were led back until any sound that they might make could not be heard. Two men were left in charge of them and the others proceed on foot, following Lightfoot in single file.
There was a breath of air from the west and the smoke must therefore come from that direction. They had covered perhaps a quarter of a mile when Lightfoot stopped for the second time and pointed through the drooping branches of a spruce tree toward a tiny point of light which flickered and glowed in the dusk.
"There they are", he said. "Wait here for me."
He slipped away before Colonel Harper could stop him.
"Gone to give the alarm!" growled Price.
"Silence!" said Colonel Harper sternly.
Lightfoot came back at the end of ten minutes, appearing so quietly and suddenly among the group that stood waiting for him, that even Colonel Harper himself could not repress a start of surprise.
"They are sleeping," he said, "I have taken away their guns and they are unarmed.
Colonel Harper drew a breath of satisfaction. "Unwind your ropes," he said to his followers "and bind them fast before they can arouse themselves. Let everyone pick his man. Lead on, lad."
They stole like shadows upon the slumbering camp. Fearing nothing less than they might be surprised, the Indians had placed no sentinel on guard and they were all sleeping heavily. The white men stood over them with their ropes in readiness awaiting Colonel Harpers’ signal.
"Now!" the Colonel cried in a loud voice, when he saw that all was in readiness.
Every Indian was bound in a moment, hand and foot, where he lay. They had scarcely time to make an outcry before the thing was done.
"Ugh!" said Peter, the Mohawk, as he recognized the tall form of Colonel Harper, "Why did I not know you yesterday?"
Fresh wood was heaped on the fire whose spark had betrayed the camp and the white men stretched themselves out before the blaze to rest and eat their breakfast, while the Indians instead of butchering the helpless men and women at the Johnstone Settlement, as they had hoped to do, were compelled to lie hungry and cold glaring at their captors. They were marched to Schoharie and then to the city of Albany where they were thrown into prison, to remain n while the war lasted.
"You did well, my boy, and I am proud of you," Colonel Harper said when they arrived home, laying his hand on Lightfoot's shoulder.
"I thank you," said Lightfoot, but his heart was sad to think that he been compelled to choose between his friends of the wilderness and his own people, and to use against the Indians the skill that they themselves had taught him.
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