A VIRGINIA SCOUT
By HUGH PENDEXTER
Author of Kings of the Missouri, Etc.
Frontispiece by D. C. Hutchison
INDIANAPOLIS THE BOBBS-MERRILL COMPANY PUBLISHERS
Copyright 1920 The Ridgway Company
Copyright 1922 The Bobbs-Merrill Company
Printed in the United States of America
PRESS OF BRAUNWORTH & CO. BOOK MANUFACTURERS BROOKLYN, N. Y.
To Faunce Pendexter
My Son and Best of Seven-Year-Old Scouts This Story Is Lovingly Dedicated
CHAPTER PAGE I. Three Travelers 1 II Indian-Haters 23 III Over the Mountains 55 IV I Report to My Superiors 81 V Love Comes a Cropper 106 VI The Pack-Horse-Man's Medicine 133 VII Lost Sister 167 VIII In Abb's Valley 193 IX Dale Escapes 229 X Our Medicine Grows Stronger 265 XI Back to the Blue Wall 289 XII The Shadows Vanish 311 XIII Peace Comes to the Clearing 352
A Virginia Scout
It was good to rest in the seclusion of my hollow sycamore. It was pleasant to know that in the early morning my horse would soon cover the four miles separating me from the soil of Virginia. As a surveyor, and now as a messenger between Fort Pitt and His Lordship, the Earl of Dunmore, our royal governor, I had utilized this unique shelter more than once when breaking my journey at the junction of the Monongahela and the Cheat.
I had come to look upon it with something of affection. It was one of my wilderness homes. It was roughly circular and a good eight feet in diameter, and never yet had I been disturbed while occupying it.
During the night I heard the diabolic screech of a loon somewhere down the river, while closer by rose the pathetic song of the whippoorwill. Strange contrasts and each very welcome in my ears. I was awake with the first rays of the sun mottling the bark and mold before the low entrance to my retreat. The rippling melody of a mocking-bird deluged the thicket. Honey-bees hovered and buzzed about my tree, perhaps investigating it with the idea of moving in and using it for a storehouse. The Indians called them the "white man's flies," and believed they heralded the coming of permanent settlements. I hoped the augury was a true one, but there were times when I doubted.
Making sure that the priming of my long Deckhard rifle was dry, I crawled out into the thicket and stood erect. As far as the eye could roam stretched the rich bottom-lands and the low ridges, covered with the primeval growths of giant walnuts, maples, oaks and hickory. Small wonder that the heart of the homeseeker should covet such a country.
Groves of beeches, less desired by settlers, were noisy with satisfied squirrels. From river to ridge the air was alive with orioles and cardinals and red-starts. And could I have stood at the western rim of my vision I would have beheld the panorama repeated, only even richer and more delectable; for there was nothing but the ancient forest between me and the lonely Mississippi.
Birds and song and the soft June air and the mystery of the Kentucky country tugging at my heartstrings. I felt the call very strong as I stood there in the thicket, and gladly would I have traveled West to the richest game-region ever visited by white men. From some who had made the trip I had heard wonderful stories of Nature's prodigality. There were roads made through tangled thickets by immense herds of buffaloes smashing their way five abreast. Deer were too innumerable to estimate. To perch a turkey merely required that one step a rod or two from the cabin door. Only the serious nature of my business, resulting from the very serious nature of the times, held me back.
On this particular morning when the summer was in full tide of song and scents and pleasing vistas, I was bringing important despatches to Governor Dunmore. The long-looked-for Indian war was upon us. From the back-country to the seaboard Virginians knew this year of 1774 was to figure prominently in our destiny.
In the preceding spring we realized it was only a question of time when we must "fort" ourselves, or abandon the back-country, thereby losing crops and cabins. When young James Boone and Henry Russell were killed by Indians in Powell's Valley in the fall of 1773, all hope of a friendly penetration of the western country died. Ever since Colonel Bouquet's treaty with the Ohio tribes on the collapse of Pontiac's War the frontier had suffered from many small raids, but there had been no organized warfare.
During those ten years much blood had been spilled and many cabins burned, but the red opposition had not been sufficient to stop the backwoodsmen from crowding into the Alleghanies. And only a general war could prevent them from overflowing down into the bottoms of the Ohio. The killing of friendly Shawnees at Pipe Creek below the mouth of the Little Kanawha in April, followed three days later by the cruel slaughter of John Logan's relatives and friends at Baker's groggery opposite Yellow Creek, had touched off the powder.
But the notion that the massacre of Logan's people at Joshua Baker's house was the cause of the war is erroneous. For any one living in the country at the time to have believed it would be too ridiculous. That brutal affair was only one more brand added to a fire which had smoldered for ten years.
It happened to be the last piece of violence before both red and white threw aside make-believe and settled down to the ghastly struggle for supremacy. Hunters bound for Kentucky had suffered none from the Indians except as they had a brush with small raiding-parties. But when Daniel Boone undertook to convey his wife and children and the families of his friends into the wonderland the natives would have none of it. In killing his son and young Russell, along with several of their companions, the Indians were merely serving notice of no thoroughfare for home-builders.
So let us remember that Dunmore's War was the inevitable outcome of two alien races determined on the same prize, with each primed for a death-struggle by the memories of fearful wrongs. It is useless to argue which race gave the first cause for retaliation; it had been give and take between them for many years. Nor should our children's children, because of any tendency toward ancestor-worship, be allowed to believe that the whites were invincible and slaughtered more natives than they lost of their own people.
There were white men as merciless and murderous as any Indians, and some of these had a rare score of killings to their discredit. Yet in a man-for-man account the Indians had all the best of it. Veterans of Braddock's War insisted that the frontier lost fifty whites for each red man killed. Bouquet and other leaders estimated the ratio in Pontiac's War to have been ten to one in favor of the Indians.
This reduction proved that the settlers had learned something from the lessons taught in the old French War. Our people on the border knew all this and they were confident that in the struggle now upon them they would bring the count down to one for one. So let the youngsters of the new day learn the truth; that is, that the backwoodsmen clung to their homes although suffering most hideously.
Virginia understood she must sustain the full brunt of the war, inasmuch as she comprised the disputed frontier. It was upon Virginia that the red hatred centered. I never blamed the Indians for this hate for white cabins and cleared forests and permanent settlements. Nor should our dislike of the Indians incite sentimental people, ignorant of the red man's ways and lacking sympathy with our ambitions, to denounce us as being solely responsible for the brutal aspects such a struggle will always display.
It should also be remembered that the men of Pennsylvania were chiefly concerned with trade. Their profits depended upon the natives remaining undisturbed in their ancient homes. Like the French they would keep the red man and his forests unchanged.
Naturally they disapproved of any migrations over the mountains; and they were very disagreeable in expressing their dissatisfaction. We retorted, overwarmly doubtless, by accusing our northern sister of trading guns and powder to the Indians for horses stolen from Virginia. There was bad blood between the two colonies; for history to gloss over the fact is to perpetrate a lie. Fort Pitt, recently renamed Fort Dunmore by the commandant, Doctor John Connolly, controlled the approach to the Ohio country. It was a strong conditional cause of the war, peculiar as the statement may sound to those born long after the troublesome times of 1774.
Pennsylvania accused our royal governor of being a land-grabber and the catspaw or partner of land-speculators. His Lordship was interested in land-speculation and so were many prominent Virginians. It is also true that claims under Virginia patents would be worthless if Pennsylvania controlled the junction of the Monongahela and the Alleghany Rivers and sustained her claims to the surrounding country.
It is another fact that it was the rifles of Virginia which protected that outlying region, and that many of the settlers in the disputed territory preferred Virginia control. Every one realized that should our militia push the Indians back and win a decisive victory our claims would be immensely strengthened. And through Doctor Connolly we were already handling affairs at Fort Pitt.
Because of these and other facts there was an excellent chance for an intercolonial war. I am of the strong opinion that an armed clash between the hotheads of the two provinces would have resulted if not for the intervention of the Indian war.
At the beginning of hostilities the Indians proclaimed they would whip Pennsylvania and would roast Virginians. However, when Benjamin Speare, his wife and six children were massacred on Dunkard Creek early in June, with similar bloody murders being perpetrated at Muddy Creek, all on Pennsylvania soil, by John Logan, the Mingo chief, there was less foolish talk north of the line.
All these thoughts of raids and reprisals, of white striving to outdo red in cruelty, may seem to harmonize but ill with that soft June morning, the flight of the red-start, the song of the oriole and the impish chatter of the squirrels. Beech and oak urged one to rest in the shade; the limpid waters of the river called for one to strip and bathe.
To heed either invitation incautiously invited the war-ax to be buried in the head. However, we of the border always had had the Indian trouble, and each generation had taken its pleasure with a wary eye and ready weapons. Although the times were very dangerous and I was serving as scout for thirty-three cents a day I could still enjoy the sweet aromas and sympathize with the song of birds and yet keep an eye and ear open for that which concerned my life.
In ascending the Monongahela I had seen many settlers crossing the river to make the eastern settlements. I was told that a thousand men, women and children had crossed during the space of twenty-four hours. Down on the Clinch and Holston the settlers were either "forting" or fleeing.
Much of this retirement was compelled by the sad lack of powder and lead, even of guns. More than one settler depended entirely upon ax or scythe for protection. Such were prevented from using the advantage of their stout walls and could do the foe no mischief until after the door had been battered down, when of course all the advantage shifted to the side of the invader.
By this I do not mean to disparage such tools as implements of war. A sturdy fellow with both hands gripping a scythe can do an amazing amount of damage at close quarters, as more than one Shawnee war-party has learned.
Briefly summed up, there were dissensions between some of the colonies over the land-disputes; sparks were flying between the colonies and the mother-country; every day brought gruesome news from the back-country; there was a scarcity of guns and ammunition; militia captains were eagerly stealing one another's men to fill their quotas.
Yet regardless of all these troubles let it be understood that for once the borders welcomed war and insisted upon it. As early as March, a month before the Pipe and Yellow Creek outrages, the Williamsburg Gazette printed an address to Lord Dunmore, stating that "an immediate declaration of war was necessary, nay inevitable." Not only did the whites want the war, but the natives also were eager for it.
But enough of whys and wherefores, as they make poor story-telling, and leave me, Basdel Morris, overlong in quitting the thicket about my tree. And yet the wise man always looks backward as well as forward when entering on a trail, and children yet unborn may blaze a better trace if they understand what lies behind them.
I ate my breakfast there in the thick growth, packing my hungry mouth with parched corn and topping off with a promise of turkey, once I drew beyond the danger-belt. Trying to make myself believe my appetite was satisfied, I began the delicate task of leaving cover without leaving any signs. My horse was a fourth of a mile from my tree, so that in finding him the Indians would not find me.
The river sang a drowsy song a short distance from my tree and down a gentle slope. I knew of a spring beneath its bank, and I was impatient to taste its cold waters. I moved toward it slowly, determined that if an Indian ever secured my long black hair it would not be because he caught me off my guard. With ears and eyes I scouted the river-bank.
The flights and songs of birds and the boisterous chatter of the squirrels now became so many helps. There were no intruders in the grove of beech. There was no one between me and the river. At last I passed under some overhanging boughs and slipped down the bank to the water's edge.
Once more I searched both banks of the river, the Cheat, and then ventured to drink. Like an animal I drank a swallow, then threw up my head and glanced about. It took me some time to drink my fill, but I was not tomahawked while at the spring. At last I was convinced I had the bank to myself; and satisfied that the screen of overhanging boughs screened me from any canoe turning a bend up- or down-stream I removed my clothes and very softly slipped into the water.
There could be no hilarious splashing nor swimming, but the silent immersion was most refreshing. It was while supine on my back with only my nose and toes above water that I received my first alarm for that morning. My position being recumbent I was staring up at the sky and in the direction of up-stream, and I saw a speck.
It was circling and from the west a smaller speck was hastening eastward. A third tiny speck showed on the southern skyline. Turkey-buzzards. The one circling had sighted dead beast or man. The others had seen the discoverer's maneuvers advertising his good luck; and now each scavenger in hastening to the feast drew other scavengers after him.
I crawled ashore and hurriedly began slipping into my few garments. I drew on my breeches and paused for a moment to part the shrubbery and stare into the sky. I was startled to observe the buzzards—there were three of them now—were much nearer, as if following something. I pulled on my leggings and finished fitting my moccasins carefully about the ankles to keep out all dust and dirt and took my second look.
The buzzards were five, and in making their wide circles they had again cut down the distance. Then it dawned upon me that they were following something in the river. I watched the bend, the buzzards ever circling nearer, their numbers continually being augmented by fresh arrivals. At last it came in sight—a canoe containing one man.
Hastily drying my hands on my hunting-shirt, I picked up my rifle and drew a bead on the distant figure. The man was an Indian and was allowing the canoe to drift. But why should the turkey-buzzards follow him? As I pondered over this problem and waited to learn whether he be friendly or hostile, there came the spang of a rifle from my side of the river and above me.
A second shot quickly followed and I thought the figure in the canoe lurched to one side a bit. Still there was no attempt made to use the paddle. The shrill ear-splitting scream of a panther rang out, and this like the two shots was on my side of the river. That the Indian made no move to escape was inexplicable unless the first shot had killed him outright.
The canoe was deflected toward my hiding-place, and I expected to hear another brace of shots from above me. But there was no more shooting, and the canoe swung in close enough for me to observe the Indian was holding something between his teeth. I now recognized him as a friendly native, a Delaware; and anxious to protect him from those lurking on the bank I showed myself and softly called:
"Bald Eagle is in danger! Paddle in here."
He paid no attention to my greeting, although the canoe continued its approach until it grounded against the bank. I slipped down to the water to urge him to come ashore and take cover. He was a well-known chief, and for years very friendly to the whites. The thing he held in his mouth was a piece of journey-cake, only he was not eating it as I had first supposed. As I gained the canoe I noticed a paddle placed across it so as to support his back, and another so braced as to prop up his head.
The man was dead. There was a hideous wound at the back of his head. He had been struck down with an ax. While I was weighing this gruesome discovery the scream of the panther rang out again and close by, and the bushes parted and I wheeled in time to strike up a double-barrel rifle a young man was aiming at the chief.
"You've fired at him twice already, Shelby Cousin," I angrily rebuked. "Isn't that about enough?"
"Nothin' ain't 'nough till I git his sculp," was the grim reply; and Cousin, scarcely more than a boy, endeavored to knock my rifle aside. "At least you ought to kill before you scalp," I said.
His lips parted and his eyes screwed up into a perplexed frown and he dropped the butt of his rifle to the ground. Holding the barrels with both hands, he stared down at the dead man.
"Some one bu'sted him with a' ax most vastly," he muttered. "An' me wastin' two shoots o' powder on the skunk!"
"Without bothering to notice the turkey-buzzards that have been following him down the river," I said.
He looked sheepish and defended himself:
"The cover was too thick to see anything overhead."
"He was a friend to the whites. He has been murdered. His killer struck him down from behind. As if murder wasn't bad enough, his killer tried to make a joke of it by stuffing journey-cake in his mouth. The cake alone would tell every red who sees him that a white man killed him."
"Only trouble with the joke is that there ain't a couple o' him," hissed young Cousin. "But the fellor who played this joke owes me two shoots of powder. I 'low he'll pay me."
"You know who he is?"
"Seen Lige Runner up along. I 'low it will be him. Him an' me look on Injuns just the same way."
"It's fellows like him and Joshua Baker and Daniel Greathouse who bring trouble to the settlements," I said.
His face was as hard as a mask of stone as he looked at me. His eyes, which should have glowed with the amiable fires of youth, were as implacably baleful as those of a mad wolf.
"You don't go for to figger me in with Baker an' Greathouse?" he fiercely demanded.
"I know your story. It wouldn't be just to rank you with them."
"Mebbe it's my story what turns other men ag'in' these critters," he coldly suggested. "There was a time when I had a daddy. He talked like you do. He called some o' the red devils his friends. He believed in 'em, too. Cornstalk, the Shawnee devil, was his good friend.
"Daddy an' mammy 'lowed we could live on Keeney's Knob till all git-out bu'sted up an' never have no trouble with friendly Injuns. That was ten years ago. I was eight years old. Then Cornstalk made his last visit. Daddy had just brought in some deer meat. Made a feast for th' bloody devils.
"I happened to be out in the woods when it was done. Or, happen like, I'd 'a' gone along t'others. There's two things that'll make me hunt Cornstalk an' his Shawnees to the back-country o' hell—my little sister, an' their overlookin' to wipe me out."
He turned and stood by the canoe, glaring down at the dead man. All Virginia was familiar with the terrible story of the Cousin massacre at Keeney's Knob. Fully as tragic and horrible to me, perhaps, was the terrible change in the only survivor. He became an Injun-killer as soon as he was able to handle a rifle; and a Virginia boy of twelve was ashamed when he failed to bring down his squirrel shot through the head.
At eighteen Cousin was hated and feared by the Ohio tribes. He was not content to wait for Shawnee and Mingo to cross the river, but made frequent and extremely hazardous trips into their country. His panther-scream had rung out more than once near the Scioto villages to proclaim a kill.
Isaac Crabtree was a killer, but his hate did not make him rash. Jesse Hughes would have been one of our best border scouts if not for his insane hatred of Indians. He killed them whenever he met them; nor did he, like Crabtree, wait until the advantage was all on his side before striking. William White, William Hacker and John Cutright massacred five inoffensive Indian families at Bulltown on the Little Kanawha as a reprisal for the Stroud family, slain on Elk River.
Elijah Runner, who Cousin believed had killed Bald Eagle, was yet another with an insatiable thirst for red blood. Many others were notorious Injun-killers. Some were border ruffians; some were driven to the limits of hate because of scenes they had witnessed or losses they had suffered. But none was like Shelby Cousin.
Other killers would drink and make merry at times, keeping their hate in the background until a victim appeared. Young Cousin carried his hate in his face as well as in his heart at all times. There was nothing on earth, so far as I ever learned, no friendships, no maiden's smile, which could divert him from the one consuming passion of his life.
His mention of his sister revealed the deepest depth of his anguish. His parents were beyond all suffering and the need of pity. His sister, a year older than he, had been carried off. The pursuers found her clothing by a creek near the ruined cabin; but it had never been proved that she was dead. It was this, the uncertainty of her fate, which daily fed the boy's hate and drove him to the forest, where he sought to learn the truth and never relinquished an opportunity to take his revenge.
"If Lige Runner done for him he sure did a good job," Cousin muttered. "He sure did make tomahawk improvements on him."
"You never kill in or near the settlements as some of them do," I said.
His eyes closed and what should have been a rarely handsome boyish face, a face to stir the heart of any maiden to beating faster, was distorted with the pain he was keeping clamped down behind his clenched teeth.
"That's only because o' what I seen at Keeney's Knob," he hoarsely whispered. "When I meet one of 'em in a settlement I skedaddle afore I lose my grip. I mustn't do anything that'll fetch a parcel of 'em down to carry off some other feller's little sister. If I know'd she was dead——"
"If you'd stop killing long enough to question some of the Shawnees you might learn the truth."
He shook his head slowly, and said:
"I stopped—just afore the killin' at Baker's Bottom. Kept my Injun alive all night. But he wouldn't tell."
I shuddered at the cold-bloodedness of him.
"You tortured him and perhaps he knew nothing to tell," I said.
"If he didn't know nothin' it was hard luck for him," he quietly agreed. "But I was sartain from things he had boasted that he was at the Knob that day. What you goin' to do with this varmint?"
And he nodded toward the dead voyager.
"My business won't allow me to take the time necessary to dig a grave where his friends can't find him or wild animals dig him out. We'll set him afloat again and hope he'll journey far down the river before his friends find him. He was friendly to us——"
"Friendly——" interrupted the boy. "So was Cornstalk friendly!"
I removed the journey-cake from the grinning mouth and placed the rigid figure in the bottom of the canoe. Before I could push the craft into the current young Cousin grunted with satisfaction and pointed to two bullet-holes, close together, just back of the ear.
"Knew I must hit pretty close to where I was shootin'," he muttered as he made up the bank.
I shoved the canoe from shore and called after him: "If you will wait until I get my horse we might travel together."
He waved his hand in farewell and informed me: "I've got some business west o' here. It's out o' your path if you're makin' for the Greenbriar."
"But a bit of gossip. I'm just back from Fort Pitt," I said.
He halted and leaned on his rifle and stared at me with lack-luster eyes, and in a monotonous voice said:
"Ed Sharpe, Dick Stanton, Eph Drake an' Bill Harrel are scoutin' the head o' Powell's Valley. Wanted me to go but the signs wa'n't promisin' 'nough. Logan says he'll take ten sculps for one. He still thinks Michael Cresap led the killin' at Baker's—an' Cresap was at Red Stone when it happened. Cresap wants to be mighty keerful he don't fall into Logan's hands alive.
"Half the folks on the South Fork o' the Clinch can't raise five shoots o' powder. Folks on Rye Cove been movin' over to the Holston, leavin' their cattle behind. Mebbe I'll scout over that way by 'n' by.
"Augusta boys ain't goin' to have any man in their militia company that stands under six feet in his moccasins. Folks between the heads o' Bluestone an' Clinch so skeered they prob'ly won't stay to lay by their corn. Injuns signs up Sandy Creek has made some o' Moccasin an' Copper Creek folks come off. I 'low that's 'bout all."
"Any signs of the Cherokees coming in?"
"Some says they will. T'others says they won't. Sort o' depends on whether they can keep Ike Crabtree from killin' of 'em off."
He threw his rifle over his shoulder and with a curt nod turned into the bushes and followed the bank to find a crossing. He was away on his fearful business; his youth was hopelessly corroded.
I scouted the spot where I had left my horse and discovered no signs of Indians. Unspanceling and mounting, I picked up my journey. I was passing through a mountainous country which contained many large meadows. These pleasant openings would accommodate many cattle if not for the Indian danger. They were thick with grass and enough hay could be cured on them to feed large herds throughout the winter.
The bottom-lands, although smaller, were very rich. Along the hillsides I had no doubt but that grain could easily be grown. Altogether it was a most pleasing country if lasting peace ever could come to the border. While I observed the natural advantages and fancied the glades and bottoms dotted with happy cabins, I did not forget the dead Delaware floating down the river, nor ignore the probability of some of his kin discovering the murder before sundown and taking the path for reprisals.
There was no suggestion of war in the warm sunshine and busy woods-life. Birds rejoiced in their matings, and the air was most gracious with the perfume of growing things. The stirring optimism of spring lingered with me. My heart was warm to rejoin old friends, to enjoy women's company; but never a moment did I neglect to scrutinize the trace ahead.
The day passed with no hint of danger. I had the world to myself when the sun was cradled by the western ridges. I found it a wonderful world, and I believed it was never intended that any race of savages, whites or red, should hold such fair lands for hunting-preserves only.
That night, according to my custom, I spanceled my horse at a considerable distance from my camp. I had selected a spot on top of a ridge, where the maples and walnuts grew thick. I perched a turkey in the gloaming and roasted him over a small fire. Having eaten, I walked to the edge of the growth and gazed toward the west. Across the valley a light suddenly twinkled on the side of a ridge. I first thought that hunters were camping there; and as the light increased to a bright blaze I decided there was a large company of them and that they had no fear of Indians.
But as I watched the flames grew higher. What had been a white light became a ruddy light. The fire spread on both sides. My heart began to pound and I tilted my head to listen. The distance was too far for me to hear tell-tale sounds, still I fancied I could hear the yelling of demons dancing around a burning cabin.
A dead man floating down the river; a boy seeking vengeance somewhere near the blazing home, and a scout for Virginia traveling toward the Greenbriar.
 It is estimated that the whites lost three to the Indians' one in Dunmore's War.
 Tomahawk improvements. Settlers often took possession by blazing trees with axes and carving their names thereon. Such entry to land was not legal, but usually was recognized and later made valid by legal process. Such was the claim made to the site of modern Wheeling, West Virginia, by Ebenezer Silas and Jonathan Zane in 1770.
I journeyed up the Cheat and left its head waters and proceeded down the Greenbriar without observing any signs of the red peril which was creeping upon the country. A great gray eagle, poised at the apex of my upturned gaze, appeared to be absolutely stationary; a little brown flycatcher, darting across my path, made much commotion. Red-crested woodpeckers hammered industriously in dead wood for rations. So long as their tappings resounded ahead of me I feared no ambush.
Wherever nut-trees stood the squirrels made more noise than did the House of Burgesses when dissolved by Governor Dunmore for expressing revolutionary sentiments. A most gracious country, and because of its fairness, most fearfully beset. That which is worthless needs no sentinels. I met with no humans, white or red; but when within a few miles of Patrick Davis' home on Howard Creek I came upon a spot where three Indians had eaten their breakfast that very morning.
I knew they must be friendly to the whites as they had not attempted to hide their temporary camp. They had departed in the direction of the creek, which also was my destination. I planned resting there over night and then crossing the main ridge of the Alleghanies during the next day, stopping the night with the Greenwood family on Dunlap's Creek.
Thence it would be an easy ride to Salem where I would find Colonel Andrew Lewis, commander of the county militia. I hoped he would provide a messenger for forwarding my despatches to Governor Dunmore in Williamsburg. I had no desire to visit the seat of government, nor was my disinclination due to the bustle and confusion of its more than a thousand inhabitants.
A mile from where the Indians had camped I came upon two white men. They were at one side of the trace and curiously busy among some rocks at the top of a fifty-foot cliff. They were hauling a rope from a deep crack or crevice in the rocks and were making hard work of it.
We discovered each other at the same moment, and they called on me to lend them a hand. Leaving my horse in the trace, I hastened over the rough ground to learn what they wanted. As I drew nearer I recognized them as Jacob Scott and William Hacker, confirmed "Injun-haters."
"How d'ye do, Morris," greeted Hacker. "Catch hold here and help haul him up."
"Who is it?" I asked, seizing the rope which was composed of leather belts and spancel-ropes.
"Lige Runner," grunted Hacker, digging in his heels and pulling in the rope hand over hand. Runner, as I have said, was another implacable foe of all red men.
"All together!" panted Scott.
My contribution of muscle soon brought Runner's head into view. We held the rope taut while he dragged himself on to the ledge.
"Did you git it?" eagerly demanded Hacker.
The triumphant grin was surety for his success down the crevice. He rose and tapped a fresh scalp dangling at his belt.
"I got it," he grimly replied. "Had to follow him most to the bottom where his carcass was wedged between the rocks. Morning, Morris. Traveling far? Seen any Injun-signs on the way?"
I shook my head, preferring they should not learn about the three Indians making for Howard's Creek.
"What does all this mean, Runner? Do scalps grow at the bottom of holes?"
"This one seemed to," he answered with a deep chuckle. "Didn't git a fair crack at him, as he was running mighty cute. Rifle held fire the nick of a second too long. I knew he was mortal hit, but he managed to reach this hole. Then the skunk jumped in a-purpose to make us all this bother to git his scalp."
"Who was he?"
"Don't know. He was a good hundred and fifty yards away and going like a streak when I plugged him. It's too dark down in the hole to see anything."
"For all you know he was a friendly."
"We never see no friendlies," Hacker grimly reminded.
"'Cept when they're dead," ironically added Scott. "Our eyesight's terribly poor when they're alive."
"I call it dirty business. I wouldn't have hauled on the rope if I had known."
Runner lowered at me and growled:
"You're too finicky. A' Injun is a' Injun. Sooner they're all dead, the better. I kill 'em quicker'n I would a rattlesnake. A rattler gives notice when he's going to strike."
"If you've killed a friendly this work will cause much suffering among the outlying cabins."
"Bah! If we took good corn cakes and honey to the red devils they'd kill us every chance they got. We ain't forgitting what happened at Keeney's Knob, at the Clendennin farm on the Greenbriar; nor the scores of killings up in Tygart's Valley, and in other places. Give 'em the pewter every chance you can! That's my religion."
"That's the talk, Lige!" cried Scott. "Ike Crabtree would 'a' liked to been in this fun."
"He'll feel cut up when he hears about our luck," said Hacker.
"Crabtree's feelings do him credit," added Runner. "But his natural hankering to raise hair is stronger'n his courage when he thinks there's more'n one Injun to dicker with. Young Shelby Cousin would be the best one for this business if it wa'n't for his fool notions about killing near a settlement."
"Cousin says you killed old Bald Eagle. I saw the Delaware floating down the Cheat in his canoe."
Runner laughed in huge delight, and cried:
"The world's mighty small after all. Ain't it the truth! So you seen him? Did he have the chunk of johnny-cake in his meat-trap?"
"He was friendly to the whites and harmless. It was a poor piece of work."
"The reason why we didn't sculp him was that it would 'a' spoiled the joke," defended Hacker. "With his hair on and the johnny-cake in his mouth, folks would think he was still alive till they got real close."
"The three of us done that," informed Scott, as though jealous of Runner's receiving all the credit.
"Morris means it was a poor job because the chief was said to be friendly to white folks," explained Runner, scowling at me.
"Morris, you'd better go up to David's and tell Ike Crabtree that," jeered Hacker.
"Crabtree is there, is he?" I said, deeply concerned for the safety of the three Indians.
"He started for there. He'll feel mighty well cut up when he hears about us and this Injun in the hole," gravely declared Scott.
"How many cabins on Howard's Creek now?" I asked; for a cabin could be put up in a few hours and the population at any point might greatly increase in the space of twenty-four hours. I had no desire to quarrel with the three men, and I realized that there was nothing I could say which would change their natures, or make them act in a human manner toward friendly Indians.
Runner was inclined to harbor resentment and refused to answer me. Hacker, however, readily informed me:
"There was five when I come through there last. With outlying settlers pouring in, there may be a dozen by this time. All I know is that the call's gone out for fifteen or twenty miles, asking every one to come in to the big log-rolling.
"Davis and t'others swear they won't come off the creek till they've harvested their corn. So they're going to have a rolling and build a fort and stick it out. We fellers reckon we'll go up there and have a hand in the fun-making."
"Up near the Pennsylvania line and west of the Cheat a cabin was burned a few nights ago," I said, hoping they might feel disposed to scout north in search of Indians who were not friendly.
If the trio should go to Howard's Creek and happen upon the three Indians I feared that nothing could prevent another ghastly affair. Possibly Crabtree already had struck, but I hoped not. The men were interested in my news and listened closely. I continued:
"It was a cabin. I know that, although I was too far away to investigate. I have a notion that young Cousin was somewhere near it when it burned."
"Then you can bet the young cuss gave his panther-screech and made his kill," exclaimed Scott.
"If you men want to do the settlers on Howard's Creek a good turn you might scout up there and look for signs."
"I 'low the signs wouldn't be very fresh now," said Runner. "Show me a fresh footing and I'm keen to follow it. But just looking round after the skunks move on ain't my notion of a good time."
"I 'low Lige is right," decided Hacker. "If the reds was there a few nights ago they may be down this way by this time. Either that or they've sneaked back across the Ohio. I 'low there'll be more up to the creek."
"That's my notion," chimed in Scott. "Show us fresh signs and we're like good dogs on the scent. We'd better go to the rollin'."
"There's many Indians who need killing badly," I said. "But if you men persist in killing friendly Indians we'll have the Delawares joining in with the Shawnees and Mingos."
"We don't hanker for any more Moravian missionary talk," coldly warned Runner. "As for the Delawares dipping into the dish, let 'em come. Let 'em all come together! The sooner we smoke their bacon, the sooner the Holston and Clinch and Tygart's Valley will be safe for our women and children. As for that old cuss of a Bald Eagle, we're right glad you seen him. It shows others will see him. That's the sort of a notice we're serving on every redskin in Virginia."
It was obvious they would not relinquish their plan of visiting Howard's Creek, and it was equally plain they preferred to travel without my company. So I returned to the trace and mounted and rode on.
As I neared the creek I came upon several settlers hurrying in from their isolated cabins, and I was pleased to see they had taken time to collect their few cattle and bring them along. Of the five men I talked with there were only two who had guns. The others were armed with axes and big clubs of oak.
One lean fellow carried a long sapling to the end of which he had made fast a long butcher-knife. One of the gunmen said to me that he hoped there would be "a lively chunk of a fight" although he and his friend had only one charge of powder apiece. These two were young men, and like many of their generation they imitated the Indian to the extent of wearing thigh-leggings and breech-clouts.
The ends of the latter were passed through the belt in front and behind, and were allowed to hang down in flaps. These flaps were decorated with crude beadwork. Around their heads they wore red kerchiefs. Two of the older men had wives. These women would impress a resident of the seacoast as being stolid of face.
In reality the continuous apprehension of an Indian raid had frozen their features into a wooden expression. Their eyes were alive enough. I counted ten children, six of whom were girls. I do not think one of the youngsters was more than twelve years old.
The boys were continually bemoaning their lack of guns. The girls seemed happy over the adventure and prattled a stream about the new people they would see at the creek. I think every one of them had brought along a doll made from rags, corn-cobs or wood. The maternal was very strong in their stout little hearts.
One flaxen-haired miss consented to ride before me after my solemnly assuring her that horseback travel would not make her dollie sick. She shyly confessed her great joy in attending "rollin's." Her folks, she said, had not been invited to the last "rollin'," although they lived within fifteen miles of it; and her daddy and mammy had been greatly incensed.
But this, fortunately, was a bee where no one waited to be invited, each settler, living far or near, having an equal equity in the work. Long before we reached the scene of activities we heard the loud voices of the men, the hilarious cries of young folks and the barking of several dogs. My little companion twisted nervously, her blue eyes wide with excitement. Then she was sliding from the horse and with her doll clutched to her side, was scampering ahead with the others.
Then we grown-ups reached the edge of the clearing. Hacker had reported five cabins. Now there were seven, and if the people continued to arrive there must soon be twice that number. At the first of it the overflow would take up quarters among those already housed, or in the fort when it was finished.
Ordinarily a settler girdled his trees and chopped them down when they were dead, and then burned them into long logs. Not until the trees were down and burned into suitable lengths were invitations to the rolling sent out. As this was an emergency rolling the usual custom could not be followed.
Some of the dead trees were being burned into sections with small fires built on top and pressed against the wood by butt-ends of logs we called nigger-heads. Boys and girls were feeding small fuel to these fires. Charred logs left over from former rollings were being yanked out and built into the walls of the fort. As not enough seasoned timber was available for such a large structure green logs were being utilized.
The settlers behind me handed their two guns, clubs and other belongings over to the small boys, and with a nod and a word of greeting joined the workers. The women and girls looked after the cattle. Those of the women who were not working among the logs were busy in the cabins cooking large quantities of food, for we ate marvelously in those old days.
As in peaceful times, when a happy home was to evolve from the "rollin'," the usual pot-pie, composed of boiled grouse, pigeon and venison, and always with dumplings, was the principal dish of the feasting. On a stump, accessible to all who needed it, rested a squat jug containing rum.
I turned my horse loose near the fort and sought out Davis. He was inside the fort, superintending the work. The walls of this were well up. As the first need was shelter, and as the Indians might strike at any moment, no time was lost with a puncheon floor. The earth must do until the men could have a breathing-spell. Four tight walls and a stout roof was the best they could hope for.
Davis paused long enough to inform me that if time permitted they would build the fort two stories high and stockade it with twelve-foot posts. From his worried expression and obvious anxiety to get back to his work I did not believe he had any hope of building more than a one-story shell.
When the Indians struck they would strike with a rush. They would plan on a quick assault taking the settlers by surprise. They dared not remain to conduct a prolonged siege. The fort when completed would not be any stronger than the average cabin; it would simply accommodate more defenders.
The nearest water was a spring some twenty yards from the fort. This failure to provide for a water-supply was an amazing characteristic of many frontier defenses. There was no reason why the fort should not have been built close by the spring, or even over it. I said as much to Davis, but he defended:
"It would place us too near the woods. Their fire-arrows could fall on us too easy."
I reminded him that as the fort was now they would have but little water to extinguish a fire, whereas the spring would have afforded an inexhaustible supply. However, it was too late to change their plans and I volunteered to collect kettles and tubs and organize a water-squad so there might be plenty of water in the fort each night.
"Might be a good plan," agreed Davis. "But I 'low if the Injuns come it'll be all over, one way or t'other, afore we have time to git thirsty."
I briefly explained to Davis my business as despatch-bearer, so he might understand my reason for departing in the morning. He was generous enough to insist that I ran a greater risk in crossing the mountains alone than I would encounter by remaining at the creek.
I left him and levied on kettles to be delivered after supper and then returned to the fort. I had barely arrived when the dogs began barking and several horses came running through the stumps from the north end of the clearing. Before the alarm could find expression in shouts and a semblance of defense a deep voice called from the woods:
"White men! Friends! Hacker, Scott and Runner."
A rousing cheer greeted these newcomers, and one enthusiast grabbed up the jug and ran to meet them. Each of the three drank deeply and were rewarded with more cheers. If they were murderous in their hatred they would be stout defenders. As for their attitude toward all Indians, there were but few along the border who did not have some cause for hating the natives.
This sentiment of the frontier was shown when Henry Judah, arrested for killing some friendly Indians on the South Branch, was rescued by two hundred pioneers. After his irons were knocked off the settlers warned the authorities it would not be well to place him in custody a second time. Nor was Judah the only man thus snatched from the law.
Men like Hacker and his companions would do very little manual labor. They did not build homes, but were always roaming about the country. This trait was of value to men of the Davis type, inasmuch as the killers brought in much game when the home-makers were busy with their cabins or planting.
"Any news, Lige?" bawled Davis, his deep voice booming across the clearing and overriding the clamorous welcome of his neighbors.
"Found some footing and hoss-tracks," Runner yelled back.
"They'll be coming this way, the yaller dogs, and we're here to rub 'em up a bit!" boasted Scott.
"Jesse Hughes oughter be here," said one of the men who was notching the long logs.
"He'll be along if there's promise of a fight," assured Hacker. "Young Cousin and Ike Crabtree, too."
"I 'low them red devils would skin back to the Ohio like a burned cat if they know'd you boys was after 'em!" cried Widow McCabe, who was as strong as the average man and could swing an ax with the best of them. Her husband was killed on the Kanawha the year before, and her hatred of Indians was as intense as that of any killer.
"They'll sure know they've met with some trouble, Missus," modestly admitted Hacker.
The three men seated themselves on a knoll and watched the busy scene. I joined them and inquired about the footing they had observed. Scott informed me they had followed the trail toward the creek and then lost it.
"It was a small party of scouts, mebbe not more'n three," he said. "We sort o' reckon that they 'lowed they might be followed and so took to water. We 'lowed it was best to hustle along here and git in front of the fighting, instead o' losing time trying to find where they quit the creek. You're sticking along, we 'low."
"No need with all you men. I must carry my despatches over the mountains to-morrow."
"Better think twice afore trying it alone. By to-morrow the mountain trace will probably be shut in by the reds," declared Hacker ominously.
"Then I must take my chances of breaking across country. His Lordship must have the despatches at the earliest possible minute."
"Of course," Runner agreed. "Wish you luck even if you got a Quaker stomick when it comes to killing the vermin. But if you want to git across you'd better start at once. Them two or three scouts shows the devils are closing in. Every hour saved now means a dozen more chances for your hair to grow."
As I believed the footing the fellows found was left by the three Indians I had pronounced to be friendly, I was not much exercised in my mind by the warning. I did not believe the Indians would seek to cut off the settlement. They must strike and be off, and they would prefer to have the settlers in flight over the mountains, with the inevitable stragglers easily cut off, than to have them stubbornly remaining in the cabins and fort.
If time was not vital, and providing the Shawnees could bring a large force, then an encircling movement would be their game. But Cornstalk and Logan would not lead a big force into any of the valleys. They knew as well as the whites that the war was to be won by one decisive battle.
These isolated raids up and down the western valleys were simply of value in that they might unnerve the settlers and keep them from leaving their cabins to join the army Dunmore proposed to send against the Shawnee towns. And last of all I was fagged by my long ride and would have one night's unworried sleep, let the risk be ever so great.
The dinner, much belated, was now ready, and the workers were asked to assemble in and around the Davis cabin. Four men were left to do sentinel duty, and the children were told to keep on with their work and play as they would be served after the men had eaten. Huge pot-pies were hurried from all the cabins to where the backwoodsmen were waiting to prove their appetites.
Several jugs of rum garnished the feast. The Widow McCabe contributed a scanty stock of tea, but the men would have none of it on the grounds that it did not "stick to the ribs."
My helping of pie was served on a huge china plate that had been packed over the mountains with much trouble and when every inch of room was needed for the bare necessities. Thus tenacious were the women in coming to this raw country to preserve their womanliness. I might have thought I was being favored had not Mrs. Davis frankly informed me that her few pieces of china were shunned by her men-folks on the plea the ware "dulled their sculping-knives."
Finishing my meal, I seated myself on a stump and proceeded to remove my moccasins and mend them. Davis joined me in a similar task; for while it required only two or three hours to make a pair of moccasins it was necessary to mend them almost daily. Davis greatly admired the awl I bought over the mountains, although it was no more serviceable than the one he had made from the back spring of a clasp-knife.
A settler might be unfortunate enough not to possess a gun, but there was none who did not carry a moccasin-awl attached to the strap of his shot-pouch, a roll of buckskin for patches and some deerskin thongs, or whangs, for sewing. While we sat there barefooted and worked we discussed the pending big battle. He held what I considered to be a narrow view of the situation. He was for having every valley act on the defensive until the Indians were convinced they were wasting warriors in attempting to drive the settlers back over the mountains.
While we argued back and forth those children having finished their dinner took to playing at "Injun." The boys hid in ambush and the little girls endeavored to steal by them without being "sculped." Along the edge of the clearing were five or six sentinels. They were keeping only a perfunctory watch, their eyes and ears giving more heed to the laughter and banter than to the silent woods. At the northern end of the clearing some lovesick swain surrendered to sentiment and in a whimsical nasal voice began singing:
"Come all ye young people, for I'm going for to sing Consarnin' Molly Pringle and her lov-yer, Reuben King."
The thin penetrating shriek of a child somewhere in the forest pricked our ears, the clear falsetto of its fright silencing the singer and leaving his mouth agape. I began drawing on my moccasins, but before I could finish a wonderful transformation had taken place in the clearing. As if the cry had been a prearranged signal, six of the young men filed silently into the woods, moving one behind the other, their hunting-shirts now inside their belts leaving their thighs bare, as if they had been so many Shawnees.
They moved swiftly and silently with no more show of confusion or emotion than if they had been setting out on routine scout-duty. The child screamed again, but not before feasters and workers had become fighting-units. Those possessing guns ran quietly in scattering groups toward the forest, leaving the women to guard the clearing and children.
And the women! They were marvelous in their spirit. With scarcely a word they caught up the axes dropped by the men and formed a long line with the children behind them. Little girls became little mothers and hurried still smaller tots to the unfinished fort.
The woodsmen advanced to the woods, the women slowly fell back, herding the youngsters behind them. As I ran my best to make up for the time lost over my moccasins I passed the Widow McCabe. I shall never forget the ferocious gleam of her slate-gray eyes, nor the superb courage of the thin lips compressed in a straight line.
She moved with the grace of a forest cat, reluctant to fall back, her muscular arm swinging the heavy ax as if it were a toy. Abreast of her, and likewise refusing to retreat, was Moulton's wife, mother of three. She was a thin, frail-appearing little woman with prominent blue eyes, and her gaze was glassy as she stared at the woods, and her lips were drawn back in a snarl.
"Moulton gal missin'," ran down the line. "Git t'other younkers back."
The line began bending at the ends to form a half-circle. The distracted little mother left her place in it. Without a word to betray the anguish tearing at her heart she gathered her linsey petticoat snugly about her, and grasping an ax, ran swiftly toward the direction of the screaming. The Widow McCabe hesitated, glanced over her shoulder. Satisfied the other women had the children well grouped and close to the fort, she darted after Mrs. Moulton.
"Keep back, you women!" yelled Elijah Runner. "Stay with the children! They're letting the child scream to fetch us into a' ambush!"
This was excellent advice, but the widow and Mrs. Moulton gave it no heed. One was impelled by hate, the other by love; and as they crashed into the growth behind me each was worth a woodsman or two in hand-to-hand fighting. With unnerving abruptness a man laughed boisterously directly ahead of me. Yells and questions filled the arches of the deep wood.
"Everybody back! False alarm! Nothin' but the gal gittin' skeered," he shouted. "I'm fetchin' her in, an' th' feller what skeered her."
Explosive laughter from the men and much crude banter marked our relief. Mrs. Moulton dropped her ax and with both hands held to her face stumbled into the clearing. The Widow McCabe walked with her head bowed, the ax held limply. Although rejoicing over the child's safety, I suspected she regretted not having had a chance to use her ax.
"Here they come! Two babies!" some one shouted.
Mrs. Moulton turned and ran toward the woods again, much as a hen-partridge scurries to its young.
The bush-growth swayed and parted. First came the frightened child, and she redoubled her weeping on finding herself in her mother's arms. Behind the child came a grinning woodsman and back of him rode a tall man of very powerful build, but with a face so fat as to appear round and wearing an expression of stupidity.
It was my first glimpse of him, but I recognized him instantly from the many descriptions border men had given of him. He was known as "Baby" Kirst, and he was a Nemesis the Indians had raised against themselves, a piece of terrible machinery which their superstitions would not permit them to kill.
His intelligence was that of a child of seven. When about that age his people were massacred on the Greenbriar and he had been left for dead with a portion of his scalp ripped off and a ghastly wound in his head. By some miracle he had survived, but with his mental growth checked. Physically he had developed muscle and bone until he was a giant in strength.
The red men believed him to be under the protection of the Great Spirit, and when they heard him wandering through the woods, sometimes weeping like a peevish child because some little plan had gone awry, more often laughing uproariously at that which would tickle the fancy of a seven-year-old, they made mad haste to get out of his path.
His instinct to kill was aroused against Indians only. Perhaps it was induced by a vague memory of dark-skinned men having hurt him at some time. Nor was he always possessed by this ungovernable rage. Sometimes he would spend a day in an Indian camp, but woe to the warrior who even inadvertently crossed his whims.
He was not skilled in woodcraft beyond the cunning necessary for surprising easy game such as turkeys, squirrels and rabbits. Regardless of his enormous appetite food was gladly given him at every cabin; for wherever he sought shelter, that place was safe from any Indian attack.
While Mrs. Moulton hurried her child to the fort and hushed its weeping with pot-pie the young men raised a yelping chorus and came dancing into the clearing with all the prancing steps of the red men. Deep-voiced oaths and thunderous welcomes were showered upon Baby Kirst as he proudly rode among them, his huge face further distended by a broad grin.
Awkwardly dismounting from his rawbone horse, he stared around the circle and with one hand held behind him tantalizingly said:
"Got something. Sha'n't let you peek at it."
"Let's see it, Baby," coaxed Runner, his tone such as he might use in pleading with a child.
"No!" And Baby shook his head stubbornly and grinned mischievously.
"'Lasses on mush. Heaps of it, Baby," bribed Davis.
Baby became interested. Davis repeated his offer. Slowly Baby drew from behind him the scalp of a white man. It was long, dark brown hair, burned to a yellowish white at the ends by the sun.
"That's Ben Kirby's hair!" gasped Scott, staring in horror at the exhibit. Then aside, "Good God, he ain't took to killing whites, has he?"
"Where'd you git it, Baby?" coaxed Hacker. "Davis will give you a big bowl of mush and 'lasses."
"That man had it," proudly informed Baby, and he fished from the bosom of his hunting-shirt a hank of coarse black hair.
"A Shawnee sculp or I'm a flying-squirrel!" yelled Runner. "Don't you understand it, men? Some dog of a Shawnee rubbed out Kirby. His hair's been off his head these six weeks. No wonder he ain't come in to help you folks to fort.
"Baby meets this Shawnee and gives him his needings. The red devil's sculp ain't more'n three days old. Good for you, Baby! Good boy! Give him all the 'lasses he can hold. Needn't worry about any raid s'long as he stays here, Davis. You can just take your time in finishing that fort."
"If we could only keep him!" sighed Davis.
"But you can't," spoke up a young man. "Every one has tried. A day or two, yes. Then he must go back to the woods. When the Injuns failed to finish him off they did a bad job for themselves."
"We'll keep him long's we can," said Davis. "Hi, mother! Fill the mixing-bowl with mush and cover it with sweeting."
As proud as a boy being praised by his elders, Baby started to strut to the Davis cabin, but quickly fell into a limping walk and whimpered a bit.
"Crippled on account of rheumatiz," sighed Runner. "Rheumatiz has put more hunters and fighters out of business than the Ohio Injuns ever did. And poor Baby can't remember to always sleep with his feet to the fire. If we could git him a stout pair of shoes to wear in place of them spongy moccasins it would pay us."
Kirst was too grotesque to laugh at, and the settlers were grotesque when they smiled at his ferocious appetite, and in the next moment tried to buy the protection of his presence. Let him regularly patrol a dozen miles of frontier each day, and I would guarantee no Indian would knowingly cross his path.
More than one party of red raiders had unwittingly followed his trail, only to turn in flight as if the devil was nipping after them once they glimpsed his bulky figure, heard his whimpering or his loud laughter. The men followed him to the Davis Cabin, each eager to contribute to the general gossip concerning the child-man's prodigious strength.
As my horse was straying toward the west side of the clearing I went to fetch him back and spancel him near the fort. I had secured him and was about to ride him back when a rifle cracked close at hand in the woods, and I heard a voice passionately jeering:
"I 'low that cotched ye where ye lived, didn't it?"
I drove my horse through the bushes and came upon a sickening scene. An Indian man and a squaw were seated on a horse. On the ground was another Indian. A glance told me he was dead from the small blue hole through the forehead. The man and woman on the horse remained as motionless as if paralyzed.
Isaac Crabtree stood reloading his long rifle, his sallow face twisted in a smile of vicious joy. As he rammed home the charge I crowded my horse against him and sent him sprawling. Turning to the Indians I cried:
"Ride away! Ride quick!"
"We are friendly Cherokees!" cried the woman in that tongue. "That man there is called Cherokee Billy by white men." And she pointed to the dead man.
With that she swerved the horse about, kicked her feet into his ribs and dashed away, the man clinging on behind her, his dark features devoid of expression. An oath brought my head about. Crabtree was on his feet, his hand drawing his ax, his face livid with rage.
"Curse you!" he stuttered. "Ye sp'iled my baggin' the three of 'em!"
"You've bagged Cherokee Billy, the brother of Oconostota, the great chief of the Cherokees," I wrathfully retorted. "It would have been well for the frontier if I could have arrived in time to bag you before you did it. The Cherokees have kept out of the war, but it'll be a wonder if they don't swarm up this creek when they hear of this murder."
"Let 'em come!" he yelled. "That's what we want. It'll take more'n you, Basdel Morris, to keep my paws clear of the critters once I git a bead on one of 'em. Git out of my way so's I can git my rifle. I'll have the three of 'em yet."
"If you make a move to follow them I'll shoot you," I promised.
By this time men were crashing through the bushes. Then came a louder noise and Baby Kirst, mounted on his big horse, his broad face bedaubed with molasses, burst on the scene. A dozen settlers crowded into the spot behind him. Hacker and Runner were the first to see the dead Indian. With a whoop they drew their knives and rushed in to get the scalp. I drove them back with my horse and loudly informed them:
"It's Cherokee Billy, brother of Oconostota, who can send the whole Cherokee nation against you, or hold it back."
"I don't care what Injun it is," howled Hacker. "Hair's hair. Git out the way, or you'll git acquainted with my ax. I'll have that scalp."
"Not so fast," I warned. "The hair belongs to Crabtree here. Kill your own scalps. Crabtree doesn't care to take that scalp. He knows Oconostota has a long memory." And I swung about, my rifle across the saddle and in a direct line with the murderer's chin.
"It's my kill," growled Crabtree. "Morris held me up with his gun, or I'd bagged t'other two of 'em."
"I'd like to see him hold me up when there's red meat to be run down!" snarled Runner.
There were four killers present in addition to the irresponsible Kirst. I was helpless against them, I could not shoot a man down for proposing to follow two Indians, let the reds be ever so friendly toward the whites. But Patrick Davis had come to Howard's Creek to stay, and it was a problem he could handle. It at once developed that he did not fancy the prospect of a Cherokee reprisal. He stepped in front of Runner and in a low ugly voice said:
"You fellows quit this talk. 'Nough mischief has been done. Unless Oconostota can be smoothed down there'll be trouble from Rye Cove to Tygart's Valley. As for following t'other two, you'll reckon with me and my neighbors first."
"A dead Injun ain't worth quarreling over," spoke up Widow McCabe from the edge of the group; and her eyes glowed as they rested on Cherokee Billy.
Mrs. Moulton now came on the scene. She still had her husband, and she frantically called on her friends to prevent further bloodshed. The greater number of the men, while unwilling to criticize Crabtree for his dastardly murder, did not care to add to the Cherokees' anger, and they took sides with Davis. I believed the whole affair had ended, but Crabtree was crafty, and he caused fresh fear by reminding them:
"You folks are fools to let the only witnesses to that dawg's death git away and take word back to the Cherokees. If Morris hadn't took a hand there wouldn't 'a' been that danger."
Many settlers were long used to classifying the red men with the wild animals along the border. Therefore, the question of killing the two fleeing Cherokees became a matter of policy, rather than of sentiment. But Davis, although he wavered, finally declared he would have none of it. He reminded his friends that they would soon be called by Dunmore to march against the Ohio tribes, and that it would not do to leave hostile Cherokees behind them to attack the valleys. Hacker, Runner, Scott and Crabtree perceived that the settlers were opposed to further bloodshed, but Crabtree still had a card to play. Turning to Baby Kirst, who was staring intently down on the dead man, he suddenly cried:
"Sweet sugar, Baby, if you ride and find two Injuns just gone away."
And he pointed in the direction taken by the man and woman. With a yelp of juvenile delight Baby slapped his horse and rode away down the valley.
"Now you've done it!" growled Davis, scowling blackly at Crabtree. "You've made trouble atween us and the Cherokees, and you've drove away the best defense against Injuns we could 'a' had."
"I don't have to have no loose-wit to stand 'tween me and Injuns," sneered Crabtree.
"You're better at killing unarmed Indians than in putting up a real fight," I accused. "You're not fond of traveling very far from a settlement when you draw blood. Shelby Cousin was telling me down on the Cheat that you like to be near a white man's cabin when you make a kill."
His sallow face flushed red, but he had no harsh words to say against young Cousin. Without replying to me he made for the Davis cabin to get something to eat, leaving Cherokee Billy for others to bury. I noticed it was the Widow McCabe, with her slate-gray eyes half-closed and gleaming brightly, who waited on Crabtree and heaped his plate with food.
What with the interruptions and the nervous tension of the men it was after sunset before the roof of the fort was finished. It was agreed that the men with families should sleep in the fort that night with the single men occupying the cabins nearest the fort. I took up my quarters in the Davis cabin, after reminding my friends again that I must start early in the morning to cross the mountains on my way to Colonel Lewis who lived near Salem.
"Why, land sake! To Salem! Why, look here! You'll be seeing my cousin, Ericus Dale!" excitedly exclaimed Mrs. Davis.
My emotion was far greater than that expressed by Mrs. Davis, but the dusk of early evening permitted me to conceal it. It was three years since I had seen the Dales, father and daughter. They were then living in Williamsburg. It was most astonishing that they should be now living in Salem. But this was going too fast.
It did not follow that Patricia Dale was in Salem because her father was there. In truth, it was difficult to imagine Patsy Dale being content with that little settlement under the eastern eaves of the mountains. Before I could find my tongue Mrs. Davis was informing her neighbors:
"My cousin, Ericus, ain't got many warm spots in his heart for Governor Dunmore. He's sure to be sot ag'in' this war. He's a very powerful man in the colony." Then to me, "I want you to see Patsy and tell her not to think of coming out here this summer. She's not to come till the Injuns have been well whipped."
"Coming out here?" I dully repeated.
"They was opinin' to when I last got word from 'em last March. They was at their home in Williamsburg, and the girl wrote she was going to Salem with her father, who had some trading-business to fix up. 'Spected to be there all summer, and was 'lowing to come out here with her daddy. But seeing how things is going, it won't do. Mebbe Salem even won't be safe for 'em. It won't put you out any to see her and tell her?"
I trusted to the dusk to conceal my burning cheeks. I had supposed I had secured control of myself during my three years on the border. It would be impossible for any man who had looked into Patsy Dale's dark blue eyes to forget her; and we had been something more than friends. I promised Mrs. Davis I would do her errand, and hurried from the cabin.
The ride ahead of me suddenly became momentous. I was thrilled with the prospect of seeing Patsy again; and I was afraid the interview would disturb me vastly. To be alone and arrange my jumbled thoughts I helped drive the horses into a small inclosure, well stockaded, and watched the boys coming through the clearing to drive the cattle into their stalls in several hollow sycamores. These natural shelters, once the openings were enlarged and protected with bars, made excellent pens for the domestic animals and fowls. I was still thinking about Patsy Dale and the time when her young life touched mine when the cabin doors were barred and it was time to sleep.
OVER THE MOUNTAINS
When I opened my eyes a young man was surveying the clearing through a chink above the door. This morning vigilance was customary in every cabin along the frontier and revealed the settler's realization of the ever present danger. No wonder those first men grew to hate the dark forest and the cover it afforded the red raiders. A reconnaissance made through a peephole could at the best satisfy one that no stump in the clearing concealed an Indian.
It was with this unsatisfactory guarantee that the settler unbarred his door. He could never be sure that the fringe of the woods was not alive with the enemy. And yet young men fell in love and amorously sought their mates, and were married, and their neighbors made merry, and children were born. And always across the clearing lay the shadow of the tomahawk.
Now that I am older and the blood runs colder, and the frontier is pushed beyond the mountains, I often wonder what our town swains would do if they had to risk their scalps each time a sweetheart was visited!
The man at the door dropped back to the puncheon floor, announcing: "All clear at my end."
A companion at the other end of the cabin made a similar report, and the door was opened. Two of the men, with their rifles ready, stepped outside and swiftly swung their gaze along the edge of the forest. The early morning mists obscured the vision somewhat. A bell tinkled just within the undergrowth. Instantly the fellows outside dropped behind stumps, while we inside removed the plugs from loopholes.
"All the cattle is in," murmured a youth to me, so young his first beard had barely sprouted. "Injun trick to git us out there."
Several minutes passed, then Davis loudly called from the fort:
"It's all right! Hodge's critter wa'n't fetched in last night."
Even as he spoke the cow emerged from the bushes.
Smoke began issuing from the cabin chimneys and the women came from the fort to warm up the remains of the pot-pies, to bake corn bread and prepare mush. The men scattered through the clearing. Some chopped down bushes which might mask a foe's stealthy advance, others cleared out logs which might serve as breastworks for the raiders.
Labor did not appeal to the four killers, and their part was done when they slipped into the forest, each taking a different course, and scouted for signs and bagged some game. As my business demanded an early departure I was not expected to participate in any of these precautions.
I saw that my horse had his feed and water and led him back to the cabin, and gave my weapons their daily overhauling. Mrs. Davis paused in her labors long enough to remind me of her message to Patricia Dale. I reassured her so earnestly that she turned from her corn-bread baking in a flat pan before the open fire and stared at me rather intently. There was no dodging her keen eyes.
"See here," she exclaimed; "you've met Patsy already, I 'low."
I hesitated between the truth and a lie, and then nodded my head. She brushed a limp strand of hair from her face, and in so doing left a smut-streak across her nose, and half-closed her eyes while a smile tugged at the corners of her mouth.
"I can't say yet whether you're lucky, or just the opposite," she demurely remarked.
A loud call from the forest relieved my answering this insinuating remark, and I stepped outdoors to find the men leaving their work and the women leaving their cooking. "White man coming!" bawled a young man.
"Ain't any of the scouts," said Davis. "Better gather the children in. White man sure enough, but it may be one of the renegade breed. Surveyors from the Kanawha say Tavenor Ross is out with the reds ag'in."
There was no haste or confusion in preparing for this possible attack led by a white man. The children scuttled to their mothers; the men slowly fell back to fort and cabins. The fact that four Indian-haters were carefully scouting the woods satisfied us that no enemy could get very close without being fired upon. The white man called again. This time he was answered from two directions.
"It's all right," shouted Davis. "Ike Crabtree answered him. So did Lige Runner. Crabtree never would 'a' yipped till sure there wa'n't no Injun waiting to be shot down. Prob'ly some one from the Holston."
"Hooray!" howled a seventeen-year-old lad, who painted his face in addition to wearing Indian leggings. "It's Jesse Hughes!"
His endorsement of the passionate, reckless man evoked more enthusiasm from the younger men than from their elders. So implacable was Hughes in his hatred of the natives that he was incapable of any self-restraint. His participation in the massacre of the Bulltown families had made him a well-known character wherever Indian-fighters met.
Crabtree loved to kill Indians, but he always weighed his chances and never scorned an advantage. Hughes killed on sight, whether in a settlement or in the woods, whether the act brought one or a score of dusky avengers on his trail. Nor did it matter if the Indian be friendly to the whites and known to be perfectly harmless. His skin condemned him.
Although a master of woodcraft and possessing a knowledge of western Virginia equaled by few men, Hughes was never asked to lead a command of rangers sent to rescue prisoners, or punish a village. He was too irresponsible. He would imperil the lives of a score of friends bent on a surprise attack by firing upon the first savage he saw.
The young men saw in him the successful killer. Their elders preferred to travel the forests without him. His presence in a settlement once war came to the frontier, however, was always desirable, as in case of a fight he would do the enemy much damage.
When he rode from the forest the four scouts came with him; and there was no question as to their admiration of the fellow. Greetings were called out by men and women. He saw me mounted and some one told him of my journey. He rode up to me and warned me to be watchful as he had found tracks a few miles south of the mountain-trace I proposed following.
His errand at Howard's Creek was to secure a few men and attempt to cut off this band. Eager queries for news induced him to say he had just come from Clinch River, and that Captain William Russell, in charge of the rangers along the Clinch, had started Daniel Boone and Michael Stoner for the Falls of the Ohio to warn the surveyors along the river that the Indians were out and would soon be attacking the frontier and combing the Kentucky country clean.
With much gusto he added that three Cherokees had been killed recently at the head of the Clinch. The thoughtless, in unison with Hacker and his companions, cheered this announcement most lustily. The men with families looked very grave. Of Baby Kirst, Hughes had seen no signs.
His report of Indian-signs near my route over the mountains influenced me to return to the cabin and check up my ammunition more carefully. I spread a double handful of small bullets on the table, running seventy to the pound, and let each slip through my fingers to make sure none was irregular. Only those which were round and smooth were returned to the pouch.
My flints and greased linen patches were examined a second time. An aged man, known as Uncle Dick, came in and watched me curiously, and grinned in approval of my caution. It was seldom a man reached his advanced age on the frontier. I had never heard Uncle Dick's last name, nor do I believe there was any one on the creek who had heard it.
According to rumor he had gone against some law in South Carolina and had fled to the frontier. Despite his many years he was sturdy and strong, but his failing eyesight made him dependent upon knife and ax. Much travel in wet weather had crippled him with rheumatism, and he remained close to whatever settlement he happened to visit.
"Fill the breast o' yer shirt with hunks o' corn cake, younker. Be sure yer ax is hitched so it won't be snagged from the loop when ye ride hellitiflicker through the bushes," he warned me.
I nodded, and he seated himself on a three-legged stool and whetted a long knife against one of the fireplace stones, and mumbled:
"Don't make no differ about me, but for the sake o' these younkers here such men as love killin' Injuns oughter keep clear o' the settlements an' do their stent on t'other side the Ohio. Old Cornstalk's powerful keen to git them fellers. When he hears they're here at the creek he's likely to strike quick an' mighty pert. Wal, if they come an' I can make it hand-grips with 'em I 'low there'll be some new Injuns in the Happy Huntin'-grounds."
When I bid the people good-by and received their kindly wishes for a safe journey, Uncle Dick was still at the fireplace, trying to improve the razor-edge of his blade.
I rode through the woods without spending any time in looking for signs. Runner and his mates had scouted a circle around the clearing in a thorough fashion, and I could spare my eyes until I reached the first slope of the mountains. When the path began to ascend and I was afforded a better view of the heavens, thunder-clouds were piling in sullen massiveness above the western horizon.
The heat was very oppressive. The dull rumble of thunder came across the valley behind. It was as much of a vibration as a sound, something to be felt as well as heard. The song-birds were keeping close to the thickets and fluttering about nervously. By the time I was well committed to the first rugged ascent, a yellowish gray wall filled the western sky. Across this the lightning played.
As the curtain of rain drove in toward the Greenbriar I knew that any savages lurking west of Howard's Creek would be bothered to keep their priming dry. No rain fell on my path, however, and at no time did I lose the early morning sun. On gaining a higher elevation I could see the storm was following the valley down to the head waters of the Clinch.
I had not neglected Uncle Dick's advice in regard to provisions, and the front of my loose hunting-shirt held a bag of corn cakes and some cooked venison. On reaching the first slope I had watched carefully for the tracks Hughes had seen south of the trace, but found none.
There could be no question of Hughes' ability to read Indian-signs; and his warning recalled the Grisdols to my mind. These people—two brothers and two children—had their cabin in a hollow close by a tumbling brook and to one side of the trace. I planned to make a slight detour and pass a word with them and to warn them to be watchful.
The fact that Hughes had found signs near the mountains would indicate the Indians had planned a raid against some isolated home, and as there was no footing in the trace I followed, it might easily be that the enemy had entered lower down.
Along toward the noon hour I topped a ridge and decided I would halt and eat at the first spring or brook I came to. My horse, an old campaigner in wilderness work, pricked his ears as we began dipping down the gentle slope. I studied the path ahead and the timbered slopes on both sides to discover the cause of this attention.
The animal was intelligent. I knew it could be no wild creature as there was no suggestion of fear in the attentive ears. Dissatisfied at remaining in ignorance, I reined in to investigate more carefully. Almost at once the horse swung his head to the right and gazed curiously. On this side the space was bordered by a beech grove. Owing to the rank bush-growth lining the path, little could be seen of the grove from any point below where I had halted until a brook, which cut the path, was reached.
I leaned forward and looked between the horse's ears and discovered a bear down in the hollow, nosing about for nuts and grubs on the bank of the brook. A bear was always acceptable meat to a settler, and I at once decided to stalk the brute and pack his carcass to the Grisdol cabin.
After the first moment he passed behind some trees, but as I continued to glimpse him I knew he had not taken alarm. I slid from my horse and started him down the trace, and then ducked into the grove and rapidly descended toward the brook. I had no fear of my horse losing himself, as he would make for the stream where I would join him within a few minutes.
As I flitted from tree to tree I repeatedly sighted the animal as he poked his nose about in search of ants or grubs, and yet when I reached a point within sixty or seventy-five yards of where he should have been feeding I could not locate him.
A half-formed suspicion popped into my mind from nowhere. My horse had shown no nervousness in drawing nearer to the bear. The bushes prevented my seeing the horse, but I could hear him as he quickened his pace to reach the tumbling brook. Now for a second I saw the bear again, and my suspicion grew stronger.
The brute impressed me as being very lean, whereas the season was enough advanced to have grown some fat on his bones. I was fairly startled next to behold the creature emerge from behind a tree and walk upright toward the opening made by the brook, cutting across the trace. Had I not been partly primed for the surprise I should have been astounded at my second discovery; the bear was armed with a gun.
Expecting to behold me on the horse when the animal reached the brook the fellow's only thought was to remain unseen by any one in the trace. He halted behind a tree, but in full view of me, and standing with his left side exposed to me. Had I the instincts of a killer I would have shot him forthwith, and as he was obviously stalking me, having discovered I was traveling over the trace, I would have been justified. As it was I whistled shrilly.
Like a flash the bearskin fell back and a painted Shawnee wheeled to face me. Even as he turned his smoothbore banged away and half a dozen buckshot rained through the branches over my head. He was slipping behind the tree when I fired.
He went down with a foot and part of his leg exposed. Controlling an impulse to close in I reloaded, taking great care in wrapping the greased patch about the bullet. I believed I had done for him, but to make sure I sent another pellet through the exposed foot. It twitched, as a dead limb will, but without muscular reaction. Reloading, and circling warily to avoid being taken by surprise by any companion, I reached the beech. My first shot had caught him through the base of the neck, killing instantly.
He wore a necklace of bear's claws and was hideously painted. He had the snake totem on his chest and was nude except for his breech-clout and moccasins. Fastened to his clout were four awful exhibits of his predaceous success—four scalps. One was gray, another streaked with gray, and two—oh, the pity of it—were soft and long.
I removed them and placed them in the roll of buckskin that I carried for moccasin-patches. And my heart being hardened, I scalped the murderer with never a qualm. No warning was longer needed at the Grisdol cabin. The Indians had struck.
Furtively scanning the grove, I stole to the trace where my horse stood fetlock-deep in the brook. The dead warrior had known of my coming, or of some one's coming, and had had time to masquerade as a bear. He had thought to catch his victim off his guard.
The four scalps proved the raiders were out in numbers, for a small party would not venture so far east. But the dead warrior's attempt to ambush me in a bearskin also proved he was working alone for the time being. Yet gunshots carry far, and I might expect the Shawnees to be swarming into the hollow at any moment.
Mounting my horse, I turned north, left of the trace, and picked a course where no trail ran, and from which I could occasionally catch a glimpse of the path some fifty feet below. I discovered no signs of the enemy, and there was no way of telling whether they were ahead or behind me. That they must have heard the roar of the smoothbore and the whip-like crack of my Deckhard was not to be doubted. Nor would they fail to guess the truth, inasmuch as the rifle had spoken last.
It became very difficult to keep along the side of the slope and I dismounted and led the horse. The prolonged howl of a wolf sounded behind. My horse was greatly afraid of wolves, yet he did not draw back and display nervousness. I increased my pace, then halted and half-raised my rifle as there came a shuffling of feet above me, accompanied by a tiny avalanche of forest mold and rotten chestnuts. I rested the rifle over the saddle and endeavored to peer through the tangle of beech and inferior growth which masked the flank of the slope.
The sliding, shuffling sound continued with no attempt at concealment that I could discover; and yet there was nothing to shoot at. Suddenly the noise ceased. I was still staring toward the spot where it had last sounded when a calm voice behind me called out:
"They're after you."
It was Shelby Cousin, with the hate of the border making his young face very hard and cruel.
"I've been scouting 'em," he informed me. "I seen you take to the side o' this ridge. I seen 'em streamin' down the trace. They picked up your trail mighty smart. Now they're scattered all along behind you."
I opened the roll of buckskin and disclosed the terrible trophies. He straightened and threw his head back, and for a moment stood with his eyes closed, his slight figure trembling violently. Then he fiercely whispered:
"How'd you git these from the devils?"
There was an expectant glare in his gaze. I showed him the hair of the Shawnee.
"Good! Good!" he repeated exultantly as he gloated over the repulsive thing. Then gloomily:
"But why couldn't I 'a' took it? Luck's been ag'in' me for days. Found a burned cabin after I quit you on the Cheat, an' 'lowed to ambush the party when they made for the Ohio. 'Stead o' goin' to their villages they fooled me by strikin' across to here. Now they've made this kill! Who be they?"
"The Grisdols. Only a short distance from here. Two men and the two children. No women. I knew them. I must go there and bury them and these scalps."
"I'll help," he mumbled. "I ain't heard no discovery-yell yet. They're still huntin' for your signs along this ridge." Trailing his double-barrel rifle, he took the lead and began a diagonal descent to the trace I had abandoned. I murmured a protest, but he assured me:
"They're all behind us. We can make quicker time in the trace. They'll hop on to your trail sure's shootin'. Speed is what we hanker for."
His woodcraft was remarkable. He seemed to possess the gift of seeing that which was concealed. With a glance he would observe land formations and the nature of the growth, and confidently circle a heavy grove and tell me what would be the nature of the traveling beyond, and whether wet or dry.
"We could slide down into the trace in a minute any time, but I don't want to take to it till we round the bend ahead; then we'll be out o' sight o' the reds strung along the ridge."
He had halted as he explained this and I was almost abreast of him, and he startled me by whipping up his rifle and firing. As the shot rang out he rejoiced:
I had heard nothing, seen nothing, and yet he had both heard and seen, and had made his kill.
"No use coverin' up any longer," he said. "They're closin' in. Make for the trace shortest way. Hold back once you hit it for me to come up. There's not more'n two or three close at hand, but the whole kit an' b'ilin' know we're here."
The spiteful spang of his rifle barely interrupted the woods life close about us. Only for a moment did the squirrels cease their chatter. A grouse drummed away in alarm, but only for a short flight. No cries of rage, nor war-whoops, warned that the enemy were closing in on us. Had I been new to the border I should have disbelieved my companion's statement. Leading the horse, I started down the bank while Cousin climbed higher.