THE MINUTE BOYS OF THE MOHAWK VALLEY
by JAMES OTIS
Author of "The Boys of Fort Schuyler," "The Boys of '98," "Teddy and Carrots," "Captain Tom, the Privateersman," "The Boys of 1745," "The Signal Boys of '75," "Under the Liberty Tree," "When Israel Putnam Served the King," "The Minute Boys of the Green Mountains," Etc., Etc.
Illustrated by A. Burnham Shute
I. Young Soldiers II. The Powwow III. Disappointment IV. On the Oriskany V. Divided Duty VI. Between the Lines VII. Insubordination VIII. The Ambush IX. The Indian Camp X. Prisoners XI. The Escape XII. In the Fort XIII. The Assault XIV. Mutiny XV. The Torture XVI. Short Allowance XVII. Perplexing Scenes XVIII. Close Quarters XIX. The Pursuit XX. Enlisted Men
It seems not only proper, but necessary, that I should explain how the material for this story was obtained, and why it happens that I can thus set down exactly what Noel Campbell thought and did, during certain times while he was serving the patriot cause in the Mohawk Valley as few other boys could have done.
At some time in Noel's life—most likely after he was grown to be a man with children, and, perhaps, grandchildren of his own—he wrote many letters to relatives of his in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, wherein he told with considerable of detail that which he did during the War of the Revolution, and more particularly while he and his friends were fighting against that wily Indian sachem, Thayendanega. These letters, together with many others concerning the struggles of our people for independence, came into my keeping a long while ago, and from the lines written by Noel Campbell I have put together the following story after much the same fashion as he himself set it down.
When the work was begun I doubted if Thayendanega could have been frightened by a party of boys who were playing at being soldiers, and refused to make such statement until, quite by chance, I found the following in Lossing's "Field-Book of the Revolution":
"It was a sunny morning toward the close of May, when Brant and his warriors cautiously moved up to the brow of the lofty hill on the east side of the town (Cherry Valley) to reconnoitre the settlement at their feet. He was astonished and chagrined on seeing a fortification where he supposed all was weak and defenceless, and greater was his disappointment when quite a large and well-armed garrison appeared upon the esplanade in front of Colonel Campbell's house.
"These soldiers were not as formidable as the sachem supposed, for they were only half-grown boys, who, full of the martial spirit of the times, had formed themselves into companies, and, armed with wooden guns and swords, held regular drills each day.... He mistook the boys for full-grown soldiers, and, considering an attack dangerous, moved his party to a hiding-place in a deep ravine north of the village."
Then again I questioned if General Herkimer would have sent two boys as messengers, even though an old and experienced soldier went with them, when he must have had under his command many men grown who were thoroughly familiar with Indian warfare. As if to combat this doubt, I found the following statement by one who has written much concerning the struggles of the colonists for freedom:
"As soon as St. Leger's approach up Oneida Lake was known to General Herkimer, he summoned the militia of Tryon County to the succor of the garrison at Fort Schuyler. They rendezvoused at Fort Dayton, on the German Flats, and, on the day when the Indians encircled the fort, Herkimer was near Oriskany with more than eight hundred men, eager to face the enemy. He sent as messengers to Gansevoort two boys and a man, informing him of his approach, and requesting him to apprise him of the arrival of the couriers by discharging three guns in rapid succession, which he knew would be heard at Oriskany."
Having thus proven, at least to my own satisfaction, that so much of Noel's story was true, I set about verifying the other portions, and in no single instance did I find that he had drawn upon his imagination, therefore I resolved to write it down as the lad himself would have spoken, being able, because of the letters, to put myself very nearly in his place.
I would it had been possible to say more concerning Thayendanega and Sir John Johnson, for they played important parts in the making of Mohawk Valley history; but Noel's own account was of such length that I did not feel warranted in adding to it.
To the best of my knowledge and belief, the tale of the "Minute Boys of the Mohawk Valley" is no more than a narration of facts, as can be verified by reference to any of our standard histories of the beginnings of this nation.
If the reader can find in the reading one-half the pleasure I have had in interpreting Noel Campbell's odd speech, and smoothing down his too vigorous language, then will he be richly repaid for the perusal.
List of Illustrations
"An Indian strode gravely into the encampment" "'You have done well to get back alive'" "Sergeant Corney waved the bit of fringe slowly to and fro" "'Tire 'em out, lads!' the General shouted" "Three or four hundred Indians were dancing wildly around a huge fire" "With upraised hands, stepped out from amid the screen of foliage" "The painted villain sank down upon the ground" "Keep a-movin' unless you're achin' to have a bullet through the back'"
It sounds like an unreasonable tale, or something after the style of a fairy-story, to say that a party of lads, drilling with wooden guns, were able, without being conscious of the fact, to frighten from his bloody work such a murderous, powerful sachem as Thayendanega, or Joseph Brant, to use his English name, but such is the undisputed fact.
It was the month of May in the year of our Lord 1777, when we of Cherry Valley, in the Province of New York, learned that this same Thayendanega, a pure-blooded Mohawk Indian, whose father was chief of the Onondaga nation, had come into the Mohawk Valley from Canada with a large force of Indians, who, under the wicked tutoring of Sir John Johnson, were ripe for mischief.
Col. Samuel Campbell, my uncle, was one of the leading patriots in that section of the province, and it was well known that the Johnsons,—Sir John and Guy,—the Butlers, Daniel Claus, and, in fact, all the Tories nearabout, would direct that the first blow be struck at Cherry Valley, in order that my uncle might be killed or made prisoner; therefore, at the time when we lads frightened Joseph Brant without our own knowledge, we were in daily fear of being set upon by our enemies.
Among the boys of the settlement I, Noel Campbell, was looked upon as a leader simply because my uncle was the most influential Whig in the vicinity, and my particular friend and comrade was Jacob Sitz, son of Peter, a lad who could easily best us all in trials of strength or of woodcraft.
We had heard of the Minute Men of Lexington and of the Green Mountains, and when the day came that all the able-bodied men of our valley banded themselves together for the protection of their homes against our neighbors, the Tories, who thirsted for patriot blood, we lads decided that we were old enough to do our share in whatsoever might be afoot.
Therefore it was that two score of us formed a league to help defend the settlements, and gave ourselves the name of "Minute Boys of the Mohawk Valley."
There was then living in Cherry Valley an old Prussian soldier by name Cornelius Braun, who, in his native land, had won the rank of sergeant; but, having grown too old for very active military duty, came to this country with the idea of making a home for himself. Sergeant Corney, as nearly every one called him, was not so old, however, but that he could strike a blow, and a heavy one, in his own defence, and when he learned what we lads proposed to do, he offered to drill us in the manual of arms.
We were not overly well equipped in the way of weapons, although it is safe to say that each of us had a firearm of some sort; but it seemed to give Sergeant Corney the fidgets to see us carrying such a motley collection of guns, and he insisted on making a quantity of wooden muskets to be used in the drill, to the end that we might present a more soldierly appearance when lined up before him.
Therefore it was that, when we came each day on the green in front of my uncle's house to go through such manoeuvres as our instructor thought necessary, we had in our hands only those harmless wooden guns.
I was the captain of the company; Jacob Sitz acted as lieutenant, and all the others were privates. Sergeant Corney, as a matter of course, was the commander-in-chief.
On a certain day during the last week in May—the exact date I have forgotten—we were drilling as usual, with Sergeant Corney finding more fault than ever, when we frightened the famous Thayendanega away from an attack on the settlement, although, as I have said, we knew nothing about it until many months afterward.
It seems, as we learned later, that the villainous Brant had made all his plans for an attack upon Cherry Valley, and had secretly gained a position on the hill to the eastward of the place, counting on waiting there until nightfall, when he might surprise us; but, much to his astonishment, he saw what appeared from the distance to be a large body of well-equipped soldiers evidently making ready for serious work.
The scoundrelly redskin was not so brave that he was willing to make an attack where it seemed that the Whigs were prepared to receive him, and, like the cur that he was, he marched his force to a hiding-place in a deep ravine north of the settlement, near the road leading to the Mohawk River, about a mile and a half from where we were drilling.
Now hardly more than an hour before it is probable that the Indians got their first glimpse of us Minute Boys, Lieutenant Wormwood had arrived from Fort Plain with information to my uncle that a force of patriot soldiers was on the way to check Sir John's plans for killing all who did not quite agree with him in politics, and to request that arrangements be made to care for the men during such time as they might remain in that vicinity.
When, late in the afternoon, the lieutenant was ready to return to Fort Plain, Jacob's father, Peter Sitz, was ordered to accompany him as bearer of a message from my uncle to the leader of the patriot force, and the two men set off on horseback, we lads envying them because it seemed a fine thing to ride to and fro over the country summoning this man or that to his duty.
It was the last time Jacob saw his father until after many days had passed, and what happened to the two horsemen we could only guess when the lieutenant's lifeless body was found next day; but we learned the particulars later.
It seems that when the messengers arrived near Brant's hiding-place, being forced to pass by where the Indians were concealed in order to get to Fort Plain, they were hailed by some one in the thicket; but instead of replying, the men put spurs to their horses.
The savages in ambush fired a volley; Lieutenant Wormwood was killed instantly, while Jacob's father was so seriously wounded that he fell from his horse, and, a few seconds later, found himself a prisoner among Brant's wolves.
When the tidings of this tragedy was brought into the settlement, Jacob was overwhelmed with grief, as might have been expected, and even my uncle had great difficulty in preventing the distressed lad from rushing into the wilderness with the poor hope that he might be able, single-handed, to effect his father's rescue.
He was only sixteen years of age—two months older than I; but within an hour after we knew beyond a peradventure that Peter Sitz was a prisoner, it seemed as if the lad had grown to be a man.
It was this first blow against the settlement of Cherry Valley by the murderous Brant, which brought us Minute Boys of the Mohawk Valley into active service, for from that day we saw as much of warfare as did our elders, and I am proud to be able to set down the fact that we performed good work, although we failed, as did the men of the settlement, in preventing it from being destroyed a year and a half later, while the fighting force of the population was absent.
The murder of Lieutenant Wormwood was sufficient evidence that the Tories and their savage allies were prepared to harry us, and within a very few minutes after the body of the officer had been brought in, the men made ready to defend their homes.
A council of war was immediately called, and while it was in session Sergeant Corney made a proposition which was like to take away the breath from those who looked upon us of the Minute Boys as mere children, for he said in the tone of one who knows whereof he speaks:
"I've been drillin' a force that can do good work in what's before us, if they're given a show, an' I'll answer for half a dozen of 'em, guaranteein' they'll show themselves to be men."
"Are you speaking of the lads?" my uncle asked in surprise, and the old man replied promptly;
"Ay, that I am, sir, an', unless all signs fail, there's never one of 'em who'll bring reproach upon the settlement."
"What is your plan, Sergeant Braun?" Master Dunlap, the preacher, asked, for so great did all believe the danger which threatened, that every man, whether able-bodied or crippled, had been summoned to the council.
"It ain't what you might rightly call a plan, sir," Sergeant Corney replied. "It's only an idee, brought out by the fact that from this time we've got to keep a close watch on what's happenin' in this 'ere valley, unless we're willin' to be murdered in our beds. There are boys enough in the settlement to do the scoutin', leavin' the elders to stand by for defence, an' I see no good reason why they shouldn't perform full share of military duty."
"Think you a lad like my nephew Noel could render any valuable assistance at such a time as this?" my uncle asked, with a smile, as if believing he had put an end to the old man's proposition, and my cheeks reddened with excitement and fear lest Sergeant Corney should allow himself to be backed down, as I listened intently for the answer.
It was not long in coming, and I could have kissed the old soldier for speaking as he did.
"Give me him an' Jacob Sitz, sir, an' I'll guarantee to follow Thayendanega an' his precious scoundrels till we know what deviltry they've got in mind."
"You shall have full charge of all the boys in the settlement, and we will see if you can make good your boast," my uncle, who held command of our fighting force, said after a brief pause, and in a twinkling Sergeant Corney left the building, beckoning us lads to follow, for our company had gathered with the men to learn what was to be done.
The old soldier did not need very much time in which to lay his plans; in fact, I believe he had mapped out the whole course before having spoken.
He divided our company into squads of six, not reckoning in either Jacob or me, and these he gave stations at different points within a mile of the settlement, cautioning every one to be on the alert, for now had come the time when it was possible for them to prove the value of the Minute Boys as soldiers. It was to be their duty, by night as well as by day, to keep careful watch lest the Indians creep up unawares, and I could well understand that never one would shirk his duty, since upon their vigilance depended the lives or liberty of all the dwellers nearabout.
Then, when some one asked why neither Jacob nor I had been assigned to sentinel duty, Sergeant Corney replied, gravely:
"I promised that with two lads I would follow Thayendanega's gang until we found out what the villains were about, as all of you well know, an' within the hour we three will set off."
Several of the more venturesome lads pleaded their right to take part in the dangerous service, claiming that they should not be left at home when it was possible to make names for themselves among men; but to all these entreaties Sergeant Corney made but one reply.
"It was Colonel Campbell himself who mentioned Noel's name, an' of a surety he has the right to say who shall go or stay. As for Jacob, have any of you a better claim than he to follow the murderers?"
This silenced the eager ones; but I would have been glad indeed had any member of the company shown that he had a better right to accompany the old soldier than I, for of a verity I was not itching to hug the heels of those savages who were doing the bidding of the Tories. However faint-hearted I might have been, however, I would have bitten the end of my tongue off before saying that which should show to my comrades that I was more than willing to remain behind, for if the captain of the Minute Boys showed the white feather, what might not have been excused in the rank and file?
Never one of all that company raised his voice against my right to follow Sergeant Corney, however, and I did my best at making it appear that the work in hand was exactly to my liking.
Even the dullest among us understood that we three might be absent from the settlement many days, and yet our preparations for the dangerous journey were most simple.
I ran home to acquaint my mother with what was afoot, and while she was trying to keep back her tears lest I might be unnerved for the duty to which I had been assigned, I armed myself with rifle and hunting-knife, making certain each weapon was in proper order.
From my father's store of powder and balls I took as much as could be conveniently carried, and this, with such small supply of corn bread and salt pork as filled my hunting-bag, made up an outfit for a journey from which it was reasonable to believe I might never return.
Mother did no more than kiss me again and again in silence, when I was ready to set off, and I now understand that she did not dare trust herself to speak, which, I venture to say, saved me from much sorrow.
On arriving at the green in front of my uncle's house, where we three had agreed to meet, I found that Jacob's outfit was even less than mine. In his grief because of his father's fate, he had thought only of his weapons and ammunition, and by the expression on his face I knew full well he would use them manfully if we came within striking distance of Lieutenant Wormwood's murderers.
Sergeant Corney was equipped in much the same fashion as was I, and immediately after my arrival he said, impatiently:
"There is no reason why we should remain here many minutes, as if tryin' to show ourselves. It stands us in hand to strike the trail while it is yet warm, an' by dallyin' the people will come to believe our only idee is to look bigger'n we really are."
"It is for you to say when we shall set out," I replied, envying those of my comrades who stood near at hand to witness the departure, and the words had hardly more than been spoken before the old man started off at a smart pace in the direction of the thicket where Lieutenant Wormwood's body had so lately been found.
As a matter of course we two lads followed, I making every effort to keep pace with him, lest those who were watching should suspect I was not as brave as I looked, and in a few moments we had shut out from view the houses of the settlement.
We were not long in traversing the short distance which led us to the tree at the foot of which the officer came to his death; it can well be understood that we did not linger many seconds in that gruesome locality.
Jacob was eager to push on, hoping even against hope that it might be possible for him to rescue his father. Sergeant Corney had no desire to delay, lest we find it difficult to follow the trail later in the day, and there was no reason why I should care to remain in that place where were such evidences as might soon be found of our own fate.
Thayendanega had apparently given no heed as to whether his movements were known, for never an effort had been made to cover the trail, and we followed it as readily as if it had been blazed.
When we had travelled rapidly in silence for two full hours, Sergeant Corney called a halt, saying as he did so:
"There's no reason why we should push on so fast, an' much need to husband our strength, for no one can tell how soon we may be forced to take part in a hand-to-hand scrimmage. We'll have a bite to eat, for I didn't overload my stomach this mornin', an' be all the better for a breathin'-spell."
"We didn't come out to spend our time in eatin'," Jacob said, moodily, and I understood full well what was in his mind. "We can loiter when we have come up with the savages."
"It ain't in the plan that we shall get too close at their heels," Sergeant Corney replied, as he drew from his hunting-bag a generous supply of corn bread, and laid a good half of it in front of my comrade.
"It may not be in your plan, but it is in mine," Jacob said, sharply, giving no heed to the food. "We shall be doin' our duty by those we have left behind if we hug as close to the villains as is possible, while there's no chance I can serve my father by hangin' back at a coward's distance."
"An' it's in your mind, lad, that we might do him a good turn?" Sergeant Corney said, as if talking to himself.
"Why not? It wouldn't be the first time the murderin' redskins had lost a prisoner."
"True for you, lad, an' I know full well how you're feelin'; but the question is whether we can hope for anythin' while there's sich a crowd of 'em?"
"I'm not expectin' you an' Noel will run your heads into too much danger," Jacob said, passionately. "I know you would help father if the chance came your way; but it's my duty to take every risk, an' I count on doin' so even though we part company within the hour! Do you suppose I can loiter at a safe distance from the painted devils when my father is expectin' to see some sign that I'm doin' all I may to help him?"
"I question if Peter Sitz expects that any one from Cherry Valley will follow Thayendanega's snakes. He knows their strength, an' is man enough to understand what might be the price of an attempt to rescue him."
Although Sergeant Corney spoke calmly, as if he had no vital interest in the matter, I knew him well enough to feel certain he was even then trying to settle in his own mind how a rescue might be effected; but Jacob was so blinded by his grief that at the moment I believe he really thought we would let him push ahead alone, therefore I said in as hearty a tone as was possible:
"You should know, Jacob, that both of us stand ready to do all men may to aid your father, an' you may be certain we'll not let you go on alone; but just now Sergeant Corney must be our leader, since he knows better than you an' I put together what ought to be done."
"But will he do his best?" Jacob cried, in a passion. "Will he help me, or does he think the work is done when we have learned where Joseph Brant has gone on his work of bloodshed?"
I waited for the old soldier to make reply to this demand, and he hesitated so long that I began to fear I had been mistaken as to that which I had supposed was in his mind. At last, when it seemed as if Jacob could no longer restrain his impatience, Sergeant Corney said, speaking slowly, as if weighing well each word:
"I will do my best, heedin' not my own safety, givin' no thought to the labor or difficulties, if it so be you lads are minded to do as I shall say, without questionin' when it seems as if I might be goin' wrong—"
I would have interrupted him with an assurance that we were willing to serve him faithfully; but he checked me with a gesture, and added:
"As Peter Sitz would were he in my place, so will I. He was my friend; I know if it was a question of savin' the lives of those at Cherry Valley, or turnin' his back on me, what he would do, an' even so shall I."
"Meanin' what?" Jacob demanded, fiercely.
"Meanin' that while we can do our duty by those who sent us, we will strain every nerve in his behalf; but if it should so chance that their safety depended upon us, we would give service to the greatest number."
Jacob stared as if not understanding what the old man had said, and I made haste to add:
"He means that if, while followin' Brant with the hope of aidin' your father, we found out that danger threatened the settlement, it would be our duty to warn them rather than hold on for him."
The old soldier nodded in token that I had but given different words to his idea, and Jacob replied in a tone of satisfaction:
"I can ask for nothin' more. If it so happens that you must turn back, I can keep on, for two would aid the settlement as much as three."
"Ay, lad, you shall then do as seems best to you," Sergeant Corney said, solemnly, and thus it was settled that, while it did not interfere with our duty as Minute Boys of the Mohawk Valley, all our efforts should be for the relief of the unfortunate prisoner, although at the time I had little hope the savages would allow him to live many days.
Having thus pledged himself to Jacob, Sergeant Corney showed no further disposition to "husband his strength," but led us on the march once more, and this time at a pace which we lads found difficult to maintain without actually running.
Now it is not my purpose to set down all we did and said during this long chase. It would be of no interest to a stranger, since one hour was much like another until we were come near to the Indian town of Oghkwaga, where Brant usually made his headquarters while bent on such cruel work as that of harrying the settlers who favored the rebellion against the king, and it is not necessary I should write down here the well-known fact that Thayendanega was in the pay of the British.
It seemed much as if the Indians had no care as to whether they were being followed, for, instead of sending back scouts along the trail, as Brant almost always did, the party remained in a body, and even when we were so close on them as to lie down within view of their camp-fires at night, we never saw one of the painted villains who appeared curious to know if any person was in the rear.
We were within a day's march of the Indian town, and had lain down in a thicket of spruce bushes after having looked in vain for some signs of a prisoner, as we had done during each of the four days while we were directly behind the band and at no time more than two miles distant.
Jacob's face was wrinkled, or so it seemed to me, with lines drawn by sorrow because we had not succeeded in getting a glimpse of his father, and it was evident that the lad was beginning to fear, as did I, that the savages, finding a prisoner too troublesome, had tortured him to death; for if Master Sitz was yet alive and in the keeping of Brant's followers, why had we not got a glimpse of him?
"There is no reason why you should grieve so deeply, lad," Sergeant Corney said, as if he could read the boy's thoughts. "I'll answer for it that your father is as much alive as we are."
"How can you be certain of that?" Jacob asked, moodily.
"We have seen every one of their camps, eh?"
"Of course," Jacob replied, impatiently.
"An' have you noted any sign of a prisoner's havin' been tortured—meanin' a half-burned tree, a pile of rocks near the fire, or sich other like thing?"
Jacob shook his head; he could not bring himself to speak calmly of such a possibility.
"No, you haven't, an' we know without bein' told that when sich devils as follow Joe Brant get a prisoner in their clutches, they never kill him without torture. Now, 'cordin' to my way of thinkin', we can count to a certainty that he's alive."
"Then why haven't we come across him?" Jacob demanded, fiercely. "This is the fourth time we've had their camp in full view, an' if he was with 'em we ought to have seen somethin' of him."
"I allow you're right, lad, an' that's why I've come to believe that he's been sent on ahead to the village."
"Then I must be movin'!" Jacob cried, springing suddenly to his feet. "I should have had sense enough to guess that before!" And he made as if he would leave us; but Sergeant Corney pulled him back by the coat-sleeve.
"Wait a bit. It was on my tongue's end to propose somethin' of the same kind; but we can't afford to take the chances of makin' a move till yonder nest of snakes has settled down for the night. An hour from now, an' we'll all pull out."
Jacob could not well have made complaint after this, and he settled down with his back against a tree to wait with so much of patience as he could summon, until the old soldier should give the word.
It surprised me that Jacob was not utterly cast down by the possibility that his father had already been carried to the Indian village, for once there we could not hope to effect a rescue; but since this thought had, apparently, never come into his mind, it was not for me to add to his distress by suggesting it.
Well, we remained in the thicket until the red villains had quieted down for the night, and then Sergeant Corney led us toward the south, that we might make a long circle around the encampment, when would come the most dangerous portion of our task.
Thus far we had done as Jacob would have us, and at the same time performed our full duty as Minute Boys, for our task was to learn what Brant counted on doing, and as to that we could not be certain until he was in the village.
But now that the old soldier was leading us around the encampment to the end that we might gain a position between Brant's force and those at Oghkwaga, I said to myself, with many an inward shudder, that we were like to join Jacob's father after a different fashion than we had counted on.
It was as if Sergeant Corney had no fear as to what might happen, for he plunged into the gloom of the forest like a man who walks among friends, and Jacob followed carelessly, all his thoughts on the possible whereabouts of the prisoner he was so eager to see.
Apparently I was the only member of the party who gave heed to his steps, and so timid had I become through looking into the future for danger, that it was only with difficulty I repressed a cry of alarm when Sergeant Corney came to a sudden halt, as if he had stumbled upon an enemy.
Jacob, wrapped in his own gloomy thoughts, halted without showing signs of curiosity or surprise; but I pressed forward eagerly until standing close behind the old soldier, and then I understood full well why he had stopped.
Not thirty paces from where we remained hidden in the thicket, it was possible to see the gleam of a camp-fire, and to hear the faint hum of voices, as if a large party was near at hand.
After vainly trying to peer through the foliage, Sergeant Corney moved cautiously forward two or three paces, and, as a matter of course, I followed close at his heels, far enough to see the reflection of four or five other fires, as if those around them had no fear of being discovered.
"They must be Britishers!" I whispered, and Sergeant Corney gripped my hand as if to say that he was of the same idea.
It was our duty, however, to know exactly who it was encamped so near Brant's village, and, after telling Jacob in a whisper of what we had seen, the old soldier made his way swiftly through the thicket, my comrade and I copying his every movement.
Then, when I had decided that we were dangerously near a large force of the king's soldiers who had come to join Thayendanega in his murderous work, Sergeant Corney called out in a loud tone:
"In the camp! Here come friends who were like to have run over you!"
In a twinkling the command was aroused, and before I had fully gathered my wits, which had been scattered by the old soldier's hail, I found myself in the midst of a large body of men, many of whom I had seen in my uncle's home at Cherry Valley.
And now, that I may not dwell too long on a commonplace story when I have so much of adventure to relate, let me say that we had stumbled on upwards of three hundred men belonging to the patriot army, who, under command of General Herkimer, were bent on paying a friendly visit to the Indian village.
As we soon learned, General Herkimer, having been intimately acquainted with Brant, hoped by an interview to persuade the sachem to join the patriots, or at least to remain neutral, and to such end had invited the chief to meet him at Unadilla for a powwow. At the same time that General Herkimer had set out to find Brant, Colonel Van Schaick, with one hundred and fifty men, went to Cherry Valley, even as poor Lieutenant Wormwood had announced, and the remainder of the American force in the vicinity was encamped at the proposed rendezvous lest the treacherous chief accept the invitation simply in order to work mischief.
"We'll march with this company," Sergeant Corney said, in a tone of satisfaction, "an' it will be possible to have a look at the village without runnin' too many chances of losin' our hair."
And thus it seemed to me that all our troubles were over, for I doubted not but that General Herkimer could induce the savages to give up their prisoner, and we would soon be on our way home with Peter Sitz as a companion; but, instead, we were just at the beginning of our difficulties.
When we had learned all that our acquaintances among the command could tell us, Jacob insisted that Sergeant Corney see General Herkimer without delay, in order to learn if that officer would so far interest himself in the fate of Peter Sitz as to make inquiries of Thayendanega regarding him, in case the opportunity offered.
At first the old soldier was not inclined to ask for an interview with the commander, claiming that his own rank was not sufficiently high to warrant his making such a request; but those of the force who were listening to our conversation insisted that the general was not a stickler for rank, and would receive a private soldier with as much consideration as the commander of a brigade.
Therefore it was that, after being alternately urged and entreated for half an hour, Sergeant Corney agreed to do as Jacob desired, and straightway set about seeking the leader, which was no difficult task, since his camp was a lean-to of fir boughs standing hardly more than fifty feet from where we were sitting.
After the old man had left us, one of the soldiers asked if we had seen any Tories with Thayendanega's band, and I told him that, so far as I had been able to learn, the only white man among them was Peter Sitz, although we had not been so fortunate as to see him.
"Why did you want to know?" Jacob asked, with mild curiosity, and the man replied:
"It struck me that if any of the Mohawk Valley Tories were with Brant, General Herkimer would stand little chance of doing anything to aid the prisoner."
"Why do you say that the general would hardly be able to do anythin' of the kind?" I asked. "Surely to one so high in command Brant would listen, when he might refuse even to speak with one of less rank."
"The thought was not in my mind that Thayendanega himself would be opposed to our commander; but if you know what was done last year, it is easy to understand my meaning."
To me the soldier was speaking in riddles, and I asked for an explanation, whereupon he told us that more than a year ago, when the Johnsons had collected a large force of men nearabout Johnson Hall, and among them fully three hundred well-drilled Scotch soldiers, General Schuyler marched with nearly three thousand militia to within four miles of the settlement, demanding that Sir John surrender all arms, ammunition, and warlike stores in his possession, together with the weapons and military accoutrements then held by the Tories and Indians under his command. In addition to which, the baronet was required to give his parole of honor that he would not attempt any act against the patriot cause.
Sir John was at first furious because such a demand had been made; but, badly frightened by General Schuyler's display of force, he finally consented, since he could do nothing better, and the colonists marched to Johnson Hall, where the surrender was made.
Then it was that General Herkimer was detailed to disarm the Tories in the valley, and while carrying out such orders quite naturally made enemies of the majority of them.
Therefore it was, according to the belief of the soldier, that General Herkimer would have little or no weight with Brant so far as rescuing Peter Sitz was concerned, if there chanced at the moment to be Tories near at hand to whisper in his ear.
Just now it seems necessary for me to set down that which happened after Sir John Johnson's surrender, if so it could be called, to General Schuyler, and I can best do it by copying that which I have seen in a printed sheet concerning our troubles in the Mohawk Valley:
"It soon afterward became evident that what Sir John had promised, when constrained by fear, would not be performed when the cause of that fear was removed. He violated his parole of honor, and the Highlanders began to be as bold as ever in their oppressions of the Whigs. Congress thought it dangerous to allow Johnson his liberty, and directed Schuyler to seize his person, and to proceed vigorously against the Highlanders in his vicinity. Colonel Dayton was entrusted with the command of the expedition for the purpose, and in May (1776) he proceeded to Johnstown. The baronet had friends among the Loyalists in Albany, by whom he was timely informed of the intentions of Congress. Hastily collecting a large number of Scotchmen and other Tories, he fled to the woods by the way of the Sacandaga, where it is supposed they were met by Indians sent from Canada to escort them thither, for a certain time afterward, in one of his speeches, Thayendanega said: 'We went in a body to the town then in possession of the enemy, and rescued Sir John Johnson, bringing him fearlessly through the streets.'
"Amid perils and hardships of every kind the baronet and his companions traversed the wilderness between the headwaters of the Hudson and the St. Lawrence, and after nineteen days' wanderings arrived at Montreal. Sir John was immediately commissioned a colonel in the British service; he raised two battalions of Loyalists called the Johnson Greens, and declared himself the bitterest and most implacable enemy of the Americans."
Now it must be borne in mind that from information which we had received, there was every reason to believe Brant had come to place himself and his following under Sir John's command, and that before many days were passed we might expect the Mohawk Valley would be overflowed by all the Tories who had previously fled to Canada. Thus it can be understood that there would be such bloodshed and deeds of violence as had never before been known in the Province of New York.
With this in mind, one can better understand why Sergeant Corney made the reservation which he did when promising Jacob he would do all within his power, up to a certain point, to aid in the rescue of his father.
The old soldier returned from his interview with General Herkimer at about the same time our newly made friend finished his recital of what had been done in and around Johnson Hall, and, observing the look of satisfaction on the sergeant's face, I understood, even before he spoke, that his mission had been, at least in a certain degree, successful.
"It is all right, lads," he said, seating himself by my side. "The general will do what he can; but whether that be much or little depends upon the way in which Thayendanega receives him."
"Are we to march with this command to the village?" Jacob asked.
"Ay, an' remain with it so long as suits our purpose."
It seemed to me we could not in reason ask for anything more; that we were now in the best possible position to learn what Brant's purpose was, and at the same time to aid Peter Sitz, therefore I laid down to rest, contented in mind as I was wearied in body; but poor Jacob, feeling as if he might in some way wrong his father by seeking repose, paced to and fro near the camp-fire until my eyes were closed in slumber.
The soldiers were astir at an early hour next morning; but before the column could be set in motion an Indian strode gravely into the encampment waving a bit of white cloth, and, on being questioned by the sentinels, announced himself as a messenger sent by Thayendanega with words to General Herkimer.
The fact of his early arrival was sufficient to prove that the wily sachem had known of the movements of the soldiers for a certain length of time, —perhaps several days,—and this might explain why his march from Cherry Valley had been so steady and swift.
It goes without saying that every man in the encampment was eager to know why this painted messenger had come, and I confess to crowding my way among the foremost of the curious in order to hear, if possible, all that was said.
The Indian stood like a statue before the shelter of fir boughs, looking neither to the right nor the left until General Herkimer appeared and said to him, questioningly:
"You have come from Captain Brant?"
It is hardly necessary for me to set it down that, some time before this, Thayendanega had been given a commission in the British service.
The messenger nodded gravely, and, after pausing until one might have counted ten, said:
"Thayendanega asks why so many white soldiers are encamped near his village?"
"I have come to see and talk with my brother, Captain Brant," General Herkimer replied, with the same stiff manner as that assumed by the messenger.
"And do all these men want to talk with the chief, too?"
"They have come to bear me company; they are my followers, as Captain Brant has his."
"And do they also call Thayendanega 'brother'?"
"Ay, and they hope he is a brother to them."
The Indian turned slowly in what I thought a most offensive manner, as he looked around at the faces of those who completely encircled him, and then would have moved away, but that General Herkimer asked:
"Is Captain Brant in his village?"
"He will tell his white brother where he may be found, after I can run five miles."
"Meaning that you will go from me to him, and return?" the general asked; but it was as if the Indian did not hear the question, for he said, in a tone which to me was one of menace:
"You will come no nearer Oghkwaga until Thayendanega shall give his permission."
Having said this, he turned slowly about until facing the direction where I knew Brant and his followers encamped the night previous, when he stalked slowly away, giving no more heed to those who pressed closely to him than if he was the only person in that vast wilderness.
To Jacob this enforced halt, at a time when he believed it was vitally necessary he should be making search for his father, was most painful, and despite all Sergeant Corney and I could say or do to relieve his distress of mind, the poor lad paced to and fro, as I was told he had during the long hours of the night, in a nervous condition pitiable to behold.
When half an hour or more had passed, the old soldier said to me, in a more kindly tone than I had ever suspected he could use:
"The lad is eatin' his heart out, an' all to no purpose. Can't you quiet him a bit, Noel?"
"I have said all within my power, an' he turns a deaf ear," I replied, sadly.
"Then I shall try my fist at it," and the old man went up to my comrade, taking him gently by the hand, and leading him into the thicket just beyond view of the encampment.
There the two seemingly conversed for a long time, and I was left comparatively alone, until the soldier who had told us of General Herkimer's doings nearabout Johnson Hall, came up.
Eager to get some idea of what the commander might be able to do with this Joseph Brant, whose name stood in my mind for all that was horrible in the way of cruelty, I asked how it was that General Herkimer could hope to influence one who was such a great enemy to the Whigs of the Mohawk Valley, and, in fact, to all white men save those who wore the uniform of the British king.
He told me that at one time, before Thayendanega had become so powerful a sachem, he and General Herkimer were near neighbors, and quite intimate friends.
It seems, from the story this soldier told me, that Sir William Johnson, Sir John's father, sent the Indian boy to school, and after he had received a good education gave him employment as secretary. During three years this now bloodthirsty savage acted as missionary interpreter, and it was said he did very much for the religious instruction of his tribe. When the colonists revolted against the oppressive rule of the king, Brant took the same side as did his patron, and having received a commission—some have said it was a captaincy, and others that it was a colonelcy—he became one of the most vengeful enemies we, who were devoted to the cause, had.
Now, because of the past, General Herkimer hoped to turn him aside from his chosen path when he was just coming into power, and, boy though I was, it seemed to me a well-nigh hopeless task—one which had better never have been attempted, since in case of failure it would show to Thayendanega that the Whigs of the valley believed him an enemy who should be placated rather than resisted.
However, that was none of my affairs, and I was not so forward as to air my views then when I was only a hanger-on by the sufferance of the commander.
In two hours from the time he left our camp, the Indian messenger returned, still carrying the bit of white cloth, and came among us as if expecting we would bow before him.
He was barely civil when General Herkimer advanced to receive him, and, without greeting the commander, he pointed toward a clearing in the wilderness half a mile or more away, as he said:
"There will Thayendanega meet his brother, the white chief, and without firearms."
"To-day?" General Herkimer asked.
"When the next sun is three hours old Thayendanega will come with forty of his people, and his white brother will bring no more than that number."
"It is well," General Herkimer replied, and it pleased me that he held himself yet more stiffly than did the messenger. "Say to my brother, Captain Brant, that we also will come without arms, and he and I shall meet as we met years ago, when there was no need to light the pipe of peace, because neither of us had listened to the songs of wicked men."
The Indian stalked away as before, and when he was gone Jacob, who, with Sergeant Corney, had come up to hear what was being said, laid his hand on my shoulder affectionately.
"I am goin' to be more of a man, Noel, havin' come to understand that nothin' can be gained by ill-temper or impatience; but it is hard to remain here idle when perhaps my father may at this moment be suffering torture."
"If it was some one else's father, Jacob, you would say that there was no danger anything of the kind would happen while Brant is makin' ready for the interview with General Herkimer. Until that has come to an end your father is safe, an' perhaps when the powwow is over we shall have him with us."
"So Sergeant Corney has been tryin' to make me believe, an' it must be true."
During the remainder of the day Jacob did not give words to the sorrow which was in his heart, and perhaps it would have been wiser had he not tried to hold his peace, for, strive as he might, again and again I could see how earnestly he was struggling to remain silent.
It is useless for me to attempt to set down all that we did or said while awaiting Thayendanega's pleasure. As a matter of course we indulged in much speculation regarding the outcome of the matter, and discussed at great length the possibility of General Herkimer's being able, even if he failed in other desired directions, to set free the prisoner whom Joseph Brant doubtless intended should suffer death at the stake.
We passed the time as best we might, many of us finding it quite as difficult as did Jacob to restrain our impatience, and not a few openly declaring their belief that Brant was holding us idle simply that he might the better carry out some murderous scheme.
As a matter of fact, it did seem to me no more than prudent General Herkimer should send out scouts to discover what the Indians were doing, and it was whispered about the encampment that one of his officers had suggested that such a precaution be taken; but the commander flatly refused, stating as his reason that it might prove fatal to all his hopes if the sachem should learn he was in any way suspicious because of the delay.
"We must take our chances, remaining here idle and ignorant of what they may be doing, or it were better we faced about on the homeward march at once," the general was reported to have said, and after that he would have been a bold man indeed who suggested any other course.
Well, the day passed, and so did the night, as all days and nights will whether one possesses his soul with patience or frets against that which he cannot remedy, and General Herkimer stood in the opening of his fir camp gazing at the men as if trying to decide whom he should take with him to the powwow, when Jacob stepped out in full view in order to attract the commander's attention.
I knew that he made this move with the hope of being numbered among those who would leave camp to go to the rendezvous; but at the same moment I feared lest the general might be displeased because of his forwardness.
Anything can be forgiven in a lad who burns with the desire to aid his father, however, and General Herkimer beckoned for my comrade to approach.
I could not hear what was said during the brief conversation; but it was easy to guess the purport when Jacob came toward me with sparkling eyes.
"We have the general's permission to go with him to meet Brant," he cried, and I asked with, perhaps, just a tinge of jealousy:
"Meanin' you an' Sergeant Corney, eh?"
"The three of us, so the general said."
"Why did he happen to count me in?"
"He asked how many had come with Sergeant Corney, an' when I told him, he said that all three of us could go with the detachment."
As a matter of course we went, taking our stations at the head of the column just behind the commander, and when the word to march had been given I began to regret having thus been favored, for never one of us carried a weapon of any kind, and if Brant was in the humor he could have us all butchered before those whom we had left behind would get an inkling of what was going on.
When we had come to the edge of the clearing which had been pointed out by the ill-mannered messenger, our further advance was stopped by two Indians who were rigged out in all the bravery of feathers, beads, and robes,—nothing missing in their toilet save the war-paint,—and told to remain at that spot until the sachem and his party arrived.
It was treating General Herkimer rather shabbily, so I thought, to force him to wait like a child until the master was ready to put in an appearance; but there was nothing else to be done, and we squatted on the ferns and rocks a full half-hour before the man who was soon to be the great sachem of the Six Nations was pleased to show himself.
Thayendanega had gotten himself up especially for the occasion, and a more gorgeous redskin I never saw.
He had forty or more savages with him, and strutted on at their head as if he was a king, and we who had been waiting so long no more than the dirt beneath his feet.
Then suddenly, as if until that moment he hadn't the slightest idea General Herkimer was anywhere in the vicinity, he sent one of his company to our commander, he himself continuing to move on until he stood in the very centre of the clearing. His followers ranged themselves behind him in a half-circle, remaining ten or twelve feet in the rear, and when the general went to meet his high mightiness our people took up their stations much as had the savages, thus completely surrounding the two leaders.
Jacob and I stood where we could see all that was taking place, and hear a portion of what was said.
Thayendanega began with compliments, and after General Herkimer had replied in much the same strain, the murdering villain asked bluntly why he had come.
"To meet my old neighbor and friend," General Herkimer replied, whereupon Brant asked:
"And have all those behind you come on a friendly visit, too? Do they also want to see the poor Indian? It is very kind."
The general changed the subject of the conversation by speaking of the past, and wound up by hinting that it might be to Thayendanega's advantage to take sides with the colonists against the king; but he must soon have seen that he was not making much headway, for the sachem began to show signs of anger, and, after quite a long confab, said sharply:
"We are with the king, as were our fathers before us. The king's belts are yet held by us, and we cannot break faith. You are resolute now in your rebellion; but before many days the king's soldiers will humble you to the dust."
When this had been said, Colonel Cox, who was one of the general's party, cried sharply, and heeding not the fact that his voice was raised high:
"We did not come here to listen to threats, and if we are humbled it will not be by such as those who follow Joseph Brant!"
Unfortunately every Indian in the clearing heard the words distinctly, and in a twinkling the savages were running to and fro, giving vent to shrill war-whoops, while they called for those at the main encampment to bring their weapons.
The colonel's incautious words were as a lighted match to gunpowder, and for the instant I firmly believed we would pay for his indiscretion with our lives.
During this time of confusion, when the life of every white man in the clearing was literally trembling in the balance, General Herkimer passed the word from one to another that we were all to stand firm without show of fear, and at the same time making no move which might be construed as in enmity.
It was no easy matter to remain silent and motionless while the painted villains were running to and fro making a hideous outcry, and, as we knew full well, aching to strike us down.
I know that, as for myself, I trembled like a leaf upon an aspen-tree—so violently that at times I feared the howling wretches would see the quivering of my limbs, and understand that already was I getting a foretaste of the death which they would have dealt out but for the restraining presence of Thayendanega.
It was but natural I should look toward Sergeant Corney, and surely if there was one man in that clearing who obeyed General Herkimer's command, it was he! A graven image could not have been more stolid; one would have said that the uproar everywhere around was as the rippling of waters to him, and the Indians of less consequence than the dancing shafts of sunlight flickering amid the leaves when they are stirred by the morning breeze.
I question if Jacob realized anything of what was going on around him. All his thoughts were centred upon the one idea of rescuing his father while there was yet time, and the lad waited eagerly for the conference between the leaders regarding the prisoner to be begun, heeding the remainder of the howling gang hardly more than did Sergeant Corney.
Colonel Cox, the cause of all this disturbance, was even more terrified than I, as could be told by the expression on his face, and the finger-nails pressed deeply into the palms of his hands that he might control himself in obedience to orders, while as for the others, I know not how they deported themselves.
At that instant my world was of small dimensions, consisting of only so much earth as that impassive red man and the open-hearted, honest patriot officer stood upon.
Like bees the angry Indians swarmed to and fro between the encampment and our place of meeting, until all were armed with rifles, and it needed but the lightest word to convert that sunlit clearing into a theatre of the bloodiest deed in the history of the tribe whose wildest delight was the shedding of blood.
Not until his followers were in such a frenzied condition that it seemed impossible another's will could restrain them, did Thayendanega speak, and then in a few words of the Indian language, uttered in so low a tone that I could not distinguish a single syllable, he calmed the tempest on the instant, until those who had been howling for our lives became like lambs.
When all was hushed once more, the sachem said to General Herkimer, speaking calmly, almost indifferently:
"The war-path has been opened across the country as far as Esopus, and the Tories of Ulster and Orange will join with the braves of Thayendanega's tribe to quell this revolt against the king, who is their father."
Now it was that General Herkimer spoke earnestly, pleadingly.
"Do not allow so weighty a question to be settled without further consideration, Captain Brant. Why should not you and I discuss it calmly, as we have in the olden days many a matter which was not so grave?"
"You have seen how well inclined my young men are toward anything of that kind," Brant said, with a cruel smile. "Were I to say at this moment that we would consider the matter in council, it might not be possible even for me to restrain them, because their decision has already been made. The hatchet is raised!"
"But surely you and I, Captain Brant, may talk of it among ourselves?"
"Yes, that can be done," Thayendanega replied, indifferently, "and if it gives you pleasure to indulge in what can be of no profit, we will meet here again to-morrow morning; but now it were wiser my young men went back to the encampment."
Then the sachem turned as if to move away, and General Herkimer, remembering what he had promised Sergeant Corney and Jacob, said, in a friendly tone:
"Wait one moment, Captain Brant. I would make inquiries concerning a prisoner from Cherry Valley, whom it is said your people hold at this moment."
"I know of no prisoner in our encampment," Brant replied, stiffly.
"Let us not quibble on words, captain. Whether he be in your camp here, or at Oghkwaga, makes no difference. I ask if you will tell me concerning one Peter Sitz, who, but a few days since, when Lieutenant Wormwood of the American army was killed in ambush, your people made a prisoner?"
"My young men may be able to tell you somewhat concerning him. I will ask them."
"And will you, as a favor to a neighbor and an old friend, do whatsoever you may toward releasing the unfortunate man?" General Herkimer insisted.
"I will ask my young men," was all the reply Brant would make, and then the powwow was brought to a sudden close as the sachem stalked toward the encampment, followed by all his people, and we of General Herkimer's party were left alone in the clearing.
Now the word was given that we rejoin the main body quietly, and in double file, with no man straying from the ranks; but Sergeant Corney and I led Jacob between us, for the lad was well-nigh frantic with grief because no satisfaction concerning his father had been obtained from Thayendanega.
We two said all we could in order to cheer the sorrowing lad, and that all was little. Neither he, nor we, nor General Herkimer himself, could effect anything whatsoever, save through the favor of the Mohawk sachem, and that was withheld for at least four and twenty hours, with the chances that at the expiration of such time we would receive nothing better from the wily savage than a refusal to answer any questions.
I shall not attempt to set down very much concerning this long time of waiting for the second powwow, when it was doubtful if we would be allowed to leave the encampment without a bloody battle.
Even General Herkimer had lost all hope of being able to dissuade Joseph Brant from the course he had already marked out for himself, and shared with his men the suspicion that before the second interview was come to an end we would be the victims of the sachem's treachery. This last we knew from the information which was whispered about the encampment, to the effect that the general had charged one of the soldiers—a man by the name of Wagner—with the duty of selecting two others, that the three might stand directly behind him at the next meeting with the Indians, and at the first show of hostilities shoot down Brant and the two sachems next him in authority.
Wagner selected George and Abraham Herkimer, nephews of the general, and these three were prepared to face the most cruel of deaths, for certain it was that if they were obliged to make an attack upon the Mohawk chieftain, every Indian under his command would strive most earnestly to take them prisoners in order that they be made to suffer death by torture.
How the day passed I hardly know. The soldiers talked among themselves in whispers, as men do in the presence of death. No one strayed beyond the limits of the encampment; but all waited in painful suspense for that hour to come when it should be known whether Joseph Brant was of the mind that we might return to our homes for the time being, or if he sought immediately to compass our death through treachery.
Sergeant Corney and I spent our time in trying to soothe Jacob, who alternately reproached himself for remaining idle at the moment when he should be straining every nerve to aid his father, and relapsing into moody silence, which to me was far worse than the angry words.
When another day had come we again marched into the clearing, the three who had been selected for the dangerous duty of protecting our leader in case of an outbreak, keeping close by his side.
As I look back now upon what was afterward done throughout the length and breadth of that peaceful valley of ours, I regret most sincerely that those young men did not violate the unwritten laws and usages which the Indians themselves were ever ready to cast aside when it suited their purpose, and kill the bloodthirsty Brant whether his men showed signs of enmity or not.
On this occasion we had not long to wait.
Gathering in a semicircle behind General Herkimer as before, we were hardly in position when Thayendanega, clad in all the bravery of his savage garb, and, what was most ominous, bedecked in war-paint, strode into the enclosure, followed by such members of his party as had accompanied him the day previous.
He did not wait for greetings, but began boastfully, while his painted fiends were yet taking their places, by saying, abruptly:
"I have five hundred warriors with me, armed and ready for battle. You are in my power; but as we have been friends and neighbors, I will not take advantage of you."
Then he made a gesture with his hand, and on the instant there burst from amid the foliage a seemingly endless number of savages, all painted for battle, who, coming down swiftly upon us as if to make an attack, uttered wild war-whoops as they discharged their rifles in the air.
It was as hideous and terrifying a sight as I ever witnessed, and that our little company stood its ground is much to the credit of every man among us.
Thayendanega remained half-turned from General Herkimer, and within two feet of the three men whose duty it was to shoot him with the rifles they had concealed under their blankets in case an absolute attack was made, and there watched the antics of his painted crew until perhaps five minutes had passed, when the savages sank down upon the ground as if exhausted, looking like so many images of demons.
What Thayendanega said when the uproar was thus stilled, I cannot rightly set down, for my brain was in such a whirl, and fear so strong in my heart, as to prevent me from taking due heed of all that was passing—I realized only that death was literally staring us in the face.
As Sergeant Corney afterward told me, Brant advised General Herkimer to go home, thanked him for having come to pay the visit, and said that at some near day he might return the compliment.
"But the prisoner?" General Herkimer cried, when the sachem would have stalked away with a great assumption of dignity.
"My young men will make no reply to my questions," Brant answered, unblushingly, although he must have known beyond a peradventure that we understood full well he was lying.
"Is Peter Sitz yet alive?" General Herkimer asked, sternly.
"There has been no prisoner put to death by my people since they left Cherry Valley," Thayendanega replied, as if irritated by the general's persistence, and, making another gesture with his hand, he sent back into the cover of the forest all his motley crew.
Then he also walked away, as if fearing our commander would detain him with yet further questions, and the powwow, to take part in which three hundred men had marched so many miles, was come to an end without other result than the knowledge that the Mohawk chief would harry us of the valley to the best of his wicked powers.
Thayendanega had hardly gained the shelter of the thicket before black clouds overspread the heavens, and it seemed as if in a twinkling the rain came down in torrents; sharp flashes of lightning zigzagged across the ominous-looking sky, and more than one around me declared it was a portent, a sign, a token of the tempest which was about to break upon our peaceful homes.
When we were in camp once more, and General Herkimer was making his preparations to set off on the return march, Jacob declared that he alone, if we did not accompany him, would go into the Indian village, and there make inquiries for his father.
Sergeant Corney and I spent a long hour persuading the lad of his folly, for after the powwow had come to such an abrupt end there was no question whatsoever but that Thayendanega would kill or make prisoner of every white man who crossed his path.
For a time it was absolutely necessary that we two hold Jacob by force to prevent him from leaving us, and then gradually the boy came to understand that for his father's life he could only hope in the mercy of God, since even had General Herkimer been willing to risk a battle, in which he would have been greatly outnumbered by the savages, there was no hope he might effect the release of Peter Sitz.
Sergeant Corney had an interview with the general after we had succeeded in quieting Jacob to a certain degree, and the commander advised that we return home without delay in order to give information as to what we had seen; but he did us three the honor of requesting, in case our services should not be needed immediately at Cherry Valley, that we would rejoin his force, which was to be stationed at the mouth of Oriskany Creek, without delay.
He promised that we should have every opportunity of serving the patriot cause, and in order that we might be allowed to leave Cherry Valley again, he sent a written message to my uncle, of the purport of which I was then ignorant.
We—meaning Sergeant Corney, Jacob, and myself—set off as soon as the conference with General Herkimer was at an end, on the long journey to our homes, knowing that the advance must be slow and cautious, for we had heard from Thayendanega's own lips that he was fully committed to the work of harrying the patriots.
As I look back upon it now I wonder that we succeeded in traversing the wilderness, when Brant's force was so near at hand, without mishap; but, as it proved, we had more difficulty in persuading Jacob to accompany us than in eluding the foe whom we believed might spring upon us at any moment, and when we arrived home it was to learn that the danger to the inhabitants of the Mohawk Valley was more imminent even than when Thayendanega stalked away from the interview with General Herkimer.
And this was the situation, as I afterward read it in printed letters:
"A few days after this conference with General Herkimer, Brant withdrew his warriors from the Susquehanna and joined Sir John Johnson and Col. John Butler, who were collecting a large body of Tories and refugees at Oswego, preparatory to a descent upon the Mohawk and Schoharie settlements. There Guy Johnson and other officers of the British Indian Department summoned a grand council of the Six Nations.
"They were invited to assemble to 'eat the flesh and drink the blood of a Bostonian'—in other words, to feast on the occasion of a proposed treaty of alliance against the patriots, whom the savages denominated 'Bostonians' for the reason that Boston was the focus of the rebellion. There was a pretty full attendance at the council; but a large portion of the sachems adhered faithfully to their covenant of neutrality made with General Schuyler, until the appeals of the British commissioners to their avarice overcame their sense of honor.
"The commissioners represented the people of the king to be numerous as the forest leaves and rich in every possession, while those of the colonies were exhibited as few and poor; that the armies of the king would soon subdue the rebels, and make them still weaker and poorer; that the rum of the king was as abundant as the waters of Lake Ontario; and that if the Indians would become his allies during the war, they should never want for goods or money.
"Tawdry articles, such as scarlet cloths, beads, and trinkets, were then displayed and presented to the Indians, which pleased them greatly, and they concluded an alliance by binding themselves to take up the hatchet against the patriots, and to continue their warfare until the latter were subdued. To each Indian were then presented a brass kettle, a suit of clothes, a gun, a tomahawk and scalping-knife, a piece of gold, a quantity of ammunition, and a promise of a bounty upon every scalp he should bring in. Thayendanega was thenceforth the acknowledged grand sachem of the Six Nations, and at once commenced his terrible career in the midst of our border settlements."
I had no more than time to tell my mother what I had seen, when my comrades were ready to set out for Oriskany Creek, counting to make their way over much the same ground we had just traversed.
My uncle, Colonel Campbell, gave his consent to our departure after reading General Herkimer's message, and congratulated me, who deserved no praise, because I had succeeded in so far winning the confidence of a thorough soldier that he should make a personal request for the services of myself and my companions.
It was not in our minds that we would remain very long with our new commander. Sergeant Corney believed General Herkimer had some especial matter in hand in which he thought we three might be of particular service, and when that was done we would be allowed to return home.
Therefore it was that we still counted ourselves Minute Boys of the Mohawk Valley, and left our company in charge of John Sammons, who was to act in my stead until I came back.
It pleased Jacob that we were to return to that portion of the country where we would be near Brant's forces, for he still cherished the hope of being able to aid in the rescuing of his father, if peradventure Peter Sitz yet remained in this world.
Our stay in Cherry Valley was of no more than two hours' duration; but we learned much concerning the war in that time. Our little settlement seemed overrun with people because of the soldiers quartered there, regarding whom I have already written, and the inhabitants from miles around who had come to find a place of refuge.
Already had word been brought in that there were then gathered at Oswego seven hundred Indians and four hundred British soldiers, under command of Sir John Johnson and Colonel Claus, and at Oswegatchie, or, as it is now called, Ogdensburg, were six hundred Tories ready to join Johnson's force.
All that stood between these enemies and the broad bosom of the Mohawk Valley was Fort Dayton, that poor apology for a defence, and Fort Schuyler, not yet completely built and illy manned. That this last named fortification could withstand an assault by such an army as Sir John was evidently making ready to bring against it, few believed, and all with whom I talked during the short time of our stay at home, were looking forward to the future with the gravest fears and keenest anxiety.
When, already weary and footsore, we took up our line of march to traverse the same paths over which we had just come, my company of Minute Boys insisted on accompanying us during the first half-dozen miles of the tedious journey; but it was not in triumph or rejoicing that we, all lads of Cherry Valley, left the little settlement. Our elders were disheartened and afraid, therefore we could well be excused for gloomy looks and timid whisperings, as we spoke of what might take place before I was able to resume command of the company which Sergeant Corney had spent so many hours in drilling.
When the afternoon was well-nigh spent, and we had come to a halt that we might take leave of our escort, Sergeant Corney seemed to think it necessary he should do what he might toward putting courage into the hearts of those who had accompanied us, by saying, as if haranguing a full army:
"You lads are looked upon in the settlement only as boys, and yet already have two of your number shown that they could stand steady, facing the gravest danger without flinching. Now is the time when you may prove yourselves men, as I believe you are in courage and ability. If you are called upon to confront the enemy, remember that there is nothing more glorious than to die in defence of your homes and your country. There is no way by which you can earn more honor than to have it said of you, 'He gave up his life for those he loved.' Better be shot down at the opening of an action, than to live through it in such a manner that your neighbors can point the finger of scorn at you, saying, 'There goes a coward!'"
The old man ceased speaking abruptly, turned about without word or sign, and plunged into the thicket, Jacob and I following close at his heels.
On the Oriskany
As we three plodded wearily on day after day, all our senses quickened by knowledge of the many dangers with which we were surrounded, it seemed to me that we had begun our work in behalf of the Cause backward—as if this going to and fro over the same ground was a wilful waste of time when every hour was so precious.
I said to myself again and again, that if General Herkimer really needed such services as we could render, it would have been better had we remained with him, rather than spend so many days and be forced to such severe labor as was required for the march to Cherry Valley and back.
We had accomplished nothing of importance by going home. Colonel Campbell knew even more regarding Brant's movements than we could tell him, and it was by no means necessary he should be informed immediately as to the result of General Herkimer's interview with the Mohawk sachem.
As the days passed, and our every effort was needed to enable us to advance without absolutely running into the arms of the savages, for it seemed as if they were everywhere in the wilderness, Jacob became more resigned, or so it appeared, since he ceased to insist that this or that impracticable move be made. I did not suppose he no longer mourned for his father, but believed and hoped he had come to understand we could not do anything toward effecting a rescue until all the circumstances were favorable.
One day's march was much like another, and many passed before we were with General Herkimer again. We always camped in a thicket, taking good care not to leave a trail leading up to the place, and in this last task we did not consider the time spent as wasted, for on every hand could be seen signs of the enemy, therefore the utmost precaution was needed.
All of us gave ourselves over to slumber as soon as we were stretched out on the ground, for however careful a watch might have been kept, it would not have availed if the enemy was bent on surprising us.
In the early light of the new day either Jacob or I went out in search of small game, for it goes without saying that we could not have brought from home a sufficient amount of food to sustain us during all the time we spent roaming to and fro between Cherry Valley and the Oriskany.
If we were fortunate enough to get so much meat as would serve for one or more meals, we cooked it by digging a hole in the ground, building therein a fire, and screening the smoke as best we might with boughs and ferns. That done, we satisfied our hunger while creeping slowly onward, oftentimes forced to spend an hour or more in making a detour around some particularly dangerous locality.
If, as often happened, we failed of finding game, we buckled our belts the tighter and went on, consoling ourselves with the hope that fortune would favor us before nightfall.
More than once would we have run upon a party of savages—Thayendanega's scouts or hunters—had it not been for the almost excessive precautions Sergeant Corney insisted on taking, and in such case there was no other course than to hide as best we might, and wait until the enemy was pleased to move on.
Fortunately we did not come face to face with the redskins, therefore a detailed story of our march would be dull reading, for it could only be the same thing over and over again until the hour arrived when we entered General Herkimer's camp on the Oriskany, receiving there such a greeting from the commander himself as caused me to believe he really needed us for some important task.
"You have done well to get back alive!" he cried, with a laugh. "It is pleasing to know that lads can do what many of their elders would balk at. So Colonel Campbell was willing to give you up to me?"
"He made no protest, sir," I replied, after waiting an instant for one of my companions to act the part of spokesman. "An hundred and fifty soldiers are quartered at Cherry Valley, and they, with the many who have made of the settlement a place of refuge, are in such numbers that three would neither be needed or missed."
"That would depend on what stuff the three were made, according to my way of thinking. I have some work here which you can do better than any one else of whom I know, and the only question is whether you are willing to lay your shoulders to the wheel when there's a good bit of danger in so doing?"
"We have come, sir, to do whatsoever offered, an' if the task which you have in mind could be performed with safety, then we might as well have stayed at home," I replied, and Sergeant Corney nodded to show that we were of one mind.
"Since I last saw you the enemy has gathered in strong force about Fort Schuyler, and it is necessary we get some word to the commandant, who is, in fact, besieged."
"That shouldn't be sich a terrible hard job, sir," Sergeant Corney said, speaking for the first time since we were received by the general.
"True for you, but the reason why I haven't sent any of my own men before this is, that if the messenger should be discovered while trying to get inside, Joseph Brant would know for a certainty that we on the outside believed the garrison to be hard pressed, which would probably work no end of mischief, for at present the enemy has every reason to suppose Colonel Gansevoort has all the men and stores he can possibly need."
"Why should he think differently if one of us was captured while tryin' to communicate with the besieged, sir?" Sergeant Corney asked, curiously.
"Because you have every reason for going there, even though you had never heard that the fort was invested."
I could not repress a look of surprise, for it was much as if the general was speaking in riddles, and, seeing the question on my face, he continued:
"It is only natural that you from Cherry Valley should be searching for Peter Sitz, and the Indians, in case you were captured, would perforce believe such a story—"
"Is my father in their camp, sir?" Jacob cried, eagerly.
"Ay, lad, so I believe, otherwise I would not think it important you should act as my messengers. One of our scouts brought in word that Brant's immediate followers had a white prisoner with them, and it is reasonable to suppose him to be Peter Sitz, for, since we saw those scoundrels, they have kept out of mischief because of being in camp with the British and Tory soldiers."
There was no need now of urging Jacob to undertake the mission; since he had what seemed like positive information of his father's whereabouts, he would have gone in the direction of the besieged fort whether General Herkimer so desired, or opposed it.
As for my part, having really given up all hope of seeing Peter Sitz again in this world, the probable fact of his being alive quickened the blood in my veins until I forgot that our services were required for anything save the rescue of the prisoner.
Sergeant Corney gave no token either of joy or indifference; he kept in mind only the duties of a soldier, and prepared himself for the dangerous mission by asking:
"Can you tell me, sir, what force the enemy have in front of Fort Schuyler?"
"Near one thousand seven hundred men—regulars, Tories, and Indians. St. Leger is in nominal command; but it is reasonable to believe that Sir John Johnson and Brant have much the same authority as he. Certain it is that they and none other can control their followers. Colonel Gansevoort has nearly a thousand men, with a six weeks' supply of provisions and ammunition for the small arms; but there is in the fort no more than four hundred rounds for the cannon, which is his most important means of defence. The situation is not yet critical, but may become so very soon, and we have more chance now for communicating with the commandant than is likely to be the case a week hence, when the besiegers have settled down to their work."
"When shall we set out, sir?" I asked, as the general ceased speaking.
"As soon as you have recovered from the fatigue of the journey. There is no time to be lost, unless you are eager to encounter more danger than is absolutely necessary."
"There is no reason why we shouldn't set off at once," Jacob said, quickly. "We are not women, to be tired out by a bit of marchin'."
I fancied from the expression on the general's face that it pleased him because my comrade showed himself so eager, and there was a tinge of bitterness in my heart as I understood that, whatever good to the Cause might be the purpose of our task, the commander was, in a certain degree, trading on Jacob's love for his father.
It was not for me, however, to criticize, even in my own mind, anything of a military nature which might be on foot. I had had ample time since the powwow with Thayendanega to decide whether or no I would serve under General Herkimer, and, having come to a decision, it stood me in hand to do whatsoever lay before me without question.
I held much the same opinion as did Jacob, however, although not because of the same reason.
It seemed to me a most dangerous undertaking, this attempt to get a message into a fort which was besieged by so large a body of men; but since it must be done, unless we were willing to show the white feather, then I was eager to be at it, for danger appears greater when one stands idly by looking at it from the distance, than when it is actually encountered.
Sergeant Corney, who had evidently been turning the matter over in his mind, said, after a time, to the commander:
"It strikes me, sir, that we should get all the information we may concernin' the whereabouts of the enemy before settin' out. Not that I am askin' for any long delay," he added, quickly, observing a faint expression of displeasure on the general's face. "I would mingle among the men, to learn what they may know, from now until sunset, when, as it seems to me, our journey had best be begun. By startin' at that time we shall arrive before sunrise, an' thus have all the day in which to lay our plans for approachin' the fort."
Jacob's eyes twinkled with satisfaction when he heard this proposition, and I believed he was thinking that if we lay in hiding a full day in front of the fortification, he might have opportunity to learn something concerning his father.
"I shall leave to you who are most deeply concerned in the matter, the method of doing the work. Pick up all the information you can, and when you are ready to set out come to me for the final instructions."
Then the commander half-turned, as if to show that the interview was at an end, and Sergeant Corney beckoned Jacob and me to follow him, reminding us, when we were comparatively alone, of the promise made at the time we first set out.
"The day we left Cherry Valley on Brant's trail, you lads agreed to follow me without questionin', even when it seemed as if I might be goin' wrong, an' now has come the time for you to keep that well in mind."
"There is no reason why we should not do so," I replied, promptly. "I doubt not but that you, who are versed in military matters, could direct such a task better than any in this encampment."
"I'm not takin' that much praise to myself, lad; but do claim, because of havin' had more experience, to be better fitted for the work, after we are once arrived, than are you. I will go even so far as to say that on the trail or in the thicket you are my superiors, owin' to havin' been brought up to work which, except in this country, would be considered almost unsoldierly. Here is my first order: Mingle with the men of this encampment with the idea of fillin' your stomachs with food, an', that done, lie down to sleep until I shall summon you."
"Sleep!" Jacob exclaimed, angrily. "Think you it would be possible for me to sleep now, when we know that the moment has come in which I may be able to aid my father?"
"Ay, lad, but you must, whether you will or no. You can work for him best by preparin' your body for whatsoever of fatigue we may be called upon to undergo, an' since there is little chance we shall gain any rest durin' four an' twenty hours after leavin' here, it stands us all in hand to be prepared for the exertion."
"Are you countin' on sleepin'?" Jacob asked, fiercely.
"I am more accustomed to keepin' my eyes open durin' a long time than are you; but if it so be I have the chance, you may be certain I shall take advantage of it. Now, remember, eat an' sleep until I seek you out."
Then the old man left us, and, watching for a moment, we saw him enter into conversation with this soldier and that, until it seemed as if he was bent on making the acquaintance of every member of the force.
Jacob and I had little difficulty in finding as much food as we needed, after having explained why we had come into the encampment. The men were more than willing to divide their rations with us, and we might literally have gorged ourselves with the best in the camp had such been our desire.
It was one thing for Sergeant Corney to say that we must sleep, and quite another for us to obey the command.
It seemed to me that my eyes were never open wider than when I threw myself down upon the ground by the side of Jacob, striving my best to cross over into Dreamland. The thought of attempting to force our way through such an army as General St. Leger had under his command; of the possibility that we might, perhaps, come across Peter Sitz; the chances that Colonel Gansevoort would be forced to surrender even before we could arrive with information that reinforcements were near at hand, and, in fact, the numberless happenings which might occur to change the entire situation, served to drive sleep so far from my eyelids that I despaired of being able to summon it until sheer exhaustion should come.
Jacob was lying, with closed eyes, so still that I half-believed he had succeeded in obeying Sergeant Corney's commands, and, bent on moving around among the men in the hope of thereby changing the current of my disagreeable thoughts, I crept softly from his side lest I awaken him.
"Where are you goin'?" he asked, quietly, in a tone which told me he had been no nearer slumber than I.
"I cannot sleep, an' that's a fact. Perhaps after walkin' around a bit I shall feel more like it."
"I'll go with you," Jacob said, rising to his feet. "There is no hope I can sleep, although I am willin', if needs be, to make it appear as if I was unconscious."
Taking heed not to go near Sergeant Corney, whom we could see in the distance, Jacob went from one group of soldiers to the other, and, as may be supposed, the chief topic of conversation everywhere was the possibility that Fort Schuyler could hold out against the large number of men who were besieging it, as well as the chances of General Herkimer's command being able to enter the place.
Thus it was we learned that among Brant's following were savages from all the various tribes of the Six Nations, except the Oneidas, who remained faithful to their agreement to be neutral during the war. It was said that the besiegers were well supplied with everything necessary for the accomplishment of their purpose, including a large amount of ready money, and General St. Leger was willing to pay liberally for the services of those who would join him.
It was also reported—the information having been brought in by scouts—that on the second day of the siege the British commander had sent to the fort a messenger, who, with many high-sounding words, recited the love of the king for those who remained loyal to him, and the punishment which would be inflicted upon those who continued in rebellion. This stream of bombast was concluded by direst threats in case the garrison held out against the demand for surrender, the sum and substance of which was that the savages would be allowed to commit every act of barbarity their ingenuity could devise, if an assault should become necessary.
Nearly all the defenders of the fort laughed these threats and promises to scorn, and it was believed that Gansevoort's men would hold out to the bitter end.
We heard very much in addition, which was really no more than camp gossip, and it is not necessary I set it down here.
Before the close of the day both Jacob and I really succeeded in going to sleep, and the shadows of night were beginning to lengthen when we were aroused by Sergeant Corney.
"I reckon I've heard all that the men in camp have to tell," he said, when I stood upright in obedience to the pressure of his hand upon my shoulder. "It only remains to get our instructions from General Herkimer before makin' the attempt to have speech with those in the fort."
"Haven't you seen him yet?" I asked, in surprise, for it had been in my mind that the old man would make every preparation before summoning us.
"No, lad. This is a venture in which we share the dangers equally, an' it's no more than right you should hear all which may pass between the general an' me. Therefore let us bring the business to an end as speedily as may be."
Well, we presented ourselves before the commander, announcing that the time had come when we were to leave camp, and, considering all the risks which were to be run, it seemed to me as if the message he would have delivered was exceeding brief and unimportant, as compared with what might result from the attempt at delivery.
"I shall not give you a written message, lest you fall into the hands of the enemy," he said, speaking in a kindly tone, and looking at us, as I fancied, pityingly, much as one would at those who had been selected as sacrifices. "It is in the highest degree necessary you get speech with Colonel Gansevoort, and to such end make disposal of yourselves so that should one, or even two, be taken or killed, the second or third may press on. Having arrived, say to the commandant that I shall leave this camp to-morrow morning, marching slowly toward the fort, and immediately after he has received the information he is to fire three cannon in rapid succession, thus notifying me that he understands the situation. You will not, under the most favorable circumstances, finish the journey in less than four and twenty hours, and by that time I shall be where the reports of the guns can be heard. Once the signal has been given, it is my purpose to attack the enemy, and Colonel Gansevoort is to make a sortie at the same time, when it is to be hoped our forces can be united."
Having said this, the general insisted that each of us repeat the instructions so that he might know we understood them thoroughly, and then, clasping us by hand in turn, he bade us "Godspeed."
I wish I might be able to say that my heart was stout when we left the encampment and were swallowed up by the shadows of the thicket; but such was not the case.
I realized only too well all the dangers which were before us, and the odds against our being able to obey the general's orders. At the same time I knew that in event of failure there would be no possibility of retreat; but we would find ourselves in the hands of an enemy whose greatest delight consists in the most fiendish murder.
As I figured it, out of a hundred chances we had no more than one of getting into the fort, and there remained ninety and nine in favor of our falling victims to Brant's crew.
We had but just set out when I observed that Sergeant Corney had left behind him every superfluous article of clothing, and all accoutrements save the knife in his belt, whereupon I asked the reason for thus laying himself bare to the enemy.
"You lads have each a rifle, which are all the weapons we need, for it can avail us nothing to make a fight. If we win it must be by strategy, not force, and in case of success it will be a small matter to provide ourselves with other arms."
"At the same time it gives me courage to know that I have something with which to defend myself," Jacob said, with a laugh which had in it nothing of mirth.
"Ay, lad, so I counted, otherwise I had advised that you follow my example. It can do no harm to take whatsoever you will, for that which hinders may readily be cast aside. Now let us come to an end of tongue-waggin', for silence is our safest ally."
As the old man had said, either Jacob or I should have known more of woodcraft than did he, but on this night I dare venture to assert that there were not above a dozen in Joseph Brant's following who could have made their way through the thicket with less noise and in a more direct course than did he.
From General Herkimer's encampment in an air-line through the forest to Fort Schuyler was not more than seven or eight miles, and, despite our slow progress, for one cannot travel rapidly when striving to advance without so much as the breaking of a twig, we counted on arriving in front of the enemy's lines by midnight. And this I believe we did.
The first intimation we had that our journey was approaching a close came when we suddenly saw, directly in our line of advance, a faint light amid the thicket in the distance, and Sergeant Corney, who had been leading the way, halted quickly.
"You lads are to remain here while I find out what portion of St. Leger's force is in front of us," he said, in a whisper, and then it was that I ventured to dispute his authority, having, as I believed, good reason for so doing.
"You yourself have admitted that either Jacob or I could beat you out at work of this kind. Let me go, an' do you stay here."
Then it was that Jacob insisted on performing the most dangerous portion of the work, and would have passed by me in the darkness to avoid a controversy, but that I clutched him by the arm, and Sergeant Corney whispered:
"You lads shall lead the way, and I will follow at your heels; but remember what General Herkimer impressed upon us—that one must get through, therefore if he who leads is captured, the other two shall leave him to his fate, for the life of a single human being is not to be counted when we are tryin' to save hundreds."
It was not a time nor a place for argument, and in token of agreement with him I took up the lead.
I did not attempt to go forward rapidly; but, half-lying upon the ground, I crept onward inch by inch, removing carefully with my hands every twig or dry leaf which might be in the path, lest by the lightest rustling of the branches I give warning to the quick-eared enemy of our approach.
In such manner it was not possible to make other than slow progress, and I believe fully half an hour was spent in traversing the distance of a dozen yards, when we were come to where could be had a view of that which had attracted our attention.