Saturday, June 4, 2016
Tuesday, May 3, 2016
Two hundred axes slammed into tree trunks creating a constant staccato of thuds from morning till night. Boys and women were busy hacking and pulling the cut brush as far back into the woods as possible while ten teams of oxen were hitched repeatedly to fallen trees in order to clear the way. Their groans and grunts of displeasure mingled with the sounds of axes striking wood, filled every waking moment of the day. Red jackets and green shirts were thrown in disarray on every shrub or low tree limb that would bear the weight of the garments leaving the men swinging the axes shirtless for the most part, but many still wore their white silk undershirts. The women were wives, sweethearts and even ladies of ill repute who had been following the large group of men since the 29Th of May. It was now July 5, 1755 and there were twenty two hundred men with General Edward Braddock on his march to capture Fort Duquesne on the west side of the Monongahela River. The going was slow the army moving less than two miles per day. A road had to be cleared through the dense forest in order to pass canon and supply wagons onward to the point of future conflict with the French and the pace was far too slow. The closer his army moved toward the Monongahela the greater the odds of discovery and retaliation by the French and Indians who occupied the fort. Braddock called a meeting with his commanders, Charles Lee, Thomas Gage and Horatio Gates to determine the most advantageous course of action. After thirty short minutes it was decided that General Braddock would split his forces with he taking 1500 men (a flying column) and pushing on ahead at great speed while Colonel Thomas Dunbar would command the supply column and baggage wagons which would eventually fall far behind the main thrust. July 7 and 9 found the flying column being harassed by occasional rifle fire from deep in the woods by unseen adversaries. The only indication of the enemy was the lingering puffs of white smoke from their rifle shots. The General could now assume that the French and Indian defenders at Ft Duquesne would be alerted to their presence and a surprise siege was out of the question. The intelligence of that time indicated the fort contained approximately three hundred French regulars and seven hundred Indians comprised of Ottawa’s, Ojibwas and Pottawatomie's. That small contingent of French regulars and savages would be no match for crack, seasoned British regulars and Scott's Guard troops.
July 9, 1755 found Braddock crossing the Monongahela River where he split his 1500 men yet again. He sent Colonel Thomas Gage ahead at a fast pace to try to find siege positions on the South side of the French fort. It was during this maneuver that Gage ran directly into a large party of French, Canadians and Indians. The enemy scattered left and right disappearing into the forest where seconds later the sounds of musket and rifle fire could be heard and the associated white puffs of smoke could be seen from whence the shots originated. The shooting began as a few occasional sharp cracks had gradually accelerated to a continuous barrage of rifle and musket fire. The French with their Indian allies had taken positions on both sides of the British column. Colonel Gage and General Braddock both whipped the lobster backs into long ranks and had the men step out away from the line in groups of forty men. These groups of forty would split again and reassemble in a line with twenty riflemen in front and twenty more directly behind them. In this way the row of riflemen in the rear could fire a volley while their kneeling comrades in front reloaded their muskets. While this military posturing was being undertaken; the colonial militia took cover behind whatever was available and returned fire. They aimed a foot under the white puffs of smoke that lingered above a fired enemy gun. Balls could be heard whizzing by and smacking hard into tree wood with a sound resembling a large stone striking a tree when thrown. Sounds of Ka Thunk, were lead balls striking human bodies and that sound was on the increase. The British formations were being decimated. Some formations of forty men were quickly reduced to ten and less as the air was thickened with the smell of burned gun powder that had an acrid stench to it and burned the eyes. Screams could be heard from the forest as Indians were growing eager in their success. An occasional savage would run full out and into a formation of red coats swinging his tomahawk wildly, striking one or two troopers and exit out the back side of the line before anyone could react.
A commotion toward the front of the fighting!! General Braddock can be seen, left foot in a stirrup, mounting a horse. His white mare has been shot from under him and he had commandeered another. Not a heart beat later his newly acquired gray stallion was felled by a bullet to its forehead. It lay on its side, legs thrashing and in agony. General Braddock was given yet another horse and mounted it from the right side in an ungraceful manner.
The British formation blocks were deteriorating and the dead and dying were many. Soon groups of red coats were breaking away from the conflict and running back toward the rear terrified! Many more started and a general route was taking place. General Braddock and Colonel George Washington charged through the men on horseback and blocked the escape route in an attempt to turn the tide of desertion and it was here that General Braddock threw up both arms and tilted his head back, face to the sky, and fell from his horse. He was quickly picked up by four aids and carried along toward the rear of the fighting, shuffling through the hoards of frightened red coats who ran, crawled and limped as best they could. The entire fifteen hundred man force was in retreat. The Colonials held their positions, laying down heavy musket fire, to cover the British exit. The French pushed forward until the militia found it prudent to evacuate. They ran on and on. They were beaten. They had ideas of surrender. But they ran harder at that thought. They had heard of what becomes of prisoners taken by savage Indians. The French and Indians played a harassing game. They were like mosquitoes; here, there and everywhere. Lobster backs were falling from their rifle cracks. The holes were in the back; not in the front. To make matters worse, the supply caravan was rushing toward the fight and was startled to be confronted by what was left of the flying column running toward them. The two groups collided on the small road. The fleeing troops instilled terror into the wagon drivers and the two columns of troops that travelled beside them. In two's and three's the wagons were stopped, backed up and joined the retreating British. Oxen pulled hard as the heavy wagons creaked back toward the South East. Drivers were jumping off the slow moving wagons pulled by oxen and hitching rides on the swift moving horse drawn supply rigs. Soldiers tried to cling to the wagon boxes with one hand and attempted to run along side only to fall and be run over by the wagon wheels. Their haste to get away would assure their capture by the enemy as there was no time in the retreat to pick up stragglers. They prayed the French would find them before the savages. Edward Braddock lay in misery on the bed of a jostling wagon. A rifle ball entered his body from the right side, passed through his stomach and out the other side leaving a gaping hole above his hip. He was gut shot and passed in and out of consciousness until finally he expired. His cadre instantly dug a grave in the middle of the wagon road, wrapped the general in white linen and laid him in the hole on his back. The grave was covered with dirt with hopes that the wagons and horses would drive over the grave site and obliterate all traces of it from the enemy, who surely would decimate the generals remains if found.
One of the oxen pulled supply wagons became lodged between a boulder and a large spruce. The right rear wheel was broken off the axle. The driver quickly jumped off the seat and ran up to the two oxen in harness and withdrew an especially long knife and sliced through the harness straps that secured the beasts to the wagon tongue. The proper thing to have done, per orders, was to cut the throats of the oxen in order to deprive the enemy of their use but the young man grew up on a farm in the colonies and his father taught him to respect animals and to treat them with dignity. Animals were the earth’s fruit and they sustained human life and provided "everything" the pioneering people required to make a go of it on the frontier. Animals were revered and their lives taken only for human sustenance. So he set them free. They lumbered off a short distance into the woods and started grazing. The Indians would probably feast on them tonight, but at least they were free to stand or run.
The young man's name was Matthew Solomon. He was known as Matty for short. His father was a farmer and a black smith in the colonies of
Central Maryland. Most children of the time would follow
their father or mother's foot steps and simply continue on in life as tillers
of the soil or farmers wives but young Matty always had a wander lust about
him. He spent his time in the woods hunting or tracking when he could get away
from the farm crops and chores. After a few years he would succumb to the lure
of the wilderness and the unknown. He left the farm at 19 years of age and
travelled over the frontier working temporary, odd jobs in towns that had no
names. Enough money would be collected to sustain him with food, gun powder and
ball for his rifle and eventually a horse. His movements took him South along
the Allegheny Mountains to Fort Cumberland in the colony Maryland and It was
here that he saw the poster tacked to the tail gate of a colonial militia
supply wagon. It read "Experienced
wagon drivers wanted. Men of adventure needed. “Must be over 15 years old and
healthy. Inquire at Quarter Master's tent, first on left." Why not? There
was nothing else to do so Matty tore the poster from the tail gate and sloshed
through the muddy path called a street to the quarter master’s tent. "Yes
sir. The pay is ten cents colonial per day, mess provided by the king twice
daily." It was better than nothing. Matty would report to the quarter
master in the morning to receive his wagon rig, but one thing bothered him. Why would they want men of adventure? He would
find out. He made his appearance at the appointed place at 6AM next morning
were forty men already stood about or leaning against hitching posts or wagons.
Many were older and their leathery, dark skin proved that their lives were
spent in the wilderness. They were filthy and their clothes were buckskin
indicating a life of wilderness hardship while others were obviously straight
from the farm. For the most part they were young and, at the least, clean. A
militia man appeared with a roster and called out the names of the new hires.
"Aye!" and "here!" were yelled after the names were called
out. There were many names called that were followed by silence. The militia man
named Colonel George Washington appeared from a nearby tent and stepped upon a
nail keg to gain the advantage of height and stared out upon the assembled
rabble moving his head left and right with eyes unblinking and mouth tight shut
appearing stern and quite serious. Then he spoke.
"Men! We are about to embark on a campaign against the French and Indian at
on the Monongahela. I am not at liberty at this time to state numbers, but
General Edward Braddock of His Majesties Army will lead the 32nd a foot, Royal
Highlanders and a contingent of colonial militia over the Alleghenies to lay
siege to the French stockade that lies where the Allegheny and Monongahela
rivers flow together and you men will drive the supply wagons for the venture.
We depart in four hours after noon. So, say your goodbyes to loved ones and God
speed and stay you safe". Fort Duquesne
So this was it., The promise of adventure made his blood hot and almost giddy with excitement. He waited there by his wagon until the British General Dunbar directed the assemblage of teams into military order. One column of wagons two abreast flanked by colonial militia. The lobster backs were assembled four abreast and formed in front of the wagons in columns so long that Matty could not see the beginning of them. There must be over a thousand of em, he thought. In reality, there were 2200 red coats and Colonial Militia total. The wagon drivers were extra. And so, off they went starting the grand adventure.
Matty was 6 foot tall and weighed 195 pounds at 19 years of age. He worked hard on his father’s farm since he was ten years old. Every pound of him was solid muscle. His family did not have much worldly worth and lived in a one room log cabin affair that his father and mother, together, hastily constructed on a tract of land in
. His father started the
farm with two oxen, seven chickens, two pigs and a cow. The cabin had to be
erected quickly because the land had to be cleared and tilled for crop
planting. In the early years, at age 6, Matty would sit astride one of the two
oxen as his father plowed the soil in preparation for seeding. At age 7, Matty
walked behind the plow. His mother did her best to educate Matty in the
evenings after chores, but Matty was usually exhausted and showed little
interest in reading, writing and arithmetic. When he had time to himself he
would spend it in the forests. This was usually on Sundays. He was intensely
interested in all animals and plant life of the woods. He would watch deer,
elk, otter and was especially curious about eagles and hawks. Those high
flying, soaring birds fascinated him. He soon became a part of this wild
environment. Matty took only what he
needed from it to live. He respected the natural world and always was amazed by
it. Everything seemed dependent on something else. All things, plant and
animal, were interwoven together to form a circle of life. North Cumberland,
Matty knew that the farm could not hold him. He was 19 years old and wasn't really sure what he wanted. But he was certain it wasn't the plow. He needed to leave. The forest pulled him with the strength of oxen. He could wait no longer. It would be Sunday in three more days and he would leave then.
"What will you do and where will you go?, his mother said. “Your father and I have built this farm knowing that someday you and yours would family here. How can you just leave?”
"Emily, the boy is his own master. He can do as he pleases. We came to this land to escape the lords who all but enslaved us into labor. We are free to work the soil, to raise children, and to assume wealth, little that it is. Matty is my son and I'll not be forcing him to a life he does not want. Son, go yer own way. But set the path back to yer mother and me well in yer head."
His father's eyes were glassy and a tear trickled down from the corner of his left eye. He extended his right hand out to his son. When Matty grasped his fathers hand, the old man leaped to his feet pulling Matty toward him, released the hand shake grip and threw both arms around Matty's back and held his son tight to him.
He whispered in Matty's ear, "I'm proud of you son. Follow yer dream. And remember the path home."
Matty's mother sat in a stick chair, sobbing. She seemed small and frail all of a sudden to Matty. Matty walked over to his mother and embraced her.
"I'll be back mother. I'll not be gone forever. Maybe in the spring. Yes, the spring. I'll return in the spring - no later than May. I'll have lots of stories to tell you both."
Sunday finally came. The sun slowly began its climb from the East; Matty had collected a few necessaries, laid them on an open wool blanket and rolled the blanket over them into a tight cylindrical shape. A four foot piece of rawhide was tied to both ends of the blanket. The rawhide was just long enough to sling the travel roll over his shoulder. At 7:00 AM Sunday morning, Matty hugged his mother on the cabin porch. He used light but firm pressure to hold her against him. His father came onto the porch carrying a package wrapped in heavy paper saturated in bear grease. The bear grease would make it water proof. The package was tied together with a single piece of rawhide.
His father said, "Something for your journey. No need to open it now. Wait till tonight."
Matty embraced his father and then his mother. He stood back away from the porch and gave them both a long endearing stair. He then turned and walked down the path and entered the woods at the South side of the farm. He didn't look back. If he did he might lose his resolve to leave. No, he would hold his course south. He was on his own.
By night fall he had happened onto a small stream that flowed north to south at the base of the Allegheny foot hills. Up until now the going had been easy. The ground was flat and lightly forested with tall, slender pines. In short, he made good time travelling more than 23 miles since sun up. He would camp here for the night under a huge hemlock that towered above the tallest tree in view. He unrolled his blanket and spread it on the ground and lay down upon his back. He looked up through the tree, his eyes searching through the branches. It was interesting how the limbs all seemed to grow straight out from the trunk then slope downward and out at an Angle. When viewed altogether as a whole, the traditional pine tree shape was created. Round tree, larger at the bottom, and tapering to a point on top. Amazing, he thought! He rolled onto his right side and noticed the box his father had given him. His eyes came alive. Reaching out with his right hand, he hooked his index finger under the rawhide tie and pulled the box to him. While untying the package, his thoughts returned to his mother and father. Both had tried to be strong and sympathetic with his wishes to leave home. But he saw through their charade. His mother constantly blotted tears from her cheeks with the bottom edge of her apron and his father often looked past Matty's head to avoid eye contact while concurring with his reasons for his leaving home. The package had a heft to it. The opening had a flap that was held closed by a narrow rawhide strip twisted around a wooden dowel that pushed through the box from the inside. The dowel protruded through a hole in the flap thereby holding the flap closed. He turned the box upside down dumping the contents out onto the ground. There were five pieces of jagged flint and a six inch long, 1/2 inch diameter piece of iron stock. This was perfect for fire starting. An old, worn wet stone tumbled out followed by a small tin of whale oil. There was something heavy that was wedged tightly against the sides of the interior. It would not fall out. When he turned the box over and looked inside, he saw a knife and a leather sheath. His eyes grew very wide, and he sat up to inspect this find. The blade was a good seven inches long with a stag bone handle. The top of the blade was thick and two inches from the tip was sharpened like a razor and sloped down and slightly up again to a needle point. The bottom edge was sharpened from the hilt all the way to the blade's tip. That edge gently curved upward to the point of the knife. A very wicked piece of craftsmanship he thought. It was of heavy steel with impeccable craftsmanship and contained a finish as smooth and bright as a mirror. An inscription was etched on the left side of the blade. It read; Solomon 1750. Solomon - Father - Did his father make this blade? He must have. But, when and where? It had to be back in
Father only had Coopers tools good only for making barrel hoops and wagon wheel
bands. Could his father have created this fine crafted knife with a hammer and
anvil? He must have. It was a fine gift. He clutched it in both hands and
pulled it to his chest as he lay on the blanket on his side and fell soundly
He awakened at sun up, rolled onto his back, yawned, stretched and stood up. He reached down and picked up the wicked looking knife and the leather sheath. The sheathed knife was inserted behind his pant belt on his right side. All seemed right with the world. He felt more complete and somehow, more secure with the knife at his disposal. He gathered up his belongings and moved on toward the south at a brisk pace.
Matty would stop at small homesteads and villages along his path and work at odd labor for meals and at times a few shillings. After three months he found his way to
Fort Cumberland was located on Wills Creek near the Potomac River. The Fort was built as
a depot to house and stock pile supplies on the South side of the Maryland Potomac River. As the French and English relationship
deteriorated on the frontier, there became a need for a military presence in
those territories. The old depot was expanded and a formidable defensible
fortification was created. It was here, at ,
that Matty Soloman wandered into on July
3, 1755. Fort Cumberland
"Yo, yo, hold up. Wait!"
Matty grabbed hold of the brake arm of the wagon and pulled himself up over the side and onto the seat of the wagon.
The driver, a boy of 19 yelled, "what happened? How close are they?
He meant the French and Indians.
"There must be over a thousand of em to make the red coats turn tail like this," Matty replied.
The wagon driver spoke in a loud voice; "we can't cover ground fast enough with all these soldiers all over the road."
He would whip the two horses with his buggy whip only to yell "whoa" when a group of red coats would step in front of the wagon. Matty and the wagon driver could hear the rifle cracks behind them. They were about an eighth of a mile back, but that was too close for Matty.
Matty addressed the young wagon driver; "What's your name?"
"Boone, Daniel Boone."
Boone was all of 6'3". He was dressed head to toe in dirty deer skin garments. The deer skin over shirt was worn on the outside of the pant. On his feet were leather moccasins. His hands were large. His left hand held the traces that controlled the team and his right held the buggy whip. Boone's head was bare, but a colonial tri corner hat lay in the bed of the wagon. His skin appeared weathered and sun tanned to the darkest brown. Boone wore a trusting face and his gray eyes were constantly moving, constantly searching the woods trying to penetrate deep inside the tree lined perimeter.
Boone said, "Here; take this."
Boone's eyes fell to the rifle that leaned against his right side. Matty grasped the rifle and laid it across his knees.
"She's primed and all set to touch off," Boone said.
It was a beautiful long rifle of
make and origins with double set triggers. The shoulder strap of a powder horn
and shot pouch were wrapped around the rifle stock. Matty had fired his
father's musket but never a weapon such as this. Kentucky
Boone reached over toward Matty, touched the shot pouch and told him "reload without the patch. Its quicker loaden and the shooten will be close range, if there is any. Probably won't need to be dead on for long shooten."
Matty couldn't believe what he was hearing. This man in buckskin was talking about killing human beings as if it was nothing out of the ordinary. Matty looked down at the rifle again and allowed his gaze to wander over the length of the weapon. It was constructed as a full stock rifle with the stock flowing on past the trigger guard and quickly tapering down to form a forearm (under barrel support) that extended below the barrel to the end. He noted the calibre to be .36. The inscription was on the lock plate. Someday he would own such a rifle.
Boone drove the team at a steady pace. Actually it was a snail's pace. The path was congested with panic stricken soldiers and terrified women. The women followed along with the supply wagons well behind the advance force. Most of them were entrepreneurs of the battlefields. Many of them had followed other military engagements and were familiar with roaming the battle field for spoils. Those battles were fought in the traditional European style of warfare. Battles on European soil saw regiments and companies of combatants align themselves parallel with each other, stand and fire into the ranks. They would be torn with rifle ball and grape shot until one side called retreat. The women would appear for the treasures that lay about amongst the fallen. They would rifle each fallen man's garments for loot. It didn't matter which side was the victor. Spoils of war were spoils of war. However, the fighting here in the
this frontier was vastly different. The Indian's and the French did not line up
in ranks to be decimated. They would take positions of relative safety where
they could lay down fire without being seen. They fought crafty skirmishes for
the most part. A new style of warfare had come of age. Guerrilla fighting. The
British were slow to take note. The Colonials, however, knew no other way of
fighting. The Indians were the teachers to all. Americas
The sharp cracks of rifles could be heard from behind them. The Indian's were murdering the wounded lobster backs. Those who could not keep up were left to their own fate. A loud shriek off to the right caused Boone and Matty to both snap their heads in unison in that direction. A naked savage broke out of the forest and was running full out toward four wounded red coats who were limping along the road. The easy prey must have proven too enticing for him. He brandished a war club in his right hand. An awesome weapon! It had a two foot long handle with a round stone the size of a grape fruit bound to the business end of it. He raised the club above shoulder height as he ran down a gentle slope, jumped high over the trunk of a fallen tree screaming at the top of his lungs. He was heading for a wounded Scott's Guardsman who was leaning on the butt of his rifle, muzzle to the ground. He was stationary. Blood covered his right leg which he had lifted and bent at the knee. Matty was spell bound as he watched the painted savage charging the soldier in kilts. He snapped out of it when he heard Boone yell,
"shoot, shoot now! Hurry, now!"
Matty acted dumb founded. He appeared at a loss for action. He felt Boone snatch the long rifle out of his hands. When he glanced over at his companion, Boone had just settled the stock of the weapon to his shoulder, pointed it and the weapon cracked loudly. The Indian shrieked, and fell forward and lay still, flat on his stomach, face down. A gentle zephyr blew away the white smoke from the fritzen and the muzzle blast. The wagon slowed near the injured red coats and Matty jumped out to assist them into the wagon box. He then climbed back up next to Boone on the driver's seat.
"Why didn't you shoot?," exclaimed Boone.
"I never shot at a man."
"These men will kill you if you don't shoot first. And there methods ain't Christian if they ketch ya."
Boone had a disgusted look on his face when he told Matty,
"Don't think of em as men right off. Think of em as vermin. Later, when ya git used to killen em, you can think of em as enemy men."
Matty felt embarrassed. He did not act quickly. He didn't act at all. Boone did it all. He handled the wagon team, shot the savage and saved the red coat. And even now he was reloading his long rifle and handling the leads to the horses at the same time. He had just pushed the ball home with the ram rod and slid it back into the thimbles. Then Boone sat the rifle, butt first, onto the wagon box floor so that it was propped beside him within easy reach. Matty's hand gripped the handle of his knife and he felt more secure. The knife now represented something more than just a sentimental gift. It was a survival tool. It was necessary to his existence on the frontier. And so would a rifle be. Some way, some how, he would own a rifle. After witnessing Boones’ handling of his rifle, Matty realized it was mandatory he acquire one of his own - one like Boone's.
They drove till night fall. The main contingent of French and Canadians had left the battle field and returned toward Ft Duquesne. Some Indians still followed along keeping well hidden far back in the woods. An occasional shriek or whoop would sound just to keep the British and colonials nervous. The guards were posted heavy around the encampment. Boone and Matty struck out before sun up in hopes of being in the front of the weakened column thereby avoiding the congestion of foot soldiers, wagons and civilian women on the path. There were already dead and dying British soldiers who pushed on past last night's encampment due to terror. One of the horses went lame after only six miles. Boone jumped down to inspect the lame horse's hoof. A large stone was embedded in the pulpy part of the hoof. If allowed to continue the horse would lose its ability to walk. Boon walked to the front of the horses and stood between their shoulders grasping the harness at their jaws. He walked them off the trail a short ways into the woods, wagon and all. He withdrew his trades knife and took a step toward the animal to his left. Matty was observing the scene and immediately understood Boon's intention.
"No, wait!" Matty yelled.
Boone glanced his way and waited as Matty strode up to him.
"Cut them loose," Matty exclaimed. Their capture will not win or lose this conflict.”
Boone replied "its our duty to deprive the enemy of supplies." These two horses are to be killed. We will go on foot."
"No!" Matty replied. Turn em loose now! I can't let you kill them."
Boone took another step toward the horse and Matty grasped his knife in his clenched fist and struck Boone from behind as Boone was walking past him. By clutching the knife handle tightly in his fist, his fingers became hard against the knife handle creating a more solid fist - and a harder hitting fist. When Matty hit Boone on the back of his head, Boone fell to the ground stunned. Matty lead both animals a little further into the forest and removed the rest of the harnesses. Then he swatted the rump of the white horse and repeated the action with the brown one. Both horses moved out of sight back into the woods. They were safe from Boone. Passing ladies and more wounded men helped the four Britt’s climb down out of the wagon. Matty grasped Boone under his shoulders and hoisted him to his knees. Boone stared at the ground with unclear eyes and inquired,
"What the hell happened?"
I couldn't let you kill them horses, Danel. Like I say, their lives won't lose or win this fight."
"I'll have to keep my eye on you from now on Matty Soloman" Boone replied.,
Boone slowly brought his right foot up under himself and rose to a standing position. Matty took two steps back away from him not knowing what to expect. Matty reached down and picked up Boone's knife.
"Here you dropped this," and handed it handle first to his friend. Without a word, Boone walked to the wagon and picked up his rifle and possibles.
"Guess we may as well hi tail it outa here on foot," Boone exclaimed.
"Agreed," Matty acknowledged.
There were many soldiers sitting and lying about while the two worked out the disposition of the horses. Most were badly wounded. Some were dying. As the two started off, Boone noticed a red coat sitting with his back against the fence. A large hole was in his red coat just above his heart and the white blouse beneath the coat was soaked with his blood. Boone walked over to him and discovered he was dead. Across his knees lay a Kings Army issue 54 Caliber musket. The accessories to this gun would be in the pack lying beside the fallen man. "Matty, here's your gun. This one won't be needen it no more."
Sporadic rifle cracks could be heard, and not too far away. Occasionally a zinging sound could be heard from a ricochet ball. Sometimes the rifle balls could be heard passing through tree limbs and stopping with a thud in a thicker piece of tree wood. The Indians were playing their harassment game. They would follow the retreating army and snipe at them from far back in the darkness.
"Lets get goin", Matty said rather urgently.
Boone lead the way and instantly fell into a sort of trot holding the rifle in his right hand straight down. Frontiersmen can keep this pace up morning till night covering as much as forty to fifty miles in a single day. Matty fell in stride behind Boone. He continuously twisted his head from side to side searching the shadows under the trees for their adversaries. At a small creek Boone stopped and they drank.
Boone exclaimed, "We'll stop for the night just over the crown of that hill there in front of us".
As they topped the small hill, both stopped simultaneously. There before them stood a small fort in the center of a meadow. Fog surrounded it and gave the old stockade a macabre appearance. It was constructed simply by stripping the limbs from four to eight inch diameter trees, cutting the trees to eight foot lengths and inserting them in a dug ditch so that the cut lengths of wood stood vertical. A circle about 40 feet in diameter was created by the poles. In the center of the circle was a small one room cabin. Mounds of dirt were created thirty feet from the stockade to provide troops protection while they fired on the enemy. The meadow itself was protection as anyone attacking the small stockade would have to come out of the woods and cross the open expanse of ground between forest and stockade. This was Great Meadows - better known as Fort Necessity. It was constructed quickly out of dire necessity. George Washington and two companies of Colonials hastily threw this little fort together in winter two years ago when they discovered a large contingent of French and Indians closing in on them. The French laid siege to the fort but could not break the will of its inhabitants. They finally sued for terms of surrender and Colonel
and his men
were allowed to depart with weapons and colors. Matty and Boone entered the
stockade and decided the old cabin would do them for the night. Washington
Thursday, September 13, 2007
They were in for a cold night. No fire would be lighted for fear it would be a beacon for the Indian miscreant scouts of the French. They gathered pine boughs and laid them along side the cabin walls to lie upon. Matty plopped down on his bed with a sigh and a groan. His legs were tired keeping pace with the frontiersman. It seemed Boone never grew weary. His endurance seemed endless. Boone set a pace and never varied from it. Hour after hour they loped along stopping only at streams for quick hands full of water. Then off again. Matty slid to a sitting position, clasped his hands behind his head and rested his back against the cabin wall. He watched Boone in the waning light as Boone carefully inspected his rifle that carried the name Tick Licker. Matty studied Boone's profile. The face was an honest face, the jaw cut sharp with a prominent chin. Boone's nose had the appearance of being a bit large for the narrow face. The mouth was proportionate with everything else and his lips narrow. When Boone was in deep thought, those lips would close tightly together forming what appeared to be a straight horizontal line under Boone's nose. Overall a handsome man, but a bit ungainly, Matty thought. Boone was not an arrogant man but Matty noticed an ere about Boone that bespoke hidden rage. Matty wondered what it would take to unleash that characteristic in his companion.
"I reckon we'll head due south just before sun rise and make for Ft Ligonier. It lies just forty or so miles from us," Boone exclaimed.
Matty acquired a puzzled look on his face, thought a bit on Boone's statement and replied,
"Think I'll head further east and south to drop dead south and over toward Ft Cumberland. My folks live that way. They're due a visit."
"Suit yerself. Yer likely to run into Boushways or Potowathomes if ya don't keep watch. They're bad folks who will roast ya alive ifen they ketch ya. Huron is the worse of the lot but they're up
Mohawk Valley way
toward the Hudson River. I’ve seen a Huron scout grab hold of a stirrup of a French officer's horse and run along side while the
horse was galloping. They are a fine
example of Indian heathen. But thars no reasonin with em.
Only one way to talk at em and that's with lead. And
don't take no time a ponderen on weather to shoot or not."
Boone was referring to the incident back in the wagon where Matty hesitated to use Boone's rifle. Matty swore to himself that would never happen again.
The gray sky's of morning promised a wet day. The air was cold and thick with moisture. Boone commented that snow might be a possibility. It was day break and the sun would surely warm up the latter hours.
They both gathered their possibles and moved to the cabin door. Each lowered himself to one knee, Boone on the left and Matty on the right side of the door way. Their heads slowly moved into the door opening for a better view of the surrounding forest. This caution was necessary for obvious reasons.
"I'll walk out and turn south into the woods. You cover me from here. Then I'll watch you when you come," said Boone. Make sure that musket is primed with dry powder Matty. Blow out the old stuff and re prime the pan with this."
Boone handed Matty a goat horn filled with fine pan powder for the fritzen of his musket. Matty did as Boone instructed. With rifles ready, Boone stood vertical and exited the cabin through the door while Matty leveled the musket toward the woods whence they came. Boone walked slowly and stood tall with rifle across the crook in his left arm at the elbow. The fingers of his right hand were wrapped around the slender portion of the rifle stock just behind the cocked hammer with his index finger on the trigger of Tick Licker. He wanted to appear unafraid and daring to any enemy who might be watching from the forest. Anything less than boldness would instigate an immediate hostile action from any heathen who might be watching. Like animals, the Indians always take advantage of the weak and fearful. The fittest always had a better chance of survival. Such as it was on the frontier. Boone walked casually into the woods then turned quickly and laid his long rifle across a fallen tree trunk to cover Matty's exit from the cabin and the small stockade. Like Boone, Matty walked tall and took long brisk strides appearing to care little about his surroundings. He even carried his musket in his right hand, arm extended straight down at his side to indicate his disconcert for danger. The hammer, however, was back and the trigger set on the big gun. Matty had a feeling of security at the heft of the weapon in his hand.
A sudden rush of heat flushed over Matty's face as adrenalin shot through his body. He heard running feet behind him; a rapid thud, thud of someone running really fast toward him. As he turned to look behind him he caught a movement off to his right. A Savage had run out into the open from the edge of the woods at the north side of the meadow. Never stopping, Matty looked behind him to see a French Boucheway trotting after him at much the same speed Matty was moving. These half French half Indians were masters of the forest and a force to be reckoned with by the colonial militia. They would play havoc on the British Army through the early period of the war until a special force would later come on the scene and level the playing field. That force would be
Matty picked up the pace as he saw the Indian reach behind him to a quiver and withdraw an arrow and fit it to his bow.
"Where was Boone? He's supposed to be covering me."
Matty felt the first stages of panic. He ran hard. The Indian to his right had run not only toward him but also to where he would intersect Matty if his arrow missed its mark. At a position parallel to Matty, the savage dropped to one knee drawing his bow in the same fluid movement. A sharp crack of a rifle sounded from the thicket ahead. The arrow launched harmlessly into the ground as the miscreant fell over onto his side.
"Shoot, shoot now!" Boone was yelling at Matty from the woods.
It was a recreation of the scene in the wagon from yesterday. Matty put it all together in his head instantly. Boone had taken the shot and dropped the savage. His gun was empty now and Boone knew the Canadian Boucheway would be on Matty before Boone could finish reloading. Without slowing down, Matty spun around, and placed the stock of the gun to his shoulder in one fluid movement. The Canadian was close. Matty could see the surprised look on his adversaries face as the boucheway looked into the end of the musket. The Canadian held a flint and ball pistol in his right hand and was raising it when Matty turned. Matty pulled the trigger and the big 58 caliber musket recoiled back into his shoulder. White smoke obliterated the view in front of him. His attacker lay flat on his back, his face covered by a bloody mess, the skull broken in pieces and scattered alongside the body. Boone was standing at the edge of the woods waving at Matty to hurry.
"Yer a larnen. Yep, yer a larnen," Boone said.
Matty didn't understand why the Canadian didn't shoot sooner. Of course Boone had the answer.
"He only had a pistol. Only good at close range. If he'd a shot at ya and missed, you would have put him in a bad sityeaton with yer musket. He had to run up close on ya to make sure he hit ya when he shot."
Funny thing - Matty didn't feel bad. He didn't feel anything. A man tried to kill him and he killed that man. No, he didn't feel bad at all.
Boone looked at Matty and said, "come on. We gotta make time. Thar will be others a comen and we'll leave a heavy track for em cause we ain't got time to go careful."
At that Boone turned and took off running. He quickly fell into a steady, casual run. Matty had just fitted the ram rod back into the thimbles under the barrel of his musket after reloading. He quickly closed the gap Boone had gained and fell into the identical pace of his companion.
Boone slowed and stopped after about five miles. Matty came up beside him and went down on to his left knee at rest.
Boone said, “I'm goin straight south from here to Fort Ligonier. It's only a day and a half run. I'd advise you to come along Matty. The French will have scouts out now. Them scouts will be savage unless I miss my guess. Better come along with me to the fort."
Matty stared at the ground while still on his knee. "Nope, I"m headen for
and home. I made a promise to my folks
and I aim to keep it." Cumberland
"Yep, I recon you will," said Boone. Alright friend - this is whar we split; " Boone said.
Looking at Matty Boone said, "remember, run with the sun anywhere but in front of ya and keep the woods close so ya can run and hide. Indians is like wolves with a brain. They stick with something once they put a mind to it, and if that something’s you - well, good luck."
"We'll meet agin, Danel," Matty said.
"Take care of yer hair Matty."
"Yep, take care o yourn Danel."
Matty watched as Boone disappeared into the forest. His eyes stayed on Boone's dirty brown deer skin shirt until he was out of sight completely. Suddenly the realization that he was all alone hit him. He was on his own again.
Matty jogged along at a steady pace on an eastern course for two hours without stopping since leaving Boone. The musket was heavy and it was becoming an effort to carry. He would switch it from right to his left hand while moving through the woods. The British issue musket weighed three times that of the much sought after Pennsylvania long rifle. It was only half the length of a long rifle but fired a projectile twice the size of the .31 caliber ball of the more preferred weapon. Muskets were designed to be utilized in volley firing. It was desirable to throw as much led toward the lines of enemy soldiers as possible. Its use was incorporated primarily in the European theater of battle where combatants fought in a gentlemanly fashion. Here, in the
accuracy was of prime concern. Nothing was as accurate as the Pennsylvania long
rifle. These weapons contained rifling in the barrels. When the powder charge
in the breach of the rifle was ignited, the patched ball would rotate down the
barrel due to contact between the patch and the rifling's in the barrel. The
result would be a rotating projectile that would exit the muzzle. The
concentricity of the mass would result in a highly accurate shot out to 150
yards. The British musket in comparison was primarily a fifty yard weapon with
a ten to twelve inch impact zone at that distance. A long rifle in the hands of
an expert frontiersman could consistently hold to a half inch impact area at a
hundred yards. Lighter weight and the most accurate shoulder weapons in
existence at the time make these rifles the most sought after possessions by
the American Frontiersman and Colonial Skirmishers. They were designed for the
very light .31 caliber ball, but were useful, due to their accuracy, in
shooting any wild game on the Eastern frontier, including humans. Americas
Matty slowed to a stop at a small waterfall. He laid the heavy musket down and on hands and knees, leaned down and drank heavily from the cold stream. Rising up and sitting on his haunches he surveyed his surroundings. He was certain no enemy could get close to him without the sounds of moving brush and leaves. It was very dense with foliage here. He was uneasy though. He remembered the occurrences of the morning. Then he had Boone as a companion. He would be self reliant now. It would be prudent to show care in his travels. The stream flowed south and east much in the direction he wished to go. He stepped into the icy water and proceeded to walk briskly down the stream. He would continue in this fashion until the stream meandered in a non desirable direction. He travelled in the very shallow stream for an hour. Suddenly the little rivulet made a sharp right turn against a sandstone wall and tumbled down over a twenty foot fall. Matty stepped out of the water upon a fallen log and walked the length of it for thirty feet. He then stepped off the log onto a boulder and jumped from one huge stone to another until he had moved about fifty yards from the stream. Upon standing on forest soil once again, he grasped the musket in his right hand; arm extended straight down, and assumed the frontiersman's gate that would carry him to nightfall.
Matty did not follow the trail but there was a natural strip of low grass that grew out of a depression in the ground that he had been following in a southerly direction for miles. It was a now dry stream bed that had grown up in bright green grass.
"Probably hasn't seen nuf water in two years to run full", he said out loud.
If Matty chose this path for its ease of travel, then someone else could do as well. There were other streams near by that ran full with clean, crystal water that would be good to camp along. But to be found at the side of one of them asleep would be a death sentence. It was nearly dark and Matty stepped onto a log that had fallen across the dry stream bed and carefully walked off his path to the tree's uprooted trunk. The land climbed rapidly at that point and Matty decided to walk up the steep hill side. After forty feet he had to grasp hold of saplings with his free hand so that his feet would not bear his entire weight and slip on the near vertical ground. Just then a ledge appeared that cut back into the hillside nearly twenty feet. It would be here that Matty would spend the night. He didn't even unroll his blanket. He laid the blanket roll on the ground against the bank farthest away from the edge of the hill and flopped down onto the earth unceremoniously and put his head on the rolled wool bundle and instantly fell asleep.
Matty opened his eyes and glared into a bright moon. The white orb appeared to hang from the stubby, rotten limb on an old hickory snag that was clinging to the hillside above him. Something had stirred him from his sound sleep. There it was again. Talking. There were men below him and they were speaking French. An occasional muttering of unintelligible gibberish would chime in between the French from time to time confirming that Indians were also present. They were camped on the spot where Matty had started up the hillside. It had to be night time when they arrived so they hadn't discovered any earth scars he may have made while precipitating the climb up the hillside. Morning's light, however, may offer the French and Indians proof of his passing. They may send a scout to try and overtake him while the rest continue on in their intended direction. He must leave well before day break. He would carefully move horizontally around the steep hill he was on until he could go up over the top where it would be flat. There he could resume his speed and put distance between himself and the French. The French and Indians should be asleep in an hour or so and he could slip away. A piece of good luck occurred as Matty prepared to leave his ledge. The sky became cloudy and the moon was nearly covered in a cloak of darkness. A drizzle of cold rain began to fall. These were perfect conditions for Matty to get away undetected. He slung his roll over his shoulder and grabbed the big gun up in his right hand and inched over to the edge of his ledge to peer at the visitors below. He saw nothing but darkness. They had no fires. But they were there. He moved out across the side of the hill as quietly as he could. The going was slow. He could not afford to slip and cause any noise. When he figured he had gone a hundred yards; he turned straight up the hill until he went over the top. It was flat there and sparsely populated with huge trees. He fell into the mile eating gate that would carry him further away from his enemies.
Just before sun up the French and Indian camp had awakened. The morning necessaries were administered to and weapons were gathered. The entire group of twenty French and Nine Seneca Indians were ready to move out in less than ten minutes. The sun was coming up fast though. As the French hefted shoulder packs and aligned themselves in single file on this dry stream bed, the Indians appeared to arbitrarily position themselves on the sides, front and rear of the French. Two Seneca’s rapidly ran ahead of the group before it started moving. Those Indians were scouts for the formation. As the French finally started to move the column, an Indian ran quickly toward a French Lieutenant who appeared to be giving direction to the Indian contingent. At his arrival, he spoke rapidly and pointed to the hill side where they camped. Then they both trotted over to the site to inspect it. The Lieutenant motioned to two savages who were approaching and pointed to the ground. Each of the two Indians looked up the hill momentarily and started the ascent. The rest fell in with the French. It looks like Matty would be followed.
Matty's trail was easy to follow. The two Senecas had no trouble seeing the places where Matty's feet slid on the steep bank. They were expert trackers and were travelling almost as fast as Matty was. They both carried French muskets, a horn full of rifle powder and another smaller horn filled with fine flash powder. The taller of the two Indians had a wicked tomahawk held to his deer skin leggings with a length of rawhide. A trade’s knife was tucked into the waistband of his breech clout. His partner was well muscled but with shorter legs. When running it appeared his legs were moving twice as fast as his taller peer. Occasionally they would slow or stop to inspect some bit of information that pertained to their prey. After brief discussions they would be off again on their mission.
Matty ran on until eleven o clock. His course lead him out onto a triangular promontory that offered a view of a large valley far below. He sat down to catch his breath and allowed his eyes to scan the valley in front of him. He noticed clearings here and there and wondered if they were the work of farmers. They were sparse, but they were there. He was not certain if he was in
Pennsylvania or territory. He thought he assuredly
would be in or very near Cumberland .
He had travelled southeast and then south for most of the morning. He must work
his way down off this plateau to the valley floor where he could really make
good travel time. He was hearing a strange tick, tick off in the distance. It
didn't sound anything like he had ever heard. The sounds weren't constant. They
were sporadic. He didn't give them much thought. Standing up, he carefully
looked about him, then set out on a slower run down the mountain toward the
valley. The mountain side became very steep. Matty slowed to a walk and clung
to trees and boulders as he carefully chose his foot placement. The tick, ticks
were louder now. It was obvious it was gun fire Matty heard. That much gunfire
on the frontier could only mean someone was in a struggle for their life. Matty
was already heading toward the direction of the sounds. He picked up his pace
to a sort of half jog, half run and began paying close attention to his immediate
surroundings. He soon came to the edge of a cleared field. Someone made an
attempt to plow it but must have given up. The broken wooden plow sat at the
far edge of the little clearing - a testimonial to the very rocky soil. The gun
fire was coming from just beyond a narrow tree line on the other side of the
clearing. Matty thrust himself out into the open and ran at top speed past the
broken plow and into the thicket beyond. He lay on his stomach and pulled
himself forward on his elbows to just behind a rotten stump. A cabin was
sitting well in the center of a clearing. It had to be a one room affair due to
its small size. Rifles were protruding through the front windows. Occasionally
a white puff of smoke could be seen and then a sharp report. Then the second
gun would fire. Neither weapon fired simultaneously as they would both be empty
at the same time. On the ground in front of the cabin lay two bodies. One a
female and the other a male. White puffs of smoke would appear from just inside
the tree line at the edge of the clearing. Matty guessed there were no more
than two or maybe three of the enemy. A scream was heard emanating from the
cabin. Then another. Matty noted only
one rifle was firing from the cabin now. If there were only one rifle firing,
all the heathen had to do was wait for that rifle to fire and move quickly
toward the cabin before a reload could be accomplished. No one came into the
clearing. They were being cautious. Matty carefully crawled toward the cabin
keeping a line of boulders and rocks between him and the people in the woods.
He stopped when he reached a position that placed him directly between the
woods and the cabin but still in the cover of the trees at the edge of the
clearing. A shot was taken at the cabin from the combatants in the woods and a
return shot emitted from the cabin. Matty saw a half naked savage run out of
the woods directly toward the cabin. The Indian carried only a tomahawk. He ran
silently to the porch and stood with his back against the log wall beside the door.
Matty laid the musket across the top of a boulder and opened the fritz en. He
blew out the prime powder and poured fresh flakes of the fine black dust into
the flash pan. It was a fifty yard shot. The musket should prove accurate.
Matty knew that there was still one miscreant in the thicket. He had hoped he
could reload before the savage could determine the origin of his shot. Just
then the second savage ran from the woods toward the cabin. A puff of white
smoke and sharp "crack!" came from the window nearest the Indian on
the porch. That Indian reached out and grabbed the muzzle of the rifle and
pulled it through the window. All the while the second savage was nearing the
front porch. Matty carefully gazed across the sights. He lead the Indian by a good
foot and squeezed the heavy trigger. The big gun exploded and white smoke
obliterated the view. Matty was on his feet and running toward the cabin before
he knew if his shot was true or not. He had pulled the knife from its sheath in
his belt before his feet touched the clearing. A third body lay on the ground
beside the previous two. Someone was screaming in the cabin. Pottery was
breaking and a woman was crying. Without slowing down, Matty threw his weight
onto the front door with his shoulder. It flew from its leather hinges and
landed flat onto the floor and Matty tripped and fell onto it. He bent his body
forward and rolled upon hitting the floor and came to his feet just before
slamming into the cabin wall. A savage stood to his left holding a girl by the
throat with his left hand. His right held a French trade’s knife. He was
attempting to slice through the deer hide lacing's that closed the neck of the
lady's dress. His head snapped around and icy, dark, cold eyes glared into
Matty's. The savage tossed the girl aside and she struck her head against a
wooden water keg and lay quiet. Matty shoved a heavy circular table across the
seven foot of floor into the Seneca's legs. The big Indian fell forward onto
the table with his back exposed. Matty's knife entered the savages back between
his shoulder blades. The Indian's entire body twitched violently. He tried to
lift his head up to look at Matty and to spit upon him. But his spittle only
fell to the table. And in a few short seconds he spat blood. And then he lay
still. Matty slowly approached the Indian and slapped him on the back of the
head a few times to guarantee that his was dead. The vermin was pinned to the
table top as a butterfly in a collection. He then grasped the knife handle, withdrew the
blade and wiped it on the Indian's breach clout. He inserted the knife into its
sheath and stepped to the rifle that lay on the floor. He promptly reloaded it.
When he was satisfied the gun was ready, he knelt down and pulled the hair back
away from the face of a young girl. She was gently pulled to a sitting position
with her back against the cabin wall. Matty tore off a piece of her dress from
the bottom edge, dipped it in a water bucket and laid it against the girl's
forehead. Her eyes fluttered open and then closed again. He laid her back down
on the floor and placed a coat that was hanging on a wall peg under her head.
He had an insatiable urge to be on the move away from here. He couldn't leave
the girl, and he wouldn't. There was a body lying just under the far window on
the floor. It was a young boy of no more than fourteen or fifteen. There was
blood on his shirt near his heart. His eyes were partially open and glazed.
Beside the boy lay a rifle. Matty's eyes opened wide. He reached down and
picked it up. A fine long rifle of superb quality. It may have been finer even
than Boone's. It was a full stock Cumberland
long rifle of .31 caliber. The wood was chestnut and the stock flowed past the
working parts up and under the barrel clear to the muzzle. Barrel and forearm
were joined at the muzzle by a brass bezel. It had two triggers. The rear
trigger or set trigger, would allow the front trigger to contact the sear. When
the front trigger was squeezed the sear would trip the mainspring which would
drive the hammer that held the flint into the fritz en. This would create a
spark that would ignite the flash powder in the flash pan and send a spark
through the touch hole and into the main charge of powder behind the patched
ball. It was a beautiful rifle. There was a pouch of led balls for it lying on
the floor. Matty tucked the pouch in his deer skin shirt after removing one of
the balls. He then loaded and primed the rifle. Pennsylvania
A soft moan came from the girl on the floor. Matty quickly returned to her, bent down and cupped his hands behind her head. She seemed none the worse for wear other than the nasty lump on the side of her forehead she received when her head hit the wall.
Matty said, "can you hear me? Please, wake up. We need to git away from here."
"Who, who are you?", the girl said feebly.
"Matty Solomon's my name. I just happened by and tried to lend a hand."
She lifted her head and looked around the room. Then she saw the boy.
"Tommy! Tommy! Oh No!"
She wept wildly. Matty could do nothing but hold her head against his leg. She grasped his hand in both her's and pushed her face against it. Matty knew they needed to move and move now.
"They're all dead mam. All of em. Git it through yer head!. Theres time nuff fer mornin when I git you to Ft Cumberland.
"What's yer name?", Matty asked.
"Hanna. Hanna McGiven."
"Hanna, we got to git goin and now. I know this is hard fer ya, but we gotta go."
"They're in the front by the porch mam".
Matty knew the next question.
"Could we bury them?"
"No Hanna, we can't. We don't have time."
Then Matty thought of something. He helped Hanna outside then went back in and grabbed some clothes that looked like her's. He then walked to the edge of the clearing and made her comfortable.
"I'll be back quick Hanna."
Matty ran back toward the cabin, went inside and tore all the blankets and sheets off the beds and piled them against the cabin wall. He picked up a coal oil lantern and emptied it on the pile. With flint, steel and scraps of paper, he started embers burning. These he tossed onto the saturated blankets. They smoldered and smoked and finally flashed into flame. Turning, he dashed outside to the bodies of Hanna's father and mother. One by one he took them inside and laid them on the top of the burning blankets. He walked out of the room. Any heathen coming this way would not find a white body to hack to pieces. They would find two dead Indian attackers. If Matty and Hanna were lucky, their trail away from the cabin would be overlooked. Matty could not know that two pair of eyes were watching the scene below from the ledge atop the mountain - the very ledge Matty descended to the valley from. The two savages looked briefly at each other and a sardonic smile appeared on the face of the bigger man. They watched in silence as Matty and Hanna disappeared into the forest on the southeast side of the little clearing the cabin sat upon. At the edge of the forest the new companions both turned and looked briefly at the cabin. Flames were shooting through the roof. Hanna was crying hard.
"Git yer self together girl. We need our wits about us. Ya can cry when we git ta
. Come on now." Fort Cumberland
Matty practically dragged Hanna. She was devastated and seemed to have lost her will to go on. But they were moving, not as fast as Matty would like, but they were moving toward the south.
Two near naked figures silently slipped down the mountain side toward the burning cabin.
They walked for two hours without stopping. Hanna shuffled along staring at the ground in an uncaring way. A stop was made to drink from a narrow brook lined with wild flowers. Matty immediately sat down on a fallen log and opened his travel roll. He pulled out a wool blanket and cut two rectangular pieces from it. He then walked to a birch tree and with his knife, made two cuts entirely around the tree, 24 inches between cuts. The bark was halved and each piece fashioned into the size and shape of the human foot. He folded the blanket pieces over the bark and applied a hurried stitching of thin rawhide that fastened the blanket and bark together. Hanna sat motionless s Matty fastened the new shoes to her feet and ankles. Another foot long piece of blanket was cut and Hanna’s old leather, button down shoes were tied one on each end of the blanket piece and both shoes were thrown high in a tree where they caught in foliage and hung out of sight.
“We gotta go Miss,” Matty said.
Hanna didn’t answer but acted like his words never reached her.
“Miss, we have to hurry along. I’m sure we’ll be followed. Our trail is deep.”
He walked over to her and slapped her across the face. Hanna snapped her head around to face him and she had tears in her eyes.
“I’m sorry. Looky here miss – what’s done is done and it can’t be changed. If we don’t hurry along we’ll be caught. Our only chance is to keep moving until we get close to Fort Cumberland. We’ll probably run into scouts from the fort. Now, come on.”
Matty picked up her hand and pulled her to her feet. They were off once again.
Two shadows moved through the forest making no sound – silent as cats on the hunt. The tallest, a Huron, stopped abruptly and placed the palm of his hand on an invisible mark on the ground and looked up at the shorter of the two, a Seneca, and voiced his opinion concerning the find. A short conversation ensued and they both jogged off through the forest with determination on their painted faces. An hour of constant running brought them to a narrow stream where they both squatted down and scooped up cool, refreshing water in cupped hands. The Seneca jumped up excitedly and took two rapid steps to a log – the same log Matty sat on. The Huron stood up and carefully looked at his surroundings. His head and eyes became still and a sardonic smile appeared on his face as he saw the tree with the stripped away bark. Matty was right when he said their trail was deep. The two trackers instantly put all the sign together and the story unfolded to them that they were following two whites who were moving slowly and – awkwardly through the forest – their environment.
Matty knew they would be found if they stopped for the night. The pursuers would be relentless and follow without rest. Hanna and he had to make it to the fort or find a scout party before dark. He doubted Hanna could move through the wilderness at night. She was exhausted even now. They carried on a fast walk for hours and finally came to a place where the forest was broken by a very wide swath of open land resembling a field. It was a field. Huge piles of unburned trees were piled on the edge of the huge field on the opposite side where the forest once again commenced. It was too late in the year to plow and plant and the field was left unattended, probably until spring. They had to be close to a settlement and that meant that Fort Cumberland was near. Everything within him told Matty not to cross the field which would place them in plain view of all the forest’s edges that surrounded the big open space on three sides. To walk around the entire field would take over two hours. The brush was dense and many trees were laid just inside the edge of the woods where the farmers had dragged them. The field was shaped like a horseshoe – the open end of the horseshoe faced south and was clear of trees and brush. They stood at the bottom of the horseshoe just inside the edge of the forest. Matty paced back and forth slowly, deep in thought, constantly looking at the open field. A decision had to be made, and quickly. Darkness was setting in. He opened the fritzen on his rifle and blew the fine black powder out of the flash pan. Fresh priming powder was poured into the pan and the fritzen closed.
Hanna made a plea to stop there and rest a while longer. She seemed secure in the thought that no one could possibly follow and find them these many miles from her skirmish with the Indians at the cabin.
“No miss – we can’t stop now. I’m tellin ya there are miscreants on our back trail and they will find us unless we can keep moving,” Matty said.
Hanna offered, “no one can find us. Who would chase after the two of us all these many miles and, for what reason? It makes no sense. I can’t go further.”
Matty replied, “the heathen are like wolves. Their on a blood trail and will not give up until they find the prey. That would be us. I don’t know everything about Indians but I do know that when one sets his eyes on ya in blood lust – yer don fur. A friend named Boone told me once that ya don’t ever want to be caught by the vermin as they got unthinkable ways of torturing a white. Now, lets git goin.”
Matty noticed the sun was going to be in front of them as they crossed the field. Boone told him to walk in any direction except into the sun back at Great Meadows. Matty had no choice. They would have to walk directly into the afternoon sun. there was no other way.
Matty helped Hanna to her feet and they stepped out into the field to hurry along toward the open end of the horseshoe. Half way across the field, Matty stopped Hanna. He turned and looked back across the area they had just come from. An Indian stepped out into the open and looked back at him, his arms hanging down at his sides – a tomahawk clutched in his right hand. Not twenty feet beside him a shorter red man made his presence known. They did not proceed as they could see the long rifle Matty cradled in the crook of his left arm. All participants stood motionless sizing up the moment.
Matty felt a chill run down the back of his neck. He wished his friend Boone was here but – he wasn’t. It was all up to Matty. What would Boone do? What would he do? Matty understood that the two savages respected the long rifle he carried and they would want him to shoot it. Then he would be defenseless as he could not reload the weapon before they were upon him. It appeared to be a standoff. Neither Indian carried a rifle or an arrow and bow. Matty grabbed Hanna’s arm and turned her to face away from the heathens. Then Matty stood up as tall as he could, turned toward the opening in the long meadow and the two proceeded to slowly walk away from the pair of angry faces that watched them from behind.
“Don’t turn around and look back,” Matty told Hanna. “Don’t give em the pleasure of thinking you are afraid of em. If they sense we fear em they will be more apt to try all the harder to kill us.” Matty learned this from his friend Boone. How did Boone become so smart?
The taller of the two red men grew anxious. He shifted his weight from one foot to the other. His face showed anger that grew more and more by the second. The whites were ignoring their presence as if they were invisible. The shorter Indian watched his partner to see if he would instigate some sort of action. The tomahawk rose up and down as the tall Indian flexed his wrist. He was on the verge of some important action but seemed not to be able to implement it. He turned to his left and angrily uttered some direction to his friend. Then they both started to walk toward Matty and Hanna.
Matty heard the gibberish behind him and instantly knew something was afoot. He turned around quickly to see both Indians casually following them at a walk. Matty turned back around and continued to walk on at a casual pace with Hanna.
Matty said, “Take this knife and don’t let it go for nuthin. If this goes the wrong way – don’t let em take ya girl. I think you know what I’m sayin. At the least – drag it hard across yer wrist.”
Hanna took the knife in her right hand and said to Matty, “I’ve gotten you into this sir and I’m sorry for it. You could have left me back at the cabin but you didn’t. For that I thank you.”
Matty looked down into her face and locked his eyes to hers and replied, “I couldn’t leave a pretty girl alone out here in the forest now, could I? ” His tight lips turned slightly up at the corners in a smirk before he turned his face away from hers.
It wouldn’t be long before Matty and Hanna reached the space in the surrounding forest that allowed exit from the field. Beyond that space the forest resumed after a short distance of treeless ground. If they could make it to the forest they would have cover and the game of cat and mouse would become more interesting.
A loud shrill whoop sounded behind them and Matty turned around to see the two red men running full speed toward them. Matty reminded Hanna of the knife, checked the flash pan and knelt down on one knee raising the long rifle to his shoulder and taking aim on the tallest man. The two Indians instantly turned left and right and each ran toward the opposite edges of the open field. They then turned and ran back across the field toward each other. They were only 50 yards behind Matty. The idea was to tempt Matty into firing the rifle rendering it empty and him without a weapon. They screamed taunting sounds at the top of their lungs. The sounds made Hanna cringe and she folded her shoulders inward to make herself appear as small as possible but, the loud shrieks were ignored by Matty. He was totally focused on keeping the sights of the long rifle at the proper lead for the tall Indian crossing before him. Twice his finger squeezed upon the trigger and twice he thought better of it. The one shot contained in his rifle was the most precious thing in the world at the moment.
The two Indians ran across the field for the third time and returned toward each other once more. As they approached each other the tall one screamed an ear piercing order to his friend and both turned simultaneously toward Matty and Hanna at a dead run. Their weapons were clutched in tight fists and held aloft as they closed the distance to their quarry. Matty lowered the muzzle of the rifle and the long legged Indian emitted a terrible scream when he saw the white man seem to ignore the threat that he and his red friend posed. The entire scene was enacted in a few brief seconds. Matty instantly snapped the rifle to his shoulder when the two attackers were a stone’s throw distance from him and he pulled the trigger. The tall miscreant threw his arms out to his side and snapped his head straight back as the ball penetrated the center of his chest. The short legged fellow beside him faltered a step or two but resumed his charge toward Matty. He was shorter in stature than his fallen friend but his torso was thick and boasted strength. He was on Matty in a flash. Matty simply dropped to the ground and the stalky Indian overshot Matty. The red man was quick. He turned around instantly and swung the war club at Matty’s head. Matty could only pull his head directly rearward allowing the stone on the end of the war club to whisk past his face harmlessly. The club reversed direction and a deadly back swing was attempted at which Matty ducked his head below the weapon as it passed once again near his head. Before the Indian could recover from the swing of the weapon – Matty lunged at his legs and brought the Indian to the ground. He then quickly pulled himself up the man’s body until they were face to face. Matty held the wrists of his opponent. The red man was powerful but his struggle suddenly stopped and he looked into Matty’s face with surprised, wild open eyes and a trickle of blood seeped from the corners of his mouth. His head bend down and he saw the point end of Matty’s knife protruding from the center of his chest, the same knife Matty’s father gave to him. The Indian toppled over and off Matty. Matty jumped to his feet ready to continue the fight but calmed himself when he saw the hilt of his knife protruding from between the Indian’s shoulder blades. Matty glanced around the open field and then looked down at the Indian by his feet. He kneeled down and placed his knee on the Indian’s back and grunted as he withdrew the long blade from the back of his foe and wiped it clean on the Indian’s leggings. He stood looking at Hanna speechless. The long rifle laid on the ground a couple steps away and he stooped down, picked the rifle up and reloaded it. Again he looked at Hanna. She raised her head up and stared back at him. He thought how pretty she looked just then. There was never time to see how pretty she was, and he was proud of her at the same time because she saved his life. They moved toward each other and Matty embraced her and pulled her tight to himself. His hand gently cradled the back of her head and drew it to his chest. The arm around her back pulled her to him in a tight embrace. Without a word he let her go, grasped her by the arm and walked at a brisk pace toward the end of the open field and into the surrounding forest beyond where soon a terrible, bloody war would rage for more than seven years. Matty and Hanna would be plunged into the French and Indian War. They had no choice.
Chapter 7. DANGEROUS TIMES – A WAR IS BEGINNING
The boards creaked as the woman moved across them sweeping twigs, leaves and soil from the front porch of the two room cabin. It was spring time in 1756 and a pretty blond girl in a print gingham dress named Hanna was preparing to start her first summer in the recently finished log cabin that she worked so hard to build with her husband. She and Matty Solomon had been married only 8 months and they worked on the cabin through late summer last, fall and winter to get it done in time for planting in the spring. Hanna rested the broom against the cabin wall and stepped forward to the front edge of the porch and allowed her eyes to scan across the small meadow to the forest’s edge in search of the one man in the world that she totally trusted. Matty had saved her life and gave her a reason to live at the same time. They travelled here to the town of Dearborn in the Mohawk Valley near the Hudson River to take advantage of a land grant offered by the territorial governor. A chill was in the air and Hanna went inside stoke up the fire in the hearth.
Matty had taken Hanna to Fort Cumberland in the Cumberland Territory after escaping the relentless pursuit of the two Huron Indians over mountain and meadow. He was told his mother and father had taken refuge in Fort Cumberland to escape the violence on the frontier that would eventually blossom into the 7 year war and ignite the world on fire. Matty’s mother had passed of the flux and he was deeply sorrowed at the news. His father was very ill and it is said that he was suffering from the same decease that took his wife but Matty saw right off that he suffered at her loss. He remained distant to Matty and Hannah sometimes not even recognizing their presence near him. Then one morning he was discovered lying beside a stack of hay in the stable, his pitchfork at his side. The usual tormented look on his face was replaced with the appearance of complacency and peace. Matty was the last one left to carry on the Solomon name. His father was laid to rest beside his mother and that simply was that. A month later Matty and Hannah were married and decided to leave this dangerous frontier county and move to a more civilized environment up north toward Canada. Little did they know they were jumping out of the kettle and into the fire.
He was now 20 years of age and had had acquired the wisdom taught by the wilderness through experience and by befriending the many woodsmen he had met during the Braddock expedition that was assembled to overtake Fort Duquesne in Pittsburgh. That debacle resulted in the embarrassment and decimation of that entire British force and the loss of many companies of red and blue coats alike. Matty often wondered what had become of his good friend and companion Daniel Boone. He missed that frontiersman and the easy way he moved through life, just like the way he moved through the forest – with ease and determination. Their paths would cross again he was sure of it.
He hefted the white tail deer up behind his neck and settled it down upon his shoulders, reached over to pick up the rifle that stood against the tree and checked the prime in the flash pan before heading off east for home. It was cold and there was a powder snow on the ground that was neither slippery nor offered any traction to the slick bottom moccasins he wore on his feet. Powder snow would not hold a track and that was a desirable thing because he was on the edge of what was known as the frontier and the frontier could be a dangerous place to tarry in. This territory was host to the Abenaki faction of the Iroquois nation and they were feared by the settlers in these parts and worse, promised allegiance to the French who had built forts as far as across the frontier beyond the Ohio River.. He would make a cold camp here and continue on in the morning.
The clomping of horse’s footsteps could be heard outside and Hanna froze, listening intently and finally the familiar voice of Charles Wittman called out, “anyone home? Its Charles and Ema?” Hanna ran to the door and swung it open, stepped out and welcomed her neighbors with an invitation to come in out of the chill and sit by her fire for a spell.
Charles declined stating the reason for their detour to Matty and Hanna’s cabin from the main route to Dearborn was to deliver a warning that a rather large contingent of Huron Indians had been seen crossing the Hudson River at the shoals at Bryson’s Bend. That was just ten miles above Hana and Matty’s place. This was indeed reason to be concerned. The Wittman’s asked Hanna to come along with them to Deerfield but Hanna declined stating she had to wait for Matty.
“All right then Hanna. If we don’t see you by morning tomorrow we’ll send out the militia to bring you in. Don’t worry none about Matty cause he’s sharp as a tack and I doubt there’s any Indian that can catch him iffin he gets them long legs of his churnin.
The snow disappeared as Matty left the forest and approached the river. The land lost its beauty and turned to a gooey, sticky, brown mud that tried to suck the moccasins off his feet at every step. He would cross the river at the Bryson Bend Shoals and jog north east for three miles to the cabin and Hanna. Matty had been ranging through the wilderness ever since the Braddock campaign and had become frontier tough because of it. His endurance knew no limits and his strength surpassed that of others his age and size. In short he was a formidable frontiersman and a product of the wilderness. He fell into a mile eating gait that experienced frontiersmen used to travel over great distances and at the same time conserving valuable energy for emergency use if needed. The weight of the carcass upon his shoulders amounted to nothing and went unnoticed as Matty’s legs and feet satisfied the gait required to get him home by sundown this night. The water was cold as he splashed through the shallows of the shoals and onto the opposite bank. He never slowed and ignored the sudden stab of uncomfortable wet coldness that threatened to numb his feet. He pushed on across the river and up the mountain side to the narrow trail that would lead him across the top and down the other side to his cabin and warmth. Hanna would be waiting for him there. Then he saw something that stopped him dead in his tracks. A trail wound up the mountain side from the river and cut across in front of him. He reckoned there were more or less a hundred Indians in that bunch and they were moving quickly at a fast jog. He could tell because their individual foot prints were spaced wider than a man would make at a walk and worse, they were headed for Dearborn and would pass precariously close to his cabin and Hanna. He lifted the carcass off his shoulders and placed it on the low limb of a tree that was sheltered by tall brush and briars. A quick check of the flash pan was made, the rifle grasped in his right hand, arm extended straight down and he stood unmoving and barely breathing. He listened to the sounds of the forests for some inkling of a sound that didn’t belong. Satisfied that all was well; Matty set out at a faster than normal jog for the top of the mountain where he could save two miles of travel time to his cabin and gain a lead on those who made the wide trail from the river. The sun was rising fast and he made good time over the treacherous ground.
He paused at the top of the ridge that overlooks his place and scanned all that was below him. It was then that he noticed movements far down at the base of the mountain where the meadow started. It was them-and they were moving at a very fast pace. They passed into and out of small clearings in the forest. He would have never known they were there if he didn’t have the vantage point of this high ridge. He counted fifty six miscreants and knew there was surely that many more that he couldn’t see. Matty started to move off his position when he saw something that made his heart stop. A small contingent of Indians broke away from the main group and was heading into the forest to their right. If they continued in that direction long enough they would run onto Matty’s cabin and Hanna would be in trouble. Without further delay, Matty leapt over the edge of the rock line that bordered the ridge in front of him and ran as fast as he safely could down the mountain, bearing a bit to north of east in order to avoid running afoul of the intruders he was trying to outdistance. If all went as planned he would reach the cabin well ahead of them.
Hanna didn’t come into the Dearborn stockade the previous night and as promised, Charles Wittman set out in a wagon to find and bring back Hanna Solomon, ignoring the warnings of the militia sergeant at the stockade gate not to go alone.
Hanna was tempted to gather up some warm clothing and leave for town on her own more than a couple times but she wanted to wait for Matty and share his company so they could make the trek of seven miles to the stockade together and catch up on the frontier news, not to mention the delight of sharing endearing moments together after being apart so long.
Matty heard a tapping sound far off in the distance. He stopped and stood still, cocking the right side of his head in the direction of the sound. It was rifle fire and it was a bit west of his cabin, between the cabin and the town of Dearborn. Matty instantly pushed forward directly toward the cabin and Hana as fast as his legs would carry him, leaping over fallen logs and jumping small streams without the slightest loss of speed. He had one thing on his mind and that was Hana. She could not know of the danger that was quickly moving through the forest toward her.
Hanna laid the knit shawl on the bed and carefully folded it into a neat square and placed it on top of the other garments that lay on top the rectangular piece of deer skin. She then pulled the corners of the deerskin up and made a turn of very narrow rawhide lacing around the corners and tied the bundle tightly. She would be ready to leave when Matty arrived. She stopped and snapped her head around toward the window at the sound of rifle fire. It wasn’t real close but it was not far enough away to suit her nerves. Without thought she pulled the 31 caliber short Kentucky rifle off the mantle and checked the prime. Matty had cut a foot off the barrel of the gun in order to make it less wieldy for Hanna to handle and constant practice with the piece made Hanna a skilled marksman, if she took her time and aimed properly. Somehow, the rifle didn’t do much to calm her as she remembered the sight of her mother and father lying off the porch of their cabin and her brother, dead at the window leaving her alone to face certain death herself at the hands of the heathen. That’s when Matty came into her life and has been there for her ever after. She couldn’t travel the road to Dearborn as that is the direction in which she heard the shots. No, she would have to set out north and west for a few miles and then due west to the town. With luck she would go unseen if she stayed just inside the edge of the forest as much as possible. She wasn’t sure if she determined the best route to go but at least she had a plan and to stay here would invite desperate measures for sure. The prepared items were gathered up and tied in a roll with a rawhide cord tied at each end and the bundle slung over her shoulder leaving her hands free to carry and handle the gun, knife and powder horn and bag of shot if necessary. Out the door she went, down the porch steps and across the open area in front of the cabin where she entered the forest. It was shaded and dark under the heavy foliage but somehow she was comforted by it because she was a frontier woman and the only thing they feared was God. All else was just something to overcome.
Charles Wittman slowed the team as the light wagon approached the narrow stream. The stream banks were high and he didn’t want to risk breaking a wheel, or worse an axle by hitting the embankment too hard. The front wagon wheels eased down the creek bank and were gently pulled up the other side while the rear wheels followed suit. He pulled the horses up just after the wagon was safe on the opposite side. A rifle shot rang out and he watched in horror as the right hand horse dropped to its knees screaming out in pain and surprise. A second shot struck the horse on the left and it jumped straight up in the air and became entangled in the harness that was in disarray from the first injured animal. Both horses were now entangled in leather straps and harnesses and lay kicking and bellowing on the ground still tethered to the wagon tongue. More shots punctuated by loud yelps could be heard and Charles could detect movement back in the brush that grew across the creek off to his left. It all happened faster than he could react. The shots, the horses falling and screaming, the Indian war yelps were too much for the average town dweller to comprehend. The yelps became louder and Charles felt a panic that he never imagined. He felt a tap on his chest that caught his attention and when he looked down he saw a shaft of wood protruding through his shirt. It still didn’t register to him what had just happened. Then, the second arrow protruded from his chest beside the first one and he knew. He wanted to scream but terror would not allow him to make a sound or even move. Instead he tried to smile hoping that a friendly, non-threatening face would cause his tormenters to cease harming him. Blood ran down over his forehead and eyes to his mouth and he determined it was his blood. A fist appeared before his eyes and the fingers were locked tightly around a scalp that was slapped against his face repeatedly. Charles realized it was his scalp and he knew he was lost.
Matty kicked the cabin door open and found it empty as he expected. The rifle was gone as well as all the possibles associated with it and travel. Clothing was missing and to his delight he noticed that Hanna had the presence of mind to select the heavy moccasins with leggings that would provide protection for her feet and legs if she travelled in the forest. Hanna would never have chosen the heavy foot gear if she were going to be travelling quickly over meadows. No, she would be in the forest for certain and he knew he would be able to catch up to her. The disconcerting thought was that if he could find her then so could the miscreants that were about. Matty didn’t know that the Herons were delayed at the creek where they had killed Charles Wittman and were now pillaging his belongings. It wouldn’t be long before they would set out again, unknowingly, toward Matty’s cabin.
Matty walked and half jogged along the edge of the meadow where it met the forest until he found the clue he was looking for. There was a narrow slot through the briars that was caused by the breaking down of individual briar stalks by someone or thing in its passing. Wet fallen leaves were carefully brushed aside and beneath them were found the track of Hanna’s winter left moccasin. The trail was clear now and Matty jogged faster, settling into that rapid gate that covers frontier miles like no other means. The frontiersmen can actually travel faster on foot across the elements than a well mounted militia rider can. He determined that Hanna couldn’t have been on the move for much longer than an hour or two and judging by the direction she was taking to avoid the enemy patrol, she would be turning to the south shortly in order to strike upon the Dearborn stockade. He would turn south now and attempt to rhondavous with her at some point on her southern course.
Six Huron’s carefully approached the cabin from the sides and the rear while one lone individual brazenly walked across the one hundred yard clearing toward the front porch. His rifle lay across the crook of his left arm in a nonthreatening fashion, a smile stretched ear to ear across his face. He stopped short of the steps and voiced a request to be acknowledged to those who dwelt inside. Five rifles pointed toward every window and door waiting for the occupants to emerge from the cover of the cabin. The lone figure in front of the house again uttered his hello and again received no acknowledgement from inside. The smile on his face was quickly replaced with a diabolical frown as his single leap spanned every step and he landed light footed upon the porch close to the door. A tomahawk appeared in his right hand and the tiny ax was struck several times against the heavy planking of the door. Two other partners joined him on the porch and together they put their shoulders to the door until it finally opened and to their dismay found no one inside.
Matty came to the little spring creek where he and Hanna were going to build a cabin and start their new life. A bubbling spring lay just upstream two hundred yards and it was that spring where Matty hoped to find Hanna. He walked around the pool of water and noted the moss depressed close to the cold pool. It was her footprint. She was making better time than he thought but he would catch up to her within the half hour. The look on Hanna’s face was one of total relief. Her smile was infectious and caused an ear to ear smile on Matty’s face that caused him to struggle slightly while pursing his lips for a kiss from his wife. There was no time for endearing talk or discussing possible actions to take. They had to press on to the stockade as fast as possible. Across one more mountain plateau and down that short slope should put them within 30 minutes from the Dearborn stockade. Matty turned at the edge of the plateau to have one more check on their back trail and noticed a wisp of dark smoke on the horizon. It was the cabin. They hurriedly shuffled down off the mountain and onto the meadow. Matty thought how much he hated to be continually trailed and chased by an Indian enemy. This was the second time in two years that he had to run for his life and he was getting very tired of it. The previous circumstance was much like this one. Matty didn’t know it then but experience and frontier wisdom would soon change all that. He was destined to become a skilled tracker and gain a reputation with Indians, friend and foe alike, that he was not one to be crossed and not one you would want on your trail. Matty figured he would run onto the volunteer guards that were posted a quarter mile on the outskirts of the stockade that protected the small population of Deerfield in emergencies. The guard unit was created by General Nicholas Herkimer who was in charge of the safety of the town and its inhabitance and was created to offer a first line of defense that would allow the residences of Deerfield to reach the stockade in times of danger.
They were making good time as the fires of the town and stockade came into view. It would be a good guess that most of the town was inside the stockade judging by the volume of cooking smoke wafting into the air from all corners of the compound. Just then the shrieking started behind them and Matty grabbed Hanna’s hand and pulled her along as fast as he could get her to run. Puffs of gray smoke could be seen lingering in the air accompanied by the sounds of many rifles igniting. Matty and Hanna were getting close to the stockade and Matty could see the outline of people’s upper torso protruding above the stockade walls as they manned the redoubts in preparation to repel what appeared to be an all out attack. The disconcerting fact was that Matty wasn’t sure he could get Hanna and himself to the stockade fast enough. Then off to his left and to his right men dressed in frontier garb appeared carrying the ultra-long Pennsylvania long rifles of 30 and 40 caliber that had proved so accurate on the frontier. These professional scouts and frontiersmen waited until Matty and Hanna closed the distance to them by another 50 yards and then opened fire on the pursuers. Screams and shrieks of pain and anguish were heard behind them but Matty and Hanna never slowed until they passed behind the line of defending angels that just saved their bacon. The frontiersmen laid down a withering fire that decimated the Huron contingent that so boldly ran out into the open behind Matty and Hanna. The Hurons were turned and they disappeared into the forest. This was only a part of the total miscreant party and the danger was certainly still real. Matty and Hanna entered the stockade where they were fed by the Reverend Cole and his wife before Matty reported to General Herkimer about the Huron war party that was after him and Hanna. The general informed Matty that the French had gained strong allies with the Abenaki Indians and were providing them with supplies to wage war on English settlers up and down the Mohawk Valley and the Hudson River. The French even offered bounties on English and Colonial scalps as well as prisoners. This news was disheartening as Matty and Hanna moved here from Cumberland territory to escape the very situation they now found themselves currently involved in…At least Hanna was safe here in Deerborn. The Indians couldn’t raise this town no matter how hard they tried but an army of French regular army reinforced with Abenaki and Huron allies would prove a formidable foe to repulse. It was troubling.
The countryside cooled during the next few weeks with few interruptions to test the nerves of the farmers and hunters of Deerfield. Gardens were tended and fields were plowed in preparation for seed. Matty had been asked to join the Deerfield Militia which he readily agreed to do while Hanna stayed with Mary and Benjamin Green on their little farm just south of the Deerfield stockade. Hanna liked the Greens and she and Mary got on like sisters, although Mary was ten years Hanna’s senior. Hanna and Matty weren’t sure but it looked like their future would be tied to the Mohawk Valley unless future circumstances changed the course of things.
Then one morning at militia roll call a new face appeared in front of the garrison. The name behind the face was Major Robert Rogers and he had assembled a special colonial militia he called rangers. Major Rogers was here to enlist volunteers for his new ranger company that was housed at Rogers Island adjacent to Fort William Henry on Lake George. He needed a total of 600 men to allow him to create to companies of rangers that would be capable of harassing the enemy in their own territory thereby keeping the French and Indians on the defensive instead of allowing them to run rampant up and down the Mohawk Valley on the offensive slaughtering men, women and children and taking prisoners that would be exchanged for gold with the French. Rogers stated that the pay would be $10.00 to cover rifle, powder, shot and clothing for the first year and all the food and excitement they could stand. Rogers would be leaving in the morning with any volunteers he could get and he asked all of them to give serious thought to his offer. He wanted to take the fight to the heart of the French and Indians and pay them back for the slaughter they committed on the innocent colonial families in the immediate territories adjacent to French Canada. Roger’s speech was accepted very positively by the men in the garrison and there were a few who stepped forward immediately to sign up with Rogers. They, for the most part were single fellows with no wife or sweetheart to provide for. Rogers indicated that recruitment would be for a six month period at the end of which the militia members could return home to provide for their families. They would be returned two months thereafter for return to duty. The recruitment period was to span one year and six months. Furthermore, the crown promised land grants to all who completed their service term to their units with honor. The promise of land got the attention of every militia volunteer on that parade field. The grumbling and murmurs could be heard as the men broke formation to return home. Small groups of two and three men were seen here and there discussing the idea of payment in land for service. It also depended on what this Major Rogers fellow had in mind for them. They’d see in the morning. As far as Matty was concerned he had enough dodging Indians and running all over the wilderness. He would attend the militia formation tomorrow morning scheduled at 7 AM in front of the church with the others but his heart was home with Hanna and that’s where he would stay, he thought…..
Matty and Hanna discussed what the future might hold for them as they sat by the fire in Benjamin Green’s five room cabin. The home had two fire places and Matty and Hanna were given the room with a fireplace to make their bed chambers. It felt good to lie down on a real bed with an honest to goodness burlap mattress and wool covers. They lay on the bed staring into the small fire and watched the wispy smoke disappear up the chimney just above the flames.
Hanna turned her head toward Matty and asked, “What do you think we should do now Matty? I mean, Deerfield is a wonderful place and the people have welcomed us with open arms. The Greens are our best friends and have made it clear we can stay as long as it takes us to get situated in our own place.”
Matty replied, “That’s the part that’s missing Hanna – our own place. The cabin is gone and with it all that we had. We’ve nothing now. I would have to work for someone a lengthy period of time, years, to earn enough money to buy a new start for us. Chances are that you would have to sell your labor also and I don’t like that idea. We need land and another cabin, cattle, horses and other livestock not to mention implements to work the land. We’ve not the means to make a start of it now. We have to stay here with the Greens. Maybe they might have work for one of us. I’ll ask in the morning, but for now we better get some sleep. It’s been a hectic week and we both are exhausted.”
Matty embraced Hanna and they held onto each other until sleep overcame them.
Morning arrived too quickly and the couple wanted to linger a bit longer in bed but Matty had to be at the church to join the militia formation at 7 AM and he had no time to waste as it was 6:30 AM now.
“Hanna, why don’t you talk to Mrs. Green about the possibility of working for her while I’m gone this morning? I’ll talk to Benjamin when I get back. They may have a place for us or know where I can find work here in Deerfield. I’ll come straight back here when the militia breaks up. Love you Miss. See ya in a while.”
Matty arrived just in time to find a spot in the ranks of the militia formation. They were 70 men and boys all from town and all there was between the heathens and their future. They did the best they could.
General Herkimer marched to the front and center and called, “Attention – dress right – firelocks right shoulder, move - firelocks to rest. The men sat the butts of their rifles on the ground to their right side and stood at a relaxed position while waiting for further instructions. Then Major Robert Rogers walked over to the general and shook his hand and both men turned to the formation and General Herkimer introduced Major Robert Rogers as the commander of the finest fighting force ever assembled on the eastern frontier. The major stepped forward a few steps and held his hands behind his back as he quietly scanned the men before him. His demeanor gave no indication of his opinion about what he saw. His face was serious with piercing eyes that moved slowly back and forth across the formation of men and boys who called themselves militia and then he took one step forward, stood as tall as he could with his chest out and exclaimed that he was here to gather men to join his fighting force at Fort William Henry. He needed to return with at least fifty men at arms from Deerfield. The rest would come from neighboring communities and the balance would come from the 139th a foot as General Howell at Fort Edward stated he would make up any deficiencies with British volunteers. It was unlikely that any red coat would volunteer to be a part of a colonial militia let alone be told what to do by colonial officer. But, volunteer or not, the ranks of the new ranger companies would be filled by British volunteers if needed or red coat soldiers would be ordered to the ranger camp. Either way, Major Rogers would get the men he required to fully populate his ranks..
The major slowly walked down the length of the front rank and back again letting his eyes make contact with the eyes of any and all of the contingent of militia who stood proudly in their perfect rows. Rogers looked directly at a man’s face when he spoke and not over his head or to one side like so many other officials did. He had a look of honesty about him and trustworthiness. It was heard that the man was well liked where ever he was received and these men were beginning to agree with that opinion.
“Men, my name is Major Robert Rogers and I’m here to ask for volunteers to join a company of rangers I’m assembling that will put the fear of God in the French and send the demons from hell to visit the Abenaki at St. Francis. For two years straight the Abenaki heathen have come south to butcher, kill and take prisoner of any white person they found. Entire families have been murdered in the most horrible way and entire towns have been destroyed by these heathens. It’s well known that the French in Canada pay bounties for English and colonial scalps and prisoners delivered to the governor of Quebec bring a hefty reward for the Abenaki. Its time to put a stop to it. With the addition of the one hundred fifty men I will acquire on this recruitment trip I will have a total of 600 men. Those don’t sound like many but each man counts as five to the enemy. The 600 man contingent will be called rangers – Roger’s Rangers. You will be taught to fight unconventionally the same way as the French Busways and their heathen Injun friends fight. You will be a part of an organization that will strike terror into the hearts of the enemy. I know most of you men are married and have farms and crops to plant and harvest. The term of enlistment is 12 months. Any man who volunteers will do so for a continuous seven month period and at the end of that time may return home to plant or harvest as the case may be. He will then return to duty to serve out the balance of his commitment to the Crown. A pay of $10.00 a month will be distributed to each man. Food, clothing, knife, shot and powder will be your responsibility. The Crown will pay for your horse and rifle.
Low murmurings could be heard among the men in ranks and faces appeared sullen, if not disappointed. There wasn’t a man standing there who was not touched by the horrible atrocities committed by the Abenaki’s and Huron’s. Many lost sons, daughters, wives and some their entire reason for living. Rogers was promising them a chance to strike at their enemy but the compensation was mighty slim for the task they were being asked to perform.
Then Rogers called for their attention one more time. “Oh, and one more thing. Every man who enlists, returns with me to Lake George and completes his commitment will receive an award from the Crown of 100 acres of land deeded free and clear and stamped with my name as well as General Edward Howell’s to guarantee the gift. What say you to that men? The low murmurs turned to normal conversation and frowns were turned into smiles for the most part. I need those of you who are with me to be ready to move out in the morning at sunup. That is all.”
Matty had stood with his mouth hanging open since he heard Major Rogers informed them about the 100 acres of land. That was more land than he ever imagined of owning and it was being awarded to him for service rendered to the crown. He and Hanna could resume their lives together on their own place beholden to none but God and it would only take one year. He hurried back to the Green’s cabin to discuss the affair with Hanna but, in his heart he knew what he was going to do – what he had to do. He would go with this Rogers character and put his time in as required, then return home to start a new life with his bride. Little did he know that the adventure of his life was about to unfold and he would be changed forever for it….
Matty sat down on the ground under an elm tree; grasp his fingers together behind his head and leaned back against the trunk of the great tree. He looked up through the thick branches at the blue sky above and watched as a red tail hawk appeared in between the spaces of the leafy branches as it soared in long ovals across the sky above the shoreline of Lake George. He had been on Roger’s Island for three months training and learning the unique ways of this special force of fighting men. They’re numbers were 475 and they wouldn’t move out for serious adventure until their rolls were filled with the minimum of 600 men as agreed upon by the British Commander, General Daniel Webb at Fort Edward and Major Robert Rogers, the man who got Matty into this in the first place. Rogers promised them all that 1756 would be a year to remember and be proud of. The men were bored with the constant practice and the repetition of repeating the 28 special ranger rules to any superior officer who asked, and they asked frequently. It was the 28 ranger rules that separated the unique fighting ability of the rangers from the standard British red coat soldier. Matty knew every rule and learned them word for word as they were written. These rules, Roger’s told the men, would mean the difference between life and death to them while on the special, reconnaissance missions they would be undertaking. The shade of the tree felt good and Matty closed his eyes and allowed his mind to drift away and as usual in cases like this it drifted to Hanna..
“Matty, are you sure this is the right thing to do? The Greens have offered me work on their farm making butter and cheese and doing embroidery work for their little store in the village. Livestock drover jobs will come available in the spring as well as farm work. Why, Cecil and Marge Terry already said they’d need help in late February. We could save and be ready for our own place in a few years.”
Matty replied, “Hanna, do ya not understand that we can achieve in one year what it would take both of us working hard to achieve in three? I have to go with Rogers. And besides, I don’t like the idea of you working for someone else. I want you in our home safe and doing tasks to better life for us and not for the Green’s. “
A tear ran down from the corner of her left eye, travelled down over her soft cheek and dropped silently onto the dirt floor raising an almost invisible puff of brown dust at its impact. “Truth is Matty, I love you and am worried you will not come back and we would not know the life we promised each other. “
“Don’t worry about that little darling, this Major Rogers, I’m told, worries over his men like an old hen over her peeps. Besides, nothing could keep me from coming back to you- nothing. The thought of seeing you again will make me be all the more resourceful in time of peril and I will overcome anything to once again embrace you.”
Her eyes filled with tears and he held her to him during the night. Morning’s light found Matty awake with Hanna cradled in his arms. He pulled her to him and her eyes opened and met his – the kiss was deep and long – the emotion heavy and they reveled in each other’s love.
He embraced her at the door step to the cabin and gently kissed her one more time before turning and walking toward the formation of twenty men and boys who were lined up to follow Major Robert Rogers to Fort William Henry and eventually to Roger’s Island located in the middle of the Hudson River. He turned and waved and Hanna moved her hand side to side halfheartedly while wiping the tears away from her eyes. Matty looked back one more time just before the about face order was given, “Forward March” and they were off. Hanna sat down hard onto the grass at her feet and allowed the tears to flow. All she could do now was wait and trust in this Rogers fellow to keep her love safe. Matty dared not look back for fear of losing his manly presence in the face of his fellow soldiers but the pressure was great behind his eyes. It was too late to turn around. The die was cast and the adventure begun. Matty was now an official participant in the 7 Year War and the thought of it never occurred to him.
Wilderness Conflict Chapter 10
The 8 pound Pennsylvania long rifle laid upon a thick layer of moss that was growing on top a 30 inch fallen tree trunk. It’s sights were trained on the second of ten Huron warriors who were slowly making their way through an open area in the woods at the bottom of the hill while on the high ground twenty five rangers lay in wait for the entire group of miscreants to be in the open and away from any possibility of running for cover. Matty practiced holding his breath for the moment he would squeeze the trigger and send his shot into the savages.
It was September on Roger’s Island, a strip of land located in the middle of the Hudson River and adjacent to Ft. Edward. It was here that Major Robert Rogers housed his newly formed company of scouts and unorthodox woodsmen that he would call rangers – Roger’s Rangers. He needed a total of 600 men to fill the ranks of his company and upon his return from Deerfield with Matty and volunteers from the colonial militias in the surrounding counties his rolls swelled to 537. Sergeant James Adison was due back any moment now from his recruiting efforts in the eastern colonies and his efforts should certainly complete the manpower search. In the meantime the daily schedule was training, training and more training that covered the what to dos and what not to dos in wilderness warfare. Rogers laid out a set of 28 ranger rules that were guidelines for his wilderness soldiers to abide by. They were rules designed to make his rangers lethal in wilderness combat and they were guidelines to help his rangers remain safe in all situations before, during and after confrontation with the enemy. Matty and many other newly appointed rangers already conducted themselves in the woods according to unwritten rules that were in line with Roger’s list of directives. All that was different was the wording. These men were woodsmen and they would prove to be highly effective against the French Marines and their Indian cadre when Rogers was through sharpening up their edges.. The men drilled like soldiers across the grassy prairie of Roger’s Island for hours every day. They were continually issued shot and powder for target practice and each man was competent with the long rifle up to 200 yards and a few men could keep three balls in a circle at 300 yards the size of an orange. The commandant at Ft Edward complained that these ruffians were using up his powder unwisely and a stop should be put to it. The complaint coursed up through the chain of command until it reached General Webb who quashed it instantly. Webb issued orders to give Rogers anything and as much of it as he wanted because Webb understood that his soldiers could not match the French regulars, French Canadians and Canadian Bush ways and their savages in forest warfare using European methods of conducting war campaigns. He needed a strong force highly skilled in guerrilla warfare and Rogers and his men were the answer.
Sergeant Addison returned to Roger’s Island on September 20 with 90 recruits all eager to not only put in the one year for the reward of 100 acres of land but to inflict revenge on an enemy who showed no mercy to loved ones who were butchered and tortured to death. These men wanted a chance to strike a blow on the French controlled Indians that would decimate them and eliminate them as a danger forever, especially the Abenaki at St. Francis – the greatest offenders and miscreants of the lot.
The training continued for another month and with the ranks filled to a total of 627 rangers, it was felt by Rogers that they were ready to be tested in the field and every man felt up to the task. Major Rogers was called to General Webb’s quarters on October 12, 1756 to be made aware of a mission that Webb and Colonial George Monro, Commanding Officer of Ft. William Henry were concocting. Ft. William Henry was only 16 miles from Ft. Edward and perimeter guards were reporting constantly that French and Indian spies have been seen conducting themselves among the local friendly Indians living in villages between the two British forts. The investigations of these sightings by British Regulars were always unfruitful and were usually carried out in a halfhearted fashion. The French spies could easily detect the approach of British authority simply by noting the bright red uniforms of the approaching investigators and would vanish into the forest like smoke. Webb and Monro confronted Rogers with an order to eliminate the spy incursions and to secure one or two prisoners for interrogation because both officers felt the French were up to something and something big because the spying had more than doubled over the past two months. Rogers gave his affirmation that he could and would put an end to the breaches in security and would secure prisoners as requested. He would leave with his contingent of rangers in the morning and provisions for seven days afield.
The ten Indians cleared the forest and 10 men of the 25 man contingent on the high ground took deep breaths and started to exhale slowly as fingers gently pressed against sensitive triggers. Rogers and three men had circled around down the hill and behind the Indians to find two French regular Marines following behind as a rear guard. Rogers and his companion Private William Kerr moved behind the two Frenchmen on their back trail and silently approached to within an arm’s length from them when the barrage of shots from the rangers on the hill rang out. The two French Regulars instantly turned to run back from whence they came and ran directly into Rogers and Kerr who quickly dispatched both men with the heal of their hatchets. Kerr was a bit overzealous and killed his intended prisoner. Matty watched the second Indian in the line throw up his arms and crumple to the ground after he fired his shot. This was the second man he had ever killed, the first being one of two Indians who charged him and Hanna over a year ago. The rangers on the hill received little fire from the Huron’s below as seven of the miscreants lay silent on the ground. That was good shooting because only ten rangers fired, the rest holding onto their shots in order to aim and fire while their peers reloaded. Two of the heathens dashed quickly across the narrow open field and into the thick forest beyond and would later relate the story of their failed mission. . Rogers got his prisoner and his rangers performed to expectations and now they had to return to Ft. Edward and deliver the Frenchman to General Webb. Rogers was proud of his men and their performance in the face of the enemy. They were green but would soon be transformed into seasoned guerilla fighters that both French and Indians alike would respect and the word “ranger” would strike fear in French and Indian hearts but a trial by fire was approaching and it would be devastating and would test the mettle of the rangers as well as Major Rogers himself.
WILDERNESS CONFLICT CHAPTER 11
PLANS ARE MADE
January 1757 found the rangers awaiting orders on Rogers Island with a full complement of over 600 men. They had just returned from a reconnoitering mission to Ft. Crown Point north of the Hudson to determine the number of forces behind the walls of that fortification. Rogers actually considered trying to take the French fort but thought better of it. No, better to keep to the original plan and try to determine troop strength. They had determined there were 2000 French regulars and another 500 Abenaki Indians on the premises of Ft Crown Point with the Indians encamped just outside the gates. They had seen enough and started for Ft. Edward to report their findings.
The rangers crested a mountain ridge on a warm Thursday in August 1757 and saw the smoke hanging above the trees in the windless sky. Something was happening or had happened and it occurred recently. Guards were sent out to the left and right flanks at the front of the ranger column and two tailing guards followed behind the 150 man column of rangers just to be on the safe side. The smoke became more evident and a stench was raised high into the sky with the black smoke. It was the smell of death. Fort William Henry had been burned to the ground. The red coat and colonial carcasses were degraded by the Indians and body parts were strewn about indiscriminately. A sickening sense of rage filled each man as Rogers kept the men moving over the grounds and on into the forest in the direction of Fort Edward. Fort William Henry was no more and there was nothing to do about it. But, revenge would be sweet medicine.
The French spying operations between the now burned Fort William Henry and Fort Edward ground down to a halt as the rangers repelled every French and Indian spying foray attempted. The destruction of Fort William Henry explained the reason for the intense spy operations conducted by the French and Rogers wished they could have been there to contribute to the defense of the fort instead of wasting time sneaking around Fort Crown Point.
French and Indians alike had gained respect for these new formidable woodsmen who fought such an intense unconventional war against them. They would tread through the forests with more caution than previously displayed with the British as Roger’s Rangers were strangers no longer to the French and were especially hated by the Iroquois and Huron Indians.
The rangers conducted skirmishes against French troops and French aligned Indians from January 1757 up until March. The Indians especially continually attempted to retaliate against the rangers for what they viewed as monstrous acts against them, as if they were angels on the battle field themselves but, primarily the rangers were used as scouts and trail finders as well as forest spies to scout out the French forts and report news back to Ft. Edward of any changes in French activities.
Many of the rangers were enticed to join up with the group for another 12 months with the promise of additional land and a pay increase of $3.00 a month and a new kit. Many were persuaded to reenlist and Matty was one of them. It would be only one more year and he and Hanna would have their life’s table set and their worries would be over. He would journey to the Green’s cabin in Dearborn in three months to join Hanna and would explain then to her of this new bargain he had made with Rogers. His leave would allow him to be with Hanna for 60 days before he would have to return to duty At Ft. Edward. She would understand.
The Huron’s were active toward the end of February 1758 committing murders and atrocities up and down the Hudson as well as farther west at the Ohio River. All land west of the Ohio was considered frontier and no white men ventured in that dark land. Then on February 27th Rogers was ordered to meet with one Colonial Havilland commander of His Majesties 33rd of Foot. Havilland was placed in command of ranger and spying operations conducted out of Ft. Edward and he had some interesting rumors for Rogers and a mission to either prove the rumors as true or false.
Rogers was escorted to Havilland’s plush office late afternoon by a sergeant at arms who knocked twice on the huge solid oak door. Instantly a disrespectful, “enter damn it” could be heard from the other side. The Major entered the room and saluted a tall, lanky officer who wore a white powdered wig signifying his high rank. Havilland stood with a droop to his shoulders his slender arms, wrists, and long fingers indicating a rather effeminate character. “Sit down Rogers and let’s talk.”
“I’d rather stand Colonial if you don’t mind.” “But I do mind Rogers. Sit down that’s an order.”
Rogers instantly disliked the man and wanted this meeting to be over very quickly before he said something he shouldn’t.
“Rogers, the Crown had laid careful plans to attack the French forts Carillon and Crown Point in March of this year but cancelled the plan due to rumors that a thousand French regulars arrived up the Hudson and disembarked to move overland to Crown Point north of New York and 500 regulars were to move on to Ft. Carillon to reinforce that fortification on Lake Champlain. We could not afford to confront such a force with the regiments and battalions available here at Edward and at Fort William Henry. Additional resources from the coast would be needed to bolster our numbers in order to make a respectable showing on the battle fields.”
“I understand Colonel Havilland and it seems a wise decision to show prudence in the venture as well as good judgement, but what need of my men and I do you have? I’m sure you didn’t require my presence here today to make an explanation to me why a war was temporarily halted.”
“Patience Major I’m getting to the current issue. There is still time this season to move an army against Carillon and Crown Point and if not immediately destroy them, lay siege to each. Our Mohawk spies have said that Crown Point is supplied from the water and Carillon must receive its supplies from Crown Point overland by wagon because we British have Lake Champlain practically circled and no ships can reach the French fort. Our Indian allies, however, cannot verify the number of combatants at each fort and furthermore cannot even say if the thousand man reinforcements even arrived at the Hudson from the coast. Major Rogers, I’d like you to take 400 rangers and reconnoiter Fort Carillon to verify the strength of that fort and to map out the supply lines taken by wagons and canoe to supply it and fort Crown Point. Furthermore, we need prisoners to interrogate and would appreciate any you could bring back with you. What say you sir? Are you and your men up to the task?”
“We’ll need boats to get to the end of Lake George where we can hide them for the return trip. The snow lays deep north of the lake as well as along the Hudson and the water close to shore is frozen solid. We’ll need snowshoes as well as spikes to traverse the ice and make good time on the snow. I’ll meet with my sergeants tonight and lay a plan sir. When would you expect us to start off?
“Havilland lay his finger aside his nose and bowed to stare at the floor for a brief moment and said, “I should like you and your men to depart no later than the first of March. Can you leave by then Major?”
Rogers replied with a smile on his face, “We’ll leave at night on the last day of February and row toward the north west shore of Lake George to Halfway Brook where we’ll day camp on March 1st. The boats will be hidden and on that night, under the cover of darkness we’ll set off due north for Carillon on snow shoes and the Huron’s won’t be the wiser.”
The Colonial then said, “see to it then Rogers and don’t fail in this mission as the information you bring back will determine if we push the army on to Montreal to deal with Montcalm this year or wait until more favorable conditions when our strength is increased by the king's regulars and colonials for your ranger companies. Now, that will be all”, and Havilland turned and picked up a glass of brandy.” Rogers was developing a strong dislike for this puffed up wimpy red coat that showed disrespect for his colonial militia members. He would accept any mission and apply himself and the forces available to him to conduct that mission with vigor.
He would need every ounce of courage he could muster for himself and his rangers because the valley of the shadow of death was never more real for Rogers and his men than it was in March 1758.
Wilderness Conflict Chapter 12
BATTLE ON SNOWSHOES March 1758
The end of February 1758 was a bitter cold time at Roger’s Island on Lake George. Matty was carrying his fourth armful of wood for the camp fire that he and James Adison made in front of their tent at day break this morning. Limbs were breaking off the hardwood trees along the shoreline of the island resulting in a very loud crack from time to time, often sounding like rifle fire. Matty stopped frequently at the loud cracking sound and would glance over his shoulder at the woods just to be sure all was well.
James said to Matty, “yer getting jumpy in yer old age boy. No French or Huron would dare try to take us on while we sit here on this island.”
Matty smirked and replied, “Can’t be too careful James.”
James tossed a small log over onto the fire and wiped the runs from his nose and said, “the Major is workin on some mission fer us with that wolf Havilland. I saw him leave that slimy red coat’s quarter’s yest-day bout sundown. I’m bettin we’ll find something out this morning.”
Matty got a serious look on his face and replied, “anythins better than sitting around here freezing to death. I’m ready for sumpin ta do.”
James chuckled and said, “careful what cha wish fer Matty cuz ya jist might git it.”
William Kerr was steppin fast as he passed Matty and James. He never slowed down as he looked at them in passing and stating, “the major wants us all over at the dock side of the island in ten minutes. Sergeant Brewer says we got a mission ahead of us.”
Matty and James locked eyes and both their faces became serious as each stopped moving simultaneously for a second as if suddenly becoming aware of the importance of the moment, then continued to pick up their possibles and rifles before starting out to join their fellow rangers at the island boat dock. There were 410 rangers lingering here and there among small piles of leather bags with shoulder straps and linen jackets that lay on the ground at their feet. They were in six poorly aligned rows and were milling about and mumbling to each other in low tones that lacked any laughter or light hearted sentiment. An air of seriousness hung over the company. Their uniforms were deerskin dyed green with thick leggings that incorporated moccasins made of two thicknesses of deerskin sewn together with the hair inside to keep feet and ankles warm. They were two hours into sunup and the temperatures were still near zero, yet the cold was ignored as everyone anticipated what the news from Rogers would be.
"Attention!" announced that an officer was approaching and the men instantly fell into perfect lines with right arms instantly extended to the side until finger tips touched the shoulder of the man to the right. "Arms down – and rest." The men stood with a relaxed posture with right hands behind their backs while the left hand held a rifle, stock planted on the ground at the edge of the left moccasin.
Matty and James were in the second row close to the middle and could see Major Rogers very clearly.
Then Rogers began, "we have orders men. We are to travel north to the French fort Carillon and try to determine if that post has been strengthened with additional French regulars, Canadians or French marines. Bushways and their Huron and Abenaki miscreants will be camped on the grounds outside the fort and an accurate count of them should be no problem. It is also vital that we secure prisoners to bring back for interrogation and that means we will have to either get close to the fort or get real lucky and intercept French runners carrying correspondence back and forth through the forest between Montreal and Carillon. The plan is to take 40 boats, 10 men and supplies per boat, and row up to Halfway Brook by night on March 10, tomorrow, and camp there through the next day. We'll then hide the boats in the woods and set off on foot on the evening of March 11th. Each man will carry enough powder and shot for 50 loads, ice spikes and snowshoes with rations enough for ten days and warm clothes and blanket in your packs. If the worse happens and we all become separated and set off in different directions, head back to the boats at Halfway Brook and stand vigil for a respectable period of time and if no rangers show up then head on back to the island as best you can. That is all." Rogers turned to his right and walked away as the words, "Attention!" was proclaimed behind him. "Stand down" was ordered and the men broke up in twos, threes and small groups talking excitedly. At last they would have a chance at the French and those damn Abenaki and Huron butchers.
Matty was impressed with the way Rogers carried himself and how he seemed so knowledgeable and sure of the mission's success and came across as an officer ya could trust.
James said, "well, this isn't exactly the kind of mission we all hoped it would be but its somethin I guess. Most all of us here on this island was a hoping we was gonna clobber them Huron and Abenaki snakes but I guess it will have to wait for another time.
Matty replied, "never know what will happen. We might just get to give some come-uppance to those devils yet. We'll see."
A tall, lanky, buckskin clothed scout jogged up to Rogers as he was walking away from the dismissed rangers. The two talked with Rogers doing most of the listening. All of a sudden Major Rogers raised his face to the sky, clenched both hands into fists and shook them at the heavens as he exclaimed something that couldn't be heard clearly by the men, but his voice was loud enough that it caught their attention and they all hesitated and looked toward him. The scout turned away and quick timed it toward a small skiff that would row him from Rogers Island back to Fort Edward, no doubt to deliver a message to Havilland from Rogers. The major then instructed his Quartermaster to make ready 18 boats with supplies and have them ready to launch by dusk the next day. John Kerns, the Quartermaster stopped short and looked up at the Manor and said, Sir, you mean 40 boats don't cha Sir?"
"You heard what I said John. Just do it." A quick reply of, "Yes Sir Major, Yes sir", was uttered by Kerns.
Rogers was noticeably irritated and his commands were unusually sharp. Snow started falling and the Major stopped off at his tent to grab his heavy elk skin winter coat and as he pulled it over his shoulders he yelled to a corporal to fix him a small skiff and get one other man plus himself to row him to the fort. He needed to see Havilland.
"Enter", a shrill male voice exclaimed sharply. The heavy double oak plank doors were pushed inward from the other side by a red coat with a tall bear skin cover on his head and a silver chin strap. These were the royal guards used primarily for protection of members of parliament and state officials. There were two companies of them here at Ft. Edward at the orders of Colonel Havilland. Rogers wondered if General Webb knew of Havilland's extravagance with the king's purse. It was a passing thought and was of no importance to Rogers at the moment but might be used in some way as leverage for a favor from Webb for some unforeseen unfortunate circumstance that might materialize in the future.
"Rogers, I know why you're here. Its about the downsizing of manpower for your upcoming mission, isn't it?"
"Colonel, we had agreed upon a 400 man contingent leaving to reconnoiter Forts Carillon and Crown Point and even 400 is not really sufficient numbers considering there is said to be 1500 French regulars, and Canadians at Carillon and probably as many as 500 Abenaki and Huron heathens. Montreal definitely has a force of 800 French and a 200 man contingent of Bushway raiders and they range the forest far and wide to protect the French interest along Erie. 400 rangers is a bit light handed for this mission but, 180 rangers is suicide if we should wander into a large force of French or Indians."
"Well then Rogers, I would suggest you take care not to wander, as you say, into the French. Look sir – we do not want confrontation. You and your men have been selected for this mission because you know how to fight like the enemy and therefore you know how to hide and make yourselves invisible to the enemy better than any British company possibly could. Actually, the fewer of you there are, the less chance of detection there will be. Besides, General Webb and I are heading toward Albany day after tomorrow with the greater part of the army at Fort Edward and he will need your rangers to scout the sides, front and rear of the march. Now sir, will you be ready to go or do we have a problem?"
Rogers mumbled to himself, "why would they need over 200 rangers to scout for a handful of Redcoats from Fort Edward."
"You say something Rogers," Havilland asked?.
"No sir. Just thinking out loud Sir."
"We'll do your scouting for you Colonel and everything will be just fine as long as we don't run into any French on the way into their territory and during our stay. But, we need to get the prisoners and therefore will have to confront the enemy in some way or tuther. This mission will be more than chancy at that point and the command will not have the numbers to make a proper stand against a large determined hostile force, not with only 180 rangers."
"I know you'll do well Rogers. Best see to your men and the crown extends its grateful sentiments to you and your men. That will be all."
Rogers felt his temples pulse with the pressure and his eyes bored into the back of the head of this twit Havilland but he held himself, turned and stomped to the double doors, grabbed the handles and pulled with all his weight and the huge, tall doors opened inward toward him. He rushed through the opening in a huff and left them open. He was in a rush to get back to Rogers Island and meet with his officers to lay out a plan for 180 men to sneak into a hostile land where over 3000 French were fortified behind the walls of Carillon and Crown Point while their Indian dogs of hell partners lurked behind every shadow in the forest. If anyone could pull off this mission it was Major Robert Rogers and his rangers. Perhaps the Red Coat officers placed too much credence in the heroic stories told of the Rangers and their fearless, creative leader and assumed the rangers were invincible. They would soon find out.
INTO THE FACE OF DANGER
Ten light skiffs rowed up the west shoreline of Lake George, the night silence broken by the creaking of wooden ores rotating in their gunnel locks. The rangers cushioned the ores in their ore locks with deer skin but the measure proved sadly lacking in keeping the creaking sound at bay. Rogers directed the boats to move further from shore and out toward the center of the lake in order to eliminate the detection of the wood on wood sound by enemy ears. They pulled into a the small cove surrounded by heavy timber at Halfway Brook. They would camp and remain here during the day and set off again at nightfall. The air was frigid and open camp fires were forbidden. The only fires permitted were the tiny personal fires that were lighted only after squatting down to the ground and pulling a blanket or coat over one's self in such a fashion where no opening to the fire could be seen from the outside. In this way the warmth from a tiny fire would be confined under the covering. The boats were pulled from the water and dragged into the woods where they would be secreted away from prying eyes paddling downstream. The men spread pine boughs on the ground and overturned the boats to create a wind break and shelter from the outside. A comfy space existed where a tiny fire could be started and the heat contained under the boat provided warmth enough for comfortable sleep. The wind was howling next morning and the rangers stayed under the protection of their overturned boats for most of the day only exposing themselves to the elements for guard duty and calls of nature. The temperature was below zero and during early morning ice formed along the shoreline of Lake George which would make boat handling difficult. No matter because the rangers would be travelling on snowshoes from this point forward.
Dusk on March 10, 1758 was bitter cold as the men slowly slid out from under the overturned boats that served so well as protection from this damned frigid weather. Rogers quickly strolled back and forth among the boats coaxing the men out and saying the quicker we get under way, the faster we'll get warm. He ordered the men to attach ice spikes to their moccasins and see to the prime of their rifles. They marched off toward the north end of the lake in two single file columns at a brisk pace. After seven miles of constantly bearing inland away from the shoreline of Lake George the snow became very deep and Rogers called a halt and ordered the men to dawn their snowshoes. They marched north again and moved closer to the edge of the lake to assure the absence of French or Indian presence. Sabbath Day Point was reached late afternoon that day and Rogers called a rest halt till dark after which they travelled to within 8 miles of the French Listeners outpost which was located on Bald Mountain. They waited on a ridge on the side of the mountain to see if French supply sleds would appear. None did. They then marched to and took up positions on Trout Brook, a known detour that saved French courier's miles on their journey to Ft Carillon. Rogers gave orders that all the men keep their snowshoes on .
Unknown to Rogers was that a scouting party of Nipissing and Huron Indians crossed their trail only ten miles back and raced to Carillon to convey the information that they crossed the track of approximately 200 men on snowshoes at a point just South of Bald Mountain. A patrol consisting of 150 French regulars and 100 Huron and Nipissing Indians was dispatched from Carillon to confront and destroy the interlopers. Late on the same day the rangers took positions above Trout Brook, one of the ranger rear guards trotted up to Rogers and said he saw twenty French and Huron's moving around the East side of Bald Mountain. Roger's eyes became bright and wide and he instantly called his lieutenants and sergeants in around him and explained that they would be making contact with the French shortly. He designed a plan to attack, capture his prisoners and annihilate the remaining survivors of the party. They moved off in the direction of the French force and blended into the foliage at the base of Bald Mountain on both sides of the narrow ravine that the enemy would have to pass through.
A scout ran up to Rogers to inform him that a supply sled was moving across the ice and only had four guards riding on it. Rogers thought momentarily and directed Elisha Bennett to select ten rangers and ambush the sled, grab two prisoners, kill the horses and make all haste up the mountain and join the company. Rogers didn't know it at the time but a scouting party consisting of 20 Huron's was dogging their west flank keeping tabs on the rangers until the main body of French and Indians from Fort Carillon could make contact. The rangers would be caught between the two French contingents and eliminated in short order. Corporal Bennett took his ten rangers down the mountain keeping to a deep ravine that ended at the edge of the frozen lake. They crouched at the mouth of this ravine and waited until the French supply sled approached at which time they all moved as one toward the sled. A shot from one of the men dropped the right hand horse and it fell in harness thrashing on the ice. The French exited the sled and ran toward the mountain. Four of Bennett's men overtook two Frenchmen and the prisoners were in hand. The fleeing Frenchmen ran straight into Roger's perimeter guard and they were dispatched with knife and hatchet.
The men down on the ice heard the Huron's screams and turned to see twenty of the miscreants racing toward them across the ice. The rangers still had their snowshoes attached which gave them a slight edge as long as there was snow on the ice. They couldn't outdistance the pursuing Indians but they were holding their own as they raced to the bottom of the mountain where their brother rangers waited. A dozen shots rang out and gray smoke arose from close to the ground where Roger's Rangers lay prone waiting until the heathen's were in range where their shots would count. At least ten Huron's fell dead or wounded. Some cried out in misery and pain but their agony went unheard. The rangers shuffled the two French prisoners up the hillside as fast as possible to where Rogers watched the action from a bluff. Rogers ordered their hands tied behind their backs and one ranger was assigned to guard them.
James held his cupped hands to his mouth and blew into them repeatedly and watched the steam rise from his warm breath. He looked to his right at Matty and said, "You alright Matty?"
Matty replied, "Reckon so. I want ya to know James that I got yer back."
James smiled and replied, "I know Matty and I got yorn."
The French, as did the English, marched two abreast in long straight columns making them perfect targets and presenting the possibility of a ball passing through more than one man. Abenaki scouts moved along the column's flanks constantly ever watching the woods for ambush. Rangers marched in a staggered formation where no one followed directly behind another thereby eliminating the possibility of a rifle ball passing through more than one man.
The plan was to fire on all the French and to try to grab up to four prisoners if possible. These were to be taken to Colonel Havilland at Fort Edward. The French and Indians moved closer and closer into the ravine when a tall, lean Huron out in front raised his left hand and halted the group. He gazed all about him. Rogers knew the Indian was aware of something unusual and also that he couldn't see the trap. It was time to put the fat into the fire.
Rogers stood and yelled, "fire!"
At the command the kneeling line of ranger at the forest's edge let loose a salvo that cut down over half of the French force. A line of rangers behind those who just fired stood and stepped in front of those, kneeled, aimed and fired. The first line was reloaded and stepped forward and fired. The French and Indian patrol was decimated. The last four French regulars in the formation threw their rifles and packs to the ground and ran toward the open meadow. Ten rangers were dispatched to run the French down and take them prisoners. The French were slowed by the two and three foot snow drifts while the pursuing rangers moved quickly on their heels while running across the top of the snow in snowshoes and they were closing the distance between them very quickly. The rest of the company set about scalping the fallen enemy, taking their hatchets, rifles, ammunition and searching the bodies for valuables and loot.
The chase headed toward an outcrop of rocks and boulders where the mountain turned to the north and it was impossible to see around this outcrop. The French headed directly toward this rocky point with the rangers closing in fast. In the blink of an eye a cloud of gray smoke followed by the sound of 200 rifles sounded and all ten rangers fell instantly in death on the meadow. The loud rifle reports caught the attention of every ranger at the base of the mountain and they knew that something was terribly wrong. Rogers directed them to the high ground but before they could get up the mountain the French were on them. The rangers were forced to take cover behind poor protection for there was scant brush and boulder on the mountain side and the Huron and Nipissing outnumbered the rangers two to one and soon the French Bush ways would be on the scene and the rangers would be wiped out by a force of over 250 French and Indian allies.
The rangers pushed up the mountain side. Already they lost 50 men to the first attack. The French Marines were coming onto the scene and would be joining the Huron and Nipissing Indians to finally put an end to the famous Roger's Rangers. Their backs to the hill sides, they fought hand to hand valiantly against the overwhelming odds and were felled in groups. Rogers gathered the remaining men along the edge of a ridge at the top of the mountain and told them to sell their lives dearly and also that they weren't done yet. He told his Sergeants that they could extricate themselves from this misery if they could hold out till night fall when they could slip away. Rogers told every man to go his own way at night fall and to meet up at the boats on Halfway Brook. Every man was on his own and Rogers ordered that no ranger would stop to assist victims. It would serve no purpose to lose two men instead of one. . If they stayed in a group they would all be caught? If they split up, the Indians would have to split their forces in order to chase down the many rather than simply follow the few in a cluster. And so the rangers gathered together behind a rock wall and fought on until nightfall when they disbursed through the woods at night. Screams were heard throughout the night retreat as men fell to the torturous ways of the Huron's. The rangers were hated by the Indians and leniency was unknown to ranger captives and any unfortunate ranger who fell into the hands of a band of Huron's was destined to know the face of hell.
The rangers split up in small groups and disappeared into the forest in all points of the compass. Many were captured and put to death by the most despicable means. Over the course of days some rangers tried to surrender to the French due to starvation. Some succeeded but most were taken from the French by Huron, Abenaki or Nipissing Indians and killed in the most inhumane fashion. British patrols conducted in later months and years revealed the dismembered bodies of the rangers lying about on the cliffs of Bald Mountain.
Rogers made it to the boats and waited for three days for his men to find their way back. Only 60 rangers returned to the boats. Only 60 of the 180 man force survived the ordeal. Matty was starving and dead tired as he floundered through the frigid cold and waded through waist deep snow as he headed south to meet up with the rangers at the boats. He was half frozen and his fingers couldn't feel the rifle they held. He remembered James lying against a tree trunk and the tiny hole in his deerskin frock with his life's blood slowly oozing through the hole. Matty tried to lift his friend from the ground but the pain was too great for him to endure and James told him, "go on Matty and git. I'm dead and thars no use worrying over me. I can't feel my legs and I'd jis git you kilt for nothing."
Matty saw his friend drifting off to sleep due to blood loss and he knew that James was right. This was the end for him. Matty stayed until he could hear the Huron war screams getting closer and closer and finally he stood, looked down at his friend James, turned and loped on up the side of the mountain and over the top.
The French were overjoyed by the news of the ruination of Roger's Rangers and they sent runners far and wide to every friendly Indian town to spread the news that the green devils as well as Rogers were no more.
The French and their Indian allies boasted of how easily they eliminated the rangers that scouted for the English and dared the English to send more blood and flesh to nourish the Indian fighting spirit.
The battle on snowshoes was almost the end of Roger's Rangers as an formidable fighting force on the frontier but the British saw the importance of such a company of specialty fighters and gave Rogers permission to regroup and reform his companies of rangers to twice their original numbers. Perhaps the outcome would have been different had Havilland allowed Rogers his full complement of 400 rangers for the mission.
The rangers were being reborn and soon the French and heathen would feel the wrath of hell descending upon them and the righteous demons of retaliation would be dressed in green deer skin..
Plans for Retribution
Matty had just returned to Roger's Island after a three month leave to see Hanna. He had missed her badly but after a while home he found a strange desire to be back with his brothers in arms at Fort Edward. At any rate this would be the last portion of his enlistment and it would make him and Hanna wealthy as they would be deeded almost 250 acres of bottom land on the shoreline of the Ohio River frontier which in the past summer alone saw two farms spring up. Matty made the comment to Hanna that it wouldn't be long before a proper church would be needed there.
Hanna cried and made issue with Matty returning to the rangers but she backed off her position and Matty once again explained to her that with the gift of land their future together was guaranteed and that he would return for good in eight more months and never leave her arms again…
Mid-September 1759 on Roger's Island was warmer than usual and even the mosquitos were active in the heat of late afternoon. Small two room cabins had been erected over the past year replacing the uncomfortable tents that were previously used and Matty shared one of these structures with three other rangers.
The ranger force had swelled to 800 men that were divided into two companies. They were primarily used to spy on the French Forts located on the upper Hudson, St. Lawrence and even the bastions of Montreal itself. The island was currently populated with three hundred rangers that came and went day to day depending upon orders.
Matty was splashing water onto his face Thursday morning when Benjamin Bridge came into the cabin all out of breath. He cleared his throat and addressed Matty.
"There's sompin in the wind and word is that its gonna be big. The Major has been over to Edward ever since 10 AM and he wants us in formation down at the docks in an hour."
"What da ya think it is Ben? Ya don't suppose we're marchin on Montreal do ya."
Ben replied, "Na, that kind of fighten is fer the lobster backs. That ain't woodsmen kind of fighten and besides, I ain't a standin in no line an letting some Frenchie shoot at me. Thars sompin else brewin and its big if they got the Major over ta the fort all this time."
Matty said, "well, lets ease on over to the dock and see what's up then Ben. No sense guessen and frettin over sumpin that ain't is."
Ben and Matty had just arrived at the dock area and found a seat on a couple tree stumps and listened to the grumble coming from their peers. There was a suggestion of moving on Montcalm in Montreal with the red coats and an armada of war ships up the St. Lawrence as well as an overland assault on the plains that surround that great French city. But, the rangers wouldn't fit into that kind of battle. They weren't created for a war that treated the combatants as cannon fodder. No, there was another purpose behind Roger's call to formation. They'd find out shortly because Major Roger's skiff was approaching across the waterway from Ft. Edward and would land at the island within minutes.
The Major briskly jumped out of the skiff and onto the dock and started to jog up the hill toward the men. Everyone started to align themselves with the man to each side of him when the Major arrived at the front of the loose formation. Rogers then said, "stand easy men, stand easy. I've got a mission for us and I think you will be anxious to get a start on it. First off, no man will be permitted to leave Fort Edward or Rogers Island until the mission gets underway. We can't risk someone talking about the little hike we're going to take shortly. The French have spies among us and this mission is of the utmost importance."
Someone yelled, "where we goin Major?"
Matty was sitting on the edge of a stump and kept inching his bottom closer and closer to the edge , all the while his right foot moved up and down in a nervous fashion. His attention hung on every word Major Rogers said.
"Men, we're moving out in three days for Crown Point. We'll leave Rogers Island with a hunert fifty men and pick up Captain Ogden and his 50 rangers at Crown Point along with supplies for our mission. We are going to row across Lake Champlain to Missisquai Bay where we will hide them and set off on foot across the swamps to St Francis where we will eliminate the Abenaki heathens who have plagued our settlements and families these past 5 years."
A loud yell arose from the men in the ranks as the excitement of striking a blow to the Abenaki miscreants caused their blood to run hot.
Rogers then said, "you will draw enough powder and lead for 80 shots per man and two weeks rations of corn and jerky before we leave for Crown Point. Our boats already await us. This is what you wanted. This is what you have waited for. The time is now upon us. Fill your hearts with hate and show no mercy to the enemy. That is all."
The men shouted their agreement with the mission and Rogers walked away with a smile on his face because he knew he not only had their allegiance but he also had their hearts.
Ben walked over to Matty and said, "well, the fat's in the fire now and there's no turnin back. I only wished St. Francis wasn't so durned far away cause it’s a fair walk and I ain't as young as I used to be."
Matty smiled and slapped Ben on the back and said, "come on old timer lets git ready. I'm half your age and you can walk me into the ground with a 60 pound pack on your back and you know it. Come on lets git our stuff lined up."
None of them knew it at the time but the best of plans go awry and these plans weren't exempt from fault or bad luck. And, bad luck is a gentle way of putting it. The rangers would walk through the valley of the shadow of death before this mission would be over.
TO ST. FRANCIS
They pulled hard on the oars as the whale boats plowed across the surface of Lake Champlain on the night of September 13, 1759. Not a man even whispered for fear of alerting the French war ships they passed. The huge sailing vessels sat still as if they were great dark cliffs in the center of the lake. Occasionally a muffled cough could be heard in the dark, or a wooden bucket falling to the deck and rolling about until feet could be heard shuffling across deck wood to silence it by picking it up. Like ghosts in the night, 190 Rangers in 17 whale boats pulled hard on the oars yet no sound could be heard except the parting of the water at the bow. They kept as far away as possible from the anchored French ships which put their boats dangerously close to the shoreline where they could be discovered by Indian scouts but luck was with them and Rogers Rangers cruised past the French and continued up the shoreline to Missisquoi Bay where the boats were withdrawn from the water and hidden in the forest. Morning was approaching and the rangers would camp with the boats until sun up when they would set out for St. Francis where they would hopefully crush the Abenaki devils who butchered their countrymen and families from the Hudson to the western frontier.
"See to your truck", Rogers said to his men as he walked past them in their make shift camp.
He told them, "see to yer rifles and renew the prime cause we'll be movin deep into French territory pretty quick. Ogden, set out yer flank guards. We move in 20 minutes."
Lieutenant Ogden replied, "Yes sir Major and gave a command to ten rangers to move out into the forest both left and right side of the column to keep look-out.
Matty lifted his pack to his shoulders and said to Ben, "wish I'd not brought so much truck along on this trip cause this pack is a bit on the weighty side."
Ben smiled and replied with a serious tone to his voice, "if its too heavy then leave whatever ya can here with the boats cause ya can't dump it on the march or the heathen will find it and that'll be the end of us."
Matty took the pack down off his back, opened it and removed his bullet mold, tongs and a small block of lead. The pack felt lighter as he hefted it to his shoulders and slung it to his back. It felt a lot better and he felt ready for the march.
Rogers instructed two Iroquois Indian scouts to stay with the boats as guard with instructions to run ahead and inform him if the boats were discovered.
The men were arranged into a very wide group in such a way that no man followed directly behind another. They weren't scattered about but moved as a spread out unit which would prevent a ball from passing through a man and hitting another walking directly behind him. One of Roger's rules of rangering.
The order to move out was given and Rogers Rangers were finally off overland toward the center of terrorism of the day which would give Roger's Rangers hero status to British and Colonists alike and at the same time be written to history books as one of the most harrowing human ordeals ever recorded.
They had been travelling for two days when the Iroquois guards caught up to them and notified Rogers that the boats had been discovered. Rogers suspected that a French contingent of Marines and/or Indians would be following on his heels. He had originally thought to return to the boats on the same path but that course would be impossible now. He decided to return on a route East by South to Lake Memphremagog. Furthermore, Rogers sent a Lieutenant and six rangers back to Crown Point to arrange for food and provisions to be transported to the old Wells River fort and in response to Roger's request, Amherst dispatched a detachment to Wells River with the provisions requested.
Rogers decided to continue on with the mission of eliminating the Abenaki Indians at St Francis because whether they returned home now or completed the mission and returned home was all in the same. But, they didn't realize the future turn of events that would surround them.
Rogers suspected but wasn't sure that he was being pursued when in reality, he was being chased by one Oliver de la Durante Drescord with a hundred Abenaki's and French Marines, a seasoned Bush Way fighter whom Rogers fought against during the Battle on Snowshoes.
Rogers figured he was being chased and chased hard so decided to take his ranger command into the Missisquoi Swamp where it would be impossible for any man, Indian or Frenchman, to track them. The cold rain fell incessantly chilling the body to the bone and raising the water level in the swamp to chest deep at times. The rangers pulled saplings down to the surface of the water and tied them in place in order to have a dry spot to sleep on. The trail was impossible to read and the going was so difficult that the French and Indians alike gave up the chase for Rogers and calculated the rangers swung south of them to return to the St Lawrence River whence they started but that was not the case. Rogers and his rangers pressed on through the swamp for 9 days, constantly walking in waist deep water and sleeping on tree logs and sapling boughs until they finally reached the St Francis River where they moved north along the shoreline in search of a place to cross. They had been on this adventure for 22 days and their food was nearly exhausted. Rogers hoped to replenish his supplies at the Abenaki village.
All Matty could think about was Hanna. He wanted the best for her and this sojourn with the Rangers was the fastest way to gain the security of land that would promise Hanna and him a home of their own without beholdin to anyone. There was something about this mission that didn't sit right with him. When he brought his feelings up to Ben he was told to just trust the Major. Major Rogers was worshiped by his men and each of them was ready to put his life in harm's way for him.
Matty and Ben cut limbs off the trees as they were felled until enough logs were acquired to build rafts that would carry the rangers and supplies across the St Francis where the village would be sought out and a plan devised for its destruction.
Matty said, "If I'd a known this soldierin was gonna be this hard I'd probably not signed up agin. That second hunert acres of land made me greedy I guess. Sure wish I was back home right now."
Ben replied, "it'll be over for ya know it. Just trust the Major. He never let us down yit and I doubt he ever will. We best stick together if we can when we git across this here water and I'll watch your back and you watch mine, agreed?"
Matty smiled and said, "agreed!"
Late that day they ferried themselves and all their gear across the water to the opposite shore where they hid the rafts in the brush and tall grass. Two scouts were sent to discover the location of the village and they returned in a little more than one hour.
Rogers, with a concerned look on his face, said to Sgt Brewer, "why are ye back so soon."
Brewer replied, "we are almost on top the village right now. They're but a mile west of where we stand and it’s a wonder they didn't hear us cutting down trees for the rafts."
Rogers instantly moved all the men back into the trees out of sight and removed his green deerskin frock to replace it with a doeskin over shirt. His green deerskin pants were replaced with a pair of greasy buckskins that had seen better days. They sat tight until almost dark when Rogers told Lieutenant Ogden that he was going to scout the village to determine its strength. He then disappeared into the dark. Roger's countenance was such that he moved through the Abenaki village with impunity. He not only looked like an Indian but he moved like one too all the while taking stock in the number of fighting age men and the kinds of weapons they would be using to repel the attack. He exited the dangerous place as easily and quietly as he entered and he formed a plan on his way back to the ranger camp.
Captain Ogdan would work his way to the river with 30 rangers who's task would be to prevent any fleeing Indians from escaping the attack by canoe or water. They were instructed to fire two controlled volleys at the oncoming Abenaki's and then to fire as fast as they could reload. Rogers would split the remaining rangers into two forces and strike the village from two sides simultaneously all the while setting fire to anything that would burn using torches made with ash bark and wound with long, dry river grass – the entire head of the torch saturated with pitch. They would have a go of it at 5:00 AM. The men lay where they could behind cover on their blankets after placing their back packs and possibles at their feet. Those items would be picked up later after the skirmish.
Matty lay on his back with his head against a moss covered tree root that was of a height and perfectly formed to create a comfortable cradle for his head. He thought, "what am I doin here?" His mind focused on the image of Hannah and he suddenly regained the determination that got him this far with the rangers. He kept telling himself that this raid would be the last. How long could his luck hold out tempting fate as he had been doing? At times Matty could not believe how these wilderness adventurers survived the impossible situations they often times found themselves in and it was really difficult to believe that he was a part of them. He never let on to Hannah but Matty was proud to be part of Roger's Rangers. He traipsed off into the unknown with good frontiersmen who could be counted upon if things went awry and when it was all said and done, he liked the adventure of it – the unknown danger and life on the edge made his blood run hot. He felt alive, but he had placed his heart in Hanna's hands the day he saved her life back at her families' cabin. He arrived in time to save Hanna's life and while doing so felt strange warmth in his chest he had not ever felt before. Yes, this would be his last outing with the Rangers. It was time he collect his Ranger pay, his deed for two hundred acres and return to loving arms that awaited him. Then he could return to Hanna and put down roots on their land where they could build a house and a barn, buy livestock and start a family - that is if he could survive this campaign he was on. Soon fate would guide the Rangers down into the darkest valley where nothing lives but death's shadow and where they all to a man would ask God's help.
A hoot owl's call awakened Matty and his eyes opened instantly to the disturbance and his hand fell onto the barrel of the rifle that lay at his side.
He rolled over onto his right side and saw Ben down on one knee, his rifle held at the ready, staring into the forest.
"I heard it Matty. I jist wanted to be sarten it was really an owl. There have been two of em talking back and forth to each other for the past half hour and it made me nervous."
Matty said, "well I guess I'll be getten up cause the Major said we'd be movin out at 4 AM. I reckon them are real owls you're herin out there or we'd a been in the fire afore this."
Ben stood up straight and lowered his rifle, turned and walked back to his blanket. Before he could sit back down, Rogers walked up to them, stopped briefly and said to be ready to move out in 15 minutes. He remained only long enough to hear Ben and Matty acknowledge his order with a "yes sir" and then continued on to notify the rest of the Rangers.
"Well, here we go I guess", Ben said.
Matty replied, "I just want to get this over with and leave this place. There is evil here. I kin feel it.
The men were gathering around Rogers at the edge of the forest and the thirty Rangers were sent around the encamped Indians to take up positions at the river's edge below the town. Rogers then separated the rest of the Rangers into two groups. Lieutenant Ogden's Rangers would prevent the fleeing Indians from escaping by canoe down the river while the rest of the command pushed into the town of St. Francis and burned it to the ground. The Rangers took up positions left and right of St Francis and waited for the signal that Rogers himself would make which was a lighted torch held high. At that signal all would slowly move toward the town and torch any buildings in their path as well as food stores and anything else that would burn. Once discovered by the inhabitants, the rangers were free to reign down death to all occupants in the town, and they did so with a vengeance. The Abenaki lived in cabins much like the whites built. They were probably taught how to construct such dwellings by the French. The roofs were covered with grass and thatch and the fire took hold quickly and caused great panic with the sleeping Indians within. Old and young alike tried to flee and escape the wrath of the white demons known as Roger's Rangers for they knew that only the Rangers could possibly reach them in this wilderness unobserved and that Roger's Rangers were a force that neither the French nor the Indians could reckon with, and they were afraid.
The rangers cut down as many as they could all the while remembering the sight of their wives and children butchered and left laying on cabin floors or scalped and hanging from cabin porch roofs with entrails hanging to the ground. It was time for vengeance and the rangers dealt out death in an exacting fashion. They ran through the town in groups of four and five two or three would protect the others as they reloaded their pieces. Rangers ran through the cabins and tents with torch and hatchet dealing which ever medicine was necessary at the moment. Women and children were to be spared but the Rangers remembered their sons and daughters as they lay in the dirt scalped with skulls bludgeoned in and they showed little mercy on the miscreants they hunted this day.
The Indians were routed and they ran toward the river where the canoes were beached and the forest lay just beyond the water on the other side. A hundred of them approached the canoes at a run at which point Lieutenant Ogden gave the order, "first rank – fire!"
Fifteen Rangers fired their weapons into the oncoming crowd. Ogden again ordered, "Second rank – fire!", and another line of Rangers fired into the panicked Indians.
And finally, "fire at will!"
The Abenaki could not turn and run in the direction they came from as the Rangers were sweeping in close behind them. The only choice they had was to charge Ogden's men and chance getting across the river and into the forests beyond, and so they did. They fell like sheaves of wheat to the Rangers deadly fire from the front and rear simultaneously.
Finally Rogers called a halt to the killing and called his men to regroup. The rangers used hatchets to dispatch any wounded Abenaki they came across. None would be spared.
Two white women were brought before Rogers and they were reluctant to return to Fort Edward with him. They had been in captivity by the Indians since childhood and had been adopted into the tribe and eventually married young Abenaki men. One carried a child and spat upon Rogers for killing her man. The Major told the woman with the child to leave in safety because he knew the child would slow down their retreat and in reality was too young to endure the rigors of a rapid, sustained march to Fort number 4.
Every Ranger was told to retrieve their back packs, empty them of all contents and to fill them with as much food as they could find. Rogers knew that a large force of nearly 200 French and Indians was on his back trail from the discovered whale boats and that probably another contingent of French or Indians would soon be after them from Ft. Carillon. The French Captain Dumas with 200 Huron, Abenaki and French Marines was only one day behind Rogers and it was imperative that the Rangers leave St Francis immediately which they hastily did. Rogers was made aware that the Abenaki's had little food within St Francis. The most prominent food that could be found was corn and soy beans, and very little of it which the Rangers loaded into their packs. A small quantity of jerked meat was found but most was burned to a crisp in the fires set by the rangers.
And so Roger's Rangers set off into the forest with very little food in their packs on a direct march for Fort #4 on the Memphremagog River where the British would have provisions waiting for them. Little did they realize that their journey home would go down in history as one of the most incredible survival stories ever documented in American history.
Matty could only find a couple hands full of parched corn and some dried apples to put in his pack. There wasn't much left after the fires they had set. Any pemmican or meat was burned to a crisp and unidentifiable for all intents and purposes. The Major wanted to be off as soon as possible and off they went toward Lake Memphremagog which was only 8 days away and they surely could make it on the food they had collected. Major Rogers knew that Jean-Daniel Dumas with his 100 Huron's was only a day behind and would intensify their pursuit when they saw the remains of the Abenaki town of St Francis.