The name of Wyoming is celebrated from its association with events of thrilling interest. Its history from its first settlement is well known to the American reader, nor is there needed another recital of the catastrophe of July, 1778, which converted the fertile and thriving settlement into a field of slaughter, and recorded in characters of blood one of the darkest pages in the annals of our race. The pen of the historian - the eloquence of the orator - the imagination of the poet and novelist - have by turns illustrated the scene - the realities of which transcend the wildest creations of fiction, and over which hovers the solemn glory that enshrines the resting place of heroes. The very ground speaks of the past.
And on the margin of yon orchard hill
Are marks where time-worn battlements have been
And in the tall grass traces linger still
Of arrowy frieze and wedged ravelin;
Five hundred of her brave that valley green
Trod on the morn, in soldier spirit gay;
But twenty lived to tell the noonday scene."
Vain was the bravery of that little band - the population of the valley having been drained of its strength to supply the continental army - to stem the fury of the tories and savages, gathering strength with success, till it swept in a tempest of blood and fire over their devoted homes. Their gallant deeds - their fate - have been told in song and story.
The wives and daughters of Wyoming deserve to share in the tribute due to their unfortunate defenders. While the men were engaged in public service they had cheerfully assumed such a portion of the labor as they could perform; had tilled the ground to plant and make hay, husked and garnered the corn, and assisted in manufacturing ammunition. They, too, were marked out for the enemy's vengeance, and were victims in the scene of carnage and horror. Dreadful was the suspense in which they awaited, with their children, the event of the battle; and when the news was brought in the night, warned that instant flight would be their only means of escape, they fled in terrified confusion, without clothes or food - looking back only to behold "the light of burning plains," repressing their groans for fear of Indians in ambush, and fortunate if they escaped butchery - to implore the aid of strangers in a distant land.. Many an aged matron, after the lapse of half a century, "could tell you where the foot of battle stepped, upon the day of massacre;" for the spot was marked by the blood of her nearest and dearest.
A nearer view may be given by the mention of one or two instances among the sufferers. Two sons of Esther Skinner, in the flower of early manhood, went forth to the desperate conflict of that day, and were seen no more by their widowed mother. A young man who afterwards married her daughter - one of the twenty who was saved - related an incident of his escape. "Driven to the brink of the river, he plunged into the water for safety, and swam to a small island. Here, immersed in water, protected by the bushes at the water's edge, and screened by the darkness of night, he happily eluded the search of the pursuing foe, thirsting for blood; while about twenty of his companions, who had retreated to the same spot, were all massacred within a few yards of him. He heard the dismal strokes of the tomahawk, and the groans of the dying, expecting every moment himself to become the next victim. One savage foot trod upon the very bush to which he clung. A solitary individual besides himself was left, at the departure of the savages, to weep with him over the mangled bodies of their friends."
Mrs. Skinner was in the company of women who fled amid the horrors of the conflagration. With her six surviving children, the youngest but five years of age, she hastened to the water-side, where boats were prepared for their conveyance down the river. The little ones, half destitute of clothing, "were ready to cry with the anguish of their bruised and lacerated feet; but the chidings of the wary mother, and the dread of being heard by the lurking savage, repressed their weeping, and made them tread in breathless silence their painful way."
The widow's little property plundered, her home in ashes, her husband buried, and her eldest son lying mangled on the field of battle, her thoughts were turned towards the land of her birth, formidable as the journey was on foot, with six helpless children, and without money, clothes, or provisions. Her way lay in part through Dutch settlements, where she could only by signs tell the story of her sufferings, or make known her wants. The tale of woe, however, swifter in its flight, had spread far and wide, and she received many kindnesses from the people of a strange language. Sometimes, indeed, she was refused admission into their houses; "but," she would add in her narration, "they had nice barns, with clean straw, where my children lodged very comfortably." After travelling one hundred miles by water, and nearly three hundred by land, she arrived in safety at the place of her former residence in Connecticut; where, having survived all her children but one, she died in 1831, in the hundredth year of her age.
Mrs. Myers was one of the crowd who resorted to Forty Fort, and was about sixteen years old at the time of the massacre. Her maiden name was Bennett, and her father's family stood conspicuous among the patriots of that day. A relative, Mrs. Bennett, was living in 1845, at the age of eighty-three, and though blind, was one of the clearest chroniclers of the scenes witnessed in her eventful youth. Whether she was the "woman, withered, gray, and old," with whom the poet conversed, sitting and smoking - as he says, in her chimney-corner is uncertain; for she was not the only one who had a lively recollection of those times. Mrs. Myers had even preserved the table on which had been signed the terms of capitulation, and repeated the conversation between Colonel Denison and Colonel Butler, overheard by herself and another girl on a seat within the Fort; with Butler's acknowledgment of his inability to check the savages in their plunder and slaughter of the inhabitants. At one time the Indians, to show their power, came into the fort. One took the hat from Colonel Denison's head, and another demanded his frock. The savage raised his tomahawk menacingly, and the Colonel was obliged to yield; but seeming to find difficulty in taking off the garment, he stepped back to where the young women were sitting. The girl who sat by Miss Bennett was an inmate of his family - understanding the movement, she took from the pocket of the frock a purse, which she hid under her apron. The frock was then delivered to the Indian, and the town money thus saved; for the purse, containing a few dollars, was the whole military chest of Wyoming.
Another patriotic sufferer, Mrs. Lucy Ives, was a child of ten years old at Forty Fort. She had two brothers and a brother-in-law in the battle, and both her brothers were killed. Her father and family escaped through the swamp; but on his return to secure a part of his harvest, he was killed by the Indians. The mother and children, having lost all their property, sought refuge in Canterbury, Connecticut, their native place, whence they did not return till peace was established. With broken fortunes and blighted hopes, left to grapple with a hard world-while a compensating degree of prosperity awaited many of the ancient sufferers-the night of bloodshed and woe was not succeeded to them as to others, by a bright and cheering morning of sunshine.
Mrs. Bidlack was the daughter of Obadiah Gore, and about twenty years old at the time of the battle. Her family were devoted to the cause of liberty. The aged father was left in Forty Fort to aid in its defence, while five sons with two brothers-in-law marched to the conflict ! At sunset five of the seven lay mangled corpses on the field. Mrs. Murfee, another sister, begged her way, among the rest of the fugitives, across the wilderness, and sought a home in the State from which she had emigrated. The mother of the Gore family lived to see prosperity return to her remaining children.
The death of Mrs. Young was particularly noticed in the newspapers at the time of its occurrence, on account of the many vicissitudes that marked her life. Her father, Mr. Poyner, was a Huguenot, who had been driven by religious persecution from France, and had been a commissary in the old French war. Mrs. Young was the last survivor of those who occupied the fort at Mill Creek. She made her escape with six others, in a canoe, on hearing of the issue of the battle, and the enemy's approach - and pushed off into the river, without provisions, to seek safety from the murderous tomahawk. Meeting a boat coming up with stores for Captain Spalding's company, the sufferings of hunger were relieved; and the distressed fugitives, not knowing the fate of their friends, after a dangerous navigation of one hundred and twenty miles - landed near Harrisburg, where, being hospitably received and kindly treated, they remained till Sullivan's army came to Wyoming and rendered it safe to return. She died at the age of eighty-nine.
Mrs. Dana took with her in her flight a pillowcase of valuable papers - her husband being engaged in public business; and the preservation of these has thrown light on the path of research. The names of a hundred others, who shared that memorable flight, might be mentioned; but these are sufficient.
In the enemy's ranks, some of the women were foremost in the work of carnage. Esther, the queen of the Seneca tribe of Indians - a fury in female form, it is said, took upon herself the office of executioner, passing with her tomahawk round the circle of prisoners, counting with a cadence, and sinking the weapon into the heads of the victims. In the journal of one of Sullivan's officers, her plantation is described - an extensive plain near the Susquehanna, where she dwelt in sullen retirement.
The story of the captivity of Frances Slocum has some romantic interest. Her father was a member of the Friends' Society, and having always been kind to the Indians, was at first left unmolested; but when they learned that one of his sons had been in the battle, the family was marked out for sure vengeance. A shot, and cry of distress, one day summoning Mrs. Slocum to the door, she saw an Indian scalping a lad to whom, with his brother, her husband had given a home, their father being taken prisoner. The savages soon after entered the house, seized her little boy, Ebenezer, and when the mother interposed to save the child, caught up her daughter Frances, about five years old, and fled swiftly to the mountains. This was within a hundred rods of Wilkesbarre fort; but, though the alarm was instantly given, the Indians eluded pursuit, and no trace of their retreat could be discovered.
The cup of vengeance was not yet full - the father being afterwards murdered. The widowed mother heard nothing of her lost child, though peace came in time, and prisoners returned. When intercourse with Canada was opened, two of her sons, then among the most intelligent and enterprising young men in the valley, determined, if living, to find their sister, and connecting business with their search, traversed the Indian settlements, and went as far as Niagara. But vain were their inquiries and offered rewards; and the conclusion seemed probable that she had been killed by her merciless captors. Still the fond mother saw the lost one in her dreams, and her soul clung to the hope of recovering her daughter, as the great and engrossing object of her life. At length a girl was found, who had been carried away captive from Susquehanna River, and could not remember her parents. She was brought to Mrs. Slocum's home; but the mysterious sympathy which exists between a mother and her offspring did not draw them together. Mrs. Slocum could not believe the orphan to be her own child, and the girl, feeling a persuasion that she had no claim of relationship, at length returned to her Indian friends. Time extinguished the last ray of hope, and the bereaved parent, at an advanced age, descended to the grave.
In August, 1837, fifty-nine years after the capture, a letter appeared in the Lancaster Intelligencer, written by Mr. Ewing of Logansport, Indiana, and dated a year and a half previous. It stated that an aged white woman was living in that vicinity, among the Miami tribe of Indians, who had recently informed the writer that she had been brought, when very young, from the Susquehanna, and that her father's name was Slocum; that he was a Quaker, and that his house was near a village where there was a fort. Her attachment to Indian life, and fear of being claimed by her kindred, had prevented her, in past years, from disclosing her name and history - which she did then from a conviction that her life was drawing to an end. She was a widow, with two daughters - wealthy, respected and bearing an excellent character.
The sensation produced throughout Wyoming by this letter can scarcely be imagined. Joseph Slocum, the brother of Frances, moved by affection, duty, and the known wishes of his deceased parent, made immediate preparations for the journey, though a thousand miles intervened; and with his younger brother, Isaac, who lived in Ohio, hastened to Logansport. The lost sister, whose residence was about twelve miles distant, was informed of their arrival, and came to the village to meet them, riding a high-spirited horse, and accompanied by her two daughters, tastefully dressed in the Indian costume. Her bearing was grave and reserved; she listened, through an interpreter, to what they had to say - but doubt, amounting to jealous suspicion, possessed her mind. She returned home, and came again the next day, desiring further explanation, ere she would recognize those who claimed such near kindred. At length Joseph Slocum mentioned that his sister, at play in their father's smithshop with the children, had once received a blow from a hammer on the middle finger of the hand, which crushed the bone; and that his mother had always said the injury would leave a mark that could not be mistaken. This was conviction to the long separated sister; her countenance was instantly lighted up with smiles, while tears ran down her checks, as she held out the scarred hand; the welcome recognition, the tender embrace, the earnest inquiries for her parents - showed the awakening of the long slumbering affections, and filled every heart present to overflowing.
The events of her life, as detailed by herself, were truly remarkable. On her capture, she had been carried to a rocky cave on the mountain, where a bed of blankets and dried leaves had been prepared for the accommodation of the Indians. Thence taken to the Indian country, she was treated with kindness, and brought up as an adopted daughter of their people. When her Indian parents died, she married a young chief of the nation, and removed to the waters of the Ohio. Changed completely by time and education - exempted from the tasks usually imposed on women in the savage state, the most flattering deference being paid to her superior understanding - invested with the dignity of a queen among them - and happy in her family and connections - she had been led to regard the whites with a degree of fear and aversion, and to deem return to her kindred a calamity rather than a blessing; so that when prisoners were inquired for, she always earnestly entreated that she might not be betrayed.
When her narration was finished, Frances, or Maconaquah, as she was called, appealed with solemnity to the Great Spirit, to bear witness to its truth. The next day, her brothers, with the interpreter, rode out to visit her. Every thing bore the appearance not only of plenty, but of rude abundance; the cattle and horses were numerous; the house, though roughly constructed, was better than the Indian wigwams; and the repast, of venison, honey, and cakes of flour, was excellent. Frances caused her brothers to enter into a formal covenant of recognition and affection, by lifting a snow-white cloth from a piece of venison she had placed beneath it. The visit was prolonged for several days; and was afterwards repeated by another member of the family - Mrs. Bennett, the daughter of Joseph Slocum, and wife of the Hon. Ziba Bennett, who accompanied her father on his second visit to Indiana.
The sufferings of families during the depredations of the Indians on the frontier, in Wawasink and its vicinity, were not exceeded even by those of Wyoming. The women bore their share not only in these, but in the efforts made for defence - loading guns for their defenders, and carrying water to extinguish the flames of their dwellings. In an attack upon the house of the widow Bevier, when, after it was fired, the two women sought refuge in the cellar, the daughter, Magdalen, took with her the Dutch family Bible. When the flames approached them, they decided to deliver themselves up to the savages, and made their way through the cellar window - the mother in advance. The daughter threw her apron over her head, fearing to see her parent killed. As she feared, the widow fell a prey to the cruel tomahawk, while the Bible was wrested from Magdalen's hands and stamped in the mud, she herself being retained a prisoner. When afterwards released, she was fortunate enough to recover the treasure she had saved from the flames - some of the leaves only being soiled by the mud - and it is still preserved as a precious relic in the family.
The house of Jesse Bevier at the Fantinekill was assailed afterwards, and defended successfully by the spirit and resolution of its inmates. Their powder was laid in basins on the table, and the women helped to load the pieces, till at length the old log house was fired at a point where the little band of heroes could not bring their guns to bear. Their situation now became most alarming, and the women applied every drop of liquid in the house to check the progress of the flames; taking milk, and even swill, in their mouths, and spirting it through the cracks of the logs, in hopes thus to protract existence till relief might come from Naponoch. At this awful crisis, when death appeared inevitable, the pious mother, knowing that "with God all things are possible," proposed that they should suspend their exertions, and unite in petitions to the throne of grace for mercy. Her son replied that she must pray, and they would continue to fight. And fervent were the prayers of that mother - till it seemed as if they were answered by direct interposition from heaven. The brother of Bevier, warned of danger by the mute appeal of the dog belonging to the house, came with another to his assistance, and the Indians and tories, not knowing, when they heard the firing of their sentry, how large a force was coming, withdrew from the house just as the flame's had extended to the curtains of the bed.
A solemn and affecting scene in this tragedy was that at the bedside of Jacob Bevier, who lay ill, and unable to move, when all the family had fled across the mountain, except an insane brother, who was sitting on the fence, unconscious of danger, and a daughter, who in spite of entreaties and expostulations, would not leave her suffering parent.
The old stone fort at Wawasink was also the scene of active operations. It was the courage and presence of mind of Catharine Vernooy that saved the fort when first assailed by the enemy. She was going to milk when she heard them coming; but returned quickly to the fort, closed the door, and called to the sentry to assist her in getting the brace against it. At the house of Peter Vernooy, too, the females were active in rendering assistance. They loaded the pieces, of which there was a double set, and stood with axes, determined to plunge them into their foes, if they should attempt to break through the windows. The wife of Vernooy had a family of small children, but kept them quiet by her authority, while all was going on.