Emerson Bennett.

Forest and prairie, or, Life on the frontier online

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and wink, and I knowed it war all about me. Still I
husked away, and didn't say nothing often, and then al'ays
so'thing sharp and sassy.

" Now ef Pete had jest a minded his own business and
treated Lucy respectful, and hadn't said nothing aggrawa-
ting to me, it's like he mought be living now to laugh over
his triumph ; but he couldn't be contented, the fool 1 when
he war well off; and began "to ax ef anybody had seed
anybody as had chawed a green persimmon lately, meaning
me. All the fools, Lucy amongst the rest, laughed at this,
and pretended to wonder who he could mean ; and as I
still held myself down, (though I felt the seat gitting
powerful hot, and seen little red things dancing afore my
eyes,) he still kept on, gitting wusser and more p'inted
like, till at last he says, says he, ' I'm the chap as goes in
for ripe persimmons,' and he throwed one arm around
Lucy's waist and drawed her over and kissed her.

" Now, boys, I've come to a spot that's al'ays been kind
o' blank to me. I don't remember gitting up but I 'spect


J did for I remember finding myself standing up amongst
a mighty excited crowd, with Pete lying down, his head all
bloody, and a stove-in whiskey keg along side o' him, that
all said I'd jest smashed agin his upper story ; whilst
Lucy, all fainted and stretched out limpsy, war being toted
off by her father and two others, and follered by all the
rest o' the gals, crying and screaming.

"The boys around now tuk different sides, and some
said I war right and some said I warn't. But I soon
fixed the matter. Stepping out from the crowd, I says,
says I :

" ' Let them as thinks I've done right, foller me ; and
them as don't, stay and take keer of Pete, till he gits well
enough to ax for a settlement with rifles, which I s'pose
he'll do ef he arn't a coward.'

"Wall, as I said, the party divided off, and some went
home with me, and some staid and tuk keer o' Pete. I
got my rifle down and cleaned her, and run some balls,
and filled up my powder-horn, so's to be ready and not
keep any body waiting as mought want to hev the thing
settled arter a gentleman's fashion.

"By the time I'd got this done, a friend of Pete's comes
over, and says as how he'd 'spect me to meet him at a
place he named at daylight next morning.

" ' I'll be thar !' says I : ' tell him I'll be thar, and give

him so'thing wusser'n a whiskey-keg to git over 1'
16* -


"Wall, I war thar; and so war Pete, and everybody
else round about them diggings, 'cept the women folks ;
and they'd a been thar, too, ef they'd only been allowed to
come. It didn't take long to fix things for the fight for
all we wanted war a level piece o' ground and a chance to
blaze away.

" Rifles at forty paces war the word in them times to
settle all such trifles as ourn ; and arter measuring off the
ground, they sot me and Pete face to face, with the butts
o' both our pieces standing by our feet; and then all
drawed back out o' the way, and some one gin the word to

" Up went our rifles at that word, and both pulled
trigger at the same time. I felt so'thing queer about my
neck ; and putting up my hand, I found Pete's ball had
gone through within a hair's breadth of my life ; and I
seen Pete at the same time clap his hand to his breast, and
knowed by that he'd got so'thing to look arter too.

" But thar warn't no time to be spent in hunting balls
for it war a fight till death ; and the fust man that could
git his rifle loaded now, would hev the best chance o ?
talking about the muss arter it war over ; so I went in for
loading as fast as I could.

" Now I claims to be some at loading a rifle, and you'd
better believe I done my best jest then ; but in spite o' all
I could do, Pete got ahead o' me, and I begun to feel that


my time had come. Pete I knowed war a dead shot ; and
ef he could hev ten seconds for an aim, it war all up with
this eoon ; and so when I seen him shaking in the priming,
whilst I war only ramming down the ball, I jest looked
round to the rising sun to say good-bye to daylight.

" I don't think I'm any more o' a coward than any other
man ; but when I seen Pete steadily raising his piece, and
knowed when it come to a dead level that I'd not know
nothing, I'll own up I felt powerful queer ; and ef the
little money and traps I had, could hev bought me about
ten seconds, I don't think I should hev waited long afore
making the trade.

"Wall, boys, that thar rifle come up slow and steady;
but jest afore it got so as I mought hev looked straight
into the muzzle, it war jerked one side, and went off in the
air ; and Pete Blodget fell down dead in his tracks, killed
by my first shot, jest when two seconds more o' his life
would hev ended mine.

" As soon as I found he war dead, I knowed I'd hev to
quit them diggings sudden for he'd got friends enough to
set the sheriff arter me, and it warn't pleasant to think o'
being cooped up in jail. * So I broke round to Colonel
Squire Waterman's house, and got a sight o' Lucy, who
war jest about as white as a snow-bank.

"'Lucy,' says I, 'you're a critter as has kicked up a
good deal o' mischief with me but I forgive you. I come


to tell you that Pete Blodget won't trouble uyther of us no
more, and that I'm jest a breaking for tall timber. Good-
by, Lucy I'm bound to quit I've got to go and on this
here 'arth we'll never meet agin. 7

" I war going on with so'thing more ; but Lucy fell
down fainty like ; and so I left her, and put off for strange
parts. I got to the Massissip that day, and got a passage
to St. Louis, whar I soon got in with some old trappers,
and started out for the life I've follered ever sence."

"And what became of Lucy?" inquired one of old
Rube's interested listeners, as the trapper ceased and
dropped his head upon his hands.

" Ah me, boys 1 that's what I can't answer !" sighed the
old mountaineer ; " and when a spell comes over me like
thar done to-night, I ginerally sets and wonders. Ah !
Lucy poor, dear Lucy ^nobody never loved you like this
here old grey-headed beaver done when he war a kitten
never never, Lucy never I" and the old trapper dropped
his head still lower, and drew his rough, hard hand more
than once across his eyes.



IT was just after General Wayne's great victory of the
Fallen Timbers, (said an old pioneer,) that I became ac-
quainted with Captain Robert Benham, who had been quite
a prominent actor in all the principal battles of the frontier.
His name had long been familiar to me in connection with
a very peculiar and remarkable affair which had occurred
on the Ohio, at the mouth of the Licking river, as far back
as the year 1779 ; and as I had heard his singular adven-
tures at that place related differently by different parties, I
felt no little curiosity to arrive at the exact facts ; and
therefore took an early occasion to get the particulars
from his own lips ; which I now give, as near as I can
recollect, in his own words :

''It was in the autumn of 1779," began the captain,
" that quite a party of us left the Falls of the Ohio, in keel-
boats, under the command of Major Rodgers, for the pur-
pose of making an attack upon the Indians at the old town
of Chilicothe. On our way up the river, we met with no

remarkable adventure till we approached the mouth of the



Licking, which we did about sunset of a delightful day ;
when we observed a few Indians standing upon a project-
ing sand bar, at the point where the two streams unite,
apparently watching some companions in a canoe, who
were crossing to them from the opposite bank of the smaller
stream. If they saw us, there was nothing in their manner
to indicate the fact ; and thinking it possible to take them
by surprise, Major Rodgers ordered the boats to be run
up under some bushes along the shore, and all the men
save five some seventy in number to advance cautiously
through the wood, and completely surround the spot where
the savages were.

"We all set off in fine spirits, thinking only of the sur-
prise we should give the enemy, and never once dreaming
of the surprise they might give us in return. Quietly,
stealthily, we pushed onward, spreading out as we advanced,
till at length we reached and fairly encircled the fatal spot ;
when, just as the order was being given to rush in upon
the foe, we were startled and thrown into the greatest con-
fusion by the uprising on every side of us of several hun-
dred yelling Indians.

" We had been drawn into a complete ambuscade had
been taken by our enemies in the very trap we had set for
them. Instantly they poured in a destructive fire, and then
fell upon us with knife and tomahawk ; when the panic on
our part became fearful, and the slaughter tremendous.


Like frightened sheep we huddled together ; and then, find-
ing ourselves hemmed in by our foes, who hewed us down a's
fast as they reached us, we turned at bay; and poured back
a volley from our side. Then, with yells as wild and sav-
age as their own, we broke through their lines, and rushed
for our boats. But the Indians, comprehending our design,
reached them before us, and made a capture of all save one,
in which the men left in charge had made their escape.
Our only chance now was to break their lines again, and
start through the forest to the station of Harrodsburg.
Favored by the gathering shades of night, some twenty of
our whole party escaped, though hotly pursued by our
blood-thirsty foes.

" But I was not one of that fortunate few ; for, as I was
in the act of clearing some five or six of the enemy, who
barred my way to a dense thicket, and just as I had cut
down a couple of the nearest, a ball passed through my
hips, shattering the bones. At once I fell, but luckily
among some thick bushes which for the moment concealed
me ; and the others, probably thinking me dead or escaped,
immediately darted off in pursuit of my flying friends. I
had my rifle still in my ha'nds ; and wounded and suffering
as I was, I proceeded to load it as I lay on the ground
my only hope now being that I should succeed in killing
one or more of the bloody wretches before a terminus should
be put to my own existence.


" As minute after minute went by, however, and the yells
of the savages grew more and more distant, and night
began fast to envelop me in her welcome pall of darkness,
a new h^pe sprung up in my breast, that I might possibly
so secrete myself as to escape the observation of the enemy
altogether. Slowly dragging myself through the bushes
to a fallen tree, which lay within a few feet of me, I, with
the most excruciating pain, crept up under the branches,
which I disposed above my person in the best manner I

"Here for hours I lay, suffering agonies of body and
mind which no language has power to describe. I dared
not stir again, scarcely to breathe. I heard the Indians
return, and I could tell by the sounds that they were going
over the ground and butchering all the wounded they could
find. About midnight, as near as I could judge, they once
more drew off and lit their camp-fires, the glimmering of
which I could faintly perceive through the thick foliage
which surrounded me.

" Let me pass over that night of horror. If any one
would have the faintest idea of what I suffered, he must
imagine himself in my situation there in the branches
of that tree with both hips shattered surrounded by my
dead friends and, worse still, my living foes. I dared
not change my position, nor give vent to a single groan ;
and at times it seemed that nature must compel from me


some expression of pain, in spite of my utmost will. Oh,
it was a horrible night ! and may God deliver me from ever
passing such another.

"But the end was not yet. Horrible as that night was,
I dreaded to see the morrow. How could I expect to
escape the lynx eyes of so many savages, when they should
begin to beat over the ground for plunder? And at times
the thought of this so worked upon my feelings, that I was
more than once tempted to shriek out, and let my position
be known, and thus bring upon myself the relief of a speedy
death for I knew, from my disabled condition, that the
Indians would not think of taking me prisoner, but butcher
me at once. And yet the instincts of life were greater than
the temptation I speak of. And these same instincts, by
the way, seem wisely set for our preservation to act when
reason tells us that all hope is lost and we had better end
our woes at once.

"How painfully I watched the dawning of the day I
how eagerly and tremblingly I listened to every sound !
At length I could hear the Indians astir ; and soon after
they began to traverse the scene of slaughter, and gather
up the arms of my companions, and strip their bodies of
every garment. They were hours at their work and to
me those hours were ages. At times, when some of them
drew near the spot where I lay, I felt my heart in my very
throat, and it seemed as if I should die of suffocation.


Twice a small party of them came so close that I could
see their half-naked, hideously-painted forms through the
leaves ; and once a single warrior stalked by me, within
reach of my rifle. Up and down, and over the ground
they passed and re-passed many times, till they were evi-
dently satisfied that none of the dead or the wounded had
escaped their notice. They then drew off in a body along
the bank of the river, where they remained for hours in
fact, till late in the day when, being joined by the rest of
their companions, who had probably made a long journey
in pursuit of the fugitives, they repaired to the boats.

*' With a feeling of thankfulness which I cannot express,
I heard them put off from the shore, and every sound
gradually die away to silence. And yet, shortly after,
there came an awful revulsion of feeling ; for I now felt
that I was alone alone in the wilderness afar from
friends so crippled that I could not walk could only
move my body, in fact, by -a great effort suffering all
the time the most excruciating agonies, and in danger
of perishing from starvation. Had I been able to move
about, even though never so slowly and feebly, I could
haye rejoiced in my good fortune; but situated as I was,
I felt that only an overruling Providence, such as had so
far preserved me, could still save me from even a more
terrible doom than I had escaped.

"As I thus lay on my back, in a position which had


scarcely been changed for more than twenty hours, I
looked up through the leaves, and, to my surprise, I might
almost say joy, I beheld a raccoon in the act of descending
the trunk of a large tree, some of whose branches even
canopied the spot where I lay. Was this poor animal a
messenger of hope ? Had Providence directed it hither
for my preservation ? I fancied so then I almost fancy
so still. At all events, I cautiously raised my only
remaining friend, my rifle, took a quick but certain aim,
and fired. The ball sped to its mark, and the animal
dropped dead within a few feet of me ; and as I raised
myself among the limbs, with the intention of dragging
myself to it, I was startled by hearing a human cry.

"Fearing the Indians had not all gone, -I hastily re-
loaded my rifle, and then remained perfectly still, fairly
trembling at the thought of what I might next behold,
but determined to sell my life dearly, and shoot the first
human figure I should see approaching me. Presently I
heard the same loud, startling cry repeated, but this time
much nearer than before. Still I kept silent, my rifle
firmly grasped, for I could recognize nothing like' the
voice of one of my race. Again I heard the same singu-
lar sound, but still nearer yet, and a rustling among the
underbrush, apparently at a distance of twenty yards. I
now cocked my rifle, and poised it, resolved to shoot the
first object that should appear. But fortunately nothing


did appear, till my heart had been made to leap for joy,
by the utterance of words, in my native tongue, which fell
clearly and distinctly upon my ear, and assured me it was
a countryman, perhaps a companion.

" ' Who are you ? where are you ? for God's sake, speak !'
cried the voice.

" I now gave an answering shout ; and soon I was grati-
fied by the sight of a human figure, pushing rapidly
through the bushes, whom, notwithstanding his haggard
and blood-stained features, I at once recognized as Peter
Brent. On getting sight of me, he stopped and exclaimed :

" ' My God ! Captain Benham is this you ? How did
you escape ? I thought I was the only being left alive by
the butchering wretches !'

"'Alas!' I returned 'I'm as good as dead for I'm
badly wounded in my hips, and cannot walk a step.'

" See !" he rejoined ' I'm no better off both my arms
are broken! and I've no power to use a weapon, and
couldn't feed myself if I had any thing to eat. I think,
of the two, Captain, you're the best off, after all for you
at least can shoot game, and so won't starve.'

" ' Aye,' said I, ' but how am I to get it when I have
shot it ?'

" ' I see,' he replied, with a sort of laugh, ' the two of
us only make one decent man. You've got arms and I've
got legs ; and if ever we get out of this infernal scrape at


all, I reckon we'll have to work out together. And if
Heaven is willing, and the red devils will let us alone, we'll
be able to do it yet, and cheat the howling imps of two
scalps any how !'

" It was a very singular and remarkable occurrence, that
only two men should have escaped from that scene of
slaughter ; and of these, the one with his hips broken, and
the other with his arms. Brent, like myself, had had
nothing to eat for more than twenty-four hours. And
like myself, too, he had escaped, after being shot, by
crawling into a thicket, and laying flat upon the earth,
at a point where the Indians had passed and repassed
within a few feet of him. Here he had remained con-
cealed through the night, and the day, till the savages
had departed ; when the pangs of hunger had brought him
forth in search of food ; which he had little hope of find-
ing, and knew not by what means he might get it into his
mouth if obtained.

V On hearing the report of my rifle, a faint hope had
sprung up in his breast that a companion might be near ;
but whether it should prove to be a friend or an enemy, he
determined to make himself known, and risk captivity, or
even death, rather than remain in his helpless condition.

" We now began our singular mode of living, which
probably has never been paralleled in the world's history.
The first thing Brent did, was to search for the raccoon


I had shot, and push it along to me with his feet. I
then dressed it ; and kindling a fire with dry sticks, which
he also pushed up to me in the same manner, I broiled
it, and on this we made our supper as hearty and as
palatable a meal as I ever ate in my life I feeding him
as he sat beside me. Our hunger appeased, we felt more
sensibly the pangs of thirst ; and at first we could devise
no means for obtaining the water so near us. Necessity,
however, is the mother of invention ; and luckily bethink-
ing me of my hat, I placed the riin in my companion's
mouth, and told him to wade into the river, until he should
be able to dip the hat under; and then, by returning
quickly, I fancied a good portion of the water might be
retained after allowing for the leakage. The plan suc-
ceeded ; and taking the half-filled hat from his teeth, I held
it for him to drink, and then drank myself, the most re-
freshing and invigorating draught that ever passed my

" The immediate wants of nature being now fully sup-
plied, we began to be more cheerful and hopeful, though
still suffering extreme pain from our shattered limbs, which
I next proceeded to dress as well as our circumstances
would permit. Making some rude splints with my knife,
I took off my shirt and tore it into strips ; and then putting
the bones of Brent's arms together as well as I could, I


bound the splints around them. This done, I proceeded
to dress my own wounds in the same incomplete way.

" Another night now set in, which we passed together,
lying close in the thicket, and suffering a great deal of
pain. We slept little, but spent the tedious hours in talk-
ing over the dire events which had happened, and mourn-
ing the loss of our brave companions.

" The second day, beginning early in the morning, and
keeping a sharp lookout for game, I was fortunate enough
to shoot two squirrels and a wild turkey, the latter being
quite numerous in that region. This served us for food
through the day ; and on the third I succeeded in shooting
a couple more squirrels and a few birds ; my companion
always kicking the game to me with his feet, and pushing
up sticks and brush in the same manner, and I dressing and
cooking the animals and feeding him.

" So matters went on for several days, the game gradu-
ally becoming scarcer, and requiring a great deal more
labor on Brent's part to drive within reach of my rifle.
Days thus passed on, and even weeks, before my wounds
were so far healed as to permit me to hobble about on
crutches ; and during all this time we saw not a human
soul, though anxiously watching for some chance boat to
pass down the river and take us off.

"Our garments being thin, and our shirts torn up for
bandages, and the weather setting in cold, our future pros-


pects looked cheerless enough, and we were much concerned
lest we should be obliged to winter where we were. To
be prepared for any emergency, we, with much labor, put
up a rude shanty, which served in some measure to protect
us from the almost wintry blasts which now began to sweep
over the desolate scene.

"As the season grew colder and more inclement, the
game became so scarce that my companion with difficulty
drove enough within rifle-shot to give us a single meal
a day ; and, with all the rest, our powder got so low in
the horn that I could count the charges, and dared not
tire except when certain of my mark : then it was we
began to feel the horrors of despair, and sometimes to
regret that we had outlived the dead around us. Almost
naked, with unshaven, haggard faces, hollow cheeks and
sunken eyes, we now indeed looked pitiable, even to each
other ; every day, too, our condition seemed to grow worse
instead of better ; and at last, with a sinking heart, I
informed Brent we had but four charges of powder in our

" ' God help us !' was his reply.

" Matters were thus at their very worst, when, one day,
Peter burst suddenly into our shanty, where I sat shivering
over a few embers, and, with tears in his eyes, exclaimed :

"'Blessed be God! Captain Benham, we're saved!
there's a flat boat just turning the bend above us 1*


" Who shall describe my feelings then ! I started up
and hobbled down to the bank of the river, shouting
wildly as I went, lest the boat, scarcely yet within sight,
should pass us ere I could reach the beach.

" Oh ! how painfully anxious we watched its slow ap-
proach ! continually shouting, to attract the attention of
the men too far distant to hear us, and making every kind
of signal we could possibly think of for the same pur-

" Gradually the boat neared us ; and at length we could
see its crew gathered together, and pointing toward us.
But, oh Heaven ! imagine, if you can, our horror, when
we saw them suddenly betake themselves to their oars, and
push over to the Ohio shore, and then row past us with all
their might, notwithstanding our frantic gesticulations and
piteous prayers for help ! On they swept down the river ;
and then Brent and I, looking at each other with silent
horror, sunk down together upon the cold beach, and
mentally prayed for death to end our sufferings.

" Suddenly oh, sight of agonizing joy ! we saw a
canoe put off from the larger boat and approach us ; and
then we got up, and fairly screamed and begged for assist-
ance. When the rowers had come near enough to con-
verse with us, they stopped, and told us they feared we
were decoys, put there to draw them to the shore, that the
Indians might fall upon and murder them ; and it took no


little time, and the most earnest asseverations and piteous
appeals, to convince them to the contrary.

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Online LibraryEmerson BennettForest and prairie, or, Life on the frontier → online text (page 10 of 22)