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Forest and prairie, or, Life on the frontier online

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" At last, after rowing past us two or three times, and
closely inspecting the shore, and getting us to come far
out on a sand bar, they ventured to take us aboard. Wtj
were kindly treated by these men, when they came to hear
our story ; and being taken by them to the garrison at the
Falls, (now Louisville, Ky.,) we were placed under the
care of a skillful surgeon, and soon restored to our usual
health and strength."

Such was the remarkable story of Captain Benham
remarkable for the fact that two men should so singularly
escape from the savages, and live six weeks in the wilder-
ness the one with useless arms, and the other with useless
legs the two together making as it were only one whole

Whoever shall to-day stand upon the levee of the now
large and flourishing city of Cincinnati, and glance his
eye across the beautiful Ohio, shall behold the very spot
where these remarkable events occurred, at a time when
all around, on either shore, was a wild, howling wilderness.

IT was in the spring of 1185, and on a clear, beautiful
day, that a party, consisting of two men, a woman and a
child, were passing down the Ohio in a conveniently-sized
boat, for the purpose of joining some friends at a settle-
ment below. This party bore the surname of Marston,
and the relationship of husband, brother, wife, and
daughter. They had come from the interior of Pennsyl-
vania, transporting their goods by horses to the Alleghany,
and thence descending that river and the Ohio in the boat
they now occupied.

The eldest of the four was a large, tall, fine-looking man,
some thirty years of age, and the husband of the female
and father of the child. The wife appeared to be some
six or eight years the junior of her partner, was small,
slender and graceful, and possessed a countenance of more
than ordinary intelligence and beauty. The brother was
younger than the husband, and inferior in size and
strength, but comely of feature, and evidently a man of

considerable muscular power. The youngest of the party



was a sweet, chatting, blue-eyed, golden -haired little girl
of four summers, the favorite of all, and especially the idol
and joy of its fond and almost girlish mother, both of
whom seemed much out of place in journeying through
that wild, unsettled, and perilous region.

Thus far our adventurers had met with no material
accident or misfortune ; nor had they seen any of those
fierce enemies of their race, who were then known to be
prowling through the great forests which stretched away
on either hand for hundreds of miles ; but now they were
more directly entering the country inhabited by their
swarthy foes, and which had been more distinctly marked
by the aggressions of the latter upon their white invaders ;
and as they turned their eyes toward the green and flowery
bunks of the delightful stream, upon whose placid bosom
they were floating, it was less to admire the solemn
beauties of nature, than in dread of what those mighty
forests might conceal. Yet the men, as was natural they
should, relying upon their strength, and their skill in
the use of weapons, seemed less uneasy than the girlish
mother, who, at every unusual sound, would clasp her
offspring to her heart, and glance around her in fearful

" Mary," said her husband, approaching her on one of
these occasions of alarm, which became more frequent as
she advanced on her journey, "how is it that you. who


have been so courageous all along, have now of a sudden
become so timid ?"

"I hardly know myself, William," she replied, in a
sweet, musical tone, looking up with a smile, " unless it is
that we are entering a more dangerous region, and that I
am every moment growing more fond of our pretty little
Ada, and more fearful on her account ;" and bending over
the child, which she now held in her arms, she imprinted a
mother's kiss of love upon its ruby lips.

" But I'm not afraid, mamma, when you and papa are
with me," prattled the blue-eyed pet; "for I know no-
body'll hurt me where you are."

" Ah, God bless your trusting innocence !" cried the
father, impulsively catching her up in his arms and cover-
ing her cherub face with kisses. " No one shall hurt you
where I am and may the good God keep us all from
harm !"

During their voyage down the river, it had sometimes
been necessary to lay up at night, especially in foggy
weather ; but they had generally managed this matter with
great caution ; securing their boat near, rather than at, the
shore, by making a line fast to some overhanging branch
and dropping a sort of rude anchor. At these stopping
places our voyagers had been the most apprehensive ; yet
it was not at these that they were really most in danger,



but while floating along in the bright light of day, as the
sequel of our narrative will show.

On the very day that we introduce them to the reader,
but some two or three hours subsequent to the conversa-
tion recorded, the little girl, in looking toward the Ohio
shore, became much attracted to a long line of beautifully-
flowered shrubbery, which so overhung the stream that a
branch might easily be broken in passing ; and with
infantile glee she clapped her hands and exclaimed :

" Oh, papa, do get little Ada some pretty flowers !"

The boat was not far from the land, and the current set
in close to the bank, so that it was an easy matter to
comply with her wish ; and the fond father, giving direc-
tions to this effect, and himself taking an oar, was about to
push in toward the thicket, when the mother, with what
seemed to be a premonition of danger, quickly interposed,
saying, eagerly and earnestly :

" Nay, William, do not think of such a thing, but keep
further out in the stream ! From some cause I am fright-
ened I feel that danger lurks in every thicket, and I
know we cannot be too cautious."

" Pooh, Mary, you are too easily alarmed !" replied her
husband ; " no one would be more cautious than I. if I
thought there was danger ; but there is none here, surely ;
and little Ada might as well have a bunch of flowers to
please her."


So saying, and without heeding the remonstrances of his
more timid companion, he, assisted by his brother, turned
the boat up alongside the shrubbery ; and both were in
the act of plucking a flowering branch the little girl,
meanwhile, in her mother's trembling arms, clapping her
tiny hands with delight when suddenly two sharp reports,
almost blended into one, rung out upon the still air ; and
the brothers fell back together, the one shot through the
heart and the other through the brain.
* At the same instant there came a series of terrific yells,
a rustling among the bushes, and two hideously-painted
savages came leaping into the boat. First making sure
of their victims, by plunging their knives several times
into their bodies, they next tore off their scalps, and
tauntingly shook the trophies in the very face of the now
petrified and horror-stricken wife and mother, who stood
like a statue of marble, as motionless and seemingly as
cold, her eyes glaring wildly, and the little girl clinging
to her in a terror she could not comprehend. Then attach-
ing each his scalp to his girdle, they made a flourish of
their tomahawks over the head of the mother, rather as it
seemed with the intention of terrifying than of striking
her. But finding her unmoved for she was still par-
alyzed with horror one of them rudely snatched the
child from her arms, and made as if to dash out its brains
on the gunwale of the boat. This he might indeed have


done for his basilisk eyes were gleaming with fieudish
malice but the other interposed, and said something in
their native tongue ; when, turning to the still immovable
mother, he struck her a blow with his fist, knocked her
down, and threw the shrieking child upon her.

The two Indians now proceeded to secure the boat, by
working it up under the overhanging bushes, and so dis-
posing of them as to completely conceal it from the view
of any party passing up or down the river, or looking out
from the opposite shore.

By the time this was completed, poor Mrs. Marston had
in some degree recovered the use of her faculties, and had
begun to bemoan her hard fate in low, choking sobs, the
while straining her trembling child as tightly to her
anguished bosom as if she thought that her maternal
arm could shield it from her merciless foes.

One of the Indians now advanced to her side, and,
rudely pushing her with his foot, made signs that she must
get up and follow him ashore. She understood and com-
plied with his desire for she had now some little hope
that her child would be spared to her and with a mother's
undying love, she felt that she would willingly struggle
through any thing, endure every thing, for its sweet

We may not dwell upon her feelings, for none but a
mother so suddenly and terribly afflicted, and so hope-


lessly placed, could comprehend the bitter anguish of
her heart.

At a little distance back from the river, the Indian
bound his prisoner to a sapling, leaving the child free
beside her, and then returned to his companion, and
assisted him in securing their captured spoil.

They now seemed disposed to be merry those grim,
fnhuman monsters as they gloated over their not invalu-
able prize stripping the dead of their garments, securing
their weapons and amunition, and reveling, like hungry
beasts, in the palatable edibles which their explorations
exposed chatting glibly in their native tongue, and now
and then laughing merrily, but cautiously, as here and
there they fell upon what they considered a prize of more
than usual value the last of these being no other than
a mysterious-looking keg, which they were not long in
discovering to be fire-water, and over which they not only
laughed, but around which they fairly danced, in fiendish

At length, placing the keg in the middle of the boat,
they knocked in the head with their hatchets, and began
to indulge in the exhilarating poison, gradually increasing
their at first light potations to a kind of drunken carousal,
which lasted for several hours, and finally ended in a state
of comple intoxication.

Meantime the poor mother had remained bound to her


tree, listening to the fierce revelry of her captors, and all
the time in trembling apprehension lest something might
direct their thoughts to her, and she and her darling Ada
become fresh victims of their now liquor-maddened pas-
sions. But as time wore on, and their potations grew
deeper, and their carousal more drunken, if not less
boisterous, a wild hope sprung up in her breast, that
through their final inebriation she might providentially
effect her escape ; and from that moment she became more
intensely excited than ever, and listened with a still more
wildly palpitating heart, hushing the very murmurs of her
poor child by looks and whispers of terror that it seemed
instinctively to comprehend.

At last, just as the bright sun was setting, the long
wished-for moment seemed to arrive, the drunken sounds
having gradually died away to silence ; and she reasoned
that her foes were now no longer in a condition to prevent
her escape, which peradventure she might effect, provided
she could immediately get free of her bonds.

But how was this to be done ? Her hands were corded
behind her back, and her body made fast to the tree. She
tried to work herself loose, but her efforts only served to
tighten the cords and give her pain ; and she was upon
the very point of uttering a shriek of despair, when she
remembered in time that the sound of her voice might fall


upon the obtuse senses of her drunken foes and mechani-
cally arouse them to action.

But stay I another strange, wild hope enters her breast !
Can she make use of Ada ? Can she venture the poor child
to the fearful risk of returning alone to the boat, and pro-
curing a knife ? It is a thought as trying as death itself,
though less fearful than a long and hopeless captivity, and
it seems to be their only salvation. Time is passing her
captors have become still and something must be done !
Shall she risk the only alternative in her power ? Some-
thing seems to urge her to do so ; and finally, wrought up
to a pitch of desperation little short of madness, she ex-
plains to the trembling little creature what she needs of
her, and gives her directions how to proceed.

And that innocent little thing comprehended her, and
finally set out on her fearful mission. Oh! what a trial
was that to the tender nerves of that poor mother ! and
from the moment of her departure, till that of her return,
the brief suspense was to her an age of horror. But the
child went, and returned in safety, and brought back a
knife, which she had stealthily taken from the very side of
one of the murderers of her father and uncle, and which
was even yet red with their blood.

The poor captive shuddered as she looked upon the fear-
ful weapon ; and yet she experienced a faint gleam of joy,
at the thought that it would be the means of setting her


free, and thus, under God, the means of saving herself and

Little Ada, by her mother's direction, soon cut the
binding cords ; and the moment Mrs. Marston found her-
self at liberty, she caught the heroic little girl in her arms,
covered her sweet face with kisses, and then, with an
almost bursting heart, knelt upon the ground, and poured
forth a fervent prayer of thanksgiving to the Great

Strengthened by this, she arose and prepared to act ;
but the thought of what was before her, and the still
slender thread upon which her own life and that of her
child depended, brought back a sinking of the heart, and a
trembling of every nerve. What was to be done now ?
She was alone in the great wilderness a weak, feeble
woman far from home and friends, and surrounded by
dangers of every imaginable description. Could she
escape on foot with her child ? Impossible ! they would
either starve or fall a prey to wild beasts or Indians. What
course then ? for they must escape. There was the boat but
then there lay the murderers of her husband and his brother
. and what could she do with them ? Should she in turn
murder them, while they slept their drunken sleep ? A
cold, icy shudder crept through her veins at the bare
thought ! But then her child must be saved ! and to save
that, by any means, was imperatively her duty.


We will not follow her thoughts. Enough that she at
last, carrying the child in her arms, resolutely but cau-
tiously returned to the fearful scene, where still lay the
dead bodies of her friends ; and, almost beside them, but
upon some bales and boxes, nearly on a level with the gun-
wale, their now drunken murderers.

With the knife firmly clasped in her hand, that widowed
mother reached the boat ; she entered it ; she stood over
her foes ; they were in her power ; she raised the knife ;
should she strike ? She hesitated trembled grew faint
of heart her hand fell. She thought of her child, and
the arm was again nerved, and again raised, but again fell

Ha ! another thought ! She hurried forward, placed
the child near the bow, and warned it not to speak or stir;
and then, seizing an oar, pushed the boat from the shore,
and set it drifting down the stream. Then darting for-
ward and securing the weapons of her enemies, she nerved
herself for the great trial, and, using all her strength, sud-
denly rolled them both into the river.

On striking the water, one of the two Indians sunk
almost immediately; but the other, who perhaps had drank
less deeply, and was not so much intoxicated, began to
struggle for life, and soon appeared to recover sufficient
consciousness to comprehend what had happened, and
struck out fiercely for the boat. But that girlish mother,


nerved by the thought of her child, her own wrongs, and
the instinct of self-preservation, prepared to defend herself
even at the cost of life. She had pushed the Indians over,
because it was not in her heart to slay them in cold blood,
if she could escape by other means ; but she was firmly
resolved not to be taken again ; and bringing a rifle to bear
upon the struggling savage, she waited till she saw him
about to make a lodgement astern, and then pulled the
trigger. A flash, a report, a groan followed, and the
bubbling waters grew red above the grave of her foe.

All that long, terrible night that heroic mother watched
by her living child and its dead and gory father, and
labored hard to keep the boat from drifting to either
shore ; but what pen may portray her mingled emotions
of grief for the dead and joy for the living her hopes and
fears her horror and despair? She lived through her
trials, however, and the next day was discovered by a
party of hunters, who, at her cries of distress, came to her
relief, and thus she was saved.

We will simply add, that that heroic little child, Ada
Marston, in after years became the wife of one of Ken-
tucky's most distinguished and chivalric sons.

THAT the names of brave and noble heroes are some-
times allowed to sink into oblivion while others, far less
meritorious, but far more vain-glorious, are permitted

" To fill the speaking trump of future fame "

the following most gallant exploit, performed by one whose
memory should have been more honorably preserved, is a
striking case in point. What we here present is but a
narration of simple, though thrilling, facts, which we have
obtained from a strictly authentic source, and to which a
few still living can bear testimony.

On the twenty-third day of October, 1812, Daniel Stell-
wagen, as Master of the brig Concord, received his instruc-
tions from Francis Jacoby, the owner of the vessel, and
sailed from the port of Philadelphia, bound for Lisbon,
Portugal. War between the United States and Great
Britain had even then been declared ; but the blockading
squadron of the latter power had not yet taken possession

of American ports ; and Captain Stellwagen made a safe and



peaceful voyage out ; and entered Delaware Bay, on his
return, sometime in March of the following year, heavily
freighted with a valuable cargo.

Little intelligence of what was actually taking place had
reached him on the ocean ; but enough to make him anx-
ious concerning his safe arrival at the port of Philadelphia,
and doubly cautious and watchful as he neared the mouth
of the Delaware, where he had reason to believe the enemy
would have a small fleet stationed for the purpose of inter-
cepting and overhauling all vessels either outward or home-
ward bound, and making prizes of such as should lay claim
to the protection of the American government.

Drawing near the dangerous point under cover of dark-
ness, the captain took soundings, hugged the Jersey
shore, and signalled landward for a pilot to run him
through the Cape May Channel Toward morning the
signal appeared to be answered ; and at the first gray
touch of dawn, a little skiff was seen bounding over the
waves, bringing the long-looked-for pilot, who received a
cordial greeting from the master of the brig.

In reply to a dozen eager questions concerning the most
important news, the pilot informed the captain that affairs
Jooked dreary enough. A British blockading squadron
composed of the Poictiers, seventy-four, Admiral Beres-
ford, and several smaller vessels even then had possession
of the bay, almost within gun-shot, and stopped every


thing going out or coming in, and it was rumored that they
would soon attempt to burn Philadelphia.

" This is serions news, Pilot very serious news !"
rejoined Captain Stellwagen : "I was afraid of this, and
took good care to keep my signal lights from the observa-
tion of the enemy. But what chance have we of escaping
the blockade ?" he anxiously inquired, peering eagerly
about him in the dull, gray, foggy light, but catching no
glimpse of the fleet.

"A mighty slim chance, I'm afeard, Captain but I'll do
my best. If we was only an hour earlier, I reckon I could
take her safe through, and I may do it yet though I'm
afeard daylight will expose us before I can show the
thieves a clean pair of heels. But fill away, lads 1" he con-
tinued, turning to the anxious crew, and assuming the full
command : "ma'ke sail and brace in the yards I It's a little
past high water, and we've got to run her through the
Cape May Channel, and hug still closer the Jersey
coast, to keep out of notice of the ships as long as we

His orders were promptly obeyed ; and in a few minutes,
guided by that seemingly intuitive skill which a good pilot
seldom fails to possess, the heavily-laden brig began to
thread the narrow and winding passages before her ; while
he, as one master of her fate, took a commanding position,

and eagerly watched every oil-spot and tide-rip, and now



and then glanced at the yet dimly seen shore for his
familiar landmarks.

Meantime a fair breeze sprang up, and the Concord
began to make good headway ; and calling the anxious
captain's attention to the fact, the sympathetic pilot
added :

" Don't be down-hearted 1 we may pass the heavy ships
without being discovered after all ; and if it wasn't for a
smart little craft called the Paz, of some five or six guns,
which it's like is above us though she may be in at Lewis-
town Roads, as I hope she is I'd be willing to insure her
for a small per centage."

" May Heaven favor us !" said Captain Stellwagen,
solemnly ; " for setting aside the loss of my vessel, I have
a dear wife and children in Philadelphia ; and the thought
of being taken prisoner, and parted from them for years,
almost unnerves me."

"Well, keep a stout heart, and we'll get through all
right yet !" returned the pilot, encouragingly.

For a few minutes after this, a deep and anxious silence
was maintained by all the Concord gliding slowly but
steadily onward, still hugging the Jersey shore, and pass-
ing unharmed over the deeper portions of Crow Shoal.
But every minute it was growing lighter and more light ;
and presently the tapering masts and spars, and the dark,
sullen-looking hulls of the British squadron, could be


clearly perceived away to the left, quietly riding at anchor
near what was termed the Brown Buoy.

" There they are, and my curses on 'em, for a mean, kid-
napping, robbing set of Johnny Bulls !" muttered the pilot,
in the same breath that he issued some rapid orders con-
cerning the management of the brig. " But they don't see
us yet, the sleepy heads I" he added, in a more hopeful tone ;
"and if they'll only fool away their time a half hour
longer, I'll show 'em a Yankee trick that'll give 'em some-
thing to swear about for a month."

Great was the anxiety of the gallant Captain Stellwagen
and his men for the next fifteen minutes every breath they
drew, while unperceived, seeming to add to their security
and hope ; but suddenly, to their dismay, a wreath of white
smoke was seen to issue from the gun-deck port of the
seventy-four, followed by the heavy boom of a gun, and
then by another and another, together with the flutter of
several flags from her fore -roy aim ast, and a repetition of
the signals from the rest of the fleet all proclaiming tha+
the escaping Concord had all at once become an objeet of
interest to those who hoped for gain by her capture.

" There they go 1 they have discovered us, and are sig-
nalling their Tender to give chase !" said Captain Stell-
wagen, with a deep sigh, but firmly compressed lips.

" Let 'era blaze away, gall-blast 'em I" cried the now
excited pilot ; " we don't mind no such barking as that ;


and if their confounded jackall is only down near Hen-
lopen, it's little she can do now to hurt us eyther."

" Send a man with a sharp pair of eyes to each mast-
head, to look about for the man-of-war schooner, Mr.
Rawlins !" cried the Captain, turning to his mate. " Be
awake now, and move lively !"

Several minutes of intense anxiety were now passed by
those on board the Concord, in keeping a sharp look-
out for the dangerous schooner and a faint hope was
beginning to spring up in every breast, that she was at
anchor at some place below them when suddenly the
pilot, who was carefully surveying the scene with a glass,

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Online LibraryEmerson BennettForest and prairie, or, Life on the frontier → online text (page 11 of 22)