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Emerson Bennett.

Forest and prairie, or, Life on the frontier online

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me of late, and you know little of my invincible will, or
you would not attempt to thwart me in what I have
resolved to perform. Come ! come ! we lose time. Open
yon gate, before it is too late, and let me go ! for go I
must: something whispers me that the good God will
sustain me !"

In vain they try, with reason, with remonstrance, with
representations of the danger put in every conceivable
form, with affectionate appeals, with downright pleading,
to induce the brave girl to abandon her purpose ; and at



52 THE MAID OF FOBT HENRY.

last, with the utmost reluctance, they yield assent to her
heroic proposition. Instantly this assent is gained, she
strips herself of every unnecessary article of clothing, and
demands that the gate be opened to her.

All crowd to the gate, speaking words of affection,
encouragement and hope. Now it slowly opens, and
attracts the attention of the savages in the village, who
wonder if a sally or surrender is to follow. The fair girl
nofr fixes her eyes steadily upon her brother's house ; the
distance is sixty yards ; she measures it in her mind ; she
calculates the time that will be required to reach it ; she
draws a long breath ; and now, like a ball from a cannon,
she bounds from the fortress ; and sincere, earnest prayers.
from the hearts of every being she goes forth to save,
ascend to Heaven for her protection and safe return.

See how she flies over the intervening space, with the
basilisk-eyes of many swarthy savages fixed upon her! who
stand amazed at the daring of a woman, and are lost in
wonder at what can be the meaning of such a desperate
act I and how the hearts of her white friends beat with
hope and fear as they behold yard after yard of distance
put between them and her I Will she succeed ? Will
those brutal savages stand idle and not molest her ! who
is thus, with a noble heroism almost unparalleled in the
annals of history, thrusting herself into their very hands
putting herself into the power of beings that are



THE MAID OF FORT HENRY. 53

unprepared to show mercy? God help her! God sus-
tain her ! How long the distance seems for a space that
is so short !

There ! she nears the house ; she reaches it ; she enters
it ; the eyes of the savages have followed her ; and now
they move toward the building ; they do intend to cap-
ture her after all ; God help her, poor girl ! See 1 they
draw nearer nearer ; they are almost at the door. Why
stays she so long ? Why does she not come back while
there is an opportunity? One minute more and it will
be too late !

There 1 there ! she comes 1 she comes ! She holds
some dark object tightly in her grasp ; she has the
powder ; the fort will be saved ! But no ! no I she is
lost ! she is lost ! The Indians see her ; they now com-
prehend ^er purpose ; they bound after her, with terrific
screams and yells ; they raise their muskets ; they fire ;
they throw their tomahawks. Still she comes on on ;
nearer nearer ; the balls pass her ; they lodge in the
walls ; she is still unharmed. One moment more ! They
gain upon her God help her ! One moment more I
Nearer nearer ! And now see ! she bounds through
the gate, and is caught in her brother's arms, almost
fainting. But she has the keg of powder clasped to her
breast ; she is safe ; the gate shuts behind her. And



54: THE MAID OF FOKT HENRY.

now the welkin rings cheer on cheer cheer on cheer
for now the fort and all it contains will be saved !

No longer any fear in that lonely fortress ! all is now
hope, and animation, and joy. Soon again the Indians
renew hostilities ; but the brave little garrison is prepared
for them ; and as fast as they venture forth against its
stout walls, so fast they fall back in the arms of death.
The women cut patches and run bullets ; and the men
load and fire, with the utmost rapidity, all the day long ;
and as their rifles get heated, they change them for mus-
kets ; and still keep on firing fearing nothing now for
they have plenty of ammunition, and as brave a girl to
protect as ever the world saw.

The sun goes down and sees nearly one hundred of their
enemies slain ; but not a single life lost within the fort,
and only one man slightly wounded.

And all night long the Indians prowl about, and keep
up an irregular fire upon the fort, but do no harm.

And at break of day, after a siege of twenty-four hours

during which twelve brave, noble fellows have withstood

five hundred savages reinforcements arrive ; the Indians
become disheartened ; they burn the village and kill the
cattle ; and at last, with loud yells of disappointment and
rage, they raise the siege and depart.

Such was the siege of Fort Henry, on the present sito






THE MAID OF FORT HENRY. 55

of Wheeling, Virginia, in the month of September, and the
year 177 7 and such the heroism of its gallant defenders.
IMMORTAL BE THE NAME OF ELIZABETH ZANE, THE
NOBLE HEROINE OP FORT HENRY.



IN the fall of 1850, as I was passing down Lake Erie,
from Sandusky City to Buffalo, I formed some acquain-
tance with an elderly gentleman, who was also a passenger.
Mr. Warren, for so he gave me his name, had been one of
the early adventurers in the western country, and especially
along the lake shore ; and finding me interested in matters
pertaining to early times, he took not a little pains in
pointing out to me, from the deck of the steamer, the
different localities where important events had occurred
connected with the early settlement of the country. With
each locality he had a story to tell either longer or
shorter, as the case might be; but the most remarkable
one of all, and which I am going to relate, occurred to
himself and a small party of his dearest friends.

" Do you see that dark line, yonder ?" he said, pointing
to the distant shore.

"I see something," I replied, "that resembles a small
cloud stretched along the horizon."

"Well, that, sir, is not literally a cloud, though it

proved a cloud of sorrow to me."
(56)



WKECKED OX THE LAKE. 57

As he said this, in a voice somewhat tremulous with
emotion, I looked up, and observed a tear stealing down
his aged cheek.

"Ah I my friend," he pursued, shaking his gray head
solemnly, and passing his hand across his eyes, " the sight
of that dark spot yonder brings up a dark memory, and
makes me weep as a child rather than as a man. It was a
great many years ago," he continued, "and I have since
lived to experience a great many changes and reverses
have lived to see one friend after another taken down to
his narrow home but the events of that awful day are as
vividly in my recollection now, looming above all others,
as if they had occurred but yesterday. Excuse me a few
minutes, and I will tell you the story," he added ; and
turning away, he seated himself, buried his face in his
hands, and did not again alter his position till the dark
line he referred to had faded from my view.

At length he looked up, as one starting from a dream ;
and having swept the horizon with his still keen, bright
eye, he turned to me and requested me to take a seat
beside him.

" That dark line I pointed out to you,* 1 he resumed
" and which, thank Heaven ! is now gone from my sight
.is an almost perpendicular bluff of rocks, of from sixty to
eighty feet in height, upon the base of which the storm-
raised waves dash wijth wild fury, throwing a fine white



58 WRECKED ON THE LAKE.

spray nigh into the air, and filling the listening ear with
an almost deafening roar, not unlike the thunders of
Niagara. I heard it once, as a dreadful requiem over the
loved and lost, and Heaven grant that I may never hear it
again !"

Here he paused, as if overpowed with the recollection,
brushed another tear from his eye, and once more re-
sumed :

"It was many years ago I need not tell you how
many, for time counts as nothing in those great events
that rend the heart : it was many years ago, I say, that
a small party of us consisting of my mother, sister, a
younger brother, and a young and lovely maiden to whom
I was engaged embarked in a Canadian bateau at a
point far down the lake, with the intention of finishing the
remainder of our long journey from the eastward by water,
and joining a few friends who had gone before us and
settled just below the rapids of the Maumee."

"For several days we had good sailing the weather
fair and the wind in our favor in consequence of which
our hearts became light and buoyant, for we felt that we
were near our journey's end, and should soon be mingled
with those we sought. But who knows aught of the
future ? who has a right to say that joy and happiness
are his ? for in a single moment all his brightest hopes
may be dashed forever, and he be either overtaken by



WRECKED ON THE LAKE. 69

death, or by a calamity that shall make him a life-long
mourner I

"One day, with the most gloomy apprehensions with
a presentiment that made me wretched I saw a storm
begin V> gather, and I watched it with feelings of the
most painful anxiety. It was not long in gathering, but
loomed up quickly and fearfully, and, almost ere any one
save me was aware of the danger, it burst upon us with
fury.

11 1 had taken in sail, and prepared for it as well as I
could, but the first dash nearly capsized us. The waves
suddenly rose, and threw their spray completely over us,
and we began to drift toward the dark bluff which I
pointed out to you. All was now excitement and con-
fusion on board, for all believed that we should soon go to
the bottom. I pretended to have a stout heart, and to
laugh at their fears, and so quieted them in some degree.
But to tell you the truth, I was fearfully alarmed myself,
for the boat at once became unmanageable, and set rapidly
toward the rocky shore, upon which the surge was now
beating frightfully, and I felt that nothing short of an
interposition of Providence could save us from being
dashed to pieces.

"I spoke not of my fears, however, till I saw it was
vain to hope till I beheld the rocks looming up, black
and fearful, immediately before us, the waves lashing them



WRECKED ON THE LAKE.

terrifically, throwing up their white spray, and rolling
back with a crash which could be heard amid the howlings
of the storm and then I told my friends, shouting the
words above the roaring of the tempest, that it was time
to commend our souls to God, for we were about to pass
the dread portals of eternity and enter His awful presence.

11 The scene that followed I may only describe as wild,
fearful, terrible each clinging to the other in the most
agonized distress, and all appealing to God for mercy.
The painful and horrible suspense of waiting for death,
while staring it in the face, was of short duration ; we
seemed but as a bubble on the crest of the angry waters,
which now bore us swifter and swifter to our doom ; and
suddenly, while we all stood locked as it were in each
other's embrace, we struck. There was a fearful crash
loud shrieks that seemed blended into one despairing cry
and the hissing waves rolled over us.

" We all went down clinging to each other, knotted as
it were together, and were whirled about in the seething
waters, till at length, as we rose to the surface, we seemed
to be caught by an unusually large wave, and were thrown
violently upon a narrow shelf of the rock, where, the huge
wave instantly retreating, we were left comparatively dry.
From the time of going under till we were thrown upon
the rock, I had not for a single moment lost my presence
of mind ; and though now half stunned and bruised by the



WRECKED ON THE LAKE. 61

concussion, I instantly comprehended all that had hap-
pened ; and that, if I would save myself and friends, it
must be done ere the return of such another wave as had
placed us in our present position.

" Instantly I worked myself loose from my almost death-
griping companions, dragged them back as far as I could,
shouted in their ears the joyful news of their escape, and
then got between them and the water, so that, in their
bewildered state, they might not roll back to their destruc-
tion. I had scarcely succeeded in making them understand
what had happened, and they were just beginning to gather
themselves upon their feet my brother with as little pre-
sence of mind as any when I saw another huge wave
returning ; and, quick as thought, I threw them down, and
fell prostrate across their bodies. The wave came, amid
our shrieks of terror, and completely submerged us, but
not to a sufficient depth to float us from the rock.

" This occurred at intervals of about a minute ; and it
took me several of these to make my friends comprehend
that we were comparatively safe, though in a perilous posi-
tion to give them, in fact, a true understanding of the
whole matter ; and then the task of keeping them where
they were became less laborious to me, because of their
assistance.

" I now for the first had a little time to look about me,

which I eagerly employed in ascertaining what might be

6



62 WRECKED ON THE LAKE.

our chances for escape. But, alas ! I saw nothing to give
nie any hope. It was an awful scene a scene to excite
feelings of the blackest despair ! The shelf upon which
we had been thrown was narrow, some ten or fifteen feet
in length, and about five feet above the level of the boiling
and seething surge ; while behind us and over us, was a
high, black, overhanging rock, the top of which our posi-
tion did not permit us to see. There was no chance of
escape except by the water ; and there the wreck of our
boat, in a hundred pieces, was whirling about on the foam-
crested waves and frothing eddies the storm the while
still raging in wild fury and the shrieking winds, the
descending torrents, and the lashing waves, making a hor-
rid concert for our affrighted senses.

" ' My son,' shrieked my mother, in a voice of despair,
1 there seems to be no hope for us. It would have been
better had we perished at once, and so ended our misery.'

" l While there is life there is hope,' I replied, in the
same shrill, shrieking tone the only human sound that
could be heard amid the howlings of the tempest.

"Let me not dwell upon that scene the recollection
of which, even now, after a long lapse of years, makes the
blood run cold in my veins. But little was said by any
for, as I have remarked, the human voice could only be
heard when pitched on its highest key and each was too
terribly impressed with the sense of our desolation, to give



WRECKED ON THE LAKE. 63

vent to the feelings of agony which stirred the depths of
our inmost souls.

" We clung there together .for hours in almost silent
waiting, watching, and trembling and then, with unspeak-
able misery, we saw the night close in upon us shutting
out the horrid view, it is true but leaving us as it were
only the sense of feeling that each other was there. Oh,
that long and terrible night I an age to me of horror the
storm still unabated the shrieking winds driving coldly
through our drenched garments, and ever and anon a large
wave engulfing us ! There was no chance for sleep but
only for thought thought the wildest, most terrible, most
agonizing 1 If we looked around, our gaze encountered
nothing but the deepest blackness, or here and there the
phosphorescent light of the foaming waters, which seemed
to our now distracted fancies only a sepulchral light to
guide us to destruction.

" Somewhere about midnight, as near as I may judge
feeling weak, faint, cold and benumbed through the pain-
ful position in which I had thus far clung to my friends,
and my continual submersion beneath the rushing and
retiring waves I released my hold for a few moments, in
order to chafe my limbs. But scarcely had I done so,
when I was suddenly startled by a wild shriek; and, on
feeling for my companions, I found to my horror that



64: WRECKED ON THE LAKE.

my mother and brother were gone ! leaving only my dear
sister, my beloved Mary, and myself upon the rock.

" I need not dwell upon that night. If your imagina-
tion cannot fill the picture of wo which I have so imper-
fectly sketched, you will never form an idea of my feelings,
for language has no power to describe them.

" Morning broke at last after that long, long night of
horror the storm still raging as furiously as ever but
only three of us alive to know the miseries of living. By
the returning light we once more surveyed the awful scene
around us ; and there, upon the rocks below, but at some
distance from where we were, we beheld the bodies of my
mother and brother, locked in each other's arms, the lash-
ing waves just sufficiently swaying them about to give an
appearance of life. But they were dead cold in death
and the sight so affected my poor sister, that she arose
with a shriek, and, whether intentionally or accidentally,
plunged over into the boiling surge.

"Almost beside myself with the accumulated horrors, I
threw my arms around my only companion, my beloved
Mary, and held her down by my side.

" And thus I sat for hours, in a state of comparative
stupefaction, gazing off upon the storm-maddened lake, but
with a kind of stony gaze that scarcely had speculation
in it.

" When I again turned to Mary, I found she had fainted;



WRECKED ON THE LAKE. 65

though how long she had been in that condition T did not
know. This in some measure recalled me to myself; and
I began to chafe her limbs, calling upon her dear name in
the wildest tones of despair. She did not revive immedi-
ately, and I had just begun to think that she had perished iii
my arms, when I saw signs of returning life, and redoubled
my exertions. At last I had the joy of seeing her open her
eyes, and of knowing that her senses had returned. She
now looked wildly around her, and, scarcely comprehend-
ing what had occurred, asked for her absent friends.

" ' They are gone, dear Mary,' said -I, with a bursting
heart ; ' they will return to us no more ; you are all that
is left to me now ; and may God in his mercy either
preserve you, or take us both together to the land of
spirits I"

" ' Yes,' she replied, faintly so faintly that I had to put
my ear close to catch the words ' and we must perish, too
but we will perish together. We must die we cannot
live-r-we cannot escape and so let us die at once, and
join those who have gone before us !'

" ' In God's own good time!' I rejoined. ' We have no
right to take our lives in our own hands. He gave and
must take. It is our duty to be ready at His call.'

" ' But I cannot survive this 1' she said ; l death is an
hundred times preferable to this agonizing suspense !'

" I encouraged her as well as one in my situation could ;



66 WKECKED ON THE LAKE.

I repeated, that while there was life there was hope ; I
used every argument and every term of endearment I could
think of, to persuade her to cling to life ; and at last she
seemed to be more resigned to her fate the fate of waiting
and watching with me for the coming death.

" Why should I dwell upon that horrible scene ? Why
live over again in relating the agony I suffered in reality ?
No ! rather let me hurry on to the awful close for awful
it was, and made these then black hairs turn white in the
very prime of manhood.

" Mary gradually drooped grew faint for the want of
food grew benumbed and torpid through repeated drench-
ings of the chilling waters ; and at length, when another
night began to close around us, with the storm still una-
bated, I feebly but painfully foresaw -that, should I still
live on, I must soon live alone be the last survivor of that
once happy group.

" My forebodings were awfully fulfilled 1 Another night
set in and proved, oh God I the last to the last being 1
then had in the wide world to love ! I had gradually
grown weak myself so weak that I could scarcely keep
my hold upon the rocks to which I still clung with the
instincts of life, and for the preservation of my poor Mary,
who had long since given up the attempt of preserving
herself.

" But the end came. A larger wave than ever burst



WRECKED ON THE LAKE. 67

over us, loosed ray feeble hold, dashed me against the rocks
behind, and left me half-stunned and bleeding on the very
verge of the abyss. I crawled up again, and felt tot
Mary. Great Heaven ! she was not there ! she was gone 1
With a shriek of despair, I threw myself flat upon my face,
determined to make no further effort for life.

"But God, in his inscrutable Providence, saw fit to
preserve me. The storm had now reached its height, and
from that moment it began to abate. The morning found
me alive, but alone ; and the angry waves, which had
snatched from me all I prized on earth, were gradually
subsiding to quietude, as if satisfied with their work of
destruction.

"More dead than alive, I kept my position upon the
rocks through that day and another night ; and then,
being discovered by some Canadian fishermen, I was taken
off, and conveyed to their home, on the other side of the
lake. There, after a long and delirious illness, I finally
recovered, and learned that the bodies of my friends had
been found, taken from the water, and decently interred
upon the American shore.

"I have many times since," concluded the aged narrator,
in a tremulous voice, "visited the humble grave where they
quietly repose together, and never but with a regret that
I did not sleep beside them. It was there* over that lonely



68 WRECKED ON THE LAKE.

grave, I took a solemn oath to be true to my first love ;
and you now behold me a wifeless and childless old man,
whoso only abiding hope is, that I shall soon join them in
a better world I"



ADAM WISTON, though even now unknown to fame, was
one of the boldest and bravest of that hardy band of
daring spirits who led the van of civilization into the great
wilderness of the West. Born on the soil of Pennsylvania,
nurtured among her wild and romantic hills, he early
imbibed a love for bold and daring exploits, and even as a
boy became the hero of some remarkable adventures.

In those days of peril, the frontier afforded no facilities
for the training of youth in the knowledge of books ; and
staunch, robust, intellectual men entered upon the active
duties of life without other education than that which
fitted them for a victorious march into the very depths of
the savage wilds, which still stretched before them for
hundreds and thousands of miles. The learning gained
from letters is a species of mental luxury, seldom indulged
in by those who find it necessary to be constantly on the
alert to provide the daily wants of physical life and guard
themselves from a thousand surrounding perils.

Adam Wiston was, therefore, no scholar ; but no man

(69)



70 A DESPERATE ENCOUNTER.

of his day had a more practical and thorough knowledge
of the forest, in which he wished to live and hoped to die,
than he had at the time he bade his friends adieu, shoul-
dered his rifle, and, afoot and alone, set off on a bold
exploration toward the wilds of Kentucky. What he
saw, what he enjoyed, what he encountered, and what he
suffered, from that eventful period till the day of hia
death, will probably never be known to the world; but
there are some traces of his daring and checkered career,
which show that his was not a life to be envied by the man
who considers personal ease and personal safety the para-
mount objects of his existence. Tradition, the mother of
written history, the preserver of unrecorded deeds and
facts, has handed down a few of the adventures and
exploits of this hero of the wilderness, and which it is the
purpose of this article to relate.

Adam was a large, powerfully built man, six feet in
height, and well proportioned, with iron nerves and whip-
cord muscles, and, at five-and-twenty, regarded himself as
the equal in physical strength and endurance of any
human being on the frontier, whether foreign or native,
white or Indian, and always stood ready to put the matter
to the test in any manner which any adverse believer
might think proper. He was, moreover, supple, active,
long-winded, and quick of foot ; and had more than once,
even when a mere boy, borne off the prize from older and



A DESPERATE ENCOUNTER. 71

renowned competitors, in such physical contests as wrest-
ling, running, leaping, throwing weights, and the like;
and when it is added that he was true of eye, steady of
hand, and dead shot, it will be perceived that he was a
man whom no single antagonist might encounter with
safety. Like nearly all of his class, Adam Wiston had
come to regard his natural foe, the native savage, with an
implacable hatred, and he never missed an opportunity of


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Online LibraryEmerson BennettForest and prairie, or, Life on the frontier → online text (page 3 of 22)