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have raised up a sturdy people with three thousand miles of water
between them and tyranny. Armies can not cross it and succeed long in
a hostile land. They are too far from home. The expense of
transporting and maintaining them will bleed our enemies until they are
spent. The British King is powerful, but now he has picked a quarrel
with Almighty God, and it will go hard with him."



In January, 1777, Colonel Irons writes to his father from Morristown,
New Jersey, as follows:

"An army is a despotic machine. For that reason chiefly our men do not
like military service. It is hard to induce them to enlist for long
terms. They are released by expiration long before they have been
trained and seasoned for good service. So Washington has found it
difficult to fill his line with men of respectable fighting quality.

"Our great Commander lost his patience on the eve of our leaving New
York. Our troops, posted at Kip's Bay on the East River to defend the
landing, fled in a panic without firing a gun at the approach of Howe's
army. I happened to be in a company of Light Horse with General
Washington, who had gone up to survey the ground. Before his eyes two
brigades of New England troops ran away, leaving us exposed to capture.

"The great Virginian was hot with indignation. He threw his hat to the
ground and exclaimed:

"'Are these the kind of men with whom I am to defend America?'

"Next day our troops behaved better and succeeded in repulsing the
enemy. This put new spirit in them. Putnam got his forces out of New
York and well up the shore of the North River. For weeks we lay behind
our trenches on Harlem Heights, building up the fighting spirit of our
men and training them for hard service. The stables, cabins and sheds
of Harlem were full of our sick. Smallpox had got among them. Cold
weather was coming on and few were clothed to stand it. The
proclamation of Admiral Lord Howe and his brother, the General,
offering pardon and protection to all who remained loyal to the crown,
caused some to desert us, and many timid settlers in the outlying
country, with women and children to care for, were on the fence ready
to jump either way. Hundreds were driven by fear toward the British.

"In danger of being shut in, we crossed King's Bridge and retreated to
White Plains. How we toiled with our baggage on that journey, many of
us being yoked like oxen to the wagons! Every day troops, whose terms
of enlistment had expired, were leaving us. It seemed as if our whole
flying camp would soon be gone. But there were many like Solomon and
me who were willing to give up everything for the cause and follow our
beloved Commander into hell, if necessary. There were some four
thousand of us who streaked up the Hudson with him to King's Ferry, at
the foot of the Highlands, to get out of the way of the British ships.
There we crossed into Jersey and dodged about, capturing a thousand men
at Trenton and three hundred at Princeton, defeating the British
regiments who pursued us and killing many officers and men and cutting
off their army from its supplies. We have seized a goodly number of
cannon and valuable stores and reclaimed New Jersey and stiffened the
necks of our people. It has been, I think, a turning point in the war.
Our men have fought like Homeric heroes and endured great hardships in
the bitter cold with worn-out shoes and inadequate clothing. A number
have been frozen to death. I loaned my last extra pair of shoes to a
poor fellow whose feet had been badly cut and frozen. When I tell you
that coming into Morristown I saw many bloody footprints in the snow
behind the army, you will understand. We are a ragamuffin band, but we
have taught the British to respect us. Send all the shoes and clothing
you can scare up.

"I have seen incidents which have increased my love of Washington.
When we were marching through a village in good weather there was a
great crowd in the street. In the midst of it was a little girl crying
out because she could not see Washington. He stopped and called for
her. They brought the child and he lifted her to the saddle in front
of him and carried her a little way on his big white horse.

"At the first divine service here in Morristown he observed an elderly
woman, a rough clad farmer's wife, standing back in the edge of the
crowd. He arose and beckoned to her to come and take his seat. She
did so, and he stood through the service, save when he was kneeling.
Of course, many offered him their seats, but he refused to take one.

"We have been deeply impressed and inspirited by the address of a young
man of the name of Alexander Hamilton. He is scarcely twenty years of
age, they tell me, but he has wit and eloquence and a maturity of
understanding which astonished me. He is slender, a bit under middle
stature and has a handsome face and courtly manners. He will be one of
the tallest candles of our faith, or I am no prophet.

"Solomon has been a tower of strength in this campaign. I wish you
could have seen him lead the charge against Mercer's men and bring in
the British general, whom he had wounded. He and I are scouting around
the camp every day. Our men are billeted up and down the highways and
living in small huts around headquarters."

Washington had begun to show his great and singular gifts. One of
them, through which he secured rest and safety for his shattered
forces, shone out there in Morristown. There were only about three
thousand effective men in his army. To conceal their number, he had
sent them to many houses on the roads leading into the village. The
British in New York numbered at least nine thousand well seasoned
troops, and with good reason he feared an attack. The force at
Morristown was in great danger. One day a New York merchant was
brought into camp by the famous scout Solomon Binkus. The merchant had
been mistreated by the British. He had sold his business and crossed
the river by night and come through the lines on the wagon of a farmer
friend who was bringing supplies to the American army. He gave much
information as to plans and positions of the British, which was known
to be correct. He wished to enlist in the American army and do what he
could to help it. He was put to work in the ranks. A few days later
the farmer with whom he had arrived came again and, after selling his
wagon load, found the ex-merchant and conferred with him in private.
That evening, when the farmer had got a mile or so from camp, he was
stopped and searched by Colonel Irons. A letter was found in the
farmer's pocket which clearly indicated that the ex-merchant was a spy
and the farmer a Tory. Irons went at once to General Washington with
his report, urging that the spy be taken up and put in confinement.

The General sat thoughtfully looking into the fire, but made no answer.

"He is here to count our men and report our weakness," said the Colonel.

"The poor fellow has not found it an easy thing to do," the General
answered. "I shall see that he gets help."

They went together to the house where the Adjutant General had his home
and office. To this officer Washington said:

"General, you have seen a report from one Weatherly, a New York
merchant, who came with information from that city. Will you kindly do
him the honor of asking him to dine with you here alone to-morrow
evening? Question him as to the situation in New York in a friendly
manner and impart to him such items of misinformation as you may care
to give, but mainly look to this. Begin immediately to get signed
returns from the brigadiers showing that we have an effective force
here of twelve thousand men. These reports must be lying on your desk
while you are conferring with Weatherly. Treat the man with good food
and marked politeness and appreciation of the service he is likely to
render us. Soon after you have eaten, I shall send an orderly here.
He will deliver a message. You will ask the man to make himself at
home while you are gone for half an hour or so. You will see that the
window shades are drawn and the door closed and that no one disturbs
the man while he is copying those returns, which he will be sure to do.
Colonel Irons, I depend upon you to see to it that he has an
opportunity to escape safely with his budget. I warn you not to let
him fail. It is most important."

The next morning, Weatherly was ordered to report to Major Binkus for
training in scout duty, and the morning after that he was taken out
through the lines, mounted, with Colonel Irons and carefully lost in
the pine bush. He was seen no more in the American camp. The spy
delivered his report to the British and the little remnant of an army
at Morristown was safe for the winter. Cornwallis and Howe put such
confidence in this report that when Luce, another spy, came into their
camp with a count of Washington's forces, which was substantially
correct, they doubted the good faith of the man and threw him into

So the great Virginian had turned a British spy into one of his most
effective helpers.

Meanwhile good news had encouraged enlistment for long terms. Four
regiments of horse were put in training, ten frigates were built and
sent to sea and more were under construction. The whole fighting force
of America was being reorganized. Moreover, in this first year the
Yankee privateers had so wounded a leg of the British lion that he was
roaring with rage. Three hundred and fifty of his ships, well laden
from the West Indies, had been seized. Their cargoes were valued at a
million pounds. The fighting spirit of America was encouraged also by
events in France, where Franklin and Silas Deane were now at work.
France had become an ally. A loan of six hundred thousand dollars had
been secured in the French capital and expert officers from that
country had begun to arrive to join the army of Washington.



In the spring news came of a great force of British which was being
organized in Canada for a descent upon New York through Lake Champlain.
Frontier settlers in Tryon County were being massacred by Indians.

Generals Herkimer and Schuyler had written to Washington, asking for
the services of the famous scout, Solomon Binkus, in that region.

"He knows the Indian as no other man knows him and can speak his
language and he also knows the bush," Schuyler had written. "If there
is any place on earth where his help is needed just now, it is here."

"Got to leave ye, my son," Solomon said to Jack one evening soon after

"How so?" the young man asked.

"Goin' hum to fight Injuns. The Great Father has ordered it. I'll
like it better. Gittin' lazy here. Summer's comin' an' I'm a born
bush man. I'm kind o' oneasy - like a deer in a dooryard. I ain't had
to run fer my life since we got here. My hoofs are complainin'. I
ain't shot a gun in a month."

A look of sorrow spread over the face of Solomon.

"I'm tired of this place," said Jack. "The British are scared of us
and we're scared of the British. There's nothing going on. I'd love
to go back to the big bush with you."

"I'll tell the Great Father that you're a born bush man. Mebbe he'll
let ye go. They'll need us both. Rum, Injuns an' the devil have
j'ined hands. The Long House will be the center o' hell an' its line
fences 'll take in the hull big bush."

That day Jack's name was included in the order.

"I am sorry that it is not yet possible to pay you or any of the men
who have served me so faithfully," said Washington. "If you need money
I shall be glad to lend you a sum to help you through this journey."

"I ain't fightin' fer pay," Solomon answered. "I'll hoe an' dig, an'
cook, an' guide fer money. But I won't fight no more fer money - partly
'cause I don't need it - partly 'cause I'm fightin' fer myself. I got a
little left in my britches pocket, but if I hadn't, my ol' Marier
wouldn't let me go hungry."


In April the two friends set out afoot for the lower end of the
Highlands. On the river they hired a Dutch farmer to take them on to
Albany in his sloop. After two delightful days at home, General
Schuyler suggested that they could do a great service by traversing the
wilderness to the valley of the great river of the north, as far as
possible toward Swegachie, and reporting their observations to Crown
Point or Fort Edward, if there seemed to be occasion for it, and if
not, they were to proceed to General Herkimer's camp at Oriskany and
give him what help they could in protecting the settlers in the west.

"You would need to take all your wit and courage with you," the General
warned them. "The Indians are in bad temper. They have taken to
roasting their prisoners at the stake and eating their flesh. This is
a hazardous undertaking. Therefore, I give you a suggestion and not an

"I'll go 'lone," said Solomon. "If I get et up it needn't break
nobody's heart. Let Jack go to one o' the forts."

"No, I'd rather go into the bush with you," said Jack. "We're both
needed there. If necessary we could separate and carry our warning in
two directions. We'll take a couple of the new double-barreled rifles
and four pistols. If we had to, I think we could fight a hole through
any trouble we are likely to have."

So it was decided that they should go together on this scouting trip
into the north bush. Solomon had long before that invented what he
called "a lightnin' thrower" for close fighting with Indians, to be
used if one were hard pressed and outnumbered and likely to have his
scalp taken. This odd contrivance he had never had occasion to use.
It was a thin, round shell of cast iron with a tube, a flint and
plunger. The shell was of about the size of a large apple. It was to
be filled with missiles and gunpowder. The plunger, with its spring,
was set vertically above the tube. In throwing this contrivance one
released its spring by the pressure of his thumb. The hammer fell and
the spark it made ignited a fuse leading down to the powder. Its owner
had to throw it from behind a tree or have a share in the peril it was
sure to create.

While Jack was at home with his people Solomon spent a week in the
foundry and forge and, before they set out on their journey, had three
of these unique weapons, all loaded and packed in water-proof wrappings.

About the middle of May they proceeded in a light bark canoe to Fort
Edward and carried it across country to Lake George and made their way
with paddles to Ticonderoga. There they learned that scouts were
operating only on and near Lake Champlain. The interior of Tryon
County was said to be dangerous ground. Mohawks, Cagnawagas, Senecas,
Algonquins and Hurons were thick in the bush and all on the warpath.
They were torturing and eating every white man that fell in their
hands, save those with a Tory mark on them.

"We're skeered o' the bush," said an elderly bearded soldier, who was
sitting on a log. "A man who goes into the wildwood needs to be a good
friend o' God."

"But Schuyler thinks a force of British may land somewhere along the
big river and come down through the bush, building a road as they
advance," said Jack.

"A thousand men could make a tol'able waggin road to Fort Edward in a
month," Solomon declared. "That's mebbe the reason the Injuns are out
in the bush eatin' Yankees. They're tryin' fer to skeer us an' keep us
erway. By the hide an' horns o' the devil! We got to know what's
a-goin' on out thar. You fellers are a-settin' eround these 'ere forts
as if ye had nothin' to do but chaw beef steak an' wipe yer rifles an'
pick yer teeth. Why don't ye go out thar in the bush and do a little
skeerin' yerselves? Ye're like a lot o' ol' women settin' by the fire
an' tellin' ghos' stories."

"We got 'nuff to do considerin' the pay we git," said a sergeant.

"Hell an' Tophet! What do ye want o' pay?" Solomon answered. "Ain't
ye willin' to fight fer yer own liberty without bein' paid fer it? Ye
been kicked an' robbed an' spit on, an' dragged eround by the heels,
an' ye don't want to fight 'less somebody pays ye. What a dam' corn
fiddle o' a man ye mus' be!"

Solomon was putting fresh provisions in his pack as he talked.

"All the Injuns o' Kinady an' the great grass lands may be snookin'
down through the bush. We're bound fer t' know what's a-goin' on out
thar. We're liable to be skeered, but also an' likewise we'll do some
skeerin' 'fore we give up - you hear to me."

Jack and Solomon set out in the bush that afternoon and before night
fell were up on the mountain slants north of the Glassy Water, as Lake
George was often called those days. But for Solomon's caution an evil
fate had perhaps come to them before their first sleep on the journey.
The new leaves were just out, but not quite full. The little maples
and beeches flung their sprays of vivid green foliage above the darker
shades of the witch hopple into the soft-lighted air of the great house
of the wood and filled it with a pleasant odor. A mile or so back,
Solomon had left the trail and cautioned Jack to keep close and step
softly. Soon the old scout stopped, and listened and put his ear to
the ground. He rose and beckoned to Jack and the two turned aside and
made their way stealthily up the slant of a ledge. In the edge of a
little thicket on a mossy rock shelf they sat down. Solomon looked
serious. There were deep furrows in the skin above his brow.

When he was excited in the bush he had the habit of swallowing and the
process made a small, creaky sound in his throat. This Jack observed
then and at other times. Solomon was peering down through the bushes
toward the west, now and then moving his head a little. Jack looked in
the same direction and presently saw a move in the bushes below, but
nothing more. After a few minutes Solomon turned and whispered:

"Four Injun braves jist went by. Mebbe they're scoutin' fer a big
band - mebbe not. If so, the crowd is up the trail. If they're comin'
by, it'll be 'fore dark. We'll stop in this 'ere tavern. They's a
cave on t'other side o' the ledge as big as a small house."

They watched until the sun had set. Then Solomon led Jack to the cave,
in which their packs were deposited.

From the cave's entrance they looked upon the undulating green roof of
the forest dipping down into a deep valley, cut by the smooth surface
of a broad river with mirrored shores, and lifting to the summit of a
distant mountain range. Its blue peaks rose into the glow of the

"Yonder is the great stairway of Heaven!" Jack exclaimed.

"I've put up in this 'ere ol' tavern many a night," said Solomon. "Do
ye see its sign?"

He pointed to a great dead pine that stood a little below it, towering
with stark, outreaching limbs more than a hundred and fifty feet into
the air.

"I call it The Dead Pine Tavern," Solomon remarked.

"On the road to Paradise," said Jack as he gazed down the valley, his
hands shading his eyes.

"Wisht we could have a nice hot supper, but 'twon't do to build no
fire. Nothin' but cold vittles! I'll go down with the pot to a spring
an' git some water. You dig fer our supper in that pack o' mine an'
spread it out here. I'm hungry."

They ate their bread and dried meat moistened with spring water, picked
some balsam boughs and covered a corner of the mossy floor with them.
When the rock chamber was filled with their fragrance, Jack said:

"If my dream comes true and Margaret and I are married, I shall bring
her here. I want her to see The Dead Pine Tavern and its outlook."

"Ayes, sir, when ye're married safe," Solomon answered. "We'll come up
here fust summer an' fish, an' hunt, an' I'll run the tavern an' do the
cookin' an' sweep the floor an' make the beds!"

"I'm a little discouraged," said Jack. "This war may last for years."

"Keep up on high ground er ye'll git mired down," Solomon answered.
"Ain't nuther on ye very old yit, an' fust ye know these troubles 'll
be over an' done."

Jack awoke at daylight and found that he was alone. Solomon returned
in half an hour or so.

"Been scoutin' up the trail," he said. "Didn't see a thing but an ol'
gnaw bucket. We'll jest eat a bite an' p'int off to the nor'west an'
keep watch o' this 'ere trail. They's Injuns over thar on the slants.
We got to know how they look an' 'bout how many head they is."

They went on, keeping well away from the trail.

"We'll have to watch it with our ears," said Solomon in a whisper.

His ear was often on the ground that morning and twice he left Jack "to
snook" out to the trail and look for tracks. Solomon could imitate the
call of the swamp robin, and when they were separated in the bush, he
gave it so that his friend could locate him. At midday they sat down
in deep shade by the side of a brook and ate their luncheon.

"This 'ere is Peppermint Brook," said Solomon. "It's 'nother one o' my

"Our food isn't going to last long at the rate we are eating it," Jack
remarked. "If we can't shoot a gun what are we going to do when it's
all gone?"

"Don't worry," Solomon answered. "Ye're in my kentry now an' there's a
better tavern up in the high trail."

They fared along, favored by good weather, and spent that night on the
shore of a little pond not more than fifty paces off the old blazed
thoroughfare. Next day, about "half-way from dawn to dark," as Solomon
was wont, now and then, to speak of the noon hour, they came suddenly
upon fresh "sign." It was where the big north trail from the upper
waters of the Mohawk joined the one near which they had been traveling.
When they were approaching the point Solomon had left Jack in a thicket
and cautiously crept out to the "juncshin." There was half an hour of
silence before the old scout came back in sight and beckoned to Jack.
His face had never looked more serious. The young man approached him.
Solomon swallowed - a part of the effort to restrain his emotions.

"Want to show ye suthin'," he whispered.

The two went cautiously toward the trail. When they reached it the old
scout led the way to soft ground near a brook. Then he pointed down at
the mud. There were many footprints, newly made, and among them the
print of that wooden peg with an iron ring around its bottom, which
they had seen twice before, and which was associated with the blackest
memories they knew. For some time Solomon studied the surface of the
trail in silence.

"More'n twenty Injuns, two captives, a pair o' hosses, a cow an' the
devil," he whispered to Jack. "Been a raid down to the Mohawk Valley.
The cow an' the hosses are loaded with plunder. I've noticed that when
the Injuns go out to rob an' kill folks ye find, 'mong their tracks,
the print o' that 'ere iron ring. I seen it twice in the Ohio kentry.
Here is the heart o' the devil an' his fire-water. Red Snout has got
to be started on a new trail. His ol' peg leg is goin' down to the
gate o' hell to-night."

Solomon's face had darkened with anger. There were deep furrows across
his brow.

Standing before Jack about three feet away, he drew out his ram rod and
tossed it to the young man, who caught it a little above the middle.
Jack knew the meaning of this. They were to put their hands upon the
ram rod, one above the other. The last hand it would hold was to do
the killing. It was Solomon's.

"Thank God!" he whispered, as his face brightened.

He seemed to be taking careful aim with his right eye.

"It's my job," said he. "I wouldn't 'a' let ye do it if ye'd drawed
the chanst. It's my job - proper. They ain't an hour ahead.
Mebbe - it's jest possible - he may go to sleep to-night 'fore I do, an'
I wouldn't be supprised. They'll build their fire at the Caverns on
Rock Crick an' roast a captive. We'll cross the bush an' come up on t'
other side an' see what's goin' on."

They crossed a high ridge, with Solomon tossing his feet in that long,
loose stride of his, and went down the slope into a broad valley. The
sun sank low and the immeasurable green roofed house of the wild was
dim and dusk when the old scout halted. Ahead in the distance they had
heard voices and the neighing of a horse.

"My son," said Solomon as he pointed with his finger, "do you see the
brow o' the hill yonder whar the black thickets be?"

Jack nodded.

"If ye hear to me yell stay this side. This 'ere business is kind o'
neevarious. I'm a-goin' clus up. If I come back ye'll hear the call
o' the bush owl. If I don't come 'fore mornin' you p'int fer hum an'

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Online LibraryIrving BachellerIn the Days of Poor Richard → online text (page 15 of 23)