Part 5 out of 12
loom of many fires at Cahokia, and around them the chiefs of the forty
tribes--all save the three in durance vile--were gathered in solemn talk.
Would they take the bloody belt or the white one? No man cared so little
as the Pale Face Chief. When their eyes were turned from the fitful
blaze of the logs, the gala light of many candles greeted them. And
above the sound of their own speeches rose the merrier note of the
fiddle. The garrison windows shone like lanterns, and behind these
Creole and backwoodsman swung the village ladies in the gay French
dances. The man at whose bidding this merrymaking was held stood in a
corner watching with folded arms, and none to look at him might know that
he was playing for a stake.
The troubled fires of the Indians had died to embers long before the
candles were snuffed in the garrison house and the music ceased.
The sun himself was pleased to hail that last morning of the great
council, and beamed with torrid tolerance upon the ceremony of kindling
the greatest of the fires. On this morning Colonel Clark did not sit
alone, but was surrounded by men of weight,--by Monsieur Gratiot and
other citizens, Captain Bowman and the Spanish officers. And when at
length the brush crackled and the flames caught the logs, three of the
mightiest chiefs arose. The greatest, victor in fifty tribal wars, held
in his hand the white belt of peace. The second bore a long-stemmed pipe
with a huge bowl. And after him, with measured steps, a third came with
a smoking censer,--the sacred fire with which to kindle the pipe.
Halting before Clark, he first swung the censer to the heavens, then to
the earth, then to all the spirits of the air,--calling these to witness
that peace was come at last,--and finally to the Chief of the Long Knives
and to the gentlemen of dignity about his person. Next the Indian
turned, and spoke to his brethren in measured, sonorous tones. He bade
them thank that Great Spirit who had cleared the sky and opened their
ears and hearts that they might receive the truth,--who had laid bare to
their understanding the lies of the English. Even as these English had
served the Big Knives, so might they one day serve the Indians.
Therefore he commanded them to cast the tomahawk into the river, and when
they should return to their land to drive the evil birds from it. And
they must send their wise men to Kaskaskia to hear the words of wisdom of
the Great White Chief, Clark. He thanked the Great Spirit for this
council fire which He had kindled at Cahokia.
Lifting the bowl of the censer, in the eyes of all the people he drew in
a long whiff to bear witness of peace. After him the pipe went the
interminable rounds of the chiefs. Colonel Clark took it, and puffed;
Captain Bowman puffed,--everybody puffed.
"Davy must have a pull," cried Tom; and even the chiefs smiled as I
coughed and sputtered, while my friends roared with laughter. It gave me
no great notion of the fragrance of tobacco. And then came such a
hand-shaking and grunting as a man rarely sees in a lifetime.
There was but one disquieting question left: What was to become of the
North Wind and his friends? None dared mention the matter at such a
time. But at length, as the day wore on to afternoon, the Colonel was
seen to speak quietly to Captain Bowman, and several backwoodsmen went
off toward the town. And presently a silence fell on the company as they
beheld the dejected three crossing the field with a guard. They were led
before Clark, and when he saw them his face hardened to sternness.
"It is only women who watch to catch a bear sleeping," he said. "The Big
Knives do not kill women. I shall give you meat for your journey home,
for women cannot hunt. If you remain here, you shall be treated as
squaws. Set the women free."
Tom McChesney cast off their irons. As for Clark, he began to talk
immediately with Monsieur Gratiot, as though he had dismissed them from
his mind. And their agitation was a pitiful thing to see. In vain they
pressed about him, in vain they even pulled the fringe of his shirt to
gain his attention. And then they went about among the other chiefs, but
these dared not intercede. Uneasiness was written on every man's face,
and the talk went haltingly. But Clark was serenity itself. At length
with a supreme effort they plucked up courage to come again to the table,
one holding out the belt of peace, and the other the still smouldering
Clark paused in his talk. He took the belt, and flung it away over the
heads of those around him. He seized the pipe, and taking up his sword
from the table drew it, and with one blow clave the stem in half. There
was no anger in either act, but much deliberation.
"The Big Knives," he said scornfully, "do not treat with women."
The pleading began again, the Hungry Wolf interpreting with tremors of
earnestness. Their lives were spared, but to what purpose, since the
White Chief looked with disfavor upon them? Let him know that bad men
from Michilimackinac put the deed into their hearts.
"When the Big Knives come upon such people in the wilderness," Clark
answered, "they shoot them down that they may not eat the deer. But they
have never talked of it."
He turned from them once more; they went away in a dejection to wring our
compassion, and we thought the matter ended at last. The sun was falling
low, the people beginning to move away, when, to the astonishment of all,
the culprits were seen coming back again. With them were two young men
of their own nation. The Indians opened up a path for them to pass
through, and they came as men go to the grave. So mournful, so
impressive withal, that the crowd fell into silence again, and the
Colonel turned his eyes. The two young men sank down on the ground
before him and shrouded their heads in their blankets.
"What is this?" Clark demanded.
The North Wind spoke in a voice of sorrow:--
"An atonement to the Great White Chief for the sins of our nation.
Perchance the Great Chief will deign to strike a tomahawk into their
heads, that our nation may be saved in war by the Big Knives." And the
North Wind held forth the pipe once more.
"I have nothing to say to you," said Clark.
Still they stood irresolute, their minds now bereft of expedients. And
the young men sat motionless on the ground. As Clark talked they peered
out from under their blankets, once, twice, thrice. He was still talking
to the wondering Monsieur Gratiot. But no other voice was heard, and the
eyes of all were turned on him in amazement. But at last, when the drama
had risen to the pitch of unbearable suspense, he looked down upon the
two miserable pyramids at his feet, and touched them. The blankets
"Stand up," said the Colonel, "and uncover."
They rose, cast the blankets from them, and stood with a stoic dignity
awaiting his pleasure. Wonderful, fine-limbed men they were, and for
the first time Clark's eyes were seen to kindle.
"I thank the Great Spirit," said he, in a loud voice, "that I have found
men among your nation. That I have at last discovered the real chiefs of
your people. Had they sent such as you to treat with me in the beginning
all might have been well. Go back to your people as their chiefs, and
tell them that through you the Big Knives have granted peace to your
Stepping forward, he grasped them each by the hand, and, despite
training, joy shone in their faces, while a long-drawn murmur arose from
the assemblage. But Clark did not stop there. He presented them to
Captain Bowman and to the French and Spanish gentlemen present, and they
were hailed by their own kind as chiefs of their nation. To cap it all
our troops, backwoodsmen and Creole militia, paraded in line on the
common, and fired a salute in their honor.
Thus did Clark gain the friendship of the forty tribes in the Northwest
"AN' YE HAD BEEN WHERE I HAD BEEN"
We went back to Kaskaskia, Colonel Clark, Tom, and myself, and a great
weight was lifted from our hearts.
A peaceful autumn passed, and we were happy save when we thought of those
we had left at home. There is no space here to tell of many incidents.
Great chiefs who had not been to the council came hundreds of leagues
across wide rivers that they might see with their own eyes this man who
had made peace without gold, and these had to be amused and entertained.
The apples ripened, and were shaken to the ground by the winds. The good
Father Gibault, true to his promise, strove to teach me French. Indeed,
I picked up much of that language in my intercourse with the inhabitants
of Kaskaskia. How well I recall that simple life,--its dances, its
songs, and the games with the laughing boys and girls on the common! And
the good people were very kind to the orphan that dwelt with Colonel
Clark, the drummer boy of his regiment.
But winter brought forebodings. When the garden patches grew bare and
brown, and the bleak winds from across the Mississippi swept over the
common, untoward tidings came like water dripping from a roof, bit by
bit. And day by day Colonel Clark looked graver. The messengers he had
sent to Vincennes came not back, and the coureurs and traders from time
to time brought rumors of a British force gathering like a thundercloud
in the northeast. Monsieur Vigo himself, who had gone to Vincennes on
his own business, did not return. As for the inhabitants, some of them
who had once bowed to us with a smile now passed with faces averted.
The cold set the miry roads like cement, in ruts and ridges. A flurry of
snow came and powdered the roofs even as the French loaves are powdered.
It was January. There was Colonel Clark on a runt of an Indian pony; Tom
McChesney on another, riding ahead, several French gentlemen seated on
stools in a two-wheeled cart, and myself. We were going to Cahokia, and
it was very cold, and when the tireless wheels bumped from ridge to
gully, the gentlemen grabbed each other as they slid about, and laughed.
All at once the merriment ceased, and looking forward we saw that Tom had
leaped from his saddle and was bending over something in the snow. These
chanced to be the footprints of some twenty men.
The immediate result of this alarming discovery was that Tom went on
express to warn Captain Bowman, and the rest of us returned to a painful
scene at Kaskaskia. We reached the village, the French gentlemen leaped
down from their stools in the cart, and in ten minutes the streets were
filled with frenzied, hooded figures. Hamilton, called the Hair Buyer,
was upon them with no less than six hundred, and he would hang them to
their own gateposts for listening to the Long Knives. These were but a
handful after all was said. There was Father Gibault, for example.
Father Gibault would doubtless be exposed to the crows in the belfry of
his own church because he had busied himself at Vincennes and with other
matters. Father Gibault was human, and therefore lovable. He bade his
parishioners a hasty and tearful farewell, and he made a cold and painful
journey to the territories of his Spanish Majesty across the Mississippi.
Father Gibault looked back, and against the gray of the winter's twilight
there were flames like red maple leaves. In the fort the men stood to
their guns, their faces flushed with staring at the burning houses. Only
a few were burned,--enough to give no cover for Hamilton and his six
hundred if they came.
But they did not come. The faithful Bowman and his men arrived instead,
with the news that there had been only a roving party of forty, and these
were now in full retreat.
Father Gibault came back. But where was Hamilton? This was the
One bitter day, when the sun smiled mockingly on the powdered common, a
horseman was perceived on the Fort Chartres road. It was Monsieur Vigo
returning from Vincennes, but he had been first to St. Louis by reason of
the value he set upon his head. Yes, Monsieur Vigo had been to
Vincennes, remaining a little longer than he expected, the guest of
Governor Hamilton. So Governor Hamilton had recaptured that place!
Monsieur Vigo was no spy, hence he had gone first to St. Louis. Governor
Hamilton was at Vincennes with much of King George's gold, and many
supplies, and certain Indians who had not been at the council. Eight
hundred in all, said Monsieur Vigo, using his fingers. And it was
Governor Hamilton's design to march upon Kaskaskia and Cahokia and sweep
over Kentucky; nay, he had already sent certain emissaries to McGillivray
and his Creeks and the Southern Indians with presents, and these were to
press forward on their side. The Governor could do nothing now, but
would move as soon as the rigors of winter had somewhat relented.
Monsieur Vigo shook his head and shrugged his shoulders. He loved les
Americains. What would Monsieur le Colonel do now?
Monsieur le Colonel was grave, but this was his usual manner. He did not
tear his hair, but the ways of the Long Knives were past understanding.
He asked many questions. How was it with the garrison at Vincennes?
Monsieur Vigo was exact, as a business man should be. They were now
reduced to eighty men, and five hundred savages had gone out to ravage.
There was no chance, then, of Hamilton moving at present? Monsieur Vigo
threw up his hands. Never had he made such a trip, and he had been
forced to come back by a northern route. The Wabash was as the Great
Lakes, and the forests grew out of the water. A fox could not go to
Vincennes in this weather. A fish? Monsieur Vigo laughed heartily.
Yes, a fish might.
"Then," said Colonel Clark, "we will be fish."
Monsieur Vigo stared, and passed his hand from his forehead backwards
over his long hair. I leaned forward in my corner by the hickory fire.
"Then we will be fish," said Colonel Clark. "Better that than food for
the crows. For, if we stay here, we shall be caught like bears in a
trap, and Kentucky will be at Hamilton's mercy."
"Sacre'!" exclaimed Monsieur Vigo, "you are mad, mon ami. I know what
this country is, and you cannot get to Vincennes."
"I WILL get to Vincennes," said Colonel Clark, so gently that Monsieur
Vigo knew he meant it. "I will SWIM to Vincennes."
Monsieur Vigo raised his hands to heaven. The three of us went out of
the door and walked. There was a snowy place in front of the church all
party-colored like a clown's coat,--scarlet capotes, yellow capotes, and
blue capotes, and bright silk handkerchiefs. They surrounded the
Colonel. Pardieu, what was he to do now? For the British governor and
his savages were coming to take revenge on them because, in their
necessity, they had declared for Congress. Colonel Clark went silently
on his way to the gate; but Monsieur Vigo stopped, and Kaskaskia heard,
with a shock, that this man of iron was to march against Vincennes.
The gates of the fort were shut, and the captains summoned. Undaunted
woodsmen as they were, they were lukewarm, at first, at the idea of this
march through the floods. Who can blame them? They had, indeed,
sacrificed much. But in ten minutes they had caught his enthusiasm
(which is one of the mysteries of genius). And the men paraded in the
snow likewise caught it, and swung their hats at the notion of taking the
"'Tis no news to me," said Terence, stamping his feet on the flinty
ground; "wasn't it Davy that pointed him out to us and the hair liftin'
from his head six months since?"
"Und you like schwimmin', yes?" said Swein Poulsson, his face like the
rising sun with the cold.
"Swimmin', is it?" said Terence, "sure, the divil made worse things than
wather. And Hamilton's beyant."
"I reckon that'll fetch us through," Bill Cowan put in grimly.
It was a blessed thing that none of us had a bird's-eye view of that same
water. No man of force will listen when his mind is made up, and perhaps
it is just as well. For in that way things are accomplished. Clark
would not listen to Monsieur Vigo, and hence the financier had, perforce,
to listen to Clark. There were several miracles before we left.
Monsieur Vigo, for instance, agreed to pay the expenses of the
expedition, though in his heart he thought we should never get to
Vincennes. Incidentally, he was never repaid. Then there were the
French--yesterday, running hither and thither in paroxysms of fear;
to-day, enlisting in whole companies, though it were easier to get to the
wild geese of the swamps than to Hamilton. Their ladies stitched colors
day and night, and presented them with simple confidence to the Colonel
in the church. Twenty stands of colors for 170 men, counting those who
had come from Cahokia. Think of the industry of it, of the enthusiasm
behind it! Twenty stands of colors! Clark took them all, and in due
time it will be told how the colors took Vincennes. This was because
Colonel Clark was a man of destiny.
Furthermore, Colonel Clark was off the next morning at dawn to buy a
Mississippi keel-boat. He had her rigged up with two four-pounders and
four swivels, filled her with provisions, and called her the Willing.
She was the first gunboat on the Western waters. A great fear came into
my heart, and at dusk I stole back to the Colonel's house alone. The
snow had turned to rain, and Terence stood guard within the doorway.
"Arrah," he said, "what ails ye, darlin'?"
I gulped and the tears sprang into my eyes; whereupon Terence, in
defiance of all military laws, laid his gun against the doorpost and put
his arms around me, and I confided my fears. It was at this critical
juncture that the door opened and Colonel Clark came out.
"What's to do here?" he demanded, gazing at us sternly.
"Savin' your Honor's prisence," said Terence, "he's afeard your Honor
will be sending him on the boat. Sure, he wants to go swimmin' with the
rest of us."
Colonel Clark frowned, bit his lip, and Terence seized his gun and stood
"It were right to leave you in Kaskaskia," said the Colonel; "the water
will be over your head."
"The King's drum would be floatin' the likes of him," said the
irrepressible Terence, "and the b'ys would be that lonesome."
The Colonel walked away without a word. In an hour's time he came back
to find me cleaning his accoutrements by the fire. For a while he did
not speak, but busied himself with his papers, I having lighted the
candles for him. Presently he spoke my name, and I stood before him.
"I will give you a piece of advice, Davy," said he. "If you want a
thing, go straight to the man that has it. McChesney has spoken to me
about this wild notion of yours of going to Vincennes, and Cowan and
McCann and Ray and a dozen others have dogged my footsteps."
"I only spoke to Terence because he asked me, sir," I answered. "I said
nothing to any one else."
He laid down his pen and looked at me with an odd expression.
"What a weird little piece you are," he exclaimed; "you seem to have
wormed your way into the hearts of these men. Do you know that you will
probably never get to Vincennes alive?"
"I don't care, sir," I said. A happy thought struck me. "If they see a
boy going through the water, sir--" I hesitated, abashed.
"What then?" said Clark, shortly.
"It may keep some from going back," I finished.
At that he gave a sort of gasp, and stared at me the more.
"Egad," he said, "I believe the good Lord launched you wrong end to.
Perchance you will be a child when you are fifty."
He was silent a long time, and fell to musing. And I thought he had
"May I go, sir?" I asked at length.
"Come here," said he. But when I was close to him he merely laid his
hand on my shoulder. "Yes, you may go, Davy."
He sighed, and presently turned to his writing again, and I went back
joyfully to my cleaning.
On a certain dark 4th of February, picture the village of Kaskaskia
assembled on the river-bank in capote and hood. Ropes are cast off, the
keel-boat pushes her blunt nose through the cold, muddy water, the oars
churn up dirty, yellow foam, and cheers shake the sodden air. So the
Willing left on her long journey: down the Kaskaskia, into the flood of
the Mississippi, against many weary leagues of the Ohio's current, and up
the swollen Wabash until they were to come to the mouth of the White
River near Vincennes. There they were to await us.
Should we ever see them again? I think that this was the unspoken
question in the hearts of the many who were to go by land.
The 5th was a mild, gray day, with the melting snow lying in patches on
the brown bluff, and the sun making shift to pierce here and there. We
formed the regiment in the fort,--backwoodsman and Creole now to fight
for their common country, Jacques and Pierre and Alphonse; and mother and
father, sweetheart and wife, waiting to wave a last good-by. Bravely we
marched out of the gate and into the church for Father Gibault's
blessing. And then, forming once more, we filed away on the road leading
northward to the ferry, our colors flying, leaving the weeping, cheering
crowd behind. In front of the tall men of the column was a wizened
figure, beating madly on a drum, stepping proudly with head thrown back.
It was Cowan's voice that snapped the strain.
"Go it, Davy, my little gamecock!" he cried, and the men laughed and
cheered. And so we came to the bleak ferry landing where we had crossed
on that hot July night six months before.
We were soon on the prairies, and in the misty rain that fell and fell
they seemed to melt afar into a gray and cheerless ocean. The sodden
grass was matted now and unkempt. Lifeless lakes filled the depressions,
and through them we waded mile after mile ankle-deep. There was a little
cavalcade mounted on the tiny French ponies, and sometimes I rode with
these; but oftenest Cowan or Tom would fling me; drum and all, on his
shoulder. For we had reached the forest swamps where the water is the
color of the Creole coffee. And day after day as we marched, the soft
rain came out of the east and wet us to the skin.
It was a journey of torments, and even that first part of it was enough
to discourage the most resolute spirit. Men might be led through it, but
never driven. It is ever the mind which suffers through the monotonies
of bodily discomfort, and none knew this better than Clark himself.
Every morning as we set out with the wet hide chafing our skin, the
Colonel would run the length of the regiment, crying:--
"Who gives the feast to-night, boys?"
Now it was Bowman's company, now McCarty's, now Bayley's. How the
hunters vied with each other to supply the best, and spent the days
stalking the deer cowering in the wet thickets. We crossed the Saline,
and on the plains beyond was a great black patch, a herd of buffalo. A
party of chosen men headed by Tom McChesney was sent after them, and
never shall I forget the sight of the mad beasts charging through the
That night, when our chilled feet could bear no more, we sought out a
patch of raised ground a little firmer than a quagmire, and heaped up the
beginnings of a fire with such brush as could be made to burn, robbing
the naked thickets. Saddle and steak sizzled, leather steamed and
stiffened, hearts and bodies thawed; grievances that men had nursed over
miles of water melted. Courage sits best on a full stomach, and as they
ate they cared not whether the Atlantic had opened between them and
Vincennes. An hour agone, and there were twenty cursing laggards,
counting the leagues back to Kaskaskia. Now:--
"C'etait un vieux sauvage
Tout noir, tour barbouilla,
Avec sa vieill' couverte
Et son sac a tabac.
Ah! ah! tenaouich' tenaga,
So sang Antoine, dit le Gris, in the pulsing red light. And when,
between the verses, he went through the agonies of a Huron war-dance, the
assembled regiment howled with delight. Some men know cities and those
who dwell in the quarters of cities. But grizzled Antoine knew the half
of a continent, and the manners of trading and killing of the tribes
And after Antoine came Gabriel, a marked contrast--Gabriel, five feet
six, and the glare showing but a faint dark line on his quivering lip.
Gabriel was a patriot,--a tribute we must pay to all of those brave
Frenchmen who went with us. Nay, Gabriel had left at home on his little
farm near the village a young wife of a fortnight. And so his lip
quivered as he sang:--
"Petit Rocher de la Haute Montagne,
Je vien finir ici cette campagne!
Ah! doux echos, entendez mes soupirs;
En languissant je vais bientot mouir!"
We had need of gayety after that, and so Bill Cowan sang "Billy of the
Wild Wood," and Terence McCann wailed an Irish jig, stamping the water
out of the spongy ground amidst storms of mirth. As he desisted,
breathless and panting, he flung me up in the firelight before the eyes
of them all, crying:--
"It's Davy can bate me!"
"Ay, Davy, Davy!" they shouted, for they were in the mood for anything.
There stood Colonel Clark in the dimmer light of the background. "We
must keep 'em screwed up, Davy," he had said that very day.
There came to me on the instant a wild song that my father had taught me
when the liquor held him in dominance. Exhilarated, I sprang from
Terence's arms to the sodden, bared space, and methinks I yet hear my
shrill, piping note, and see my legs kicking in the fling of it. There
was an uproar, a deeper voice chimed in, and here was McAndrew flinging
his legs with mine:--
"I've faught on land, I've faught at sea,
At hame I faught my aunty, O;
But I met the deevil and Dundee
On the braes o' Killiecrankie, O.
An' ye had been where I had been,
Ye wad na be sae cantie, O;
An' ye had seen what I ha'e seen
On the braes o' Killiecrankie, O."
In the morning Clark himself would be the first off through the gray
rain, laughing and shouting and waving his sword in the air, and I after
him as hard as I could pelt through the mud, beating the charge on my
drum until the war-cries of the regiment drowned the sound of it. For we
were upon a pleasure trip--lest any man forget,--a pleasure trip amidst
stark woods and brown plains flecked with ponds. So we followed him
until we came to a place where, in summer, two quiet rivers flowed
through green forests--the little Wabashes. And now! Now hickory and
maple, oak and cottonwood, stood shivering in three feet of water on what
had been a league of dry land. We stood dismayed at the crumbling edge
of the hill, and one hundred and seventy pairs of eyes were turned on
Clark. With a mere glance at the running stream high on the bank and the
drowned forest beyond, he turned and faced them.
"I reckon you've earned a rest, boys," he said. "We'll have games
There were some dozen of the unflinching who needed not to be amused.
Choosing a great poplar, these he set to hollowing out a pirogue, and
himself came among the others and played leap-frog and the Indian game of
ball until night fell. And these, instead of moping and quarrelling,
forgot. That night, as I cooked him a buffalo steak, he drew near the
fire with Bowman.
"For the love of God keep up their spirits, Bowman," said the Colonel;
"keep up their spirits until we get them across. Once on the farther
hills, they cannot go back."
Here was a different being from the shouting boy who had led the games
and the war-dance that night in the circle of the blaze. Tired out, we
went to sleep with the ring of the axes in our ears, and in the morning
there were more games while the squad crossed the river to the drowned
neck, built a rough scaffold there, and notched a trail across it; to the
scaffold the baggage was ferried, and the next morning, bit by bit, the
regiment. Even now the pains shoot through my body when I think of how
man after man plunged waist-deep into the icy water toward the farther
branch. The pirogue was filled with the weak, and in the end of it I was
curled up with my drum.
Heroism is a many-sided thing. It is one matter to fight and finish,
another to endure hell's tortures hour after hour. All day they waded
with numbed feet vainly searching for a footing in the slime. Truly, the
agony of a brave man is among the greatest of the world's tragedies to
see. As they splashed onward through the tree-trunks, many a joke went
forth, though lips were drawn and teeth pounded together. I have not the
heart to recall these jokes,--it would seem a sacrilege. There were
quarrels, too, the men striving to push one another from the easier
paths; and deeds sublime when some straggler clutched at the bole of a
tree for support, and was helped onward through excruciating ways. A
dozen held tremblingly to the pirogue's gunwale, lest they fall and
drown. One walked ahead with a smile, or else fell back to lend a
helping shoulder to a fainting man.
And there was Tom McChesney. All day long I watched him, and thanked God
that Polly Ann could not see him thus. And yet, how the pride would have
leaped within her! Humor came not easily to him, but charity and courage
and unselfishness he had in abundance. What he suffered none knew; but
through those awful hours he was always among the stragglers, helping the
weak and despairing when his strength might have taken him far ahead
toward comfort and safety. "I'm all right, Davy," he would say, in
answer to my look as he passed me. But on his face was written something
that I did not understand.
How the Creole farmers and traders, unused even to the common ways of
woodcraft, endured that fearful day and others that followed, I know not.
And when a tardy justice shall arise and compel the people of this land
to raise a shaft in memory of Clark and those who followed him, let not
the loyalty of the French be forgotten, though it be not understood.
At eventide came to lurid and disordered brains the knowledge that the
other branch was here. And, mercifully, it was shallower than the first.
Holding his rifle high, with a war-whoop Bill Cowan plunged into the
stream. Unable to contain myself more, I flung my drum overboard and
went after it, and amid shouts and laughter I was towed across by James
Colonel Clark stood watching from the bank above, and it was he who
pulled me, bedraggled, to dry land. I ran away to help gather brush for
a fire. As I was heaping this in a pile I heard something that I should
not have heard. Nor ought I to repeat it now, though I did not need the
flames to send the blood tingling through my body.
"McChesney," said the Colonel, "we must thank our stars that we brought
the boy along. He has grit, and as good a head as any of us. I reckon
if it hadn't been for him some of them would have turned back long ago."
I saw Tom grinning at the Colonel as gratefully as though he himself had
The blaze started, and soon we had a bonfire. Some had not the strength
to hold out the buffalo meat to the fire. Even the grumblers and
mutineers were silent, owing to the ordeal they had gone through. But
presently, when they began to be warmed and fed, they talked of other
trials to be borne. The Embarrass and the big Wabash, for example.
These must be like the sea itself.
"Take the back trail, if ye like," said Bill Cowan, with a loud laugh.
"I reckon the rest of us kin float to Vincennes on Davy's drum."
But there was no taking the back trail now; and well they knew it. The
games began, the unwilling being forced to play, and before they fell
asleep that night they had taken Vincennes, scalped the Hair Buyer, and
were far on the march to Detroit.
Mercifully, now that their stomachs were full, they had no worries. Few
knew the danger we were in of being cut off by Hamilton's roving bands of
Indians. There would be no retreat, no escape, but a fight to the death.
And I heard this, and much more that was spoken of in low tones at the
Colonel's fire far into the night, of which I never told the rank and
file,--not even Tom McChesney.
On and on, through rain and water, we marched until we drew near to the
river Embarrass. Drew near, did I say? "Sure, darlin'," said Terence,
staring comically over the gray waste, "we've been in it since Choosd'y."
There was small exaggeration in it. In vain did our feet seek the deeper
water. It would go no higher than our knees, and the sound which the
regiment made in marching was like that of a great flatboat going against
the current. It had been a sad, lavender-colored day, and now that the
gloom of the night was setting in, and not so much as a hummock showed
itself above the surface, the Creoles began to murmur. And small wonder!
Where was this man leading them, this Clark who had come amongst them
from the skies, as it were? Did he know, himself? Night fell as though
a blanket had been spread over the tree-tops, and above the dreary
splashing men could be heard calling to one another in the darkness. Nor
was there any supper ahead. For our food was gone, and no game was to be
shot over this watery waste. A cold like that of eternal space settled
in our bones. Even Terence McCann grumbled.
"Begob," said he, "'tis fine weather for fishes, and the birrds are that
comfortable in the threes. 'Tis no place for a baste at all, at all."
Sometime in the night there was a cry. Ray had found the water falling
from an oozy bank, and there we dozed fitfully until we were startled by
a distant boom.
It was Governor Hamilton's morning gun at Fort Sackville, Vincennes.
There was no breakfast. How we made our way, benumbed with hunger and
cold, to the banks of the Wabash, I know not. Captain McCarty's company
was set to making canoes, and the rest of us looked on apathetically as
the huge trees staggered and fell amidst a fountain of spray in the
shallow water. We were but three leagues from Vincennes. A raft was
bound together, and Tom McChesney and three other scouts sent on a
desperate journey across the river in search of boats and provisions,
lest we starve and fall and die on the wet flats. Before he left Tom
came to me, and the remembrance of his gaunt face haunted me for many
years after. He drew something from his bosom and held it out to me, and
I saw that it was a bit of buffalo steak which he had saved. I shook my
head, and the tears came into my eyes.
"Come, Davy," he said, "ye're so little, and I beant hungry."
Again I shook my head, and for the life of me I could say nothing.
"I reckon Polly Ann'd never forgive me if anything was to happen to you,"
At that I grew strangely angry.
"It's you who need it," I cried, "it's you that has to do the work. And
she told me to take care of you."
The big fellow grinned sheepishly, as was his wont.
"'Tis only a bite," he pleaded, "'twouldn't only make me hungry,
and"--he looked hard at me--"and it might be the savin' of you. Ye'll
not eat it for Polly Ann's sake?" he asked coaxingly.
"'Twould not be serving her," I answered indignantly.
"Ye're an obstinate little deevil!" he cried, and, dropping the morsel on
the freshly cut stump, he stalked away. I ran after him, crying out, but
he leaped on the raft that was already in the stream and began to pole
across. I slipped the piece into my own hunting shirt.
All day the men who were too weak to swing axes sat listless on the bank,
watching in vain for some sight of the Willing. They saw a canoe
rounding the bend instead, with a single occupant paddling madly. And
who should this be but Captain Willing's own brother, escaped from the
fort, where he had been a prisoner. He told us that a man named
Maisonville, with a party of Indians, was in pursuit of him, and the next
piece of news he had was in the way of raising our despair a little.
Governor Hamilton's astonishment at seeing this force here and now would
be as great as his own. Governor Hamilton had said, indeed, that only a
navy could take Vincennes this year. Unfortunately, Mr. Willing brought
no food. Next in order came five Frenchmen, trapped by our scouts, nor
had they any provisions. But as long as I live I shall never forget how
Tom McChesney returned at nightfall, the hero of the hour. He had shot a
deer; and never did wolves pick an animal cleaner. They pressed on me a
choice piece of it, these great-hearted men who were willing to go hungry
for the sake of a child, and when I refused it they would have forced it
down my throat. Swein Poulsson, he that once hid under the bed, deserves
a special tablet to his memory. He was for giving me all he had, though
his little eyes were unnaturally bright and the red had left his cheeks
"He haf no belly, only a leedle on his backbone!" he cried.
"Begob, thin, he has the backbone," said Terence.
"I have a piece," said I, and drew forth that which Tom had given me.
They brought a quarter of a saddle to Colonel Clark, but he smiled at
them kindly and told them to divide it amongst the weak. He looked at me
as I sat with my feet crossed on the stump.
"I will follow Davy's example," said he.
At length the canoes were finished and we crossed the river, swimming
over the few miserable skeletons of the French ponies we had brought
along. We came to a sugar camp, and beyond it, stretching between us and
Vincennes, was a sea of water. Here we made our camp, if camp it could
be called. There was no fire, no food, and the water seeped out of the
ground on which we lay. Some of those even who had not yet spoken now
openly said that we could go no farther. For the wind had shifted into
the northwest, and, for the first time since we had left Kaskaskia we saw
the stars gleaming like scattered diamonds in the sky. Bit by bit the
ground hardened, and if by chance we dozed we stuck to it. Morning found
the men huddled like sheep, their hunting shirts hard as boards, and long
before Hamilton's gun we were up and stamping. Antoine poked the butt of
his rifle through the ice of the lake in front of us.
"I think we not get to Vincennes this day," he said.
Colonel Clark, who heard him, turned to me.
"Fetch McChesney here, Davy," he said. Tom came.
"McChesney," said he, "when I give the word, take Davy and his drum on
your shoulders and follow me. And Davy, do you think you can sing that
song you gave us the other night?"
"Oh, yes, sir," I answered.
Without more ado the Colonel broke the skim of ice, and, taking some of
the water in his hand, poured powder from his flask into it and rubbed it
on his face until he was the color of an Indian. Stepping back, he
raised his sword high in the air, and, shouting the Shawanee war-whoop,
took a flying leap up to his thighs in the water. Tom swung me instantly
to his shoulder and followed, I beating the charge with all my might,
though my hands were so numb that I could scarce hold the sticks.
Strangest of all, to a man they came shouting after us.
"Now, Davy!" said the Colonel.
"I've faught on land, I've faught at sea,
At hame I faught my aunty, O;
But I met the deevil and Dundee
On the braes o' Killiecrankie, O."
I piped it at the top of my voice, and sure enough the regiment took up
the chorus, for it had a famous swing.
"An' ye had been where I had been,
Ye wad na be sae cantie, O;
An' ye had seen what I ha'e seen'
On the braes o' Killiecrankie, O."
When their breath was gone we heard Cowan shout that he had found a path
under his feet,--a path that was on dry land in the summer-time. We
followed it, feeling carefully, and at length, when we had suffered all
that we could bear, we stumbled on to a dry ridge. Here we spent another
night of torture, with a second backwater facing us coated with a full
inch of ice.
And still there was nothing to eat.
THE HAIR BUYER TRAPPED
To lie the night on adamant, pierced by the needles of the frost; to
awake shivering and famished, until the meaning of an inch of ice on the
backwater comes to your mind,--these are not calculated to put a man into
an equable mood to listen to oratory. Nevertheless there was a kind of
oratory to fit the case. To picture the misery of these men is well-nigh
impossible. They stood sluggishly in groups, dazed by suffering, and
their faces were drawn and their eyes ringed, their beards and hair
matted. And many found it in their hearts to curse Clark and that
government for which he fought.
When the red fire of the sun glowed through the bare branches that
morning, it seemed as if the campaign had spent itself like an arrow
which drops at the foot of the mark. Could life and interest and
enthusiasm be infused again in such as these? I have ceased to marvel
how it was done. A man no less haggard than the rest, but with a
compelling force in his eyes, pointed with a blade to the hills across
the river. They must get to them, he said, and their troubles would be
ended. He said more, and they cheered him. These are the bare facts.
He picked a man here, and another there, and these went silently to a
grim duty behind the regiment.
"If any try to go back, shoot them down!" he cried.
Then with a gun-butt he shattered the ice and was the first to leap into
the water under it. They followed, some with a cheer that was most
pitiful of all. They followed him blindly, as men go to torture, but
they followed him, and the splashing and crushing of the ice were sounds
to freeze my body. I was put in a canoe. In my day I have beheld great
suffering and hardship, and none of it compared to this. Torn with pity,
I saw them reeling through the water, now grasping trees and bushes to
try to keep their feet, the strongest breaking the way ahead and
supporting the weak between them. More than once Clark himself tottered
where he beat the ice at the apex of the line. Some swooned and would
have drowned had they not been dragged across the canoe and chafed back
to consciousness. By inches the water shallowed. Clark reached the high
ground, and then Bill Cowan, with a man on each shoulder. Then others
endured to the shallows to fall heavily in the crumbled ice and be
dragged out before they died. But at length, by God's grace, the whole
regiment was on the land. Fires would not revive some, but Clark himself
seized a fainting man by the arms and walked him up and down in the
sunlight until his blood ran again.
It was a glorious day, a day when the sap ran in the maples, and the sun
soared upwards in a sky of the palest blue. All this we saw through the
tracery of the leafless branches,--a mirthless, shivering crowd, crept
through a hell of weather into the Hair Buyer's very lair. Had he
neither heard nor seen?
Down the steel-blue lane of water between the ice came a canoe. Our
stunted senses perceived it, unresponsive. A man cried out (it was Tom
McChesney); now some of them had leaped into the pirogue, now they were
returning. In the towed canoe two fat and stolid squaws and a pappoose
were huddled, and beside them--God be praised!--food. A piece of
buffalo on its way to town, and in the end compartment of the boat tallow
and bear's grease lay revealed by two blows of the tomahawk. The
kettles--long disused--were fetched, and broth made and fed in sips to
the weakest, while the strongest looked on and smiled in an agony of
self-restraint. It was a fearful thing to see men whose legs had refused
service struggle to their feet when they had drunk the steaming, greasy
mixture. And the Colonel, standing by the river's edge, turned his face
away--down-stream. And then, as often, I saw the other side of the man.
Suddenly he looked at me, standing wistful at his side.
"They have cursed me," said he, by way of a question, "they have cursed
me every day." And seeing me silent, he insisted, "Tell me, is it not
"It is so," I said, wondering that he should pry, "but it was while they
suffered. And--and some refrained."
"And you?" he asked queerly.
"I--I could not, sir. For I asked leave to come."
"If they have condemned me to a thousand hells," said he,
dispassionately, "I should not blame them." Again he looked at me. "Do
you understand what you have done?" he asked.
"No, sir," I said uneasily.
"And yet there are some human qualities in you, Davy. You have been
worth more to me than another regiment."
"When you grow older, if you ever do, tell your children that once upon a
time you put a hundred men to shame. It is no small thing."
Seeing him relapse into silence, I did not speak. For the space of half
an hour he stared down the river, and I knew that he was looking vainly
for the Willing.
At noon we crossed, piecemeal, a deep lake in the canoes, and marching
awhile came to a timber-covered rise which our French prisoners named as
the Warriors' Island. And from the shelter of its trees we saw the
steely lines of a score of low ponds, and over the tops of as many ridges
a huddle of brown houses on the higher ground.
And this was the place we had all but sold our lives to behold! This was
Vincennes at last! We were on the heights behind the town,--we were at
the back door, as it were. At the far side, on the Wabash River, was the
front door, or Fort Sackville, where the banner of England snapped in the
We stood there, looking, as the afternoon light flooded the plain.
Suddenly the silence was broken.
"Hooray for Clark!" cried a man at the edge of the copse.
"Hooray for Clark!"--it was the whole regiment this time. From
execration to exaltation was but a step, after all. And the Creoles fell
to scoffing at their sufferings and even forgot their hunger in staring
at the goal. The backwoodsmen took matters more stolidly, having
acquired long since the art of waiting. They lounged about, cleaning
their guns, watching the myriad flocks of wild ducks and geese casting
blue-black shadows on the ponds.
"Arrah, McChesney," said Terence, as he watched the circling birds,
"Clark's a great man, but 'tis more riverince I'd have for him if wan av
thim was sizzling on the end of me ramrod."
"I'd sooner hev the Ha'r Buyer's sculp," said Tom.
Presently there was a drama performed for our delectation. A shot came
down the wind, and we perceived that several innocent Creole gentlemen,
unconscious of what the timber held, were shooting the ducks and geese.
Whereupon Clark chose Antoine and three of our own Creoles to sally out
and shoot likewise--as decoys. We watched them working their way over
the ridges, and finally saw them coming back with one of the Vincennes
sportsmen. I cannot begin to depict the astonishment of this man when he
reached the copse, and was led before our lean, square-shouldered
commander. Yes, monsieur, he was a friend of les Americains. Did
Governor Hamilton know that a visit was imminent? Pardieu (with many
shrugs and outward gestures of the palms), Governor Hamilton had said if
the Long Knives had wings or fins they might reach him now--he was all
"Gentlemen," said Colonel Clark to Captains Bowman and McCarty and
Williams, "we have come so far by audacity, and we must continue by
audacity. It is of no use to wait for the gunboat, and every moment we
run the risk of discovery. I shall write an open letter to the
inhabitants of Vincennes, which the prisoner shall take into town. I
shall tell them that those who are true to the oath they swore to Father
Gibault shall not be molested if they remain quietly in their houses.
Let those who are on the side of the Hair Buyer General and his King go
to the fort and fight there."
He bade me fetch the portfolio he carried, and with numbed fingers wrote
the letter while his captains stared in admiration and amazement. What a
stroke was this! There were six hundred men in the town and
fort,--soldiers, inhabitants, and Indians,--while we had but 170, starved
and weakened by their incredible march. But Clark was not to be daunted.
Whipping out his field-glasses, he took a stand on a little mound under
the trees and followed the fast-galloping messenger across the plain; saw
him enter the town; saw the stir in the streets, knots of men riding out
and gazing, hands on foreheads, towards the place where we were. But, as
the minutes rolled into hours, there was no further alarm. No gun, no
beat to quarters or bugle-call from Fort Sackville. What could it mean?
Clark's next move was an enigma, for he set the men to cutting and
trimming tall sapling poles. To these were tied (how reverently!) the
twenty stands of colors which loving Creole hands had stitched. The
boisterous day was reddening to its close as the Colonel lined his little
army in front of the wood, and we covered the space of four thousand.
For the men were twenty feet apart and every tenth carried a standard.
Suddenly we were aghast as the full meaning of the inspiration dawned
upon us. The command was given, and we started on our march toward
Vincennes. But not straight,--zigzagging, always keeping the ridges
between us and the town, and to the watching inhabitants it seemed as if
thousands were coming to crush them. Night fell, the colors were furled
and the saplings dropped, and we pressed into serried ranks and marched
straight over hill and dale for the lights that were beginning to twinkle
ahead of us.
We halted once more, a quarter of a mile away. Clark himself had picked
fourteen men to go under Lieutenant Bayley through the town and take the
fort from the other side. Here was audacity with a vengeance. You may
be sure that Tom and Cowan and Ray were among these, and I trotted after
them with the drum banging against my thighs.
Was ever stronghold taken thus?
They went right into the town, the fourteen of them, into the main street
that led directly to the fort. The simple citizens gave back, stupefied,
at sight of the tall, striding forms. Muffled Indians stood like statues
as we passed, but these raised not a hand against us. Where were
Hamilton, Hamilton's soldiers and savages? It was as if we had come
The street rose and fell in waves, like the prairie over which it ran.
As we climbed a ridge, here was a little log church, the rude cross on
the belfry showing dark against the sky. And there, in front of us,
flanked by blockhouses with conical caps, was the frowning mass of Fort
"Take cover," said Williams, hoarsely. It seemed incredible.
The men spread hither and thither, some at the corners of the church,
some behind the fences of the little gardens. Tom chose a great forest
tree that had been left standing, and I went with him. He powdered his
pan, and I laid down my drum beside the tree, and then, with an impulse
that was rare, Tom seized me by the collar and drew me to him.
"Davy," he whispered, and I pinched him. "Davy, I reckon Polly Ann'd be
kinder surprised if she knew where we was. Eh?"
I nodded. It seemed strange, indeed, to be talking thus at such a place.
Life has taught me since that it was not so strange, for however a man
may strive and suffer for an object, he usually sits quiet at the
consummation. Here we were in the door-yard of a peaceful cabin, the
ground frozen in lumps under our feet, and it seemed to me that the wind
had something to do with the lightness of the night.
"Davy," whispered Tom again, "how'd ye like to see the little feller to
I pinched him again, and harder this time, for I was at a loss for
adequate words. The muscles of his legs were as hard as the strands of a
rope, and his buckskin breeches frozen so that they cracked under my
Suddenly a flickering light arose ahead of us, and another, and we saw
that they were candles beginning to twinkle through the palings of the
fort. These were badly set, the width of a man's hand apart. Presently
here comes a soldier with a torch, and as he walked we could see from
crack to crack his bluff face all reddened by the light, and so near were
we that we heard the words of his song:--
"O, there came a lass to Sudbury Fair,
With a hey, and a ho, nonny-nonny!
And she had a rose in her raven hair,
With a hey, and a ho, nonny-nonny!"
"By the etarnal!" said Tom, following the man along the palings with the
muzzle of his Deckard, "by the etarnal! 'tis like shootin' beef."
A gust of laughter came from somewhere beyond. The burly soldier paused
at the foot of the blockhouse.
"Hi, Jem, have ye seen the General's man? His Honor's in a 'igh temper,
I warrant ye."
It was fortunate for Jem that he put his foot inside the blockhouse door.
It was Williams's voice, and fourteen rifles sputtered out a ragged
There was an instant's silence, and then a score of voices raised in
consternation,--shouting, cursing, commanding. Heavy feet pounded on the
platform of the blockhouse. While Tom was savagely jamming in powder and
ball, the wicket gate of the fort opened, a man came out and ran to a
house a biscuit's throw away, and ran back again before he was shot at,
slamming the gate after him. Tom swore.
"We've got but the ten rounds," he said, dropping his rifle to his knee.
"I reckon 'tis no use to waste it."
"The Willing may come to-night," I answered.
There was a bugle winding a strange call, and the roll of a drum, and the
"Don't fire till you're sure, boys," said Captain Williams.
Our eyes caught sight of a form in the blockhouse port, there was an
instant when a candle flung its rays upon a cannon's flank, and Tom's
rifle spat a rod of flame. A red blot hid the cannon's mouth, and behind
it a man staggered and fell on the candle, while the shot crunched its
way through the logs of the cottage in the yard where we stood. And now
the battle was on in earnest, fire darting here and there from the black
wall, bullets whistling and flying wide, and at intervals cannon
belching, their shot grinding through trees and houses. But our men
waited until the gunners lit their matches in the cannon-ports,--it was
no trick for a backwoodsman.
At length there came a popping right and left, and we knew that Bowman
and McCarty's men had swung into position there.
An hour passed, and a shadow came along our line, darting from cover to
cover. It was Lieutenant Bayley, and he sent me back to find the Colonel
and to tell him that the men had but a few rounds left. I sped through
the streets on the errand, spied a Creole company waiting in reserve, and
near them, behind a warehouse, a knot of backwoodsmen, French, and
Indians, lighted up by a smoking torch. And here was Colonel Clark
talking to a big, blanketed chief. I was hovering around the skirts of
the crowd and seeking for an opening, when a hand pulled me off my feet.
"What'll ye be afther now?" said a voice, which was Terence's.
"Let me go," I cried, "I have a message from Lieutenant Bayley."
"Sure," said Terence, "a man'd think ye had the Hair Buyer's sculp in
yere pocket. The Colonel is treaty-makin' with Tobacey's Son, the
grreatest Injun in these parrts."
"I don't care."
"Hist!" said Terence.
"Let me go," I yelled, so loudly that the Colonel turned, and Terence
dropped me like a live coal. I wormed my way to where Clark stood.
Tobacco's Son was at that moment protesting that the Big Knives were his
brothers, and declaring that before morning broke he would have one
hundred warriors for the Great White Chief. Had he not made a treaty of
peace with Captain Helm, who was even then a prisoner of the British
general in the fort?
Colonel Clark replied that he knew well of the fidelity of Tobacco's Son
to the Big Knives, that Tobacco's Son had remained stanch in the face of
bribes and presents (this was true). Now all that Colonel Clark desired
of Tobacco's Son besides his friendship was that he would keep his
warriors from battle. The Big Knives would fight their own fight. To
this sentiment Tobacco's Son grunted extreme approval. Colonel Clark
turned to me.
"What is it, Davy?" he asked.
I told him.
"Tobacco's Son has dug up for us King George's ammunition," he said. "Go
tell Lieutenant Bayley that I will send him enough to last him a month."
I sped away with the message. Presently I came back again, upon another
message, and they were eating,--those reserves,--they were eating as I
had never seen men eat but once, at Kaskaskia. The baker stood by with
lifted palms, imploring the saints that he might have some compensation,
until Clark sent him back to his shop to knead and bake again. The good
Creoles approached the fires with the contents of their larders in their
hands. Terence tossed me a loaf the size of a cannon ball, and another.
"Fetch that wan to wan av the b'ys," said he.
I seized as much as my arms could hold and scurried away to the firing
line once more, and, heedless of whistling bullets, darted from man to
man until the bread was exhausted. Not a one but gave me a "God bless
you, Davy," ere he seized it with a great hand and began to eat in
wolfish bites, his Deckard always on the watch the while.
There was no sleep in the village. All night long, while the rifles
sputtered, the villagers in their capotes--men, women, and
children--huddled around the fires. The young men of the militia begged
Clark to allow them to fight, and to keep them well affected he sent some
here and there amongst our lines. For our Colonel's strength was not
counted by rifles or men alone: he fought with his brain. As Hamilton,
the Hair Buyer, made his rounds, he believed the town to be in possession
of a horde of Kentuckians. Shouts, war-whoops, and bursts of laughter
went up from behind the town. Surely a great force was there, a small
part of which had been sent to play with him and his men. On the
fighting line, when there was a lull, our backwoodsmen stood up behind
their trees and cursed the enemy roundly, and often by these taunts
persuaded the furious gunners to open their ports and fire their cannon.
Woe be to him that showed an arm or a shoulder! Though a casement be
lifted ever so warily, a dozen balls would fly into it. And at length,
when some of the besieged had died in their anger, the ports were opened
no more. It was then our sharpshooters crept up boldly to within thirty
yards of them--nay, it seemed as if they lay under the very walls of the
fort. And through the night the figure of the Colonel himself was often
seen amongst them, praising their markmanship, pleading with every man
not to expose himself without cause. He spied me where I had wormed
myself behind the foot-board of a picket fence beneath the cannon-port of
a blockhouse. It was during one of the breathing spaces.
"What's this?" said he to Cowan, sharply, feeling me with his foot.
"I reckon it's Davy, sir," said my friend, somewhat sheepishly. "We
can't do nothin' with him. He's been up and down the line twenty times
"What doing?" says the Colonel.
"Bread and powder and bullets," answered Bill.
"But that's all over," says Clark.
"He's the very devil to pry," answered Bill. "The first we know he'll be
into the fort under the logs."
"Or between them," says Clark, with a glance at the open palings. "Come
I followed him, dodging between the houses, and when we had got off the
line he took me by the two shoulders from behind.
"You little rascal," said he, shaking me, "how am I to look out for an
army and you besides? Have you had anything to eat?"
"Yes, sir," I answered.
We came to the fires, and Captain Bowman hurried up to meet him.
"We're piling up earthworks and barricades," said the Captain, "for the
fight to-morrow. My God! if the Willing would only come, we could put
our cannon into them."
"Bowman," said he, kindly, "has Davy fed you yet?"
"No," says the Captain, surprised, "I've had no time to eat."
"He seems to have fed the whole army," said the Colonel. He paused.
"Have they scented Lamothe or Maisonville?"
"Devil a scent!" cried the Captain, "and we've scoured wood and quagmire.
They tell me that Lamothe has a very pretty force of redskins at his
"Let McChesney go," said Clark sharply, "McChesney and Ray. I'll warrant
they can find 'em."
Now I knew that Maisonville had gone out a-chasing Captain Willing's
brother,--he who had run into our arms. Lamothe was a noted Indian
partisan and a dangerous man to be dogging our rear that night. Suddenly
there came a thought that took my breath and set my heart a-hammering.
When the Colonel's back was turned I slipped away beyond the range of the
firelight, and I was soon on the prairie, stumbling over hummocks and
floundering into ponds, yet going as quietly as I could, turning now and
again to look back at the distant glow or to listen to the rifles popping
around the fort. The night was cloudy and pitchy dark. Twice the
whirring of startled waterfowl frightened me out of my senses, but
ambition pricked me on in spite of fear. I may have gone a mile thus,
perchance two or three, straining every sense, when a sound brought me to
a stand. At first I could not distinguish it because of my heavy
breathing, but presently I made sure that it was the low drone of human
voices. Getting down on my hands and knees, I crept forward, and felt
the ground rising. The voices had ceased. I gained the crest of a low
ridge, and threw myself flat. A rattle of musketry set me shivering, and
in an agony of fright I looked behind me to discover that I could not be
more than four hundred yards from the fort. I had made a circle. I lay
very still, my eyes watered with staring, and then--the droning began
again. I went forward an inch, then another and another down the slope,
and at last I could have sworn that I saw dark blurs against the ground.
I put out my hand, my weight went after, and I had crashed through a
coating of ice up to my elbow in a pool. There came a second of sheer
terror, a hoarse challenge in French, and then I took to my heels and
flew towards the fort at the top of my speed.
I heard them coming after me, leap and bound, and crying out to one
another. Ahead of me there might have been a floor or a precipice, as
the ground looks level at night. I hurt my foot cruelly on a frozen clod
of earth, slid down the washed bank of a run into the Wabash, picked
myself up, scrambled to the top of the far side, and had gotten away
again when my pursuer shattered the ice behind me. A hundred yards more,
two figures loomed up in front, and I was pulled up choking.
"Hang to him, Fletcher!" said a voice.
"Great God!" cried Fletcher, "it's Davy. What are ye up to now?"
"Let me go!" I cried, as soon as I had got my wind. As luck would have
it, I had run into a pair of daredevil young Kentuckians who had more
than once tasted the severity of Clark's discipline,--Fletcher Blount and
Jim Willis. They fairly shook out of me what had happened, and then
dropped me with a war-whoop and started for the prairie, I after them,
crying out to them to beware of the run. A man must indeed be fleet of
foot to have escaped these young ruffians, and so it proved. When I
reached the hollow there were the two of them fighting with a man in the
water, the ice jangling as they shifted their feet.
"What's yere name?" said Fletcher, cuffing and kicking his prisoner until
he cried out for mercy.
"Maisonville," said the man, whereupon Fletcher gave a war-whoop and
kicked him again.
"That's no way to use a prisoner," said I, hotly.
"Hold your mouth, Davy," said Fletcher, "you didn't ketch him."
"You wouldn't have had him but for me," I retorted.
Fletcher's answer was an oath. They put Maisonville between them, ran
him through the town up to the firing line, and there, to my horror, they
tied him to a post and used him for a shield, despite his heart-rending
yells. In mortal fear that the poor man would be shot down, I was
running away to find some one who might have influence over them when I
met a lieutenant. He came up and ordered them angrily to unbind
Maisonville and bring him before the Colonel. Fletcher laughed, whipped
out his hunting knife, and cut the thongs; but he and Willis had scarce
got twenty paces from the officer before they seized poor Maisonville by
the hair and made shift to scalp him. This was merely backwoods play,
had Maisonville but known it. Persuaded, however, that his last hour was
come, he made a desperate effort to clear himself, whereupon Fletcher cut
off a piece of his skin by mistake. Maisonville, making sure that he had
been scalped, stood groaning and clapping his hand to his head, while the
two young rascals drew back and stared at each other.
"What's to do now?" said Willis.
"Take our medicine, I reckon," answered Fletcher, grimly. And they
seized the tottering man between them, and marched him straightway to the
fire where Clark stood.
They had seen the Colonel angry before, but now they were fairly withered
under his wrath. And he could have given them no greater punishment, for
he took them from the firing line, and sent them back to wait among the
reserves until the morning.
"Nom de Dieu!" said Maisonville, wrathfully, as he watched them go, "they
"The stuff that brought them here through ice and flood is apt to boil
over, Captain," remarked the Colonel, dryly.
"If you please, sir," said I, "they did not mean to cut him, but he
Clark turned sharply.
"Eh?" said he, "did you have a hand in this, too?"
"Peste!" cried the Captain, "the little ferret--you call him--he find me
on the prairie. I run to catch him with some men and fall into the
crick--" he pointed to his soaked leggings, "and your demons, they fall
on top of me."
"I wish to heaven you had caught Lamothe instead, Davy," said the
Colonel, and joined despite himself in the laugh that went up. Falling
sober again, he began to question the prisoner. Where was Lamothe?
Pardieu, Maisonville could not say. How many men did he have, etc.,
etc.? The circle about us deepened with eager listeners, who uttered
exclamations when Maisonville, between his answers, put up his hand to
his bleeding head. Suddenly the circle parted, and Captain Bowman came
"Ray has discovered Lamothe, sir," said he. "What shall we do?"
"Let him into the fort," said Clark, instantly.
There was a murmur of astonished protest.
"Let him into the fort!" exclaimed Bowman.
"Certainly," said the Colonel; "if he finds he cannot get in, he will be
off before the dawn to assemble the tribes."
"But the fort is provisioned for a month," Bowman expostulated; "and they
must find out to-morrow how weak we are."
"To-morrow will be too late," said Clark.
"And suppose he shouldn't go in?"
"He will go in," said the Colonel, quietly. "Withdraw your men, Captain,
from the north side."
Captain Bowman departed. Whatever he may have thought of these orders,
he was too faithful a friend of the Colonel's to delay their execution.
Murmuring, swearing oaths of astonishment, man after man on the firing
line dropped his rifle at the word, and sullenly retreated. The crack,
crack of the Deckards on the south and east were stilled; not a barrel
was thrust by the weary garrison through the logs, and the place became
silent as the wilderness. It was the long hour before the dawn. And as
we lay waiting on the hard ground, stiff and cold and hungry, talking in
whispers, somewhere near six of the clock on that February morning the
great square of Fort Sackville began to take shape. There was the long
line of the stockade, the projecting blockhouses at each corner with
peaked caps, and a higher capped square tower from the centre of the
enclosure, the banner of England drooping there and clinging forlorn to
its staff, as though with a presentiment. Then, as the light grew, the
close-lipped casements were seen, scarred with our bullets. The little
log houses of the town came out, the sapling palings and the bare
trees,--all grim and gaunt at that cruel season. Cattle lowed here and
there, and horses whinnied to be fed.
It was a dirty, gray dawn, and we waited until it had done its best.
From where we lay hid behind log house and palings we strained our eyes
towards the prairie to see if Lamothe would take the bait, until our view
was ended at the fuzzy top of a hillock. Bill Cowan, doubled up behind a
woodpile and breathing heavily, nudged me.
"Davy, Davy, what d'ye see!"
Was it a head that broke the line of the crest? Even as I stared,
breathless, half a score of forms shot up and were running madly for the
stockade. Twenty more broke after them, Indians and Frenchmen, dodging,
swaying, crowding, looking fearfully to right and left. And from within
the fort came forth a hubbub,--cries and scuffling, orders, oaths, and
shouts. In plain view of our impatient Deckards soldiers manned the
platform, and we saw that they were flinging down ladders. An officer in
a faded scarlet coat stood out among the rest, shouting himself hoarse.
Involuntarily Cowan lined his sights across the woodpile on this mark of
Lamothe's men, a seething mass, were fighting like wolves for the
ladders, fearful yet that a volley might kill half of them where they
stood. And so fast did they scramble upwards that the men before them
stepped on their fingers. All at once and by acclamation the fierce
war-whoops of our men rent the air, and some toppled in sheer terror and
fell the twelve feet of the stockade at the sound of it. Then every man
in the regiment, Creole and backwoodsman, lay back to laugh. The answer
of the garrison was a defiant cheer, and those who had dropped, finding
they were not shot at, picked themselves up again and gained the top,
helping to pull the ladders after them. Bowman's men swung back into
place, the rattle and drag were heard in the blockhouse as the cannon
were run out through the ports, and the battle which had held through the
night watches began again with redoubled vigor. But there was more
caution on the side of the British, for they had learned dearly how the
Kentuckians could measure crack and crevice.
There followed two hours and a futile waste of ammunition, the lead from
the garrison flying harmless here and there, and not a patch of skin or
THE CAMPAIGN ENDS
"If I am obliged to storm, you may depend upon such treatment as is
justly due to a murderer. And beware of destroying stores of any kind,
or any papers or letters that are in your possession; or of hurting one
house in the town. For, by Heaven! if you do, there shall be no mercy
"To Lieutenant-Governor Hamilton."
So read Colonel Clark, as he stood before the log fire in Monsieur
Bouton's house at the back of the town, the captains grouped in front of
"Is that strong enough, gentlemen?" he asked.
"To raise his hair," said Captain Charleville.
Captain Bowman laughed loudly.
"I reckon the boys will see to that," said he.
Colonel Clark folded the letter, addressed it, and turned gravely to
"You will oblige me, sir," said he, "by taking this to Governor Hamilton.
You will be provided with a flag of truce."
Monsieur Bouton was a round little man, as his name suggested, and the
men cheered him as he strode soberly up the street, a piece of sheeting
tied to a sapling and flung over his shoulder. Through such humble
agencies are the ends of Providence accomplished. Monsieur Bouton walked
up to the gate, disappeared sidewise through the postern, and we sat down
to breakfast. In a very short time Monsieur Bouton was seen coming back,
and his face was not so impassive that the governors message could not be
"'Tis not a love-letter he has, I'll warrant," said Terence, as the
little man disappeared into the house. So accurately had Monsieur
Bouton's face betrayed the news that the men went back to their posts
without orders, some with half a breakfast in hand. And soon the rank
and file had the message.
"Lieutenant-Governor Hamilton begs leave to acquaint Colonel Clark that
he and his garrison are not disposed to be awed into any action unworthy
of British subjects."
Our men had eaten, their enemy was within their grasp and Clark and all
his officers could scarce keep them from storming. Such was the
deadliness of their aim that scarce a shot came back, and time and again
I saw men fling themselves in front of the breastworks with a war-whoop,
wave their rifles in the air, and cry out that they would have the Ha'r
Buyer's sculp before night should fall. It could not last. Not tuned to
the nicer courtesies of warfare, the memory of Hamilton's war parties, of
blackened homes, of families dead and missing, raged unappeased. These
were not content to leave vengeance in the Lord's hands, and when a white
flag peeped timorously above the gate a great yell of derision went up
from river-bank to river-bank. Out of the postern stepped the officer
with the faded scarlet coat, and in due time went back again, haughtily,
his head high, casting contempt right and left of him. Again the postern
opened, and this time there was a cheer at sight of a man in hunting
shirt and leggings and coonskin cap. After him came a certain Major Hay,
Indian-enticer of detested memory, the lieutenant of him who
followed--the Hair Buyer himself. A murmur of hatred arose from the men
stationed there; and many would have shot him where he stood but for
"The devil has the grit," said Cowan, though his eyes blazed.
It was the involuntary tribute. Lieutenant-Governor Hamilton stared
indifferently at the glowering backwoodsmen as he walked the few steps to
the church. Not so Major Hay. His eyes fell. There was Colonel Clark
waiting at the door through which the good Creoles had been wont to go to
worship, bowing somewhat ironically to the British General. It was a
strange meeting they had in St. Xavier's, by the light of the candles on
the altar. Hot words passed in that house of peace, the General
demanding protection for all his men, and our Colonel replying that he
would do with the Indian partisans as he chose.
"And whom mean you by Indian partisans?" the undaunted governor had
"I take Major Hay to be one of them," our Colonel had answered.
It was soon a matter of common report how Clark had gazed fixedly at the
Major when he said this, and how the Major turned pale and trembled.
With our own eyes we saw them coming out, Major Hay as near to staggering
as a man could be, the governor blushing red for shame of him. So they
went sorrowfully back to the gate.
Colonel Clark stood at the steps of the church, looking after them.
"What was that firing?" he demanded sharply. "I gave orders for a
We who stood by the church had indeed heard firing in the direction of
the hills east of the town, and had wondered thereat. Perceiving a crowd
gathered at the far end of the street, we all ran thither save the
Colonel, who directed to have the offenders brought to him at Monsieur
Bouton's. We met the news halfway. A party of Canadians and Indians had
just returned from the Falls of the Ohio with scalps they had taken.
Captain Williams had gone out with his company to meet them, had lured
them on, and finally had killed a number and was returning with the
prisoners. Yes, here they were! Williams himself walked ahead with two
dishevelled and frightened coureurs du bois, twoscore at least of the
townspeople of Vincennes, friends and relatives of the prisoners,
pressing about and crying out to Williams to have mercy on them. As for
Williams, he took them in to the Colonel, the townspeople pressing into
the door-yard and banking in front of it on the street. Behind all a
tragedy impended, nor can I think of it now without sickening.
The frightened Creoles in the street gave back against the fence, and
from behind them, issuing as a storm-cloud came the half of Williams'
company, yelling like madmen. Pushed and jostled ahead of them were four
Indians decked and feathered, the half-dried scalps dangling from their
belts, impassive, true to their creed despite the indignity of jolts and
jars and blows. On and on pressed the mob, gathering recruits at every
corner, and when they reached St. Xavier's before the fort half the
regiment was there. Others watched, too, from the stockade, and what
they saw made their knees smite together with fear. Here were four
bronzed statues in a row across the street, the space in front of them
clear that their partisans in the fort might look and consider. What was
passing in the savage mind no man might know. Not a lip trembled nor an
eye faltered when a backwoodsman, his memory aflame at sight of the
pitiful white scalps on their belts, thrust through the crowd to curse
them. Fletcher Blount, frenzied, snatched his tomahawk from his side.
"Sink, varmint!" he cried with a great oath. "By the etarnal! we'll pay
the H'ar Buyer in his own coin. Sound your drums!" he shouted at the
fort. "Call the garrison fer the show."
He had raised his arm and turned to strike when the savage put up his
hand, not in entreaty, but as one man demanding a right from another.
The cries, the curses, the murmurs even, were hushed. Throwing back his
head, arching his chest, the notes of a song rose in the heavy air.
Wild, strange notes they were, that struck vibrant chords in my own
quivering being, and the song was the death-song. Ay, and the life-song
of a soul which had come into the world even as mine own. And somewhere
there lay in the song, half revealed, the awful mystery of that Creator
Whom the soul leaped forth to meet: the myriad green of the sun playing
with the leaves, the fish swimming lazily in the brown pool, the doe
grazing in the thicket, and a naked boy as free from care as these; and
still the life grows brighter as strength comes, and stature, and power
over man and beast; and then, God knows what memories of fierce love and
fiercer wars and triumphs, of desires gained and enemies conquered,--God,
who has made all lives akin to something which He holds in the hollow of
His hand; and then--the rain beating on the forest crown, beating,
The song ceased. The Indian knelt in the black mud, not at the feet of
Fletcher Blount, but on the threshold of the Great Spirit who ruleth all
things. The axe fell, yet he uttered no cry as he went before his
So the four sang, each in turn, and died in the sight of some who pitied,
and some who feared, and some who hated, for the sake of land and women.
So the four went beyond the power of gold and gewgaw, and were dragged in
the mire around the walls and flung into the yellow waters of the river.
Through the dreary afternoon the men lounged about and cursed the parley,
and hearkened for the tattoo,--the signal agreed upon by the leaders to
begin the fighting. There had been no command against taunts and jeers,
and they gathered in groups under the walls to indulge themselves, and
even tried to bribe me as I sat braced against a house with my drum
between my knees and the sticks clutched tightly in my hands.
"Here's a Spanish dollar for a couple o' taps, Davy," shouted Jack
"Come on, ye pack of Rebel cutthroats!" yelled a man on the wall.
He was answered by a torrent of imprecations. And so they flung it back
and forth until nightfall, when out comes the same faded-scarlet officer,
holding a letter in his hand, and marches down the street to Monsieur
Bouton's. There would be no storming now, nor any man suffered to lay
fingers on the Hair Buyer. * * * * * * *
I remember, in particular, Hamilton the Hair Buyer. Not the fiend my
imagination had depicted (I have since learned that most villains do not
look the part), but a man with a great sorrow stamped upon his face. The
sun rose on that 25th of February, and the mud melted, and one of our
companies drew up on each side of the gate. Downward slid the lion of
England, the garrison drums beat a dirge, and the Hair Buyer marched out
at the head of his motley troops.
Then came my own greatest hour. All morning I had been polishing and
tightening the drum, and my pride was so great as we fell into line that
so much as a smile could not be got out of me. Picture it all:
Vincennes in black and white by reason of the bright day; eaves and
gables, stockade line and capped towers, sharply drawn, and straight
above these a stark flagstaff waiting for our colors; pigs and fowls
straying hither and thither, unmindful that this day is red on the
calendar. Ah! here is a bit of color, too,--the villagers on the side
streets to see the spectacle. Gay wools and gayer handkerchiefs there,
amid the joyous, cheering crowd of thrice-changed nationality.
"Vive les Bostonnais! Vive les Americains! Vive Monsieur le Colonel
Clark! Vive le petit tambour!"
"Vive le petit tambour!" That was the drummer boy, stepping proudly
behind the Colonel himself, with a soul lifted high above mire and puddle
into the blue above. There was laughter amongst the giants behind me,
and Cowan saying softly, as when we left Kaskaskia, "Go it, Davy, my
little gamecock!" And the whisper of it was repeated among the ranks
drawn up by the gate.
Yes, here was the gate, and now we were in the fort, and an empire was
gained, never to be lost again. The Stars and Stripes climbed the staff,
and the folds were caught by an eager breeze. Thirteen cannon thundered
from the blockhouses--one for each colony that had braved a king.
There, in the miry square within the Vincennes fort, thin and bronzed and
travel-stained, were the men who had dared the wilderness in ugliest
mood. And yet none by himself would have done it--each had come here
compelled by a spirit stronger than his own, by a master mind that
laughed at the body and its ailments.
Colonel George Rogers Clark stood in the centre of the square, under the
flag to whose renown he had added three stars. Straight he was, and
square, and self-contained. No weakening tremor of exultation softened
his face as he looked upon the men by whose endurance he had been able to
do this thing. He waited until the white smoke of the last gun had
drifted away on the breeze, until the snapping of the flag and the
distant village sounds alone broke the stillness.
"We have not suffered all things for a reward," he said, "but because a
righteous cause may grow. And though our names may be forgotten, our
deeds will be remembered. We have conquered a vast land that our
children and our children's children may be freed from tyranny, and we
have brought a just vengeance upon our enemies. I thank you, one and
all, in the name of the Continental Congress and of that Commonwealth of
Virginia for which you have fought. You are no longer Virginians,
Kentuckians, Kaskaskians, and Cahokians--you are Americans."
He paused, and we were silent. Though his words moved us strongly, they
were beyond us.
"I mention no deeds of heroism, of unselfishness, of lives saved at the
peril of others. But I am the debtor of every man here for the years to
come to see that he and his family have justice from the Commonwealth and
Again he stopped, and it seemed to us watching that he smiled a little.
"I shall name one," he said, "one who never lagged, who never complained,
who starved that the weak might be fed and walk. David Ritchie, come
I trembled, my teeth chattered as the water had never made them chatter.
I believe I should have fallen but for Tom, who reached out from the
ranks. I stumbled forward in a daze to where the Colonel stood, and the
cheering from the ranks was a thing beyond me. The Colonel's hand on my
head brought me to my senses.
"David Ritchie," he said, "I give you publicly the thanks of the
regiment. The parade is dismissed."
The next thing I knew I was on Cowan's shoulders, and he was tearing
round and round the fort with two companies at his heels.
"The divil," said Terence McCann, "he dhrummed us over the wather, an'
through the wather; and faix, he would have dhrummed the sculp from
Hamilton's head and the Colonel had said the worrd."
"By gar!" cried Antoine le Gris, "now he drum us on to Detroit."
Out of the gate rushed Cowan, the frightened villagers scattering right
and left. Antoine had a friend who lived in this street, and in ten
minutes there was rum in the powder-horns, and the toast was "On to
Colonel Clark was sitting alone in the commanding officer's room of the
garrison. And the afternoon sun, slanting through the square of the
window, fell upon the maps and papers before him. He had sent for me. I
halted in sheer embarrassment on the threshold, looked up at his face,
and came on, troubled.
"Davy," he said, "do you want to go back to Kentucky?"
"I should like to stay to the end, Colonel," I answered.
"The end?" he said. "This is the end."
"And Detroit, sir?" I returned.
"Detroit!" he cried bitterly, "a man of sense measures his force, and
does not try the impossible. I could as soon march against Philadelphia.
This is the end, I say; and the general must give way to the politician.
And may God have mercy on the politician who will try to keep a people's
affection without money or help from Congress."
He fell back wearily in his chair, while I stood astonished, wondering.
I had thought to find him elated with victory.
"Congress or Virginia," said he, "will have to pay Monsieur Vigo, and
Father Gibault, and Monsieur Gratiot, and the other good people who have
trusted me. Do you think they will do so?"
"The Congress are far from here," I said.
"Ay," he answered, "too far to care about you and me, and what we have
He ended abruptly, and sat for a while staring out of the window at the
figures crossing and recrossing the muddy parade-ground.
"Tom McChesney goes to-night to Kentucky with letters to the county
lieutenant. You are to go with him, and then I shall have no one to
remind me when I am hungry, and bring me hominy. I shall have no
financier, no strategist for a tight place." He smiled a little, sadly,
at my sorrowful look, and then drew me to him and patted my shoulder.
"It is no place for a young lad,--an idle garrison. I think," he
continued presently, "I think you have a future, David, if you do not
lose your head. Kentucky will grow and conquer, and in twenty years be a
thriving community. And presently you will go to Virginia, and study
law, and come back again. Do you hear?"
"And I would tell you one thing," said he, with force; "serve the people,
as all true men should in a republic. But do not rely upon their
gratitude. You will remember that?"
A long time he paused, looking on me with a significance I did not then
understand. And when he spoke again his voice showed no trace of
emotion, save in the note of it.
"You have been a faithful friend, Davy, when I needed loyalty. Perhaps
the time may come again. Promise me that you will not forget me if I
"Unfortunate, sir!" I exclaimed.
"Good-by, Davy," he said, "and God bless you. I have work to do."
Still I hesitated. He stared at me, but with kindness.
"What is it, Davy?" he asked.
"Please, sir," I said, "if I might take my drum?"
At that he laughed.
"You may," said he, "you may. Perchance we may need it again."
I went out from his presence, vaguely troubled, to find Tom. And before
the early sun had set we were gliding down the Wabash in a canoe, past
places forever dedicated to our agonies, towards Kentucky and Polly Ann.
"Davy," said Tom, "I reckon she'll be standin' under the 'simmon tree,
waitin' fer us with the little shaver in her arms."
And so she was.
FLOTSAM AND JETSAM
IN THE CABIN
The Eden of one man may be the Inferno of his neighbor, and now I am to
throw to the winds, like leaves of a worthless manuscript, some years of
time, and introduce you to a new Kentucky,--a Kentucky that was not for
the pioneer. One page of this manuscript might have told of a fearful
winter, when the snow lay in great drifts in the bare woods, when Tom and
I fashioned canoes or noggins out of the great roots, when a new and
feminine bit of humanity cried in the bark cradle, and Polly Ann sewed
deer leather. Another page--nay, a dozen--could be filled with Indian
horrors, ambuscades and massacres. And also I might have told how there
drifted into this land, hitherto unsoiled, the refuse cast off by the
older colonies. I must add quickly that we got more than our share of
their best stock along with this.
No sooner had the sun begun to pit the snow hillocks than wild creatures
came in from the mountains, haggard with hunger and hardship. They had
left their homes in Virginia and the Carolinas in the autumn; an
unheralded winter of Arctic fierceness had caught them in its grip.
Bitter tales they told of wives and children buried among the rocks.
Fast on the heels of these wretched ones trooped the spring settlers in
droves; and I have seen whole churches march singing into the forts, the
preacher leading, and thanking God loudly that He had delivered them from
the wilderness and the savage. The little forts would not hold them; and
they went out to hew clearings from the forest, and to build cabins and
stockades. And our own people, starved and snowbound, went out
likewise,--Tom and Polly Ann and their little family and myself to the
farm at the river-side. And while the water flowed between the stumps
over the black land, we planted and ploughed and prayed, always alert,
watching north and south, against the coming of the Indians.
But Tom was no husbandman. He and his kind were the scouts, the advance
guard of civilization, not tillers of the soil or lovers of close
communities. Farther and farther they went afield for game, and always
they grumbled sorely against this horde which had driven the deer from
his cover and the buffalo from his wallow.
Looking back, I can recall one evening when the long summer twilight
lingered to a close. Tom was lounging lazily against the big persimmon
tree, smoking his pipe, the two children digging at the roots, and Polly
Ann, seated on the door-log, sewing. As I drew near, she looked up at me
from her work. She was a woman upon whose eternal freshness industry
made no mar.
"Davy," she exclaimed, "how ye've growed! I thought ye'd be a wizened
little body, but this year ye've shot up like a cornstalk."
"My father was six feet two inches in his moccasins," I said.
"He'll be wallopin' me soon," said Tom, with a grin. He took a long
whiff at his pipe, and added thoughtfully, "I reckon this ain't no place
fer me now, with all the settler folks and land-grabbers comin' through
"Tom," said I, "there's a bit of a fall on the river here."
"Ay," he said, "and nary a fish left."
"Something better," I answered; "we'll put a dam there and a mill and a
"And make our fortune grinding corn for the settlers," cried Polly Ann,
showing a line of very white teeth. "I always said ye'd be a rich man,
Tom was mildly interested, and went with us at daylight to measure the
fall. And he allowed that he would have the more time to hunt if the
mill were a success. For a month I had had the scheme in my mind, where
the dam was to be put, the race, and the wondrous wheel rimmed with cow
horns to dip the water. And fixed on the wheel there was to be a crank
that worked the pounder in the mortar. So we were to grind until I could
arrange with Mr. Scarlett, the new storekeeper in Harrodstown, to have
two grinding-stones fetched across the mountains.
While the corn ripened and the melons swelled and the flax flowered, our
axes rang by the river's side; and sometimes, as we worked, Cowan and
Terrell and McCann and other Long Hunters would come and jeer good-naturedly because we were turning
civilized. Often they gave us a lift.
It was September when the millstones arrived, and I spent a joyous
morning of final bargaining with Mr. Myron Scarlett. This Mr. Scarlett
was from Connecticut, had been a quartermaster in the army, and at much
risk brought ploughs and hardware, and scissors and buttons, and
broadcloth and corduroy, across the Alleghanies, and down the Ohio in
flatboats. These he sold at great profit. We had no money, not even the
worthless scrip that Congress issued; but a beaver skin was worth
eighteen shillings, a bearskin ten, and a fox or a deer or a wildcat
less. Half the village watched the barter. The rest lounged sullenly
about the land court.
The land court--curse of Kentucky! It was just a windowless log house
built outside the walls, our temple of avarice. The case was this:
Henderson (for whose company Daniel Boone cut the wilderness road)
believed that he had bought the country, and issued grants therefor. Tom
held one of these grants, alas, and many others whom I knew. Virginia
repudiated Henderson. Keen-faced speculators bought acre upon acre and
tract upon tract from the State, and crossed the mountains to extort.
Claims conflicted, titles lapped. There was the court set in the
sunlight in the midst of a fair land, held by the shameless, thronged day
after day by the homeless and the needy, jostling, quarrelling,
beseeching. Even as I looked upon this strife a man stood beside me.
"Drat 'em," said the stranger, as he watched a hawk-eyed extortioner in
drab, for these did not condescend to hunting shirts, "drat 'em, ef I had
my way I'd wring the neck of every mother's son of 'em."
I turned with a start, and there was Mr. Daniel Boone.
"Howdy, Davy," he said; "ye've growed some sence ye've ben with Clark."
He paused, and then continued in the same strain: "'Tis the same at
Boonesboro and up thar at the Falls settlement. The critters is
everywhar, robbin' men of their claims. Davy," said Mr. Boone,
earnestly, "you know that I come into Kaintuckee when it waren't nothin'
but wilderness, and resked my life time and again. Them varmints is
wuss'n redskins,--they've robbed me already of half my claims."
"Robbed you!" I exclaimed, indignant that he, of all men, should suffer.
"Ay," he said, "robbed me. They've took one claim after another, tracts
that I staked out long afore they heerd of Kaintuckee." He rubbed his
rifle barrel with his buckskin sleeve. "I get a little for my skins, and
a little by surveyin'. But when the game goes I reckon I'll go after
"Where, Mr. Boone?" I asked.
"Whar? whar the varmints cyant foller. Acrost the Mississippi into the
"And leave Kentucky?" I cried.
"Davy," he answered sadly, "you kin cope with 'em. They tell me you're
buildin' a mill up at McChesney's, and I reckon you're as cute as any of
'em. They beat me. I'm good for nothin' but shootin' and explorin'."
We stood silent for a while, our attention caught by a quarrel which had
suddenly come out of the doorway. One of the men was Jim Willis,--my
friend of Clark's campaign,--who had a Henderson claim near Shawanee
Springs. The other was the hawk-eyed man of whom Mr. Boone had spoken,
and fragments of their curses reached us where we stood. The hunting
shirts surged around them, alert now at the prospect of a fight; men came
running in from all directions, and shouts of "Hang him! Tomahawk him!"
were heard on every side. Mr. Boone did not move. It was a common
enough spectacle for him, and he was not excitable. Moreover, he knew
that the death of one extortioner more or less would have no effect on
the system. They had become as the fowls of the air.
"I was acrost the mountain last month," said Mr. Boone, presently, "and
one of them skunks had stole Campbell's silver spoons at Abingdon.
Campbell was out arter him for a week with a coil of rope on his saddle.
But the varmint got to cover."
Mr. Boone wished me luck in my new enterprise, bade me good-by, and set
out for Redstone, where he was to measure a tract for a Revolutioner.
The speculator having been rescued from Jim Willis's clutches by the
sheriff, the crowd good-naturedly helped us load our stones between
pack-horses, and some of them followed us all the way home that they
might see the grinding. Half of McAfee's new station had heard the news,
and came over likewise. And from that day we ground as much corn as
could be brought to us from miles around.
Polly Ann and I ran the mill and kept the accounts. Often of a crisp
autumn morning we heard a gobble-gobble above the tumbling of the water
and found a wild turkey perched on top of the hopper, eating his fill.
Some of our meat we got that way. As for Tom, he was off and on. When
the roving spirit seized him he made journeys to the westward with Cowan
and Ray. Generally they returned with packs of skins. But sometimes
soberly, thanking Heaven that their hair was left growing on their heads.
This, and patrolling the Wilderness Road and other militia duties, made
up Tom's life. No sooner was the mill fairly started than off he went to
the Cumberland. I mention this, not alone because I remember well the
day of his return, but because of a certain happening then that had a
heavy influence on my after life.
The episode deals with an easy-mannered gentleman named Potts, who was
the agent for a certain Major Colfax of Virginia. Tom owned under a
Henderson grant; the Major had been given this and other lands for his
services in the war. Mr. Potts arrived one rainy afternoon and found me
standing alone under the little lean-to that covered the hopper. How we
served him, with the aid of McCann and Cowan and other neighbors, and how
we were near getting into trouble because of the prank, will be seen
later. The next morning I rode into Harrodstown not wholly easy in my
mind concerning the wisdom of the thing I had done. There was no one to
advise me, for Colonel Clark was far away, building a fort on the banks
of the Mississippi. Tom had laughed at the consequences; he cared little
about his land, and was for moving into the Wilderness again. But for
Polly Ann's sake I wished that we had treated the land agent less
cavalierly. I was soon distracted from these thoughts by the sight of
I had no sooner ridden out of the forest shade when I saw that the place
was in an uproar, men and women gathering in groups and running here and
there between the cabins. Urging on the mare, I cantered across the
fields, and the first person I met was James Ray.
"What's the matter?" I asked.
"Matter enough! An army of redskins has crossed the Ohio, and not a man
to take command. My God," cried Ray, pointing angrily at the swarms
about the land office, "what trash we have got this last year! Kentucky
can go to the devil, half the stations be wiped out, and not a thrip do
"Have you sent word to the Colonel?" I asked.
"If he was here," said Ray, bitterly, "he'd have half of 'em swinging
inside of an hour. I'll warrant he'd send 'em to the right-about."
I rode on into the town, Potts gone out of my mind. Apart from the
land-office crowds, and looking on in silent rage, stood a group of the
old settlers,--tall, lean, powerful, yet impotent for lack of a leader.
A contrast they were, these buckskin-clad pioneers, to the ill-assorted
humanity they watched, absorbed in struggles for the very lands they had
"By the eternal!" said Jack Terrell, "if the yea'th was ter swaller 'em
up, they'd keep on a-dickerin in hell."
"Something's got to be done," Captain Harrod put in gloomily; "the red
varmints'll be on us in another day. In God's name, whar is Clark?"
"Hold!" cried Fletcher Blount, "what's that?"
The broiling about the land court, too, was suddenly hushed. Men stopped
in their tracks, staring fixedly at three forms which had come out of the
woods into the clearing.
"Redskins, or there's no devil!" said Terrell.
Redskins they were, but not the blanketed kind that drifted every day
through the station. Their war-paint gleamed in the light, and the white
edges of the feathered head-dresses caught the sun. One held up in his
right hand a white belt,--token of peace on the frontier.
"Lord A'mighty!" said Fletcher Blount, "be they Cricks?"
"Chickasaws, by the headgear," said Terrell. "Davy, you've got a hoss.
Ride out and look em over."
Nothing loath, I put the mare into a gallop, and I passed over the very
place where Polly Ann had picked me up and saved my life long since. The
Indians came on at a dog trot, but when they were within fifty paces of
me they halted abruptly. The chief waved the white belt around his head.