Historical Society of Southwest Virginia
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CAPTURE OF JANE WHITTAKER AND
During the spring of 1777, a party of Indians,
under the leadership of the half-breed Benge and a savage white man
by the name of Hargus, crossed the range of hills north of Clinch
at High Knob and made their way to
The Indians, having cautiously and stealthily approached the river down Stony Creek and fearing they might be discovered, crossed some distance below and came up in the rear of a high cliff south of, and opposite, the fort, concealing their main body in the bushes at the base. In order to command a view of the fort, they sent one of their number to the summit of the cliff to spy out the condition of the fort and to act as a decoy. He ascended in the night and climbed a tall cedar with thick foliage at the top, on the very verge of the precipice, and just at the break of day he began to gobble like a wild turkey. This imitation was so well executed it would have been successful but for the warnings of an old Indian fighter present by the name of Matthew Gray. Hearing what they supposed to be a gobbling turkey, and desiring him for breakfast, some of the younger members of the company proposed to go up the cliff and shoot him; but Gray told them if they wanted to keep their scalps on their heads they had better let that turkey alone and if they would follow his directions he would give them an Indian for breakfast.
Having promised to obey his instructions, he took several of them with him to a branch which he knew to be in full view of the Indians and told them to wash and dabble in the stream to divert the attention of the enemy for half an hour, while he went to look for the turkey, which still continued to gobble at short intervals.
Gray, having borrowed an extra rifle from David Cox, crouched below the bank of the stream and in this manner followed its course to where it emptied into the river, half a mile below at a place known as Shallow Shoals. Here he took to the timber, eluding the vigilance of the Indians by getting in their rear. He then crept cautiously up the ridge, guided by the gobbling of the Indian in the top of the cedar on the cliff. Getting within about seventy-five yards of the tree and waiting until his turkeyship had finished an extra big gobble, he drew a bead upon him and put a ball in his head. With a yell and spring the Indian went crashing through the tree-tops and over the precipice, a mangled mass of flesh and bones.
Then commenced a race for life. Gray had played a desperate game, and nothing but his fleetness and his knowledge of savage craft could save him. He knew that the Indians in ambush would go to their companion on hearing the report of the rifle and that they were not more than two hundred yards away. He did his best running and dodging, but they were so close upon him that he would have been captured or killed had not the men of the fort rushed out to his rescue.
The Indians, finding that they had been discovered and that they were not strong enough to attack or besiege the fort, started in the direction of Castle's Woods. The people at the fort, knowing that the settlement at Castle's Woods was not aware that the Indians were in the vicinity, determined to warn them; but the difficulty was how this was to be done and who would be bold enough to undertake it, as the Indians were between the two forts.
When a volunteer for the perilous expedition was called for, Matthew Gray, who but an hour before had made such a narrow escape, boldly offered his services and, getting the fastest horse and two rifles, started out through the almost unbroken forest. Moving cautiously along the trail, he came near Ivy Spring about two miles from the fort, when he saw signs which satisfied him that the Indians had halted at the spring. There was no way to flank them, and he must make a perilous dash or fail in his mission. Being an old Indian fighter, he knew that they seldom put out pickets. The trail made a short curve near the spring; he at once formed the plan of riding quietly up to the curve and then, with a shot and a yell, dash through them.
He arrived at the settlement in safety and, thus, in all probability saved the lives of all the settlers. The Indians, however, captured two women on the way - Polly Alley at Osborn's Ford, as they went up the river, and Jane Whittaker near Castle's Woods.
Finding the fort at Castle's Woods fully prepared for their reception, the band had to abandon their murderous purpose and pass on with their captives, without permitting themselves to be seen. Reaching Guess' Station, they remained part of the night; finding it well prepared for defense, they continued their journey to the "Breaks," where the Russell and Pound forks of Big Sandy pass through the Cumberland Mountains.
After this, they traveled every day, resting at night, until they reached the Ohio at the mouth of Sandy. Crossing the river on a raft of logs with their prisoners, who suffered more than can be described or conceived on the long march, they reached their destination at Sandusky. The two young women were closely confined for some time after their arrival, though they were eventually stripped and painted and allowed the liberty of the village. They were closely watched for a month or more; but, seeing they made no attempt at escape, the Indians abated their vigilance. Observing this, the girls determined to make an effort at escape. Having been permitted to wander about at pleasure from time to time and punctually returning at night, the Indians were thrown off their guard. Having wandered one day farther from the village than usual and being in a dense forest, they started out on the long journey toward their home.
After traveling all night, they found themselves only about eight miles from the village; and, finding a hollow log, they crept into it, with the determination of remaining concealed during the day. They had been in it but a few minutes before Hargus and two or three Indian came along in pursuit and sat down upon it, and the girls heard them make their plans for the next day's search. Returning late in the afternoon, having lost the girls' trail, the Indians sat down upon the same log to rest; and again the occupants beneath them heard their plans for pursuit. These were, that a party should pass down each of two rivers which had their sources near their village and emptied into the Ohio. They became very much enraged at having been baffled by two inexperienced girls and threatened their victims with all sorts of tortures should they be recaptured.
Hargus, more furious than the Indians themselves, struck his tomahawk into the log to emphasize his threats and, finding it return a hollow sound, declared the girls might be in it, as they had been traced thus far. He sent one of the savages to the end of the log to see. The savage went and looked; but, seeing that a spider had stretched its web across the aperture, he made no further examination. This web, which probably had not been there an hour, saved them from recapture and it may be from a cruel death.
After the Indians left, the girls, having heard their plans, left the log and resumed their journey, taking a leading ridge which ran at right angles with the Ohio and led them to it not far from opposite the mouth of Sandy. They could hear the yells of the Indians in pursuit each day and night until the reached the river, when, from a high promontory, they had the satisfaction of seeing their pursuers give up the chase and turn back towards their village.
They had nothing to eat for three long days and night but a partially devoured squirrel from which they had frightened a hawk. On the night of the third day after the Indians had quit the pursuit, they ventured to the river, where they were fortunate enough the next day to see a flat-boat with white men in it descending the stream. The men took them aboard, set them across at the mouth of Sandy, and furnished them with a sufficiency of bread and dried venison to last them two weeks. Also, they gave each girl a blanket.
The girls took their course up Sandy on the same trail they had gone down some months before, but in one of the rapid and dangerous crossings of that stream they lost all of their provisions, as well as blankets. This, though a great calamity, did not discourage them. They pushed on with friends and home in view. They found their way through Pound gap and reached Guess' Station about the middle of September, having been on the journey about a month. Here they found friends who gave them food and, after they had rested, accompanied them to their homes.
Source: Cole, Life of Wilburn Waters, pp 153-154. This story is found nowhere save in above source, consequently it is sometimes referred to as a traditional tale.
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