From the Troy Times dated January 16, 1868
Written for the Troy Times
EARLY TIMES IN MIAMI COUNTY
Reminiscences of Abraham Thomas
During this year, our stations and settlements were much annoyed by predatory bands of Indians who were stealing, slaughtering our stock, and murdering wherever they could find an unguarded point. A large party of Indians had committed horrible devastations, and afterwards, besieged Bryant’s station, were pursued by a company hastily assembled; who overtook them at the Blue Licks. Although the Indians outnumbered the Kentuckians, as three to one, the pursuing party attacked them with vigor, and the battle was fiercely contested on both sides, but it proved a sad day for Kentucky. On hearing of this disaster, the whole country border rallied under Col. Logan, and marched to the scene of action. I was with a party from our station, and never shall I forget the horrid butchery of that field, where lay the hideously mangled corpses of sixty or seventy of our bravest and best citizens.
Ours, (Fisher’s station,) was often beset, and several killed out of it. One evening at dusk, when every thing had been for some time quiet, several of our girls, left the confinement of the fort to secreate themselves; they were sitting on a log under the fence, chatting and laughing, when an Indian mounted the fence just behind them; the girls happened to see him, and sprang up. One of them, Patty Smith, afterwards the wife of Capt. Barbee, (and now living among us), seized a stake and threatened to strike him. On this the Indian retreated and the girls escaped into the fort. The next day, a Mr. Kertly, who started out for Crowe’s station, was made prisoner and carried off by the Indians. He afterwards escaped and returned to the station. The Indians told him of their encounter with the girls, laughed at the fearlessness of the young squaw, and said it was their intention to have captured them, but feared to make much noise so near the fort.
The next year, 1783, Cols. Harrod and McGara, planned a mounted expedition, to the Mackacheek towns, somewhere about the heads of Mad River.--I volunteered to accompany them. We crossed the Ohio, at what was called the Three Islands, some distance above our old crossing place, at the mouth of Licking, we penetrated the Indian country with great expedition, and arrived at the towns before the Indians had the least notice of our approach. Col. Harrod headed one party for an attack on the upper village, and McGara headed ours for the lower village. These were both most brave and fearless men; they drew their swords, and scampered into the villages calling on their men to follow them. The Indians were perfectly amazed at the onset, and although prepared to fire, dropped their arms and ran, some to their houses, others to the bazel convert. McGara, and those who had long knives, cut and slashed without mercy, wherever they could reach a fugitive; but our rifles were of little service in such a wild scampering forny, and not many warriors fell in this attack. We however, killed some, took about thirty squaws and a host of papooses, prisoners, which we carried off to Kentucky, treated well, and finally liberated. After the village attacked by our division had been carried, a party of us went to the other for the purpose of congratulating Col. Harrod on his success. He had taken many prisoners and among the rest a Shawnee Chief, who had his horse packed for fight. I was standing by when McGara was conversing with him on Indian affairs; at last, he asked the Chief if he was at the battle of the Blue Licks, the Indian answered he was, then said McGara you shall never be there again, at the same instant, striking him on the head with a square axe, felled him dead to the ground. McGara had lost many of his dearest friends at the Blue Licks, and led that attack. One of my friends, who had caught a squaw as she was scudding into the bushes, was most treacherously treated by her, she pointing to the covert said, more squaw, more squaw, my friend on going to look for them was shot by a concealed Indian, who made his escape; another rifle at that time coming up, shot the squaw, and this was in conformity to the spirit of those wayward times.
The Indians now appeared cowed and seemed to have lost their daring spirit of revengeful resistance. Up to this time they had never successfully withstood the prowess of embodied back woodman, wherever they were met with anything like an equal force. But some years after, in the defeat of strong bodies of well appointed regular troops, and militia, under Harmer and St. Clair, they exhibited a better spirit, and showed themselves yet capable of great efforts. But the world of the Indian lies within a narrow circle, he seldom looks beyond the present; his pleasures and pains are like transient; experience yields to him but little wisdom, and the perspective hopes of ambition do not belong; to his character, yet, under the influence of his own instruction, when free from vicious influence he possesses striking virtues, that may well be coveted, by his more sagacious, and successful competitors for dominion.
The next morning after the affair of the Mackacheek towns, the entire destruction of their villages and every thing about them, we returned home with due expedition. After this, but few Indian war parties crossed the Ohio to molest the Kentuckians, we lived in comparative security and settlers joined us in great numbers.
It would be difficult to give to the present generation a faint idea of the virgin beauty of the west, the ground everywhere was light and friable, the whole country was an endless field of wild rye and pea vines, on which our domestic cattle became rolling fat, and the earth was filled with nutritious roots, on which the swine rioted at their pleasure, presenting at all times a lusty carcass for the knife. Vast patches of cane gave winter substance to herds of wild animals, such as the buffalo, elk, deer, and bear, that could at any time be obtained by the hunters; while the soil abundantly rewarded the industry of its cultivators. It is true, we had our cares and vexations, but they were conquerable by high hopes, and determined spirits, we had also our pleasures, among a warm hearted and generous population. The Indians, at times, exceedingly annoyed us, but no man feared them; all we asked of our foes, was a fair field, and this we took good care to secure whenever we had notice of Indian approach. Our cattle were our faithful picket guards, for whenever Indians came near, they would snort and scamper towards the stations, where our rifles were kept in trim to receive them.
In 1808, a small party of my neighbors removed to Ohio, and we were again in the midst of Indians, who daily visited our cabins, but I felt no other sentiment towards them, than pity for subdued and dejected foes. We lived harmoniously together until they followed the game to more remote forests. In our new residence, fat turkeys everywhere abounded, and at all seasons of the year, venison, and bear meat, were for a long time our common fare. We raised houses full of healthy children; our stock gave us no trouble. We enjoyed the best state of social intercourse with our neighbors, and new-comers. We knew none happier than ourselves, and I have yet to learn, if any enjoy a higher state of substantial comfort, than the frontier backwoods man.
Thus I have narrated such incidents of my frontier life, as are most prominently connected with the history of western settlements, I am aware the time will shortly arrive, when the actors in those events will be gathered to their fathers;--when new generations, of a flourishing and civilized community, will look back with intense interest on the past, and mingle wonder with doubt, that their polished, and beautiful country should have been so lately the undisturbed home of savage life. They will everywhere search for records of that interesting period, but will miss the traditions of the past, that have forever escaped them. To such as may be thus curious I leave this small legacy of my experience, trusting, they will clearly trace the hand of a Divine Providence, in all that relates to the settlement of the western country.
It now remains to give some idea of our manner of living, and hunting, while in the stations of Kentucky.
A station, was an area inclosing from a half to an acre of ground, built round on the four sides with cabins of logs fronting the center, there was no door or window on the outer or back wall.--These cabins were connected together on their outer face, by pickets or stockades of split timber, set firmly in the earth, and rising from ten to twelve feet above it. There was usually one large gate, sometimes two, occasionally small sally gates for the passage of a single man. All the inhabitants lived within this enclosure, or retreated to it on the approach of danger, and sometimes cattle were driven into it. Our household establishments were on the most simple footing, all had good beds, but punches and benches served us for chairs--trenchers for plates--wooden noggins and gourd shells for drinking, and milk vessels, and cane, fashioned to a point, for forks, usually, they were of each man’s manufacture, or fabricated by some genius within the station.--Our diet was parched or bruised corn, fashioned into the shape of a hoecake, dodger or ash bread, or sometimes, the more luxurious hominy; this with milk and forest game, garnished at the proper season with a dish of nettles, and other wild salads, furnished our repasts.--These were eaten without the ordinary condiments of the kitchen, and sometimes without salt, but our supply of this latter article was tolerably well furnished from the natural salt licks in the country, our sugar was from the forest. Coffee, tea, and chocolate, and the spices of India were never thought of, or scarcely known. Yet we were healthy and contented.
When we were in want of provisions, individuals or parties would go out on short excursions, or get up a hunting expedition that would consume from one to four weeks, traveling in that time, many miles from the station. A description of one or two of these hunts will serve to show the character of them all. Captain William Barbee, Jacob Copelin, one Boon, and myself, started out in January for Kentucky River, to lay in a stock of provisions for our station; we took with us eight horses, with sufficient salt--armed to the teeth with rifles, scalping knives, and tomahawks with our powder and ball. We only took with us beaten and parched corn for subsistence, confidently relying upon our rifles for an abundant supply. Having traveled or rather lounged along, for the space of two days, we came to a deserted cabin in the woods, that had been built by a party of hunters in 1776, in a short time we prepared it for a temporary residence, our horses were hobbled and set to graze on the range. We made several hunts on foot, in which Boon got lost and strayed to a party of hunters, out near the present site of Frankfort. We saw no more of him until our return to the station, and suspected he had been killed by the Indians.
Game not being abundant near our encampment, and, as we were in quest of buffalo, we one morning drove up our horses to take a more distant hunt. On approaching the cliffs of Kentucky, my companions started a large herd of deer, led by a monstrous buck, although careless of this sized game, I could not resist my inclination for a shot, leveled and brought the noble animal to his knees, but he staggered along to the cliff, and sprang from it a great height into the bottom. Seeing him beyond reach, we rode toward some open ridges, and espied a herd of buffalo lying along the side of one of them. We secured our horses and Copelin proposed going himself to shoot one, for he was every inch of him a hunter, and enjoyed a high reputation for sagacity, “not so fast,” said I, “Barbee and myself will first take position on the ridge to intercept the buffalo in their flight, and it may be we will both get a shot.” The buffalo paths or rather roads, usually lie along the top of ridges. Barbee concealed himself at one end of it, and myself at the other, when Copelin cautiously approached the reclining herd and shot one the other sprang up and came thundering directly towards me, led by an old buffalo cow; I shot and wounded her a second ball brought her to the ground. The herd, having lost their leader, ran around and around us, until we had discharged forty balls, and killed twelve or fourteen of them. It was a mild day in January, late in the afternoon, and supposing we had more meat than we could secure, we desisted from further slaughter. I observed the more we killed, the more intent were the buffalo to hover around us. They seemed by no means inclined to leave their dead companions and had we been disposed we might have shot the whole gang. It took us from this time until after nightfall, to open the carcasses and lay them on their bellies, this precaution was necessary as well to preserve the meat and tallow from taint, as to protect it from the vermin. The next day we commenced cutting up and packing to our cabins, where we salted and smoked all the meat, we could take away, but left a great deal on the ground. We had an Indian blanket sewed together with the bark of leatherwood, and a four bushel bag, full of fat from the entralls, beside the suet or tallow from the kidneys.
We stayed here three weeks preparing our meat, and started for home with eight horse loads of dried buffalo beef, done up in eight buffalo hides, tacked together with leatherwood; our Indiana blanket and bag full of tallow, besides other pieces hung round our horses as we could put them. While here we luxuriated on marrow bones, humps and tongues, until we became fat as so many bears. To give some idea of the great size of the buffalo, I will state the fact, of having once shot a bull, that when turned on his back, I could not get my chin over his brisket, and this was in my youthful days, when I stood good six feet in my moccasins.
One day I was out on a foot hunt with Copelin, he ranged the woods, while I skirted along the edge of a cane brake. Presently a herd of deer came running towards me, it being the practice of wild animals, when started to gain covert, and there is none better than a cane brake; but the Indians also, often lay there concealed, and we had a double duty, of looking for Indian signs, and game at the same time. I shot the leading buck, as was the policy of the hunters, since other members of the herd keep near to him; and afford a better chance of success. After the animal was down, not daring to hail, I whistled for Copelin to come to me, he thought the Indians had shot me, and whistled to decoy him within reach, it was a long time before I could get him to assist in dressing the game; he, however, cautiously approached and seeing me alive other the buck, boldly came forward. This incident will convey a notion of the feelings attending our hunting excursions; our rifles were always loaded; our finger always on the trigger and the eye keenly penetrating every suspicious covert around.
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