Manual Indian Captives, Volume One

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Nothing of moment occurred until the May after my capture when my little boy was born. An old Indian squaw took a chunk of fire and conducted me to the woods, where I was left alone with nothing but a shelter of bushes over me for the space of ten days, when I was permitted to return to the town.

The squaws seemed very much delighted with my child, carrying it through the town, showing it with great joy, seeming to think it a great beauty. There was a string of corn brought me and a mortar to pound it with, but luckily a man from Detroit who had engaged me to make him a shirt came with a kerchief of flour. About a year after I had been taken, I met with a young man named Thos. McGuire who had been previously taken by the Indians, but got out of their hands by joining a company of rangers, who informed me all about the defeat and death of my husband.

Nothing of importance occurred until the summer of when Col. Clark made his incursion upon the Indians. I was taken, with other prisoners, and secreted in the woods within hearing of the firing. We then left and went on fifty or one hundred miles. I had my horse and saddle which I was permitted to ride, while the squaws carried large packages.


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We went where the hunting was good, and we lived the whole winter on meat. I suffered with fever and ague for about eight weeks. At this place we settled, lived in camp during the winter and afterwards built a town which was called McKeestown. In the summer of there arose a difficulty which nearly put an end to my career. A party of Indians, headed by the same individual who had taken me prisoner and killed my child, agreed upon an expedition into Kentucky for the same purpose that had formerly taken them into Virginia, which expedition terminated in the death of the chief, Wa-ba-pus-ito, the son of Wa-ba-kah-kah-to.

The news of his death was received with sorrowful lamentations by all the tribes. His father was inconsolable and required something to appease him for his loss. There had been taken in Kentucky two boys, Jacky Calaway, nine years old, and Dicky Hoy, about twelve, who were placed with us and lived in Wa-ba-pus-ito's house.

The old chief, notwithstanding all the partiality he had shown for me, was so grieved by the death of his son that he conceived the horrid idea of avenging his loss by burning within his own house the prisoners that he had made - the two boys and myself. I had observed a considerable commotion for several days before I was able to ascertain its cause; when, by accident as I passed a blacksmith's shop, I overheard a white man inquire if that was the woman to be burned. This made me inquire, and to my surprise and horror I learned that the old chief had resolved upon our destruction.

I however learned further that the greatest exertions had been made to avert our doom, that a number of Indians had interceded in our behalf, that McKee had been sent for to exert his authority, and that preparations had been made to steal us off in the event of a failure with the old chief by every other means.

There was an assembly of nearly all the tribe of Shawnees. Wa-ba-kah-kah-to and another chief of considerable character sat over the council fire the whole of the night consulting upon the place of our death, the chief using every argument to defend, and Wa-ba-kah-kah-to intent upon burning us. This I ascertained through my own ears; for, having learned enough of the Shawnee language to understand the principal part of what was said, I concealed myself in their vicinity and heard all that passed between them.

The morning after this, however, a message arrived from McKee with a wampum belt and talk the substance of which was that he would not suffer the execution.

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The old chief, I suppose finding himself opposed by so many and so violently, proposed at length that if the interpreter would give him a handsomely mounted rifle which he had in his hand, that it would all be forgotten. The interpreter immediately acceded, and thus a rifle appeased what no argument of prudence or mercy, aided by an acknowledged partiality, failed to effect. After this took place, the old chief's manner and treatment was the same.

Following the advice of McKee, I disguised my knowledge of what had been in contemplation. The two boys were adopted, and little Jacky Calaway was placed with me. I heard through the Indians of Crawford's defeat, capture, and death, saw the Indians upon their return from the fight with scalps. The reason they gave for treating Crawford so barbarously was in retaliation for accounts of the death of Cornstalk, a Shawnee king who had commanded at the Battle of the Point and who had surrendered himself and son as hostages and was treacherously murdered by Arbuckle's men who were stationed at the Point.

This was contrary to their commander's orders and done under the pretext that Cornstalk's friends had murdered one Gilmore a short time before. It is stated in a book called "Border Warfare" that an Indian calling himself Job Hollis pretended friendship toward Captain Arbuckle, but betrayed him and was recognized as one of those slain at Donally's Fort. The marriage ceremony among the Shawnees consists of boiling a large vessel of dumplings which were served out by the chief squaw in small vessels that every guest is expected to bring to the wedding. This dumpling the guest takes home and eats, and the day following the bridegroom goes out and kills a deer which he presents to his wife who takes it to her mother.

She gives him bread and he gives her meat. The squaws do the principal part of courting, the men being for the most part modest even to bashfulness. From the time of his adoption little Jacky Calaway lived with me and was a great comfort and relief. He had to take his morning plunge with the other Indians winter and summer, and frequently has he come into the cabin with icicles hanging to his hair.

I always had a fire on hand for him. Between the period of Crawford's death and that which an attempt to ransom me was made, nothing occurred worth transcribing. I lived as comfortably as one could among savages and apart from friends without any tolerable probability of ever meeting with them. The hostile feelings between the Shawnees and the Americans had not subsided. In the summer of '82 there were strong but ineffectual attempts made to redeem me. The old chief replied to all these proposals that I was not a slave to be sold and that he would not part with me.

I was adopted and became one of his. Higgins, whose generous exertions in my behalf can never be forgotten, tried hard. The old chief's feelings were sincere and I do not think that any price could have overcome them. Indeed, there seemed on the part of all the Indians - the squaws especially with whom I had been living - an attachment toward me as ardent and affectionate as any I have ever known among my own friends and kindred.

My feeling toward the old chief was anything but affectionate after I discovered his desire to sacrifice me and my child to appease his anger on account of the death of his son and when I perceived that the only obstacle to my redemption was his will. It will not be wondered that I wished, nay, that I prayed fervently for his death. My prayer, however sinful it may seem, was followed by his death. On the day before he died, I was summoned to attend him; and, when he expressed a consciousness that his end was nigh, directing my attention to a point in the sky, he informed me that when the sun reached that place, his spirit would take its flight.


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  8. This presentment was correct, for precisely at the time appointed he expired. He expressed great concern for my situation, was fearful that my cabin would not be supplied with wood, and manifested a regard for me that he could not have felt had he known my anxiety for his death.

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    Yet, there was an obstacle - the Indians were desirous of detaining my child, having taken it into their heads that it was not included in the bargain. A general council of the Shawnees was assembled, before which I was summoned and their views made known regarding my child.

    They alleged that if they were to keep the child they would thereby have a pledge that I would occasionally visit them - to all of which I replied that I would never go without my child, that if it remained that I would do likewise. After this reply and a short consultation, it was announced to me that I should be permitted to go and take my child with me.

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    When I made known my determination to the squaws of leaving, their demonstrations of sorrow at parting with me were truly affecting. Notwithstanding a prospect of again meeting with my friends, I could not but shed tears upon parting with the poor creatures who seemed so sincerely attached; and, I shed both tears of joy and sorrow. Poor little Jacky!

    What would I not have given to have taken him with me when he was exclaiming, "What shall I do now? I was taken to a Mr.

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    McCormick where I lived until the following spring when I set out for my home in the company of eight other ransomed captives and had a tedious travel through a wilderness the greater part of the way, during which time we suffered much for the want of something to eat. For three days we had nothing whatever to eat, and my poor child would have died had it not been for the nourishment afforded by a few seed with which I had provided myself before leaving the Indian settlement.

    I had the good fortune soon afterwards to secure a pheasant from a hawk, which enabled myself and child to stand it better.

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    After eight days we reached Pittsburgh, where I was made sensible of the effect of habit by being placed in a feather bed in which it was impossible for me to sleep. From Pittsburgh home, we had a very pleasant journey. My son, John Paulee, grew up with every promise and prospect of doing well. He went as Sect. Little Jacky was redeemed about a year after I left him and came to Kentucky where he lived to a good old age and died about eighteen months ago.

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    Polly Paulee, my sister-in-law, who belonged to a couple of squaws, succeeded in making her escape about a year before I was redeemed. She had been permitted to go on a visit to Detroit for the purpose of trading, and while there she gave them the slip. She was protected by the Governor of Detroit at whose house she afterwards married an officer named Myers.

    This officer tried hard for my redemption. With him she went to England and afterwards returned to Georgetown where she was finally murdered. Thus, abruptly ends the narrative. Her husband, Michael Erskine, died in August, , and Mrs. Erskine died in May, , at the home of her son, Henry, in Lewisburg.

    Their descendants include many outstanding citizens, not only of West Virginia, but of Virginia, Alabama, Kentucky, and Texas as well. He soon became a member of the legislature and won a seat at the state constitutional conventions held in and Although a strong Union man, he eventually went with the South and served in the Confederate Senate, Davis, noted in his eulogy, "His great-grandparents on both sides were among the earliest settlers on the headwaters of the Kanawha, then overrun by hostile Indians, and the fact that his grandmother was captured by hostile savages, her infant child butchered before her eyes, and she detamed in captivity for four years, will give some idea of the courage it took and the dangers that had to be encountered in opening to civilization that fertile and beautiful mountain region.

    Caperton Washington: Government Printing Office, , p. This account is reproduced with the kind permission of Mrs. Joseph Allen Wheat of Charlottesville, Virginia. Wheat, a descendant of Margaret Erskine, has two versions of the captivity. One, apparently much revised, was privately printed by the Lord Baltimore Press of Baltimore, Maryland, in The other, which is cited here, is said to have been written by Senator Caperton and printed in a Union W.

    It had a small stockade against Indian attacks but was not a government installation.