Archive for September 29th, 2009

Elizabeth Zane: Pioneer Heroine

September 29, 2009

This story was actually part of the the article with the Squatter Life story in my previous post, but since it was a completely separate incident, I broke it into separate posts.

Who has not heard of the heroic Miss Elizabeth Zane, at Fort Henry, in 1777, where the city of Wheeling now stands?

When a large army of savages had been collected under the infamous Girty, and had attacked the fort, having killed in an outside skirmish several officers and men,  fearful crisis had arrived. The fort was reduced to eleven men and boys. The houses of villages were occupied by the savage foe, who for the moment had ceased hostilities, and had withdrawn to the base of the hill, which rose abruptly and precipitously from the narrow valley.

The ammunition of the fort was nearly exhausted; and the stock must be replenished, or all would fall — men, women and children — a prey to the merciless savage. About sixty yards distant, at the house of Ebenezer Zane, there was a keg of powder. If that could be procured they would be enabled successfully to defend the fort, and keep the Indians at bay. Not a man or boy, for they were almost equally good marksmen, could be spared; and yet, some one must hazard his life in the undertaking. It was the forlorn hope of that little band, and on it their fate was to turn.

The commander, Col. Shepherd, called for a volunteer in this perilous undertaking. Several promptly offered their services, both men and boys; but they were the bravest of the band, and could least be spared. The difficulty seemed to be not so much in finding the heart stout enough for the fearful undertaking, but in making the selection. Just then, up stepped a slender, delicate girl. With the spirit of her father, she said to the commander,

“I will bring the powder. If I die in the attempt, my loss will not be felt.”

In vain they strove to dissuade her, she would most certainly be shot; besides she could not run with the fleetness of a man. All entreaties were vain, and she heroically exclaimed,

“Open the gates, and let me go!”

With tearful eyes the gates were opened, and the intrepid girl bounded toward the house. The moment she emerged from the fort she was seen by the Indians, who, instead of firing at her, seemed to be taken by surprise, and astonishment that for a moment suspended their murderous purpose. She reached the house, entered it, secured the desired keg, and started back to the fort. The soul of the heroic girl was in the effort, and bravely it sustained her. As she sped across the space with her burden, a dozen rifles were raised, and their sharp, simultaneous crack, seemed to announce her doom; but she neither fell nor faltered. On with accelerated speed she urged her way; and, passing the gates, she entered the fort in safety.

Elizabeth Zane (Image from www.wvculture.org)

Elizabeth Zane (Image from http://www.wvculture.org)

The deed of that brave girl saved the fort; and an advantage was gained over the savage from which they did not recover so as to renew their depredations in future on that frontier outpost. Pioneer life in the West abounds with incidents of female heroism; and the simple story of their deeds possesses a more thrilling interest than can be infused by the most fervent and fruitful imagination into any scene of fiction.

Pioneer of the West.

Richland County Observer (Richland Center, Wisconsin) Aug 11, 1857

*****

Interesting book on Google books, which mentions Fort Henry, but not this incident, that I could find:

Frontier defense on the upper Ohio, 1777-1778
By Reuben Gold Thwaites, Louise Phelps Kellogg, State Historical Society
Madison, Wisconsin Historical Society, 1912

LINK to the book

A similar book:

The Revolution on the Upper Ohio, 1775-1777
edited by Reuben Gold Thwaites, Louise Phelps Kellogg
Wisconsin historical society, 1908

LINK to book

Both books:compiled from the Draper manuscripts in the library of the Wisconsin historical society and published at the charge of the Wisconsin society of the Sons of the American revolution

*****

You can also read the book, Betty Zane, by Zane Grey (a descendant of Ebenezer Zane,) online HERE.

From the dedication and note:

For a hundred years the stories of Betty and Isaac Zane have been familiar, oft-repeated tales in my family–tales told with that pardonable ancestral pride which seems inherent in every one. My grandmother loved to cluster the children round her and tell them that when she was a little girl she had knelt at the feet of Betty Zane, and listened to the old lady as she told of her brother’s capture by the Indian Princess, of the burning of the Fort, and of her own race for life. I knew these stories by heart when a child.

Two years ago my mother came to me with an old note book which had been discovered in some rubbish that had been placed in the yard to burn. The book had probably been hidden in an old picture frame for many years. It belonged to my great-grandfather, Col. Ebenezer Zane. From its faded and time-worn pages I have taken the main facts of my story. My regret is that a worthier pen than mine has not had this wealth of material.

*****

“HISTORY OF WASHINGTON COUNTY, PENNSYLVANIA”
EDITED BY BOYD CRUMRINE
1882

If you are interested in an account of the torture/death of Colonel Crawford (witnessed by Simon Girty, mentioned in the above article,) after clicking HERE, scroll down about to the sub-heading:

126 – HISTORY OF WASHINGTON COUNTY, PENNSYLVANIA.

WARNING! It is very gruesome.

The Dangers of a “Squatter Life”

September 29, 2009
Log Cabin (Image from http://photographs.mccumber.us)

Log Cabin (Image from http://photographs.mccumber.us)

SQUATTER LIFE.

Among the early settlers of the West were many who moved out and selected sites for their homes upon the unoccupied land they might find, and, by clearing a portion of it and building a cabin, they obtained a pre-emption right to the soil, or, at least, a certain portion of it, and in possession of which they have been protected by the government, at least, so far as that no one could dispossess them without paying them an equivalent for the improvements; and even then they had a prior claim, or privilege of purchasing at government price over every other purchaser. Such pioneers have been denominated “Squatters.”

In an early day a man, who had left the sterile soil of an Eastern State, started with his young and rising family to better his condition in the rich and fertile valley of the West. He was a poor, but honest man; had struggled hard to raise his family, and by patient industry was enabled to obtain an outfit of a horse and cart to journey to the West. Passing through what was then a wilderness, he at length reached a spot on the Illinois river, about two hundred miles from its mouth, where he pitched his tent, and subsequently erected his cabin. His family consisted of a wife and three children the eldest, a boy, was in his nineteenth year, the next a girl, in her eighteenth year, and the youngest a boy of fourteen. They were all vigorous, the very material suited for the hard toil and poor fare of pioneer life.

One day there came to the squatter’s cabin three Indians, professing to be friendly, who invited the father to go out on a hunting excursion with them. As the family subsisted mostly upon game, he finally concluded to accompany them, taking with him his eldest son. They expected to be absent about a week, as they intended to take a somewhat extensive range.

After three days had passed away, one of the Indians returned to the squatter’s house, and deliberately lighting his pipe and taking his seat by the fire, he commenced smoking in silence. The wife was not startled at hsi appearance, as it was frequently the case that one, and sometimes more, of a party of Indian hunters, getting discouraged, would leave the rest and return. This was usually the case when they imagined they discovered some bad sign, and it would not only be useless, but disatrous, for them to hunt under such circumstances.

The Indian sat for some time in sullen silence, and at length, removing his pipe from his mouth he gave a significant grunt to awaken attention, and said —

“White man die.”

The squatter’s wife at his replied,

“What is the matter?”

“He sick; tree fall on him; he die. You go see him.”

Her suspicions being somewhat aroused at the manner of the savage, she asked him a number of questions. The evasiveness and evident want of consistencly of the answers, at length confirmed her that something was wrong. She judged it best not to go herself, but sent her youngest son, the eldest, as we have seen, having gone on a hunt with his father. Night came, but it brought not the son or the Indian. All its gloomy hours were spent in taht lone cabin by the mother and daughter; but morning came without their return. The whole day passed in the same fruitless look out for the boy; the mother felt grieved that she had sent her child on the errand, but it was now too late. Her suspicions were now confirmed that the Indians had decoyed away her husband and sons. She felt that they would not stop in their evil designs, and that, if they had slain the father and his boys, they would next attack the mother and daughter.

No time was to be lost; and she and the daughter, as night was approaching, went to work to barricade the door and windows of the cabin in the best manner they could. The rifle of the youngest boy was all the weapon in the house, as he did not take it when he went to seek his father. This was taken from its hangings, and carefully examined to see that it was well loaded and primed. To her daughter she gave the axe, and thus armed they determined to watch all night, and, if attacked by the savages, to fight to the last.

About midnight they made their appearance, expecting to find the mother and daughter asleep, but in this they were disappointed. They approached stealthily, and one of the number knocked loudly at the door, crying,

“Mother! Mother!”

The mother’s ear was too acute and she replied, “Where are the Indians, my son?”

The answer, “Um-gone,” would have satisfied her, if she had not been before aware of the deceit.

“Come up, my son, put your ear to the latch-hole. I want to tell you something before I open the door.”

The Indian applied his ear to the latch-hole. The crack of the rifle followed and he fell dead.

As soon as she fired, she stepped on one side of the door, and immediately two rifle balls passed through it, either which would have killed her.

“Thank God!” said the mother in a whisper to her daughter, “there are but two. They are the three that went to hunt with your father, and one of them is dead. If we can only kill or cripple another we shall be safe. Take courage, my child; God will not forsake us in this trying hour. We must both be still after they fire again. Supposing they have killed us, they will break down the door. I may be able to shoot one,” — for in the meantime she had re-loaded the rifle, “but if I miss, you must use the axe with all your might.”

The daughter, equally courageous with her mother, assured her that she would do her best.

The conversaton had hardly ceased when two more rifle balls came crashing through the window. A death-like stilness ensued for the space of several minutes, when two more balls, in quick succession came through the door, followed by tremendous strokes againt it with a heavy stake. At length the door gave way, and an Indian with a fiendish yell, was in the act of springing into the house; but a ball from the boy’s rifle, in the mother’s hand, pierced his heart, and he fell across the threshold. The surviving Indian, daring not to venture — and it was well for his skull that he did not — fired at random, and ran away.

“Now,” said the mother to the daughter, “we must leave;” and taking the rifle and the axe, they hastened to the river, jumped into a canoe, and without a morsel of provisions, except a wild duck and two blackbirds which the mother shot on the voyage, and which they ate raw, they paddled their canoe down the river until they reached the residence of a French settler at St. Louis.

Some time after, a party of hunters started over into Illinois, and scoured the country in every direction; but they returned without finding either the squatter or his boys. Nor have they been heard of to this day. Should the traveler pass by the beautiful city of Peoria, in his westward wanderings, the old settlers in that neighborhood can point out the spot where stood the cabin of the squatter, so heroically defended by his wife and daughter, and who so nobly avenged the death of the father and sons.

The pioneer women of the West, like the men, were made of sterner stuff than enters into the composition of most of our modern ladies and gentlemen. They were brave in entering the wilderness, and they showed themselves equally so in grappling with its difficulties, and encountering its perils.

Pioneer of the West.

Richland County Observer (Richland Center, Wisconsin) Aug 11, 1857

*****

Pretty awesome educational site: SQIDOO

The creator is a retired teacher/homeschooling mom and so the info is geared for children/teachers.  This particular page is full of information about the 1780s.