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5: The Captive Scouts—The Guardian Mother of the Mohawk

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The part that woman has taken in so many ways and under so many conditions, in securing the ultimate results represented by our present status as a nation, is given too small a place in the general estimate of those who pen the record of civilization on the North American continent. This is no doubt partly due to her own distaste for notoriety. While man stands as a front figure in the temple of fame, and celebrates his own deeds with pen and voice, she takes her place in the background, content and happy so long as her father, or husband, or son, is conspicuous in the glory to which she has largely contributed. Thus it is that in the march of grand events the historian of the Republic often passes by the woman's niche without dwelling upon its claims to our attention. But notwithstanding the self-chosen position of the weaker sex, their names and deeds are not all buried in oblivion. The filial, proud, and patriotic fondness of sons and daughters have preserved in their household traditions the memory of brave and good mothers; the antiquarian and the local historian, with loving zeal have wiped the dust from woman's urn, and traced anew the names and inscriptions which time has half effaced.

As we scan the pages of Woman's Record the roll of honor lengthens, stretching far out like the line of Banquo's phantom-kings. Their names become impressed on our memory; their acts dilate, and their whole lives grow brighter the more closely we study them.

Among the many duties which from necessity or choice were assigned to woman in the remote and isolated settlements, was that of standing guard. She was par excellence the vigilant member of the household, a sentinel ever on the alert and ready to give alarm at the first note of danger. The pioneers were the pickets of the army of civilization: woman was a picket of pickets, a sentinel of sentinels, watchful of danger and the quickest to apprehend it. She was always a guardian, and not seldom the preserver of her home and of the settlement. Such duties as these, faithfully performed, contribute perhaps to the success of a campaign more even than great battles. As soon as the front line or picket-force of the pioneers was fairly established in the enemies' country, the work was more than half done, and the whole army—center, right, and left wings—could move forward with little danger, though labor, hard and continuous, was still required. In successive regions the same sentinel and picket duties were performed; in New England and on the Atlantic coast first; then in the interior districts, in the middle States; and already, a hundred years ago, the flying skirmish-line had crossed the great Appalachian range, and was fording the rivers of the western basin. On the march, on the halt, in the camp, that is, in the permanent settlement, woman was a sentinel keeping perpetual guard over the household treasures.

What materials for romance—for epic and tragic poetry—in the lives of those pioneer women! The lonely cabin in the depths of the forest; the father away; the mother rocking her babe to sleep; the howling of the wolves; the storm beating on the roof; the crafty savage lying in ambush; the war-whoop in the night; the attack and the repulse; or perchance the massacre and the cruel captivity; and all the thousand lights and shadows of border life!

During the French and Indian war, and while the northern border was being desolated by savage raids, a hardy settler named Mack, with his wife and two children, occupied a cabin and clearing in the forest a few miles south of Lake Pleasant, in Hamilton County, New York. For some months after the breaking out of the war no molestation was offered to Mr. Mack or his family, either owing to the sequestered situation in which they lived, or from the richer opportunities for plunder offered in the valleys some distance below the lonely and rock-encompassed forest where the Mack homestead lay. Encouraged by this immunity from attack, and placing unbounded confidence in the vigilance and courage of his wife, Mr. Mack, when summoned to accompany Sir William Johnson's forces on one of their military expeditions, obeyed the call and prepared to join his fellow-borderers. Mrs. Mack cheerfully and patriotically acquiesced in her husband's resolution, assuring him that during his absence she would protect their home and children or perish in attempt.

The cabin was a fortress, such as befitted the exposed situation in which it lay, and was supplied by the provident husband before his departure with provisions and ammunition sufficient to stand a siege: it was furnished on each side with, a loop-hole through which a gun could be fixed or a reconnoisance made in every direction.

Yielding to the dictates of prudence and desirous of redeeming the pledge which she had made to her husband, Mrs. Mack stayed within doors most of the time for some days after her husband had bade her farewell, keeping a vigilant look-out on every side for the prowling foe. No sound but the voices of nature disturbed the stillness of the forest. Everything around spoke of peace and repose. Lulled into security by these appearances and urged by the necessities of her out-door duties, she gradually relaxed her vigilance until she pursued the labors of the farm with as much regularity as she would have done if her husband had been at home.

One day while plucking ears of corn for roasting, she caught a glimpse of a moccasin and a brawny limb fringed with leggins, projecting behind a clump of bushes not twenty paces from her. Repressing the shriek which rose to her lips, she quietly and leisurely strolled back to the house with her basket of ears. Once she thought she heard the stealthy tread of the savage behind her and was about to break into a run; but a moment's reflection convinced her that her fears were groundless. She steadily pursued her course till she reached the cabin. With a vast weight of fear taken from her mind she now turned and cast a rapid, glance towards the bushes where the foe lay in ambush; nothing was visible there, and having closed and barred the door she made a reconnoisance from each of the four loop-holes of her fortress, but saw nothing to alarm her.

It seemed to her probable that it was only a single prowling savage who was seeking an opportunity to plunder the cabin. Accordingly with a loaded gun by her side, she sat down before the loop-hole which commanded the spot where the savage lay concealed and watched for further developments. For two hours all was still and she began to imagine that he had left his hiding place, when she noticed a rustling in the bushes and soon after descried the savage crawling on his belly and disappearing in the cornfield. Night found her still watching, and as soon as her children had been lulled to sleep she returned to her post and straining her eyes into the darkness, listened for the faintest sound that might give note of the approach of the enemy. It was near midnight when overcome with fatigue she leaned against the log wall and fell asleep with her gun in her hand.

She was conscious in her slumbers of some mesmeric power exerting an influence upon her, and awakening with a start saw for an instant by the faint light, a pair of snaky eyes looking directly into hers through the loop-hole. They were gone before she was fairly awake, and she tried to convince herself that she had been dreaming. Not a sound was audible, and after taking an observation from each of the loop-holes she became persuaded that the fierce eyes that seemed to have been watching her was the figment of a brain disturbed by anxiety and vigils.

Once more sleep overcame her and again she was awakened by a rattling sound followed by heavy breathing. The noise seemed to proceed from the chimney to which she had scarcely began to direct her attention, when a large body fell with a thud into the ashes of the fire-place, and a deep guttural "ugh" was uttered by an Indian who rose and peered around the room.

The first flickering light which follows the blackness of midnight, gave him a glimpse of the heroic matron who stood with her piece cocked and leveled directly at his breast. Brandishing his tomahawk he rushed towards her yelling so as to disconcert her aim. The brave woman with unshaken nerves pulled the trigger, and the savage fell back with a screech, dead upon the floor. Almost simultaneously with the report of the gun, a triumphant war-whoop was sounded outside the cabin, and peering through the aperture in the direction from which it proceeded she saw three savages rushing toward the door. Rapidly loading her piece she took her position at the loop-hole that commanded the entrance to the cabin, and taking aim, shot one savage dead, the ball passing completely through his body and wounding another who stood in range. The third made a precipitate retreat, leaving his wounded comrade who crawled into the cornfield and there died.

After the occurrence of these events we may well suppose that the life of Mrs. Mack was one of constant vigilance. For some days and nights she stood sentinel over her little ones, and then in her dread lest the Indians should return and take vengeance upon her and her children for the slaughter of their companions, she concluded the wisest course would be to take refuge in the nearest fort thirty miles distant. Accordingly the following week she made all her preparations and carrying her gun started for the fort with her children.

Before they had proceeded a mile on their course she had the misfortune to drop her powder-horn in a stream: this compelled her to return to the cabin for ammunition. Hiding her children in a dense copse and telling them to preserve silence during her absence, she hastened back, filled her powder-horn and returned rapidly upon her trail.

But what was her agony on discovering that her children were missing from the place where she left them! A brief scrutiny of the ground showed her the tracks of moccasins, and following them she soon ascertained that her children had been carried away by two Indians. Like the tigress robbed of her young, she followed the trail swiftly but cautiously and soon came up with the savages, whose speed had been retarded by the children. Stealing behind them she shot one of them and clubbing her gun rushed at the other with such fierceness that he turned and fled.

Pursuing her way to the fort she met her husband returning home from the war. The family then retraced their steps and reached their home, the scene of Mrs. Mack's heroic exploit.

It was during their captivities that women often learned the arts and practiced the perilous profession of a scout. Their Indian captors were sometimes the first to suffer from the knowledge which they themselves had taught their captive pupils. In this rugged school of Indian life was nurtured a brave girl of New England parentage, who acted a conspicuous part in protecting an infant settlement in Ohio.(1)

In the year 1790, the block-house and stockade above the mouth, of the Hockhocking river in Ohio, was a refuge and rallying point for the hardy frontiersmen of that region. The valley of the Hockhocking was preëminent for the richness and luxuriance of nature's gifts, and had been from time immemorial the seat of powerful and warlike tribes of Indians, which still clung with desperate tenacity to a region which had been for so many years the chosen and beloved abode of the red man.

The little garrison, always on the alert, received intelligence early in the autumn that the Indian tribes were gathering in the north for the purpose of striking a final and fatal blow on this or some other important out-post. A council was immediately held by the garrison, and two scouts were dispatched up the Hockhocking, in order to ascertain the strength of the foe and the probable point of attack.

The scouts set out one balmy day in the Indian summer, and threading the dense growth of plum and hazel bushes which skirted the prairie, stealthily climbed the eastern declivity of Mount Pleasant, and cast their eyes over the extensive prairie-country which stretches from that point far to the north. Every movement that took place upon their field of vision was carefully noted day by day. The prairie was the campus martius where an army of braves had assembled, and were playing their rugged games and performing their warlike evolutions. Every day new accessions of warriors were hailed by those already assembled, with terrific war-whoops, which, striking the face of Mount Pleasant, were echoed and re-echoed till it seemed as if a myriad of yelling demons were celebrating the orgies of the infernal pit.

To the hardy scouts these well-known yells, so terrible to softer ears, were only martial music which woke a keener watchfulness and strung their iron nerves to a stronger tension. Though well aware of the ferocity of the savages, they were too well practiced in the crafty and subtle arts of their profession to allow themselves to be circumvented by their wily foes.

On several occasions small parties of warriors left the prairies and ascended the mount. At these times the scouts hid themselves in fissures of the rocks or beneath sere leaves by the side of some prostrate tree, leaving their hiding places when the unwelcome visitors had taken their departure. Their food was jerked beef and cold corn-bread, with which their knapsacks had been well stored. Fire they dared not kindle for the smoke would have brought a hundred savages on their trail. Their drink was the rain-water remaining in the excavations in the rocks. In a few days this water was exhausted, and a new supply had to be obtained, as their observations were still incomplete. McClelland, the elder of the two, accordingly set out alone in search of a spring or brook from which they could replenish their canteens. Cautiously descending the mount to the prairie, and skirting the hills on the north, keeping as much as possible within the hazel-thickets, he reached at length a fountain of cool limpid water near the banks of the Hockhocking river. Filling the canteens he rejoined his companion.

The daily duty of visiting the spring and obtaining a fresh supply, was after this performed alternately by the scouts. On one of these diurnal visits, after White had filled his canteens, he sat watching the limpid stream that came gurgling out of the bosom of the earth. The light sound of footsteps caught his practiced ear, and turning round he saw two squaws within a few feet of him. The elder squaw at the same moment spying White, started back and gave a far reaching war-whoop. He comprehended at once his perilous situation. If the alarm should reach the camp, he and his companion must inevitably perish.

A noiseless death inflicted upon the squaws, and in such a manner as to leave no trace behind, was the only sure course which the instinct of self-preservation suggested. With men of his profession action follows thought as the bolt follows the flash. Springing upon his victims with the rapidity and power of a tiger, he grasped the throat of each and sprang into the Hockhocking river. The head of the elder squaw he easily thrust under the water, and kept it in that position; but the younger woman powerfully resisted his efforts to submerge her. During the brief struggle she addressed him to his amazement in the English language, though in inarticulate sounds. Relaxing his hold she informed him that she had been made a prisoner ten years before, on Grave Creek Flats, that the Indians in her presence had butchered her mother and two sisters, and that an only brother had been captured with her, but had succeeded on the second night in making his escape, since which time she had never heard of him.

During this narrative, White, unobserved by the girl, had released his grip on the throat of the squaw, whose corpse floated slowly down stream, and, directing the girl to follow him, he pushed for the Mount with the greatest speed and energy. Scarcely had they proceeded two hundred yards from the spring before an Indian alarm-cry was heard some distance down the river. A party of warriors returning from a hunt had seen the body of the squaw as it floated past. White and the girl succeeded in reaching the Mount where they found McClelland fully awake to the danger they were in. From his eyrie he had seen parties of warriors strike off in every direction on hearing the shrill note of alarm first sounded by the squaw, and before White and the girl had joined him, twenty warriors had already gained the eastern acclivity of the Mount and were cautiously ascending, keeping their bodies under cover. The scouts soon caught glimpses of their swarthy faces as they glided from tree to tree and from rock to rock, until the hiding place of the luckless two was surrounded and all hope of escape was cut off.

The scouts calmly prepared to sell their lives as dearly as they could, but strongly advised the girl to return to the Indians and tell them that she had been captured by scouts. This she refused to do, saying that death among her own people was preferable to captivity such as she had been enduring. "Give me a rifle," she continued, "and I will show you that I can fight as well as die! On this spot will I remain, and here my bones shall bleach with yours! Should either of you escape, you will carry the tidings of my fate to my remaining relatives."

All remonstrances with the brave girl proving useless, the two scouts prepared for a vigorous defense. The attack by the Indians commenced in front, where from the nature of the ground they were obliged to advance in single file, sheltering themselves as they best could, behind rocks and trees. Availing themselves of the slightest exposure of the warriors bodies, the scouts made every shot tell upon them, and succeeded for a time in keeping them in check.

The Indians meanwhile made for an isolated rock on the southern hillside, and having reached it, opened fire upon the scouts at point blank range. The situation of the defenders was now almost hopeless; but the brave never despair. They, calmly watched the movements of the warriors and calculated the few chances of escape which remained. McClelland saw a tall, swarthy figure preparing to spring from cover to a point from which their position would be completely commanded. He felt that much depended upon one lucky shot, and although but a single inch of the warrior's body was exposed, and at a distance of one hundred yards, yet he resolved to take the risk of a shot at this diminutive target. Coolly raising the rifle to his eye, and shading the sight with his hand, he threw a bead so accurately that he felt perfectly confident that his bullet would pierce the mark; but when the hammer fell, instead of striking fire, it crushed his flint into a hundred fragments. Rapidly, but with the utmost composure, he proceeded to adjust a new flint, casting meantime many a furtive glance towards the critical point. Before his task was completed he saw the warrior strain every muscle for the leap, and, with the agility of a deer, bound towards the rock; but instead of reaching it, he fell between and rolled fifty feet down hill. He had received a death-shot from some unseen hand, and the mournful whoops of the savages gave token that they had lost a favorite warrior.

The advantage thus gained was only momentary. The Indians slowly advanced in front and on the flank, and only the incessant fire of the scouts sufficed to keep them in check. A second savage attempted to gain the eminence which commanded the position where the scouts were posted, but just as he was about to attain his object, McClelland saw him turn a summerset, and, with a frightful yell, fall down the hill, a corpse. The mysterious agent had again interposed in their behalf. The sun was now disappearing behind the western hills, and the savages, dismayed by their losses, retired a short distance for the purpose of devising some new mode of attack. This respite was most welcome to the scouts, whose nerves had been kept in a state of severe tension for several hours. Now for the first time they missed the girl and supposed that she had either fled to her old captors or had been killed in the fight. Their doubts were soon dispelled by the appearance of the girl herself, advancing toward them from among the rocks, with a rifle in her hand.

During the heat of the fight she had seen a warrior fall, who had advanced some fifty yards in front of the main body; she at once resolved to possess herself of his rifle, and crouching in the undergrowth, she crept to the spot and succeeded in her enterprise, being all the time exposed to the cross-fire of the defenders and assailants; her practiced eye had early noticed the fatal rock, and hers was the mysterious hand by which the two warriors had fallen—the last being the most wary, untiring, and bloodthirsty brave of the Shawanese tribe. He it was who ten years before had scalped the family of the girl, and had led her into captivity. The clouds which had been gathering now shrouded the whole heavens, and, night coming on, the darkness was intense. It was feared that in the contemplated retreat they might lose their way or accidentally fall in with the enemy, which latter contingency was highly probable, if not almost inevitable. After consultation it was agreed that the girl, from her intimate knowledge of the localities, should lead the way, a few paces in advance.

Another advantage might be derived from this arrangement, for in case they should fall in with an outpost of savages, the girl's knowledge of the Indian tongue might enable them to deceive and elude the sentinel. The event proved the wisdom of the plan, for they had scarcely descended an hundred feet from their eyrie when a low "hush!" from the girl warned them of the presence of danger. The scouts threw themselves silently upon the earth, where by previous agreement they were to remain until another signal was given them by the girl, who glided away in the darkness. Her absence for more than a quarter of an hour had already begun to excite serious apprehensions for her safety, when she reappeared and told them that she had succeeded in removing two sentinels who were directly in their route, to a point one hundred feet distant.

The descent was noiselessly resumed, the scouts following their brave guide for half a mile in profound silence, when the barking of a small dog, almost at their feet, apprised them of a new danger. The click of the scout's rifle caught the ear of the girl, who quickly approached and warned them against making the least noise, as they were now in the midst of an Indian village, and their lives depended upon their implicitly following her instructions.

A moment afterwards the head of a squaw was seen at an opening in a wigwam, and she was heard to accost the girl, who replied in the Indian language, and without stopping pressed forward. At length she paused and assured the scouts that the village was cleared, and that they were now in safety. She had been well aware that every pass leading out through the prairies was guarded, and resolved to push boldly through the midst of the village as the safest route.

After three days rapid marching and great suffering from hunger, the trio succeeded in reaching the block-house in safety. The Indians finding that the scouts had escaped, and that their plan of attack was discovered, soon after withdrew to their homes; the girl, who by her courage, fortitude, and skill, thus preserved the little settlement from destruction, proved to be a sister of Neil Washburn, one of the most renowned scouts upon the frontier.

The situation of the earlier pioneers who settled on the outskirts of the Mississippi basin was one of peculiar peril. In their isolation and weakness, they were able to keep their position rather by incessant watchfulness, than by actual combat. How to extricate themselves from the snares and escape from the dangers that beset them, was the constant study of their lives. The knowledge and the arts of a scout were a part of the education, therefore, of the women as well as of the men.

Massy Herbeson and her husband were of those bold pioneers who crossed the Alleghany Mountains and joined the picket-line, whose lives were spent in reconnoitering and watching the motions of the savage tribes which roamed over Western Pennsylvania.(2)

They lived near Reed's block-house, about twenty-five miles from Pittsburgh. Mr. Herbeson, being one of the spies, was from home; two of the scouts had lodged with her that night, but had left her house about sunrise, in order to go to the block-house, and had left the door standing wide open. Shortly after the two scouts went away, a number of Indians came into the house, and drew her out of bed, by the feet.

The Indians then scrambled to secure the articles in the house. Whilst they were at this work, Mrs. Herbeson went out of the house, and hallooed to the people in the block-house. One of the Indians then ran up and stopped her mouth, another threatened her with his tomahawk, and a third seized the tomahawk as it was about to fall upon her head, and called her his squaw.

Hurried rapidly away by her captor, she remembered the lessons taught by her husband, the scout, and marked the trail as she went on. Now breaking a bush, now dropping a piece of her dress, and when she crossed a stream, slyly turning over a stone, she hoped thus to guide her husband in pursuit or enable herself to find her way back to the block-house. The vigilance of the Indians was relaxed by the nonchalance with which she bore her captivity, and in a few days she succeeded in effecting her escape and pursuing the trail which she had marked, reached home after a weary march of two days and nights, during which it rained incessantly.

These and countless other instances illustrate the watchfulness and courage of woman when exposed to dangers of such a description. In the west especially, the distances to be traversed, the sparseness of the population, and the perils to which settlers are exposed, render the profession of a scout a useful and necessary one, and woman's versatility of character enables her, when necessary, to practice the art.

The traveler of to-day, passing up the Mohawk Valley will be struck by its fertility, beauty, and above all by the air of quiet repose that broods over it. One hundred years ago how different the scene! It was then the battle-ground where the fierce Indian waged an incessant warfare with the frontier settlers. Every rood of that fair valley was trodden by the wily and sanguinary foe. The people who then inhabited that region were a mixture of adventurous New Englanders and of Dutch, with a preponderance of the latter, who were a brave, steadfast, hardy race; the women vieing with the men in deeds of heroism and devotion.

Womanly tact and presence of mind was often as serviceable amid those scenes of danger and carnage, as valor in combat; and when woman combined these traits of her sex with courage and firmness she became the "guardian angel" of the settlement.

Such preeminently was the title deserved by Mrs. Van Alstine, the "Patriot mother of the Mohawk Valley."

All the early part of her long life, (for she counted nearly a century of years before she died,) was passed on the New York frontier, during the most trying period of our colonial history. Here, dwelling in the midst of alarms, she reared her fifteen children; here more than once she saved the lives of her husband and family, and by her ready wit, her daring courage, and her open handed generosity shielded the settlement from harm.

Born near Canajoharie, about the year 1733, and married to Martin J. Van Alstine, at the age of eighteen, she settled with her husband in the valley of the Mohawk, where the newly wedded pair occupied the Van Alstine family mansion.

In the month of August, 1780, an army of Indians and Tories, led on by Brant, rushed into the Mohawk Valley, devastated several settlements, and killed many of the inhabitants; during the two following months, Sir John Johnson made a descent and finished the work which Brant had begun. The two almost completely destroyed the settlements throughout the valley. It was during those trying times that Mrs. Van Alstine performed a portion of her exploits.

During these three months, and while the hostile forces were making their headquarters at Johnstown, the neighborhood in which Mrs. Van Alstine lived enjoyed a remarkable immunity from attack, although in a state of continual alarm. Intelligence at length came that the enemy, having ravaged the surrounding country, was about to fall upon the little settlement, and the inhabitants, for the most part women and children, were almost beside themselves with terror.

Mrs. Van Alstine's coolness and intrepidity, in this critical hour, were quickly displayed. Calling her neighbors together, she tried to relieve their fears and urged them to remove with their effects to an island belonging to her husband, near the opposite side of the river, believing that the savages would either not discover their place of refuge or would be in too great haste to cross the river and attack them.

Her suggestion was speedily adopted, and in a few hours the seven families in the neighborhood were removed to their asylum, together with a store of provisions and other articles essential to their comfort. Mrs. Van Alstine was the last to cross and assisted to place out of reach of the enemy, the boat in which the passage had been made. An hour after they had been all snugly bestowed in their bushy retreat, the war-whoop was heard and the Indians made their appearance. Gazing from their hiding place the unfortunate women and children soon saw their loved homes in flames, Van Alstine's house alone being spared, owing to the friendship borne the owner by Sir John Johnson.

The voices and even the words of the Indian raiders could be distinctly heard on the island, and as Mrs. Van Alstine gazed at the mansion untouched by the flames she rejoiced that she would now be able to give shelter to the homeless families by whom she was surrounded. In the following year the Van Alstine mansion was pillaged by the Indians, and although the house was completely stripped of furniture and provisions and clothing, none of the family were killed or carried away as prisoners.

The Indians came upon them by surprise, entered the house without ceremony, and plundered and destroyed everything in their way. "Mrs. Van Alstine saw her most valued articles, brought from Holland, broken one after another, till the house was strewed with fragments. As they passed a large mirror without demolishing it, she hoped it might be saved; but presently two of the savages led in a colt from the stables and the glass being laid in the hall, compelled the animal to walk over it. The beds which they could not carry away they ripped open, shaking out the feathers and taking the ticks with them. They also took all the clothing. One young Indian, attracted by the brilliancy of a pair of inlaid buckles on the shoes of the aged grandmother seated in the corner, rudely snatched them from her feet, tore off the buckles, and flung the shoes in her face. Another took her shawl from her neck, threatening to kill her if resistance was offered."

The eldest daughter, seeing a young savage carrying off a basket containing a hat and cap her father had brought her from Philadelphia, and which she highly prized, followed him, snatched her basket, and after a struggle succeeded in pushing him down. She then fled to a pile of hemp and hid herself, throwing the basket into it as far as she could. The other Indians gathered round, and as the young girl rose clapped their hands, shouting "Brave girl," while he skulked away to escape their derision. During the struggle Mrs. Van Alstine had called to her daughter to give up the contest; but she insisted that her basket should not be taken.

Winter coming on, the family suffered severely from the want of bedding, woolen clothes, cooking utensils, and numerous other articles which had been taken from them. Mrs. Van Alstine's arduous and constant labors could do but little toward providing for so many destitute persons. Their neighbors were in no condition to help them; the roads were almost impassable besides being infested with the Indians, and all their best horses had been driven away.

This situation appealing continually to Mrs. Van Alstine as a wife and a mother, so wrought upon her as to induce her to propose to her husband to organize an expedition, and attempt to recover their property from the Indian forts eighteen or twenty miles distant, where it had been carried. But the plan seemed scarcely feasible at the time, and was therefore abandoned.

The cold soon became intense and their necessities more desperate than ever. Mrs. Van Alstine, incapable longer of witnessing the sufferings of those dependent upon her, boldly determined to go herself to the Indian country and bring back the property. Firm against all the entreaties of her husband and children who sought to move her from her purpose, she left home with a horse and sleigh accompanied by her son, a youth of sixteen.

Pushing on over wretched roads and through the deep snow she arrived at her destination at a time when the Indians were all absent on a hunting excursion, the women and children only being left at home. On entering the principal house where she supposed the most valuable articles were, she was met by an old squaw in charge of the place and asked what she wanted. "Food," she replied; the squaw sullenly commenced preparing a meal and in doing so brought out a number of utensils that Mrs. Van Alstine recognized as her own. While the squaw's back was turned she took possession of the articles and removed them to her sleigh. When the custodian of the plunder discovered that it was being reclaimed, she was about to interfere forcibly with the bold intruders and take the property into her possession. But Mrs. Van Alstine showed her a paper which she averred was an order signed by "Yankee Peter," a man of great influence among the savages, and succeeded in convincing the squaw that the property was removed by his authority.

She next proceeded to the stables and cut the halters of the horses belonging to her husband: the animals recognized their mistress with loud neighs and bounded homeward at full speed. The mother and son then drove rapidly back to their house. Reaching home late in the evening they passed a sleepless night, dreading an instant pursuit and a night attack from the infuriated savages.

The Indians came soon after daylight in full war-costume armed with rifles and tomahawks. Mrs. Van Alstine begged her husband not to show himself but to leave the matter in her hands. The Indians took their course to the stables when they were met by the daring woman alone and asked what they wanted. "Our horses," replied the marauder. "They are ours," she said boldly, "and we mean to keep them."

The chief approached in a threatening manner, and drawing her away pulled out the plug that fastened the door of the stable, but she immediately snatched it from his hand, and pushing him away resumed her position in front of the door. Presenting his rifle, he threatened her with instant death if she did not immediately move. Opening her neck-handkerchief she told him to shoot if he dared.

The Indians, cowed by her daring, or fearing punishment from their allies in case they killed her, after some hesitation retired from the premises. They afterwards related their adventure to one of the settlers, and said that were fifty such women as she in the settlement, the Indians never would have molested the inhabitants of the Mohawk Valley.

On many subsequent occasions Mrs. Van Alstine exhibited the heroic qualities of her nature. Twice by her prudence, courage, and address, she saved the lives of her husband and family. Her influence in settling difficulties with the savages was acknowledged throughout the region, and but for her it may well be doubted whether the little settlement in which she lived would have been able to sustain itself, surrounded as it was by deadly foes.

Her influence was felt in another and higher way. She was a Christian woman, and her husband's house was opened for religious worship every Sunday when the weather would permit. She was able to persuade many of the Indians to attend, and as she had acquired their language she was wont to interpret to them the word of God and what was said by the minister. Many times their rude hearts were touched, and the tears rolled down their swarthy faces, while she dwelt on the wondrous story of our Redeemer's life and death, and explained how the white man and the red man alike could be saved by the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ. In after years the savages blessed her as their benefactress.

Nearly a hundred summers have passed since the occurrence of the events we have been describing. The war-whoop of the cruel Mohawk sounds no more from the forest-ambush, nor in the clearing; the dews and rains have washed away the red stains on the soft sward, and green and peaceful in the sunshine lies the turf by the beautiful river and on the grave where the patriot mother is sleeping; but still in the memory of the sons and daughters of the region she once blessed, lives the courage, the firmness, and the goodness of Nancy Van Alstine, the guardian of the Mohawk Valley.


(1) Finley's Autobiography

(2) Massey Herbeson's Deposition

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