Stories of American Life and Adventure - Edward Eggleston

Some Women in the Indian Wars

When white people first came to this country, they had much trouble with the Indians. After a while, when they had learned to defend themselves and got used to danger, they did not mind it much. Even the women became as brave as soldiers.

In very early times there were some families of people from Sweden living not far from where Philadelphia now stands. One day the women were all together boiling soap. It was the custom then to make soap at home. Water was first poured through ashes to make lye. People put this lye into a large kettle, and then threw into it waste pieces of meat and bits of fat of all kinds. After boiling a long time, this mixture made a kind of soft soap, which was the only soap the early settlers had. The large kettle in which the soap was boiled was hung on a pole. This pole was held up by two forked sticks driven into the ground. A fire was kept burning under the kettle. Of course, this soap boiling took place out of doors.

Some Indians, creeping through the woods, saw the women together without any men. They thought it a good chance to kill them or make them prisoners; but the women caught sight of the Indians, and ran away to their little church. The churches in that day were often built so they could be used for forts. The church to which these women ran was one of this kind. But the women had no guns with them. They knew that when they got into the church they would have nothing to fight with. So two of them took hold of the ends of the pole on which the kettle of boiling soap was hanging, and carried the kettle into the little church with them.

The Indians tried to get into the church, but every time an Indian climbed up to get in, a woman would just dip up a ladleful of boiling soap, and dash it on him. This was a kind of fighting the Indians did not like. They were not used to soap in any form. So, when an Indian was scalded by the soap, he would run away in great pain, and not try it again. The next Indian that came got some of the same hot medicine. He also would have to go away to cool off, if he could.

[Illustration] from American Life and Adventure by Edward Eggleston


While some of the women were watching the Indians, and fighting them with hot soap, one of them took up a dinner horn and blew it. This dinner horn was made of a great shell called a conch shell. The tip of a conch shell was sawed off so as to make a hole in it. By blowing into this hole, a very loud noise could be made. Such horns were used in that day to call people to dinner, and to call the neighbors when there was any danger. The woman blew the conch-shell horn, and kept on blowing.

The men who were away in the woods heard the sound of the horn. They knew that something was wrong, because the horn was blowing when it was not dinner time. Either a house was on fire or the Indians had come. The men took up their guns and hurried toward the little church. When the Indians saw the men coming, they ran away.

There was a woman in Massachusetts named Bradley. She had once been a prisoner among the Indians. She lived in a blockhouse which had a high fence of posts set up close together all round it to keep the Indians out. Such a fence was called a stockade. One day Mrs. Bradley was boiling soap. The gate of the stockade had been left open a little way. Suddenly she saw an Indian, with war paint on his face and his tomahawk in his hand, rushing in at the gate. The Indian thought it would be an easy thing to kill Mrs. Bradley. But the woman was too quick for him. She dashed a ladle of boiling soap upon him before he could run away. The soap was so hot that the Indian was killed by it.

The Indians came once more to take Mrs. Bradley. This time, not having any soap, she got a gun and shot the foremost one dead. The rest ran away.

In King Philip's War the Indians tried to take the town of Hadley. The men of the town fought hard, but the Indians were getting the best of the battle. A little cannon had been sent from Boston. It reached Hadley while the battle was going on. As all the men were busy fighting, the women loaded the cannon themselves. First they put in powder, and then small shot and nails. When the cannon was loaded, the women took it to the men, who pointed it into the thickest of the crowd of Indians, and fired it. A hail-storm of nails was a new thing to the Indians. Those who were not killed ran away very much frightened.

There was a young girl in Maine who was in a house when the Indians attacked it. She held the door shut until thirteen women and children could get out of the house by the back door, and pass into a blockhouse, which is a kind of fort. The Indians beat down the door at last, and then knocked down the brave girl behind it, but they did not kill her.

Sometimes the Indians attacked a blockhouse when there were none but women in it. In such cases the women would put on hats, and fix their hair so as to look like men. Then they would use their guns well. The savages, thinking there were men in the place, would go away.

There was one girl who was a captive among the Indians for three weeks. One day she saw a horse running loose in the woods. She stripped some tough bark from a tree, and made a bridle of it. Then she caught the horse, and put her bark bridle on him. It was just growing dark when she climbed on his bare back, for she had no saddle. She turned the horse's head toward the settlements, and rode hard all night. The next morning she was safe among her friends.