Boys' Book of Frontier Fighters - Edwin Sabin

Brave Women of Bryant's Station

and the Defeat of the Villain Girty

The words of John Slover, that the British army had surrendered and that the Americans were victors in the great war, were proved to be true. Now there arose much excitement among the Indians, in their towns and villages beyond the Ohio. Their British father had been laid upon his back, and they did not know exactly what to do.

In June of this year 1782, while Scout Slover was a captive, a grand council of the Northern Confederacy and their allies had been called at the Shawnee town of Wakatomica, to talk matters over. Delegates arrived from the Ottawas, Chippewas, Delawares, the southern Cherokees, Potawatomis, Wyandot Hurons, Mingo Iroquois, and from the other Shawnee towns. They all were alarmed at the unexpected triumph of the Long Knife people, and were fearful lest they had lost their prized hunting-ground, Kentucky.

White men were here: Captain William Caldwell, a trader in the British service; Alexander McKee, George and James Girty, and Simon Girty himself, coming in with a band of the Wyandots.

He made one of the principal speeches. He said that the war between the king and the Long Knives was not yet over; but that, anyway, the Indians did not want a peace in which the British and the Americans should agree to quit fighting. For if they quit fighting, then the Long Knives would be free to turn, all of them, upon the Indians and crush them utterly. (Ugh! Ugh! That is so!) The Indians well knew how the white men were crowding in upon them, from Virginia—were stealing Kentucky and threatening the Ohio country. Without the help from the British father these lands would be swallowed up, the red man would have no hunting-grounds, no food, no furs, no means of getting food, rum and blankets. (Ugh! Ugh! Ugh! That is so!) A peace would be bad for the Indians. Let them join together at once, to wipe out the Americans and clean the hunting-grounds before too late. Now was the time. The American soldiers were still busy, and there were many British soldiers to keep them busy. Strike, strike harder than ever, in full force, and drive the Long Knives back, or peace might come and all Kentucky be over-run by the Long Knife soldiers. (Ugh! Ugh! Ugh! Those are good words. Our white brother speaks well.)

There were more speeches, but none better; and the council had agreed. Runners were sent out to carry the news and bid all Indians to rally for a great blow upon the Long Knives. The meeting-place should be at Pickaway, or Chillicothe as it was also called, after the other towns of Chillicothe. Little Chillocothe had been destroyed two years ago by the gallant General George Rogers Clark.

Two armies were formed: one of about three hundred warriors, to march against West Virginia; the other of about four hundred warriors, to march into Kentucky.

The Kentucky army contained mainly Shawnees and Wyandots, with a sprinkling of British white men from Detroit. It was commanded by Captain William Caldwell, who had for his lieutenants Alexander McKee, Matthew Elliott, and the three Girty brothers, Simon, George and James. And there were many chiefs.

In the night of August 15 they posted themselves around Bryant's (or Bryan's) Station of north central Kentucky about five miles north of little Lexington.

This Bryant's Station was a lonely post, and well exposed to attack. From it north and east to the Ohio River and West Virginia the country lay open and little settled.

Bryant's had been founded in 1779 by the Bryant brothers, from North Carolina. William Bryant was really its father. He had married Daniel Boone's sister, in North Carolina.

The Bryants settled here and formed Bryant's Station. Last year William himself had been killed, not far from the settlement, while he and a party were scouting. The Indians had lured him within reach, by tinkling a horse bell that they had taken. But he and a companion managed to reach home; there he died.

The killing of William Bryant, brother-in-law to Daniel Boone, and a general leader, was a sad blow to the settlement.

Forty log cabins formed Bryant's Station. They were placed in two lines facing inward, and connected by a stout picket fence or palisade. This beautiful morning of August 16 everybody was astir unusually early. An alarm call had issued from the region of the Kentucky River, twenty miles in the south. The Boonesborough country was again being invaded. Estill's Station had been entered—in pursuing the enemy Captain Estill himself and twenty-five men had been cut to pieces by twenty-five Wyandots. From the small Hoy's Station Captain John Holder had sallied in rescue of two captured boys, and he and his party also had been badly defeated.

Hoy's Station was threatened by a siege. Help was needed. The men of Bryant's Station had prepared to march out at daylight this morning to its relief. Captain John Craig commanded.

Bryant's Station did not know that it was surrounded, itself. How could it know? There was nothing to show that death couched amidst the trees and brush close at hand. The night had been unbroken; peace seemed to smile in the sparkle of the early morning dew. But cracking never a twig, with the stealth of creeping panthers the Indian army had arrived and had been posted.

Captain Caldwell divided his force. He stationed one hundred warriors in hiding about rifle-shot from the gate in the northwest end of the fort; told them to shoot and yell and draw the Long Knives out. The three hundred others he stationed in ambush within half rifle-shot of the spring opposite the other end, the southeast end, in readiness for a charge when the Long Knives should have been decoyed.

While Bryant's Station did not know what had happened outside, the Captain Caldwell men did not know what was happening, inside. Had they only waited, they would have seen all the soldier garrison march away, leaving the women and children and a few grandfathers—and the fort would have been seized without trouble except to the defenceless families.

But even when the army had arrived, in the night, the fort seemed to be on the alert: there were lights in the cabins, there were voices, there was bustle to and fro. And before sun-up the drum had beat the assembly, the soldiers were being put under arms

Captain Caldwell, the Girtys, the chiefs, and all, were disappointed. They thought themselves expected. That was a piece of great fortune for Bryant's Station.

Soon several cabin doors, fronting outside, were cautiously opened, and figures stepped into the clear, as if on hasty errands. The fort gates, at one end, were being unbarred. It was time to try the decoy trick —and with a burst of shrill whoops the Indians posted for a feint fired their guns.

The figures ran, the doors were slammed, the gates closed. The attack had taken Bryant's Station all by surprise, and it wellnigh worked. The men rushed to the pickets, to peer. They saw a score of Indians, at safe distance, capering and gesturing and yelling insults, daring them to come out.

That was not to be borne. The young men were wild to sally and drive the red rascals from the neighborhood. But the older heads smelled a mouse.

"No, boys. Wait a bit. It's a trick. There's something afoot. Those Injuns don't act natteral. They're too anxious. Let's take a good look at the spring, yonder, t' other side. That's where the reel trouble lies in shape o' painted skins, or I miss my guess."

They keenly scanned the coverts near the spring.

"See? Yes, by thunder! In the timber! See the brush shake? See that Shawnee scalp'? See that fellow glidin' like a snake? The forest edge is full of 'em. They aim to draw us out at one end, so they can come in at the other. But we'll fool 'em."

"We can't march to Hoy's, this day."

"No. We'll need help, ourselves. Somebody'll have to go for it."

"And water! How about water? The bloody red-skins have seized the spring."

For the spring, sixty yards distant, was the nearest water. Bryant's Station had been blindly located. Its water was outside instead of inside.

"First, to send for help. Be firming those loose pickets, too. Who'll slip away and break for Lexington?"

The garrison bustled, strengthening the pickets; the walls were manned; from a spot between cabins, where no Indians had been sighted, Rangers Bell and Tomlinson led out their horses, mounted and were off at a gallop. They were discovered, they broke through, they raced on, down the road for the town of Lexington, to summon reinforcements. It would be a perilous ride. Plainly enough the country was being covered by scouting bands of Indians, bent upon keeping the various forts busy. The disasters to Captain Estill and Captain Holder were a sign.

The two couriers got away. Now for the water. Without water, Bryant's Station would suffer—might be burned.

"The women'll have to go for the water, boys."

"Why so? Women? You'd send the women out, to those tomahawks?"

The women had heard. They gathered, indignant.

"We're as brave as you are, but you can't count on hiding behind our skirts. Shame on you! If you're men, go yourselves. Why send us out? Our skins are no more bullet-proof than yours, and a woman's scalp is the same to an Indian as a man's. Go. Give us rifles and we'll protect you."

"No. Listen here. There are Injuns watchin' the spring, sure enough. They're waitin', in hopes we'll be drawn outside, after those other fellows. They know well that the fetchin' in of water is women's and children's work, and they know well that we'll likely to be needin' that same water. For us men to go out after it would raise suspicion. It would mean sartin death for us and a gen'ral attack before the reinforcements come. If you women go as usual, they'll not harm you. They'll lay close, thinkin' that we're unsuspicious, and that havin' the water we'll chase their other party. That's what they want. Go, every petticoat of you, and every child large enough to tote a piggin. It'll require spunk—we'll be prayin' for you as men never prayed before; but you'll come back safe—that we'll guarantee or we wouldn't send our wives and sisters and children on such a quest. You're Kentucky women and we're Kentucky men."

The women paled.

"I'll go," promptly said one.

"I'll go," said another, and another.

They all seized buckets and gourds; the boys and girls joined eagerly.

"Good-by, brave hearts—and God be with you."

The gate was opened. In a long procession the file proceeded, led by Mrs. Jemima Johnson with ten-year-old Betsy Johnson holding to her hand. There were twelve women and sixteen boys and girls. To see them, nobody would have thought that they feared. Not a foot stumbled, not a figure wavered. Sudden silence fell upon the clearing and the forest. The jabbering Indians in the open stared. Stern faces blanched, peering through the port-holes of the fort; and in the timber beyond the spring the painted visages of the three hundred Shawnees, Wyandots and Mingos and their likewise painted white brothers glared, astonished and puzzled. Captain Caldwell knew not what to do—but he gave no signal. Evidently his ambush was a success, so far, else why had these women come into his very arms, for water?

The procession reached the spring; the women steadily dipped, one after another; the children stoutly grasped the brimming wooden buckets and ladles. It was nervous work. Glancing sidewise, they could glimpse the paint-daubs like scattered autumn leaves; and they could feel the tenseness of the tigerish forms, itching to leap with knife and tomahawk. Some of the women tried to laugh and joke, but their voices sounded thin and flat.

Still unfaltering, the procession commenced to trudge back, the littlest boy and girl bearing themselves bravely, with lips tight pressed. Could the Indians hold off and see the water enter the fort—see their prey enter, unharmed? It almost passed belief.

Now the head of the procession was at the gate, and in safety. One by one and two by two those in the fore did enter. Those at the rear scarcely could stand the suspense longer; their backs prickled, their feet quickened in spite of their firm resolve to show no fear; they dared not look behind.

Then, at the last, they hastened, fast and faster. At any moment a volley might overtake them; the women clutched their skirts, prepared to run; in low voice they urged the children—"Go ahead of us! Quick! We're almost there, dears. Mother's coming. Don't be afraid."

And they were inside, every one!

The gate swung to, in an instant. A great cheer rang. The women sank here and there, spent with the strain; their knees had given out. The children cheered and laughed and cried. Rough arms hugged loved forms. Trick had met trick; thanks to the brave women of Bryant's Station!

"The men's turn, boys!" That was the shout now. "A dozen of us to give those rascals on the Lexington road a fling. The rest to the spring side of the fort, and be ready for the yellow hides when they come whooping."

The sallying party were cautioned.

"Not too far, but make all the racket you can. Don't spare powder. And when you hear our scrimmage, turn for home."

Thirteen men were told off to pretend a battle with the insulting Indians who to the southeast of the fort were gamboling and challenging on the road which led from the Ohio River to Lexington near the Kentucky River. The thirteen hastened out, as if in earnest for a fight. The Indians fell back, egging them on. Rifles spat smartly, muskets whanged in answer; in a few minutes the sounds were those of a battle—and in the timber opposite the other end of the fort Captain Caldwell the British Ranger lifted his hand in signal.

His three hundred warriors sprang to their feet. Their time had arrived. The garrison had taken the bait—their eyes and guns were busy and the spring end of the fort was undefended.

"Whoo-oo-oop!" The yell burst deafening. With brandished gun and hatchet the three hundred rushed pell-mell into the clear and straight for the gate and the flanking palisades. They were within one hundred yards—seventy-five yards—fifty yards—forty—and

"Crack! Crash!"

Every port-hole spurted smoke and flame. The foremost warriors plunged headlong, dead. The bullets tore on through the crowded ranks. The rifles, quickly handed by the women, spoke again—and again. The van of the charge melted; the rear recoiled; warriors ran right and left, scudding for shelter. "In two minutes not an Indian was to be seen."

At the same time the thirteen scouts pelted in, laughing gaily. The scheme had been a great success. "Beaten at their own game! Hooray!"

But Captain Caldwell was by no means whipped. His warriors were screeching for revenge. He remembered that the two Bryant couriers had broken through; he knew that they were galloping, galloping to Lexington or Boonesborough for reinforcements. Aid would be coming. So he posted three hundred of his men in ambush where the Lexington road passed between a thick belt of timber and a large field of green corn.

With the others he kept up a hot fire upon the fort. Some of his warriors dashed in near enough to set the roofs of the cabins aflame. There was plenty of water, but before the blaze had been put out several houses had been half burned. Then a change in the wind saved the rest.

Meanwhile Rangers Bell and Tomlinson had raced into Lexington. To their dismay they found the town almost deserted; only women and aged men were there; the able-bodied fighters had left, called to Hoy's Station also. On raced the two couriers, and caught the column at Boonesborough across the Kentucky.

"What's wrong?"

"Bryant's is attacked. The Injuns are there by the hundreds. We're seeking help."

"We'll do the best we can for you."

Sixteen horsemen and thirty men on foot were ordered back with Rangers Bell and Tomlinson. They made a fast march of twenty-three miles, and at two o'clock in the afternoon sighted Bryant's.

The firing had ceased. Captain Caldwell had laid another trap. Every Indian had sunk into forest or weeds or brush, to wait for the expected reinforcements. The garrison saw nothing at which to shoot, and half believed, themselves, that the siege was done.

With a cheer the horsemen galloped up the dusty road, and into the lane between the trees and the corn-field. The men on foot took a short cut through the corn itself, to flank the cavalry and rout out any skulking reds. There was a shot from the timber; another, a score, two score. The horsemen had gone too far to wheel.

"To the fort! To the fort, boys! We're ambushed!

Every man hammered his horse. They thundered on, wreathed in powder smoke and eddying dust. The gate was opened for them; they surged through at full speed, and not a hide had been so much as scratched.!

But the men in the corn-field were not so lucky. They heard the volleys; they cared not a whit for numbers, and seeing little they bolted through the tall stalks for the battle, in order to help their comrades. The horsemen had thudded on; out from the timber into the road the Indians, one hundred, two hundred, swarmed and met the footmen with the tomahawk.

The Indians' guns were empty; the thirty Long Knives knew that their own safety lay in the threat of powder and ball. An Indian will think twice before charging a loaded rifle with a tomahawk. There was small chance to reach the fort gate; all the intervening space swarmed with the raging enemy. The thirty dived back into the corn-field. It was desperate hide-and-seek among the nodding stalks, while the Bryant garrison gazed helplessly.

Most of the thirty got away—made a running fight of it, from the corn, and from tree trunks and cane clumps. Six were killed or wounded. But Simon Girty himself was almost bagged. That would have been a victory—and it did indeed put a stop to the fracas. Like any Indian he was hot in chase of a young Kentuckian; at last his quarry turned, leveled on him and fired. Down went Simon Girty, knowing now that he had mistaken his man. The gun had been loaded!

Girty killed! Nothing could have spread greater joy. No! He was up again. The bullet had struck a piece of leather in his shot-pouch and had only bruised him! Pshaw! The young Kentuckian had not dared to pause and finish his job, and ran on until he might reload.

The fall of Simon Girty had created alarm. All the Indians who saw, stopped. When they learned the truth, the pursuit had slackened; they let the few Long Knives go' and applied themselves to the siege

of the station.

That was now a harder task, for the garrison had been increased by the sixteen horsemen. At sunset the chiefs grew discouraged. They had lost many warriors; reinforcements had arrived, more would be on the way; they wished to draw off and try elsewhere. Simon Girty addressed them.

"I will talk to the Long Knives. I will make their hearts soft. You have seen that they cannot kill me—I turn their bullets. I will turn their hearts also."

On hands and knees he crawled along to a large stump near a corner of the station. From there he called. They heard.

"What do you want?"

"You are brave men and women. Listen. I bring you terms. You have fought well, and done all that you can do. It is useless to fight farther. We know your numbers. We have six hundred warriors and whites, and cannon are coming. They will be here shortly. They are not like rifles. With them we can blow your walls into the air. Then the Indians will pour in, and nothing can protect you, your women and children. Not a life will be spared. But surrender, and I give you my word of honor that no hair of your heads shall be harmed."

There was a moment of silence. The mention of cannon had had its effect. True enough, cannon had been used, of late, against other stockades, with dire results.

A brave voice answered Simon Girty.

"You lie. Go back to your Injuns before a bullet pierces your coward heart."

"Who says I lie?" Girty demanded, with a show of being much hurt. "Do you know my name, sir? I am Simon Girty."

Aaron Reynolds replied to him. He was a spirited young man, and had noticed that some of his companions were sobered by the word "cannon."

"We know you very well. I have another worthless dog to which I've given the same name—Simon Girty, because he looks like you. If you have either cannon or reinforcements, or both, fetch 'em along. But if you or any of your naked rascals succeed in finding your way into this fort we're ready for you. We'd despise to use guns on you. We have bundles of switches waiting, and we'll switch you out again. As for your reinforcements, there are plenty now coming to our aid likewise. I'll have you know that more are to follow those already here. The whole country is arming; and if you and your gang of murderers linger twenty-four hours longer, your scalps will be drying in the sun on the roofs of these cabins."

Simon Girty made a show of bristling, indignant.

"I spoke to you out of humanity. You answer with insult and the tongue of a boy. Your blood is on your own heads. I grieve at your fate. To-morrow morning you will all be dead."

He crawled back again. But, cheering, the garrison took heart at the bold words of Aaron Reynolds.

The night passed. In the morning the landscape smiled again. A few camp-fires idly smoked. That was all. Not an Indian remained. The whole savage army had gone.