" Then again I questioned if General Herkimer would have sent two boys as messengers, even though an old and experienced soldier went with them, when he must have had under his command many men grown who were thoroughly familiar with Indian warfare.
As if to combat this doubt, I found the following statement by one who has written much concerning the struggles of the colonists for freedom: "As soon as St. Leger's approach up Oneida Lake was known to General Herkimer, he summoned the militia of Tryon County to the succor of the garrison at Fort Schuyler.
They rendezvoused at Fort Dayton, on the German Flats, and, on the day when the Indians encircled the fort, Herkimer was near Oriskany with more than eight hundred men, eager to face the enemy.
And now, that I may not dwell too long on a commonplace story when I have so much of adventure to relate, let me say that we had stumbled on upwards of three hundred men belonging to the patriot army, who, under command of General Herkimer, were bent on paying a friendly visit to the Indian village.
As we soon learned, General Herkimer, having been intimately acquainted with Brant, hoped by an interview to persuade the sachem to join the patriots, or at least to remain neutral, and to such end had invited the chief to meet him at Unadilla for a powwow.
At the same time that General Herkimer had set out to find Brant, Colonel Van Schaick, with one hundred and fifty men, went to Cherry Valley, even as poor Lieutenant Wormwood had announced, and the remainder of the American force in the vicinity was encamped at the proposed rendezvous lest the treacherous chief accept the invitation simply in order to work mischief.
but that General Herkimer could induce the savages to give up their prisoner, and we would soon be on our way home with Peter Sitz as a companion; but, instead, we were just at the beginning of our difficulties.
The Powwow When we had learned all that our acquaintances among the command could tell us, Jacob insisted that Sergeant Corney see General Herkimer without delay, in order to learn if that officer would so far interest himself in the fate of Peter Sitz as to make inquiries of Thayendanega regarding him, in case the opportunity offered.
Jacob asked, with mild curiosity, and the man replied: "It struck me that if any of the Mohawk Valley Tories were with Brant, General Herkimer would stand little chance of doing anything to aid the prisoner.
Then it was that General Herkimer was detailed to disarm the Tories in the valley, and while carrying out such orders quite naturally made enemies of the majority of them.
Therefore it was, according to the belief of the soldier, that General Herkimer would have little or no weight with Brant so far as rescuing Peter Sitz was concerned, if there chanced at the moment to be Tories near at hand to whisper in his ear.
The old soldier returned from his interview with General Herkimer at about the same time our newly made friend finished his recital of what had been done in and around Johnson Hall, and, observing the look of satisfaction on the sergeant's face, I understood, even before he spoke, that his mission had been, at least in a certain degree, successful.
The soldiers were astir at an early hour next morning; but before the column could be set in motion an Indian strode gravely into the encampment waving a bit of white cloth, and, on being questioned by the sentinels, announced himself as a messenger sent by Thayendanega with words to General Herkimer.
The Indian stood like a statue before the shelter of fir boughs, looking neither to the right nor the left until General Herkimer appeared and said to him, questioningly: "You have come from Captain Brant?"
"I have come to see and talk with my brother, Captain Brant," General Herkimer replied, with the same stiff manner as that assumed by the messenger.
" The Indian turned slowly in what I thought a most offensive manner, as he looked around at the faces of those who completely encircled him, and then would have moved away, but that General Herkimer asked: "Is Captain Brant in his village?"
There the two seemingly conversed for a long time, and I was left comparatively alone, until the soldier who had told us of General Herkimer's doings nearabout Johnson Hall, came up.
Eager to get some idea of what the commander might be able to do with this Joseph Brant, whose name stood in my mind for all that was horrible in the way of cruelty, I asked how it was that General Herkimer could hope to influence one who was such a great enemy to the Whigs of the Mohawk Valley, and, in fact, to all white men save those who wore the uniform of the British king.
He told me that at one time, before Thayendanega had become so powerful a sachem, he and General Herkimer were near neighbors, and quite intimate friends.
Now, because of the past, General Herkimer hoped to turn him aside from his chosen path when he was just coming into power, and, boy though I was, it seemed to me a well-nigh hopeless taskone which had better never have been attempted, since in case of failure it would show to Thayendanega that the Whigs of the valley believed him an enemy who should be placated rather than resisted.
He was barely civil when General Herkimer advanced to receive him, and, without greeting the commander, he pointed toward a clearing in the wilderness half a mile or more away, as he said: "There will Thayendanega meet his brother, the white chief, and without firearms.
General Herkimer asked.
" "It is well," General Herkimer replied, and it pleased me that he held himself yet more stiffly than did the messenger.
" "If it was some one else's father, Jacob, you would say that there was no danger anything of the kind would happen while Brant is makin' ready for the interview with General Herkimer.
As a matter of course we indulged in much speculation regarding the outcome of the matter, and discussed at great length the possibility of General Herkimer's being able, even if he failed in other desired directions, to set free the prisoner whom Joseph Brant doubtless intended should suffer death at the stake.
As a matter of fact, it did seem to me no more than prudent General Herkimer should send out scouts to discover what the Indians were doing, and it was whispered about the encampment that one of his officers had suggested that such a precaution be taken; but the commander flatly refused, stating as his reason that it might prove fatal to all his hopes if the sachem should learn he was in any way suspicious because of the delay.
Well, the day passed, and so did the night, as all days and nights will whether one possesses his soul with patience or frets against that which he cannot remedy, and General Herkimer stood in the opening of his fir camp gazing at the men as if trying to decide whom he should take with him to the powwow, when Jacob stepped out in full view in order to attract the commander's attention.
Anything can be forgiven in a lad who burns with the desire to aid his father, however, and General Herkimer beckoned for my comrade to approach.
It was treating General Herkimer rather shabbily, so I thought, to force him to wait like a child until the master was ready to put in an appearance; but there was nothing else to be done, and we squatted on the ferns and rocks a full half-hour before the man who was soon to be the great sachem of the Six Nations was pleased to show himself.
Then suddenly, as if until that moment he hadn't the slightest idea General Herkimer was anywhere in the vicinity, he sent one of his company to our commander, he himself continuing to move on until he stood in the very centre of the clearing.
Thayendanega began with compliments, and after General Herkimer had replied in much the same strain, the murdering villain asked bluntly why he had come.
"To meet my old neighbor and friend," General Herkimer replied, whereupon Brant asked: "And have all those behind you come on a friendly visit, too?
Disappointment During this time of confusion, when the life of every white man in the clearing was literally trembling in the balance, General Herkimer passed the word from one to another that we were all to stand firm without show of fear, and at the same time making no move which might be construed as in enmity.
It was but natural I should look toward Sergeant Corney, and surely if there was one man in that clearing who obeyed General Herkimer's command, it was he!
When all was hushed once more, the sachem said to General Herkimer, speaking calmly, almost indifferently: "The war-path has been opened across the country as far as Esopus, and the Tories of Ulster and Orange will join with the braves of Thayendanega's tribe to quell this revolt against the king, who is their father.
" Now it was that General Herkimer spoke earnestly, pleadingly.
" Then the sachem turned as if to move away, and General Herkimer, remembering what he had promised Sergeant Corney and Jacob, said, in a friendly tone: "Wait one moment, Captain Brant.
General Herkimer insisted.
"I will ask my young men," was all the reply Brant would make, and then the powwow was brought to a sudden close as the sachem stalked toward the encampment, followed by all his people, and we of General Herkimer's party were left alone in the clearing.
Neither he, nor we, nor General Herkimer himself, could effect anything whatsoever, save through the favor of the Mohawk sachem, and that was withheld for at least four and twenty hours, with the chances that at the expiration of such time we would receive nothing better from the wily savage than a refusal to answer any questions.
Even General Herkimer had lost all hope of being able to dissuade Joseph Brant from the course he had already marked out for himself, and shared with his men the suspicion that before the second interview was come to an end we would be the victims of the sachem's treachery.
Wagner selected George and Abraham Herkimer, nephews of the general, and these three were prepared to face the most cruel of deaths, for certain it was that if they were obliged to make an attack upon the Mohawk chieftain, every Indian under his command would strive most earnestly to take them prisoners in order that they be made to suffer death by torture.
Gathering in a semicircle behind General Herkimer as before, we were hardly in position when Thayendanega, clad in all the bravery of his savage garb, and, what was most ominous, bedecked in war-paint, strode into the enclosure, followed by such members of his party as had accompanied him the day previous.
Thayendanega remained half-turned from General Herkimer, and within two feet of the three men whose duty it was to shoot him with the rifles they had concealed under their blankets in case an absolute attack was made, and there watched the antics of his painted crew until perhaps five minutes had passed, when the savages sank down upon the ground as if exhausted, looking like so many images of demons.
As Sergeant Corney afterward told me, Brant advised General Herkimer to go home, thanked him for having come to pay the visit, and said that at some near day he might return the compliment.
General Herkimer cried, when the sachem would have stalked away with a great assumption of dignity.
General Herkimer asked, sternly.
When we were in camp once more, and General Herkimer was making his preparations to set off on the return march, Jacob declared that he alone, if we did not accompany him, would go into the Indian village, and there make inquiries for his father.
For a time it was absolutely necessary that we two hold Jacob by force to prevent him from leaving us, and then gradually the boy came to understand that for his father's life he could only hope in the mercy of God, since even had General Herkimer been willing to risk a battle, in which he would have been greatly outnumbered by the savages, there was no hope he might effect the release of Peter Sitz.
Wemeaning Sergeant Corney, Jacob, and myselfset off as soon as the conference with General Herkimer was at an end, on the long journey to our homes, knowing that the advance must be slow and cautious, for we had heard from Thayendanega's own lips that he was fully committed to the work of harrying the patriots.
And this was the situation, as I afterward read it in printed letters: "A few days after this conference with General Herkimer, Brant withdrew his warriors from the Susquehanna and joined Sir John Johnson and Col. John Butler, who were collecting a large body of Tories and refugees at Oswego, preparatory to a descent upon the Mohawk and Schoharie settlements.
My uncle, Colonel Campbell, gave his consent to our departure after reading General Herkimer's message, and congratulated me, who deserved no praise, because I had succeeded in so far winning the confidence of a thorough soldier that he should make a personal request for the services of myself and my companions.
Sergeant Corney believed General Herkimer had some especial matter in hand in which he thought we three might be of particular service, and when that was done we would be allowed to return home.
I said to myself again and again, that if General Herkimer really needed such services as we could render, it would have been better had we remained with him, rather than spend so many days and be forced to such severe labor as was required for the march to Cherry Valley and back.
Colonel Campbell knew even more regarding Brant's movements than we could tell him, and it was by no means necessary he should be informed immediately as to the result of General Herkimer's interview with the Mohawk sachem.
One day's march was much like another, and many passed before we were with General Herkimer again.
Fortunately we did not come face to face with the redskins, therefore a detailed story of our march would be dull reading, for it could only be the same thing over and over again until the hour arrived when we entered General Herkimer's camp on the Oriskany, receiving there such a greeting from the commander himself as caused me to believe he really needed us for some important task.
" There was no need now of urging Jacob to undertake the mission; since he had what seemed like positive information of his father's whereabouts, he would have gone in the direction of the besieged fort whether General Herkimer so desired, or opposed it.
I had had ample time since the powwow with Thayendanega to decide whether or no I would serve under General Herkimer, and, having come to a decision, it stood me in hand to do whatsoever lay before me without question.
" Taking heed not to go near Sergeant Corney, whom we could see in the distance, Jacob went from one group of soldiers to the other, and, as may be supposed, the chief topic of conversation everywhere was the possibility that Fort Schuyler could hold out against the large number of men who were besieging it, as well as the chances of General Herkimer's command being able to enter the place.
"It only remains to get our instructions from General Herkimer before makin' the attempt to have speech with those in the fort.
From General Herkimer's encampment in an air-line through the forest to Fort Schuyler was not more than seven or eight miles, and, despite our slow progress, for one cannot travel rapidly when striving to advance without so much as the breaking of a twig, we counted on arriving in front of the enemy's lines by midnight.
For a moment I ceased my efforts at retreat, and then, realizing that if we would take Jacob with us to the completion of General Herkimer's commands, he must not be allowed to hear anything more, I would have backed away rapidly.
With the hope that the lad might soon come to realize that we must be attending to General Herkimer's business, I remained silent and motionless, straining my ears to hear what the painted snakes were saying, and at the same time expecting to receive a silent protest from Sergeant Corney because of remaining inactive when the moments were so precious.
If General Herkimer was in your father's place I would turn my back on him until after our work had been done.
But that I knew beyond a peradventure it was useless, I would have said all in my power to keep him with us; but his mind was fixed, and, to tell the truth, I could not well blame him for doing as I would have done, regardless of any duty I might owe to General Herkimer.
Already had our venture, so it appeared to me, cost the life of one of our small party, and mentally I reproached myself bitterly for having left Cherry Valley to take service with this General Herkimer, who could as well have sent some other in our place, for surely all in his command were not known to Thayendanega's following.
twenty hours ago had General Herkimer not held us back.
A full third of this force believe we should have come in front of Fort Schuyler yesterday mornin', an' think you all those can be mistaken, an' only General Herkimer stand in the right?" "Then it is insubordination!"
" "Then Colonel Gansevoort is as great a coward as General Herkimer, for we are of sufficient strength to march whithersoever we will.
and I dare say had never before received; but, storm as he might, it seemed as if all the arguments he brought up in favor of General Herkimer's carrying out the plans suggested by Colonel Gansevoort, only served to make those imitation soldiers more fixed in their opinions.
I shall always hold that General Herkimer was a brave man, because, after a severe effort which was evident to us all, he so far mastered his righteous anger as to say, quietly: "I am placed over you as a father and guardian, and shall not lead you into difficulties from which I may not be able to extricate you.
" Immediately the unwilling permission for them to do as they pleased had been given, the men set about making ready for the advance as if each moment was of the greatest value, and in an incredibly short time after General Herkimer had been bullied into agreeing to that which his better judgment told him to be wrong, the company was ready for the march.
Even had Sergeant Corney not decided to follow the commander before the line of march had been arranged, he would have done so later, because General Herkimer beckoned us to approach when he took his place at the head of the column.
General Herkimer's troops, composed chiefly of the militia regiments of Colonels Cox, Paris, Visscher, and Klock, were quite undisciplined, and their order of march was irregular and without precaution.
It was not until we had advanced half a mile or more that I bethought myself of the position in the column which Sergeant Corney and I occupied because of attempting to follow General Herkimer closely.
Even as the flashes of light sprang out from among the leaves, I saw Colonel Cox, he who was responsible for all that flood of death, leap high in the air, only to fall back dead, and at the same moment General Herkimer's horse reared and screamed in a death-agony.
The old soldier and I had no more than bent over General Herkimer to learn how we could best release him from his dangerous position, when a second volley came from amid the foliage, and those alleged soldiers of the command who were yet alive ran wildly to and fro like frightened chickens, seeking some way of escape, rather than standing up like men to battle for their own lives.
The Indians, understanding that the first daze of terror had passed away, leaving their intended victims in condition to do considerable execution, fell back a short distance to where they could find shelter, and thus, thanks to General Herkimer, it was no longer a massacre, but a battle.
When Sergeant Corney and I had done all we could to render the commander more comfortable, we took our share in the fight, remaining close beside General Herkimer meanwhile, lest the Indians make an attempt to take him prisoner.
Much to my surprise, I heard General Herkimer say that a full hour had elapsed from the time the first volley had been fired, and it stiffened the courage of all to learn that we had been able to hold the foe in check so long.
I had thought that the men under General Herkimer's command fought bravely after the cowards were weeded out, and those who were left understood that, but for the mutiny in camp, the ambush would not have been successful; but now they seemed like veritable tigers as the Tories came into the battle.
Some of our people, upon whom the fever of battle had fastened more firmly, would have pursued the cowards, even though it might have been to come directly upon the main army, who were then, doubtless, engaged in checking the sortie from the fort; but General Herkimer sent a squad of the cooler soldiers after them, with the result that the valiant Johnson Greens were allowed to continue their retreat unmolested.
More than two hundred of General Herkimer's force lay dead among the trees, while even a larger number were so seriously wounded as to be unable to defend themselves, therefore it was impossible for us to act in concert with those who were making the sortie, and the commander issued orders to fall back.
"Ay, lad, our duty is now toward him, havin' done all we may under General Herkimer's command.
When we left the ravine in search of the lad, it was necessary we advance over much the same course as when we carried General Herkimer's message, and it was slightly in our favor that we knew fairly well at how great a distance from the general encampment of the enemy we must keep in order to avoid running into the Indians.
Sergeant Corney, minded to save our neighbor from the self-reproach which might be his if he knew we were in such plight through desire to aid his son or himself, replied that we had been sent into the vicinity by General Herkimer, and then explained how we came across Jacob, as well was the manner in which we had been taken prisoners.
"More than once have the red devils insisted on torturin' me; but each time Joseph Brant has prevented them, although I question if he could have done so but for the unfortunate men who were captured in the battle with General Herkimer's troops.
Then we decided he had gone in search of General Herkimer's men, thinking to enlist a sufficient number of them in our behalf; but if such had been the case we should have heard something from him, at least when eight days were passed, and after that time we made no mention of the lad, believing he had been discovered near the encampment and killed outright.
I believe of a verity my company would have grumbled almost as loudly as had General Herkimer's men on the morning before the fight at Oriskany, had the old soldier taken station elsewhere, and yet it would have been but natural for him to go into the fight side by side with those of the garrison who were most experienced in warfare.
"How do they suppose any good can come of conjuring up everything horrible?" "They're of the same kidney that drove General Herkimer into the ambush, an' are tryin' to force the colonel to surrender.
Mutiny I had thought that we would never again be called upon to witness such a scene as that in General Herkimer's encampment on the morning when those who, later, were the first to show the white feather, literally drove him into a place where he, as a soldier, knew it was not safe to venture until all the arrangements for a sortie from the fort were completed.
They forced General Herkimer into an ambush against his better judgment,against his will,an' at the first volley from Thayendanega's painted wretches they turned tail.
Toward noon a messenger from the general commanding came in, bringing with him the sad news that General Herkimer was dead of his wounds, or, perhaps I should say, because of his wounds.
I recollect an affair that occurred at a settlement called Shell's Bush, about five miles from Herkimer village.
(In The Evening telegram, Herkimer, NY, Oct. 27, 1947) © 27Oct47; B5-2383.
(In The Evening telegram, Herkimer, NY, Oct. 27, 1947) © 27Oct47; B5-2383.
| | | Miss Ella B. Walker, | | Herkimer, New York.
He had been a farmer and sawmill man, and still had a farm between Herkimer and Little Falls on the Mohawk River.
" In two or three minutes I found that he was from Herkimer County, had lived along the Erie Canal, and was actually the son of my old teacher Lockwood, to whom I had gone when I was wintering with Mrs. Fogg in the old canalling days.