02 Nov The Escape of Knight and Slover
The Escape of Knight and Slover by William Dean Howells
The Escape Of Knight And Slover
When the Indians made a raid on the settlements, they abandoned even victory if they had once had enough fighting; as when they had a feast they glutted themselves, and then wasted what they had not eaten. They seemed now to have had such a surfeit of cruelty in the torture of Crawford that they took little trouble to secure Knight for a future holiday. They promised themselves that he should be burnt, too, at the town of the Shawnees, but in their satiety they left him unbound in the charge of a young Indian who was to take him there from Sandusky. It is true that Knight was very weak, and that they may have thought he was unable to escape, though even in this case they would probably have sent him under a stronger guard at another time, when they were not gorged with blood.
His Indian guard was armed and was mounted on a pony, while Knight went on foot; but Knight had made up his mind that he would escape at any risk rather than be burned like Crawford. His face had again been painted black; and he had Simon Girty’s word, given him before Crawford was put to death, that he was to be burned at Old Chillicothe. But he pretended not to know what the Indians were going to do with him there, and he easily deceived his guard, who seems to have been a good-natured, simple fellow. Knight asked him if they were going to live together like brothers in the same wig-wam, and the Indian answered they were, and they went in very friendly talk. At night-fall when they camped, Knight let his guard bind him, but he spent the hours till daybreak trying secretly to free himself. At dawn the Indian rose and unbound his captive. Then he rekindled the fire, at the same time fighting the gnats that swarmed upon his naked body. He willingly consented that Knight should make a smoke to drive them from his back, and Knight took a heavy stick from the fire as if to do this; but when he got behind the Indian he struck him on the head with all his strength. The Indian fell forward into the fire, but quickly gathered himself up and ran off howling. Knight wanted to shoot him as he ran; in his eagerness to cock the rifle he broke the lock, and the Indian escaped. He got safely to the Shawnee town, where he described the fight in terms that transformed the little doctor into a furious giant, whom no amount of stabbing had any effect upon.
The other Indians, who seem to have understood this cowardly boaster, received his story with shouts of laughter. But Knight was very glad to make off with his gun and ammunition, and leave them to settle the affair among themselves. When he came to the prairies he hid himself in the grass and waited till dark before venturing to cross them, and by daybreak he was in the woods again. He could kill nothing with his broken gun, and he lived for twenty-one days on wild gooseberries, with two young blackbirds and a tortoise, which he ate raw. He reached the Ohio River on the twenty-second day, and crossed in safety to Fort Mcintosh.
The tragic adventures of the Indian captives must often have been relieved by comic incidents like those of Knight’s escape from his guard; but there is very little record of anything except sorrow and suffering, danger and death. Certainly in the captivity of John Slover, another of Crawford’s ill-starred and ill-willed crew of marauders, there were few gleams of happier chance to distinguish it from most histories of the sort. He had been captured by the Indians when a boy of eight years, and carried from his home in Virginia to their town of Sandusky, where he was adopted into their nation, and where he lived quite happily till his twentieth year, when he was given up to his own people.
He fought through two years of the Revolutionary War, and he was thoroughly fitted to act as a guide for Crawford.
After the battle, or rather the disorderly rout, he was one of those who was mired in the swamps. He left his horse there, and with a few others tried to make his way to Detroit. Twice the party escaped capture by hiding in the grass, as the Indians passed near them, but on the third morning they were ambushed; two were killed, one ran away, and the remaining three gave themselves up on the promise of good treatment. They were taken to Wapatimika, where Simon Kenton was to have been burned, and they soon proved how far the promises of the savages were to be trusted.
The Indians knew Slover at once, and they bitterly reproached him with having come to betray his friends. At the council held to try him, James Girty urged them to put him to death for his treason. But Slover strongly defended himself, reminding the Indians that they had freely given him up, and had no longer any claim upon him. His words had such weight that the council put off its decision. In the meantime he was left with an old squaw, who hid him under a bear skin, and scolded off the messengers who came to bring him before a grand council of Shawnee, Delaware, Wyandot, Chippewa, and Mingo warriors. But shortly after, Girty came with forty braves and seized him. Slover was now stripped, and with his hands tied and his face painted black, he was taken to a village five miles off, where he was beaten as usual by the people, and then driven a little farther to another village, where he found everything made ready to burn him, as Crawford had been burned. He was tied to the stake, and the fire was lighted; an orator began to kindle the anger of the savages; but at the last moment a heavy shower of rain burst over the roofless council house where they had gathered to torture their captive, put out the fire, and drove them to a sheltered part of the lodge, where they consoled themselves as best they could by beating him till midnight, and promising him that he should be burned the next day. He was then carried to the blockhouse and left bound with two guards, who entertained themselves, but did not amuse Slover, by talking over his probable behavior under the torture that awaited him. They fell asleep, worn out, about daybreak, when Slover made a desperate effort to free himself, and to his own astonishment, succeeded. He stepped across his snoring guards out into the open air. No one was astir in the village, and he ran to hide himself in a cornfield, where he nearly fell over a sleeping squaw and her papooses. On the other side of the field he found some horses, and making a halter of the buffalo thong that had bound him, and that still hung upon his arm, he leaped upon one of them and dashed through the woods. By ten o’clock in the forenoon he had reached the Scioto fifty miles away.
He allowed his horse to breathe here; then he remounted, crossed the river, and galloped half as far again. At three o’clock his horse gave out, and Slover left him and ran forward afoot, spurred on by the yells of the pursuers close behind him. The moon came up, and knowing that his trail could be easily followed by her light, he ran till daybreak. The next night he reached the Muskingum, naked, torn by briers, and covered with the mosquitoes which swarmed upon his bleeding body. A few wild raspberries enabled him to break his fast for the first time, but the next day he feasted upon two crawfish. When he came to the Ohio, just across from Wheeling, and called to a man whom he saw on the island there, to bring his canoe and take him over, it is not strange that the man should have hesitated at the sight of the figure on the Ohio shore. Not till Slover had given him the names of many men in Crawford’s army, as well as his own name, did the man come to his rescue and ferry him over to the fort, where he was safe at last.