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Colonel Benjamin Logan: The Intrepid Fighter Of The Kentucky Frontier

“Mother, I know that the law allows me to have all of the property which my father left, but I do not want it. You can have your share, and to my brothers and sisters I give the remainder. I, myself, will move further West, into the wilderness.”

The youth who spoke was about twenty-one years of age; tall, slender, and graceful. His face was open, frank, and expressive. As he ceased, he waved his hand towards the West and left the room in which his parent was sitting upon an old-fashioned horse-hair sofa. His name was Benjamin Logan.

Although the old English law of primogeniture prevailed in Virginia at this time, which gave the farm, horses, and farming utensils to young Logan (upon the death of his father) he refused to accept them. Instead of this, he nobly partitioned the estate between his mother, his three brothers, and two sisters, and removed to the Holston River. Then he began to farm a rough piece of ground, only part of which had been cleared of timber.

About this time the Indians upon the Ohio frontier became very troublesome, and Logan enlisted as a private in the army of Lord Dunmore, Governor of Virginia. Marching into the Indian country was a rough experience, but the youth enjoyed it, and when the red men signed articles of peace at Chillicothe, Ohio, the stout Virginian was among those who stood near the chiefs and saw them put their names to the agreement. Kentucky was now fairly peaceable. So the energetic young man moved his family to Harrodsburg, where a stockade had been erected called Logan’s Fort.

“You must look out for the redskins,” said a comrade to him. “Although they have signed an agreement to let us alone, my friends report that there are many of them in the vicinity, and they are all daubed up with paint, because they are upon the war-path.”

“I will be on my guard,” replied the young pioneer. “We must all run to the fort if there is danger of attack.” The test was to come sooner than he expected.

Upon a balmy day in May, when the women were milking their cows near the gate of Fort Logan, and a few men were standing by, in order to assist them, a small band of redskins appeared at the edge of a thicket. Crash, a volley woke the stillness, and one of the frontiersmen fell dead while two staggered behind the log breastwork, with mortal wounds. A third—a stout fellow called Harrison—was unable to reach the gate, and dragged himself along to the shelter of some bushes.

Within the fort, all gazed with sorrow at the wounded pioneer, who, although in range of the Indian rifles, was so protected that the balls could not quite reach him. Those in the fort kept up a fusillade in the direction of the red men, making them get below cover, and thus the battle continued; the leaden balls zipping and whizzing across the place, where Harrison lay partially concealed. The man’s family, in the fort, seemed to be in an agony of distress at his terrible condition. To save him would require great nerve and heroism. There were but fifteen men in the stockade; two were badly wounded. Should they sacrifice any of this small number in the endeavor to rescue a man, who, even should he be retaken, would be unable to fight in defense of the fortification? This question confronted the beleaguered pioneers, and it was a serious one.

At this moment young Logan stepped forward and said:

“Who will go with me to the rescue of this poor fellow?”

It was strange to see the effect of these words upon the besieged frontiersmen. At first every one refused.

“I’m not a fast runner,” said one, “and know that they will easily catch me on the return trip, even if I am not shot before I reach the wounded man.”

A second—a fellow of giant build—quavered: “I am a weakly chap. I never was no good, nohow, on liftin’. Perhaps you’d better git ernother stouter feller than I be.”

Still a third remarked that, “he wuz plum onlucky with Injin bullets, an’ never wuz known tew git amongst ’em in the open without havin’ one uv ’em nick him.”

Ben Logan could not help smiling at this.

“What, are you all afraid to follow me?” said he.

At this, a trapper called John Martin stepped towards him, and said:

“I will go with you, for I can only die once and I am as ready now to go to my Maker, as I ever will be. Come on! To the rescue!”

“You are a man after my own heart,” answered the bold pioneer, grasping him warmly by the hand. “We will start at once.”

Throwing open the gates to the stockade, both dashed towards the prostrate frontiersman. They had proceeded about five yards from the fort when Harrison made an effort to rise. As he got to his hands and knees, Martin turned and fled to the stockade.

“This is fine treatment,” mused Logan, but he kept on under a veritable shower of bullets from the redskins. Fortune favored him; he was not hit, and reaching the wounded frontiersman in safety, clasped him in his arms, and began to lug him back to the fort. The deed was a noble one.

Bullets from the red men fairly poured around the struggling backwoodsman, as he staggered towards the stockade of logs. His hat was pierced by a ball; one even penetrated his hunting-shirt, but, in spite of this, he finally reached the doorway. Hurrah! As he deposited the body of the wounded man safely upon the ground a mighty cheer welled from the throats of all. Hurrah! Hurrah, for Benjamin Logan!

Even the Hercules who had complained of being “a weakly fellow” threw up his hat in the air.

“Well, by Gum! Logan,” said he, “if yew ain’t th’ plum luckiest feller I ever knowed. I believe that yew be charmed, so ez an Injun bullet can’t hit yew. Ez fer me? Why, I would hev been struck er dozen times in thet hazardous journey. Huzzah! says I. Here’s tew yer!”

But all danger was not yet over by any means. The red men were in numbers, and besieged the fort with a tenacity that made matters take a decidedly ugly look, for the few men of the garrison were not able to put up a very stiff fire against the increasing bands of Indians. Another danger also threatened, for the supply of ammunition became exhausted. How was more to be obtained?

Distant, about a hundred miles, was the frontier settlement on the Holston River, to which Logan had first moved when he left his farm in Virginia. Here was ammunition in abundance, and also supplies of food and clothing. Would any one have nerve enough to creep through and relieve the beleaguered garrison? This required the greatest judgment and unbounded courage, for the intervening country was swarming with savages, all upon the war-path. It was a region full of deep ravines, tangled thickets, and treacherous swampland.

Again all were asked to undertake the journey, but there were as many excuses as before. Again Benjamin Logan stepped into the breach and offered to bring relief. That night he clambered to the top of the stockade, dropped softly to the ground outside, and soon his form was lost in the shadows of the encircling forest. He passed through the Indian lines in safety, and, by daybreak, was headed for the post at Holston. His last words to the garrison were: “Hold fast! Hold on! I will be sure to return within a fortnight and you will all be saved!”

For several days the garrison returned the fire of the Indians with spirit, but, as the hours fled by, a terrible feeling of despair came over them. Their water began to give out; their ammunition was so low that they had to use it sparingly, and the food supply was in such a condition that there was danger of starvation if help did not soon arrive. Logan, meanwhile, was toiling upon his way through by-paths, swamps and cane brakes, having deserted the beaten trail through Cumberland Gap. Fortune favored him. He met with no prowling red men, and, within six days, had covered the distance to the frontier post.

The intrepid pioneer now procured ammunition, food, and a company of backwoodsmen. With these, he hastened onwards towards his beleaguered companions, and, upon the tenth day after his departure, suddenly appeared before the stockade. There were not twenty rounds of ammunition left in the fortress. Gaunt and hollow cheeks were here. Noble women upheld the fainting spirits of the men, but now, with little hope of succor, it was with difficulty that they kept up their fire upon the redskins, and put out the flaming brands which they kept throwing into the stockade. A wild and exultant cheer greeted their leader as he ran across the clearing to the door of the side wall. “At last you have come!” they shouted. “We had given you up for dead!”

A few days later Colonel Bowman arrived, with a large body of men, at which the Indians raised the siege and fled. But they had not gone for good. On the contrary, they fairly swarmed over the borders of Kentucky and their marauding parties committed some frightful outrages. There was nothing now to be done but to defeat them in a battle and burn their villages, if the white settlers were to have peace.

It was the year 1779. The Revolution was over. England had lost her colonies to her own sons. Now the Colonists were beginning the great struggle to free themselves from the curse of Indian invasion. An expedition was therefore organized to invade the Shawnee territory and to raze to the ground the famous town of Chillicothe. Benjamin Logan—now Colonel Logan—was second in command. Bowman, who had come to the rescue at Logan’s Fort, was to lead the expedition; which was to consist of one hundred and sixty men. They advanced in the heat of July, and marched with such precaution that they reached the neighborhood of the Indian town without having been discovered by the enemy.

A plan for assaulting the village was now decided upon. It was very simple, for the force was to be divided into two parts; one, under Logan, was to march to the left: the other, under Bowman, was to march to the right. The men were to spread out in single rank, and when the leading files of the two columns had met, then, they were to attack. It was dark when the backwoods soldiers began the advance. Logan’s men quite encircled the town, but where was Bowman? All through the night the leader of the left flank waited for the coming of the other column, but not a man in buckskin appeared. Hour after hour passed away and the darkness gave way to dawn. Still Bowman was strangely missing.

“Had you not better attack?” whispered one of his men. “The Shawnees will soon be awake and will discover our whereabouts.”

“Let us wait another hour or two,” answered the courageous leader. “I believe that the advance of Bowman’s column will soon be here.”

Logan’s men were secreted in ambush. Here they remained until an Indian dog began to bark, arousing his master, who came out of his tepee in order to see what was the matter. An imprudent trapper had exposed his head above the underbrush, and the keen eyes of the redskin quickly discerned an enemy. He raised a loud war-whoop.

As he did this, a gun went off on Bowman’s side of the village, and, seeing that further concealment was useless, Colonel Logan cried out to his men:

“Charge into the village, my boys. You must drive the redskins through the town, for Colonel Bowman will surely support you.”

His buckskin-clad rangers defiled quickly into the village, and, advancing from cabin to cabin, soon had reached a large building in the centre. The Indians fled swiftly before them, but later, recovering from their surprise, endeavored to turn the right flank of the Kentuckians, whom they perceived to be in small numbers. Where was Colonel Bowman?

The Shawnees had now seized their own rifles and were pouring in a hot fire upon the advancing frontiersmen, who tore the heavy doors from the Indian cabins, formed a breastwork, and protected themselves from the whizzing balls. They were holding their own and were making progress towards the Indian citadel, where most of the braves had collected, when an order came from Colonel Bowman to retreat. His ranking officer had spoken, so there was nothing for Logan to do but to obey.

As soon as the men were told that they must go to the rear, a tumultuous scene commenced. Dispirited and disheartened by the order to turn their backs upon the enemy, they rushed away from the tomahawks and balls of the savages, as best they were able. The Indians were astonished and jubilant over the turn which matters had taken and pursued the rangers with wild and exultant yelping. The frontiersmen scattered in every direction, dodging and twisting in order to avoid the balls which whistled around them, and ran from cabin to cabin, in confusion. Suddenly they collided with Bowman’s soldiers, who, because of some panic of their commander, had stood stock still near the spot where Logan had left them the night before. The redskins soon surrounded them on all sides, and kept up a hot fire.

What was the matter with Bowman? He sat upon his horse like a pillar of stone; gave no orders; and was in an apparently helpless mental condition. His men paid no attention to him, but swarmed to the protection of trees and stumps, took aim at the yelping red men, and soon held them at a safe distance. When they seemed to be quieted, the frontiersmen resumed their march. The Indians, however, came back to the attack, but were beaten off. They followed, and made an assault every half mile, or so. Their tenacity was due to the fact that they expected reinforcements and hoped to annihilate the whites.

“Keep together, my brave men,” shouted Colonel Logan, at this juncture. “Do not let these redskins stampede you, for then you will all be massacred.”

The crisis was a terrible one. The retreat would become a rout, unless the soldiers were kept together.

At this juncture Colonel Logan and a few of the boldest souls, dashed into the brush, on horseback, and cut down some of the nearest red men. As they performed this bold feat, the savages held back, and thus allowed the fleeing soldiers to get away. Only nine Kentuckians were killed, a few were wounded, and the rest escaped to the settlements. As for Colonel Logan, his gallant conduct, when under stress and fire, greatly increased his reputation, and at the next gathering of the Kentucky troops he was unanimously elected to lead them against the red men, when again they should need chastising.

The Indians remained quiescent until the summer of 1788. Then the frontier was again attacked by marauding bands, and so destructive was their advance that the pioneer militia had to be called out. Colonel Logan was asked to lead the troops against the enemy.

“Boys, I shall be delighted to do so,” said he. “But this time there must be perfect discipline and no retreating. If you break in the same way that you did in our attack upon the Shawnee town I will not answer for your scalps. Let us have order, or we will never succeed.”

“Lead on, Colonel,” cried many. “You have the right idea, and none of us will go back on you.”

The advance through the wilderness was most successful. Eight towns were burned, twenty warriors were killed, and seventy-five prisoners were taken. The son of a chief named Moluntha was carried off as a prisoner, and because of his brightness and promise was kept in Colonel Logan’s family. He was called Logan, after his distinguished captor, and grew to be a majestic-looking man, six feet in height.

As for the Colonel, he returned to his farm after this campaign fully satisfied with his work, and determined to lead a quiet existence. This he was well able to do, for the red men had been so signally chastised that they no longer attempted to rob, burn, and plunder upon the border. His namesake, however, came to an untimely end.

During one of the campaigns by General Harrison against the Maumee Indians, Logan—the redskin—was dispatched by his superior officer upon a scouting expedition with several companions. They met a large force of hostile Indians and were driven in to their own camp, where one of the white officers was heard to remark:

“Logan is a treacherous scoundrel. I believe that he will desert to those of his own color at any moment.”

This was heard by the red man and he was stung to the quick.

“I shall prove this to be a falsehood,” said he. “I am true to my white brothers.”

Next morning he started towards the enemy with some companions and had not gone far when he found himself in an ambuscade, formed by the famous chieftain called Winnemac. Logan had the same cool courage which distinguished his white namesake.

“We are deserting to our enemies, the British,” said he. “We no longer care to fight with the Americans. We are at heart your brothers.”

Chief Winnemac grunted, but kept a watchful eye upon his captives as he carried them away. After the first day, however, he decided to return the rifles and other arms to the prisoners. He had counted too much upon the words of the savage, for Logan had determined upon escape.

“We will attack our captors to-night,” he whispered to his two companions, Bright Horn and Captain Johnny. “There are seven. We will wait until some leave and will then gain our liberty.”

As he had expected, after the camp-fires had been lighted, four of the British sympathizers left, in order to collect fire-wood. They had not been gone over five minutes before the three captives had fired upon those left behind, killing all three. They reloaded, as the others came running to the camp, fired upon them, and forced them to take refuge behind some trees. As they stood confronting each other, one of the most wiry and skillful crept around to the rear of the American red men, pointed his rifle, and shot Logan in the shoulder. He fell forward, badly wounded.

Lifting him to the back of a pony, his friends carried him to the American camp, where he was placed upon a litter. Captain Johnny, who had left them upon the return trip, arrived next morning, bringing with him the scalp of Chief Winnemac. Logan lingered for a few days, and then succumbed to his wound. “I have removed all suspicion upon my honor,” said he. “Now I am willing to die. My two sons must be educated by the people of Kentucky.”

Thus perished the namesake of the noble-hearted Colonel Logan, who helped to clear Kentucky of the savage tribes, and who soon afterwards rounded out his life of splendid activity, and died universally lamented. To such pioneers the state owes a deep debt of gratitude.

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