Daniel Morgan: The Famous Virginian Rifleman, And His Adventures With The Indian Bear

Daniel Morgan was a famous Virginian rifleman.

As a young man he enlisted in the French and Indian War, and joined an army under Colonel St. Clair, who, as you remember, no doubt, was so signally defeated by Little Turtle. The bravery of St. Clair sometimes amounted to rashness. His enemies have even accused him of indiscretion. At any rate, when camped near the head waters of the Mississippi, on the plains of the Chippewa, he placed his men near a dense forest, in which his redskinned enemies could easily pick off his sentinels without exposing themselves, in the least, to danger from return fire.

For five nights his army lay in this position, and for five nights a sentinel was posted near the gloomy borders of the forest. Alas! Every man who had held the place was shot. This struck terror to the hearts of the soldiers, and, when a sentinel was to be posted upon the sixth night, no one would come forward to take the position, without a serious protest. St. Clair knew that it was only throwing away men’s lives to place a sentinel in such an exposed situation, so he insisted upon no one occupying it. This pleased his followers mightily. “Colonel,” said many, “you are a sensible man.”

Upon the evening of the sixth day, however, a rifleman from the Virginia corps appeared before the Colonel’s tent. His name was Daniel Morgan.

“Sir,” he remarked, saluting, “I feel that I can take charge of this post. Put me there and see what I can do.”

St. Clair looked at him dubiously.

“I think that you are rather rash,” said he. “But you can have what you desire. Go, and good luck to you, my son.”

Soon afterwards, the new guard marched up. The scout fell in behind, shouldered his rifle, and went forward.

“I’ll return safely,” said he, as he followed the leading files. “And, Colonel St. Clair, I will drink your health in the morning.”

The new guard marched on, arrived at the place which had been so fatal to the sentries, and here halted. Bidding his fellow soldiers “Good night,” the sentry brought his gun to order arms and peered about him. The night was a dark one. Thick clouds overspread the heavens and hardly a star was to be seen. Silence reigned, save for the beat of the retiring footsteps of the guard. The frontiersman paced slowly up and down, then stopped, for in the far distance came the cry of “All is well!”

Seating himself upon a fallen tree, the soldier fell into a reverie, but, hark! what was that? A low, rustling sound came from out the bushes. He gazed intently towards the spot whence the noise seemed to proceed, but he could see nothing but the impenetrable gloom of the forest. Nearer and nearer came the strange rustling and a well-known grunt informed him that a large bear was approaching. Slowly the animal came on—then quietly sought the thicket to the left of his position.

At this particular moment the clouds drifted away from the face of the moon, so that the soldier could plainly see the lumbering brute. What was his surprise, when he viewed a deer-skin legging and two moccasined feet sticking out from the bottom of the animal, where should have been two furry legs. He could have shot the strange beast in a moment, but he did not know how many other quadrupeds of a like nature might be at hand. His fingers dropped from his rifle trigger, and, taking off his hat and coat, he hung them to the branch of a fallen tree, then silently crept toward the thicket. Crouching low behind some scrub bushes, he heard the twang of a low bow-string, and an arrow, whizzing past his head, told him that he had guessed correctly when he supposed that other redskins were near by. A low murmur of voices came from the bushes on the right.

The sentry gazed carefully about him. Pressing the brush aside, he saw the form of a man, then of several more. He counted their numbers and found that there were twelve in all, some sitting, some lying full length upon the thickly strewn leaves of the forest. Believing that the whizzing arrow had laid the sentinel low, and, little thinking that there was any one within hearing, they conversed aloud about their plans for the morrow.

“These men are few,” said one. “We will have forty warriors ready in the evening. We will shoot an arrow into the sentry, and then will attack the camp.”

“Ugh! Ugh!” said another. “It will be easy to overcome these palefaced warriors. This will be done. There are but a few men who come out with the sentry, and these we can readily take care of.”

“Ah!” said a third. “How pleasant it will be to see the palefaces running homeward. It will be good. It will be good.”

Eagerly the sentry scanned these men. He watched them as they rose, and saw them draw the numerous folds of their robes about them. He trembled, as they marched off in single file through the forest, in order to seek some distant spot, where the smoke of their fire could not be seen by the whites, and where they would not be followed, when the supposedly dead sentry was found by his comrades. Then, rising from his crouching position, the frontiersman returned to his post. His hat had an arrow in it, and his coat was pierced by two of them.

“By George,” said he, “I was lucky to escape.” Wrapping himself in his long coat, he returned immediately to the camp, and, without delay, demanded to speak to Colonel St. Clair.

“I have something very important to say to Colonel St. Clair,” said he, to the guard before his tent.

When the soldier reported his request, his commanding officer ordered that he be immediately admitted to his presence.

“You have done well,” remarked St. Clair, after hearing his story. “Furthermore, I commission you Lieutenant of the Virginia corps, to take the place of your unfortunate comrade, Lieutenant Phipps, who died three nights ago. You must be ready to-morrow evening, with a picket guard, to march to the fatal outpost, there to place your hat and coat upon the branches, and then to lie in ambush for the intruders.”

“I shall be glad to carry out your commands,” replied the newly appointed Lieutenant, smiling broadly.

According to order given out by Colonel St. Clair, a detachment of forty riflemen, with Lieutenant Morgan at their head, marched from the camp at half-past seven on the following evening. Putting up a couple of stakes, they arranged a hat and coat upon them so as to resemble the appearance of a soldier standing on guard, and then stole silently away in order to hide in the bushes.

For an hour they lay quiet, intently listening for the approach of the redskins. The night was cold and still. A full moon shed its lustrous radiance over field and forest. Snow was upon the ground, and becoming chilled by contact with the cold sprinkling of fleecy white, some of the soldiers began to grumble quite audibly.

“Silence!” whispered Lieutenant Morgan. “I hear the rustling of leaves, and it is evident that either a bear, or some red men are approaching.”

All crouched low and watched intently. Presently a large, brown bear emerged from the thicket and passed near the ambush.

“Hist!” whispered a soldier. “Look at his feet!”

Sure enough, moccasins were sticking out below. The bear reconnoitered; saw the sentinel standing at his post; retired into the forest for a few paces; then rose and let fly an arrow which brought the make-believe sentinel to the ground with a crash. The animal stood there looking at his handiwork with interest. So impatient were the Virginians to avenge the death of their comrades, that they could scarcely wait until the Lieutenant gave the word to fire. Then, rising in a body, they let drive a volley. The bear dropped instantly to the snow-covered ground, and a number of red warriors, who had crept up behind him, were also dispatched. Quickly loading, the frontiersmen made a dash into the forest, again fired, and killed, or wounded, several more of the enemy. They then marched back to camp, highly pleased and elated at their easy victory. Ten savages had fallen before the deadly aim of their rifles, and there was wailing and lamentation among the women of the Chippewa nation.

But how about Lieutenant Morgan?

This doughty soldier rose to be a captain, and, at the termination of the French and Indian campaign, returned to his home, near Winchester, Virginia, where he lived on his farm until the breaking out of the War of the Revolution. Then, at the head of a corps of Virginian riflemen, he attained great fame and renown; was present at many an important battle, and rendered signal service to the American cause. But he never forgot the bear who walked with the feet of a man.


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