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John Slover: Scout Under Crawford And Hero Of Extraordinary Adventures

Two red men paddled down the White River, far in the western portion of the state of Virginia, one bright morning in the month of May, 1765. As they rounded a bend in the stream, before them was a little trapper’s son, apparently with no one with him. He was throwing pebbles into the water and was laughing as they splashed upon the surface of the stream.

“How!” grunted one of the braves. “I like to have young paleface in my lodge. I make him take the place of my own papoose, whom the Great Spirit has stolen from me.”

“You can get him,” suggested the other. “Come on, let us paddle towards the little one and capture him.”

As the redskins approached, the boy looked at them with no sign of fear, and laughed at their solemn-looking faces. But they did not laugh. Instead of this, the one in the bow leaped upon the shore, seized the youngster, and carried him to the canoe, where he was bound by deer thongs and was quickly paddled down stream. His parents looked for him in vain that evening, and for many evenings, but their little son never returned. Thus John Slover became a ward of the redskins.

The Indians were then living at Sandusky, upon the Ohio River, and here the little white boy grew up to be a man. Adopted by the Miami tribe, he learned to love their ways, to live the wild, roving life as a trapper and hunter, and to be more at home in the forest than in the houses of those of his own race. In the autumn of 1773, a treaty was made at Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, between the Miamis and the whites, and at this place was a big gathering of the savages and frontiersmen, with their families. Jack Slover was interested in the affair and hung around the clusters of talkers, who were eagerly discussing the terms of the articles of agreement.

“Hello!” came a voice, as he was near one animated group. “If this isn’t little Jack Slover grown to be a man! Turn around, son, and see if you don’t recognize me.”

The adopted ward of the Miamis spun about upon his heel, and there saw a raw-boned trapper, who was gazing at him with an inquiring eye.

“I certainly do not recognize you,” he replied. “Who are you, anyway?”

The young fellow knew of his kidnapping, when a small boy, but had never cared to go back to his own people.

The frontiersman now seized him by the shoulders. “Why, I’m your father’s brother, Tom Slover! I saw that you were not a Miami the minute I looked at you, and I found out that you had been captured many years ago by the Indians. Upon closer inspection it was easy to perceive that you were my brother’s son. My boy, we have been waiting to find you for years. You will now come back to us, won’t you?”

Young Slover hung his head, for he was loath to part from the friends and companions of his youth. He was on the point of refusing, but, just then, another frontiersman approached who announced that he was his father. The meeting between son and parent was not demonstrative; in fact, the youth rather drew away from his own flesh and blood. Soon, however, he became more reconciled, and, after an hour’s conversation, agreed to accompany his kinsmen to their home in Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania.

The conference was soon over, both Indians and whites were agreed upon the terms of the treaty, and the captured son of the pioneer went back to his own country, where he seemed to be contentedly abiding at the outbreak of the American Revolution. He was one of the first to enlist, and, because of his experience in woodcraft, was made a sharpshooter. In this branch of the service he did good work, and was honorably discharged at the close of the struggle with the Mother Country.

Some years after the Revolutionary War—in 1782—the redskins of the Middle West became very bold, and made frequent incursions upon the white settlements of Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia. Prompt vengeance was demanded by the pioneers who had penetrated into the wilderness and had there built their homes. An expedition was determined upon, and Colonel William Crawford—a brave officer of the Revolutionary War—was selected as its commander. The time and place of rendezvous were fixed for May 20th, 1782, at a point on the western shore of the Ohio, forty miles above Fort Pitt. There were four hundred and fifty volunteers; among them an accomplished surgeon, Dr. Knight.

Just before the expedition got under way, Colonel Crawford approached Slover, and said:

“My good friend, we are in need of a scout and guide upon our expedition. You know this country like a book, so I would like to engage you as one of our forerunners and assistants. Will you go with us?”

The adopted ward of the Miamis was reluctant to accept.

“I have lived with these Indians whom you intend to attack,” said he. “I have slept with them; hunted with them; have eaten with them. Surely you would not have me turn upon all of my old friends?”

The Colonel smiled.

“Yes, but what sort of friends?” he answered. “Here they have been murdering innocent women and children. Have been burning homes, killing cattle and horses. They have been subjecting their prisoners to horrible tortures. You are too much of a man not to appreciate the need of checking these onslaughts upon our people.”

“The whites are gradually encroaching upon their lands,—the lands which they believe that the Great Spirit has given to them,” replied Slover, in a deliberate tone. “Can you blame them for resenting these advances? They are children, too, of the wilderness and they fight like the wild beasts who surround them.”

“Then you refuse to accompany us?”

“No, not so. Upon thinking over the matter, I believe that it is impossible for the two races to live side by side, unless one race is supreme. That the whites will overrun the country is only too evident. I will go with you, for I certainly do not approve of the manner in which they have conducted their warfare, and I believe that they must be punished.”

The march was soon commenced, but, in a few days, some of the volunteers broke ranks and started for their homes. It was impossible to hold them. Further signs of insubordination were soon in evidence, some of the men demanding that they be sent back to their cabins, declaring that their horses were jaded and that their provisions were almost exhausted. Not long afterwards two skulking Indians were seen spying upon the advance. They were fired upon, but escaped. It was now evident that all secrecy was out of the question. The men grew mutinous and were so unruly that the officers requested them to continue for only one day longer, and then if no Indians were found they were to return. This was being discussed when one of the advance pickets dashed in, crying out: “The Indians are ahead of us about a mile. They are drawn up in the timber and are waiting for us!”

At this news a loud whoop came from the lusty throats of the frontiersmen, and they discontinued their complaints. Priming their rifles and fingering their powder-horns, they pressed forward to the attack, while their leader, Crawford, who had fine military judgment, saw that the enemy had seized a position of great strength, from which they must be driven at once. He therefore urged on his men to the charge.

As the order came, the pioneers dismounted and rushed boldly upon the redskins in front and upon the flanks, hunting them from the woods, across an open field, and into some dense forest-land in the rear. Here the savages were heavily reinforced, and Crawford’s Rangers were almost driven from the timber by the wily braves, who were now fighting from every bush, stump, hillock and tree. The battle waged with great fury until dark, when the savages withdrew, and the trappers slept upon the ground, ready to resume the affair in the morning.

As daylight appeared the battle was renewed at long range, neither side being anxious for a hand-to-hand engagement. It was plainly evident that the Indians were constantly being reinforced. Their whooping and yelling grew more and more derisive, and they began to extend their lines so as to flank the men of the frontier. For this reason, the officers decided upon a retreat.

Slover, the scout, was far over to the right, watching some horses, and no news of the intended movement was brought to him. Soon the uproar of retreat came to his ears and warned him of his danger. He therefore selected the finest horse among those under his charge, mounted it, and fled after his comrades, who became rapidly disorganized. The red men fired a volley in the direction of the frontiersmen, at which one of the Crawford Rangers shouted: “The enemy have found out our design! Save yourselves! Save yourselves!”

Panic now became general, and so great was the disorder that it was plainly heard in the lines of the Indians, among whom was the famous renegade, Simon Girty. “Out, men,” he cried, “and pick up the stragglers, for these Americans have whipped themselves!”

Those who had been wounded were dropped at the beginning of the rout and were speedily dispatched by the tomahawks of the savages. The rest fled in whatever way they could, without semblance of order or discipline, and, as they ran helter-skelter through the forest, were pursued by the exultant redskins with wild and blood-curdling whooping. Slover galloped along with some difficulty, as the ground was very rough, and soon found further obstructions in his path, for a wide bog lay before him, which extended for a great distance in either direction.

Some of the fugitives were unable to get across the bog on foot, but Slover and a few others were able to cross on their horses. As they fled on through the darkness of night, behind them echoed the horrid yells of the savages, the rifle shots of the whites, and the shrieks of the wounded. Six fugitives joined the fleeing scout, two of whom had lost their rifles, and, as the Indians were pressing them furiously, they headed for the settlement of Detroit, hoping to elude the red men as they went. They ran into another portion of the swamp a few hours later, and halted there for a slight repast of cold pork and corn bread—of which they had a small supply in their haversacks.

As they were seated upon some stumps, and were munching their repast, they were startled by an Indian whoop very close at hand.

“We are discovered,” whispered Slover. “Hide yourselves, my men, in the tall grass.”

Not many moments afterwards, a band of Shawnees passed by, laughing and talking among themselves, apparently with no idea that the pioneers were near. They were well satisfied with the signal defeat which they had administered to Crawford and his men; had many scalps and much plunder. When they were gone, Slover and his companions continued on their way, entering upon a sea of waving grass, which made it evident that any skulking red men would soon discover their whereabouts.

Silently they plodded across the prairie, but suddenly the man in advance called their attention to the fact that some moving objects were approaching.

“Lie low, boys!” he shouted. “I think that a crowd of redskins are just in front of us.”

He was right, and, as they hid in the tall grass, a troop of Indians passed by, moving rapidly and noisily along. Fortunately the red men did not discover their trail, and with great shouting and singing had soon walked out of hearing. The trappers arose, continued their flight, and kept a sharp lookout for enemies. They were soon to meet with more children of the forest.

Two of the fugitives now became very lame and were unable to keep up with the rest of the party. One had a bad attack of rheumatism; so bad, in fact, that he fell way behind the rest and did not come up, although they whistled, called, and strove to attract his attention in every possible way, in spite of the danger of being discovered by lurking redskins. They finally went on without him, and gave him up for lost. He at length reached Wheeling in safety, having passed through many dangers and hairbreadth escapes from capture by roving Indians.

Slover and his friend were hurrying towards the settlements, and naturally left a well-defined trail behind them. This was followed for several days by a band of Shawnees, who finally decided that the whites would be easy to capture and decided to ambush them.

This they did, and, as the frontiersmen were quietly passing between some high bluffs, a volley rang out from either side and two of their number fell dead. The rest sprang immediately to the shelter of trees, where Slover took aim at one of the Indians who could be seen raising his hand.

“Do not fire,” said he, in excellent English. “If you surrender to us, you will be well treated. We will take you to our houses and will allow you to leave, in a short time, for your own people.”

Slover and two of the frontiersmen gave themselves up immediately, but a young fellow named John Paul refused to do so, and, rushing to the rear, managed to get away. The redskins peppered the air with bullets, but none hit the fugitive and he got safely beyond range. After a long and arduous trip through the wilderness, he at length reached the frontier settlement at Wheeling, West Virginia.

As John Slover and his companions were being taken along by the Indians, one of them recognized him as the young paleface who had been brought up by the Miamis.

“You no good, Mannuchcothe,” said he. “You fight against your own brothers. You kill your own people. Ugh! Ugh! We fix you for this.”

John Slover began to think that perhaps what the savages had promised was not to take place, and when once they came in sight of their town, their whole demeanor changed. They began to howl and cry out:

“You are some of those who wish to drive us from our country. Death to you! Death to you!”

The squaws, warriors, and children came running to meet the captives and began to whip and beat them. Then they took the oldest of the frontiersmen and blackened his face with charred sticks.

“Are they going to burn me, Slover?” the poor fellow gasped.

“Do not answer, Mannuchcothe!” shouted the Indians. “Do not answer! We will not hurt him! We will adopt him!”

The red men now took the prisoners to Waughcotomoco, another of their towns, about two miles off, but sent a runner in advance to announce their coming. As the captives came in sight of it they saw hundreds of Indians in a double line, ready to make them run the gauntlet. This they did, and although Slover got through safely, the frontiersman whose face had been blackened, was knocked down, kicked, beaten, and shot full of arrows. He reached the council chamber, where he thought that he would be safe, and, although he seized one of the posts with both hands, he was torn away from it and was soon dispatched with a tomahawk.

Slover, meanwhile, was left alone, but he had no cheerful thoughts, for before him lay the bodies of Harold, the son of Crawford, the American leader; of a Colonel Harrison; and of several other prominent soldiers of the American army. They had all been killed during the retreat. His remaining companion was led away to another town and was never again heard of; while the gallant scout, himself, was now confronted by a young Miami buck, who said in the Indian language:

“Mannuchcothe, you must come before a council and must explain to the old men why you deserted our tribe. Mannuchcothe, it will go ill with you.”

The sharpshooter did not worry, for he did not believe that his old friends would go back on him. In this he was correct, for there seemed to be no great amount of malice towards the ex-Miami, until the appearance of a white renegade—James Girty—the brother of the famous Simon. This scoundrel made an impassioned speech, in which he said:

“My Indian brethren, this white captive should suffer death. For not only has he deserted you for your enemies—the palefaces—but when I asked him how he would like to live with you again, he told me that he would care to remain only long enough to take a scalp and then escape. He is your enemy at heart and has even now been fighting against you. Death, and torture before death, would not be too severe for him.”

The scout was outraged and angered by these remarks.

“What you say is not true,” he replied. “I have never in my life made the statement that I would only remain long enough with my red brethren to take a scalp and then escape. I entered this war with reluctance, and I had not fired a shot up to the time that I was captured by my old companions. I am a friend of the Miamis and always will be their friend.”

To these remarks the red men grunted an assent and allowed him to move, unbound, around the village. He was assigned to a lodge with an old squaw, who became very much attached to him, and, not many days afterwards, came to him and said:—

“That James Girty is influencing my brothers against you. If you have a chance to escape, you must do so, for I fear that they intend to put you out of the way.”

Not long afterwards a council of Shawnee, Wyandot, Delaware, Chippewa, Miami, and Mingo braves decided that Slover had been untrue to their race, and that he must suffer punishment and death. Two warriors appeared before his wigwam in order to carry him away, but the old squaw covered him with her blanket and said that he should not go. When the two bucks endeavored to enter, she threw a pot of boiling water at them.

This was too much for the warriors, who retreated before the scalding fluid, but they soon returned with James Girty and forty Indians, who overpowered the fighting squaw. Slover was seized, bound, and his body was painted black. This was a sign that he was to be tortured and eventually killed.

Five miles from Waughcotomoco was another Indian town, to which the scout was marched. A vast number of red men greeted his coming with fierce cheering, and formed in two lines in order to make him run the gauntlet. As he raced between them, they struck him with clubs, with spears, and with their hands. In spite of this he was not badly hurt and could walk without assistance to another small town, two miles further on, where—in an unfinished council house—he was fastened to a stake. Brush was piled around his feet and this was lighted for his torture. “I will meet death like a brave man,” said Slover to himself. Then, turning to the Indians, he cried out: “You shall rue the day that ever you put an end to John Slover. My white brothers will avenge me a hundredfold.”

An Indian orator arose, and, with a fierce and vindictive speech, sought to fan the flame of the red men’s passions to the highest pitch.

“How! How!” cried many voices.” It is well that the white man should die. How! How!”

Slover glowered upon the yelling mob as the crackling flames began to creep nearer to his feet. But now an unexpected interposition of nature occurred, which was greatly in the victim’s favor.

A high wind arose; dense, black clouds covered the sky; the growling of thunder drowned the words of the orator and the yelling of his hearers. A sheet of rain burst upon the fire at the stake, extinguishing it completely, and Slover saw the Indians scatter to the cover of their wigwams, where they called out to him:

“We will burn you to-morrow. The Great Spirit has helped you, but he cannot save you.”

The shower lasted for over an hour, and when it had concluded the red men gathered around the stake, where they beat and kicked their captive until eleven o’clock at night. Then a brave called Half Moon asked him if he did not want to go to sleep.

“I am exhausted,” replied the scout. “If you intend to kill me to-morrow, loosen my bonds and let me rest.”

Half Moon untied the strands which bound the weakened frontiersman, carried him to a log hut, and there bound him to a pole in the centre, with deer thongs which cut tightly into his flesh. A rope was placed about his neck and was tied to a rafter of the house. Three guards were placed to watch him, and, as Half Moon departed, he said:

“Get a good sleep, paleface. You will need it, for to-morrow you will eat fire. This is what comes to you for fighting against your own people.”

The scout had not yet lost all hope of making his escape, and carefully considered the possibility of getting away. Two of his guards were soon asleep; the third (an aged brave) smoked a long, clay pipe and told him that he had seen many palefaces tortured at the stake. “Some weep like squaws,” said he. “Others bear it like men. You have once been a redskin and should be able to stand the fire without crying. You should come through without a bit of trouble.”

On and on he thus rambled until he became worn out—his head dropped upon his breast—and he began to snore loudly. As the noise of his heavy breathing came to the ears of the scout, he began to work vigorously at his bonds. By wriggling, tugging, and pulling, at last his hands were free. He reached for the thong about his neck and began to chew it with his teeth.

As he turned and twisted in an endeavor to free himself from this remaining bond, day began to break and the pale light of dawn flooded the cabin. The talkative old Indian awoke; yawned; stretched; and looked around at the captive; but Slover clasped his hands behind his back as if they were still tied, and stood perfectly still. The red man turned over upon his side and again composed himself in sleep. It was now or never with the captured frontiersman.

Again seizing upon the rope, Slover gave it a few strong jerks, and, biting it with his jaws for a second time, suddenly parted it. With his heart bumping against his side like a trip-hammer, he stole noiselessly from the lodge. Not an Indian was stirring, and, darting toward a corn field, he narrowly missed stepping upon a squaw with her two children, who were asleep beneath a tree. He crept through the growing stalks, and upon the other side saw quite a number of ponies. Taking the rope from his arm, he made a slip-noose of it; selected a fine, young horse; threw it over his head; mounted, and rode away like mad. His life depended upon his exertions.

As he dashed off, he heard a door open in an Indian lodge and knew that the red men were astir. They would soon discover his absence. He would be followed by all of the swiftest and hardest-riding men of the encampment. No wonder that he dug his heels into the flanks of his pony and urged him to do his very best.

At ten o’clock he reached the Scioto River,—now much swollen by the recent thunder shower. But his horse was winded and he had to stop in order to give him both water and breath, for he was blowing from his exertions. He plunged into the stream, crossed it, and continued his flight at the fastest pace which his horse was able to make. Finally the faithful animal began to pant and stagger. He was done for.

As the Indian pony fell upon his side, Slover leaped to the ground and heard a wild yelping behind him in the forest. He thus knew that the Indians were hot upon his trail. The horse had carried him seventy miles at a fast pace, which is extraordinary. But the animal was now lying prostrate, with the glaze of death showing in his eye. He had run a good race.

The scout bounded forward, loping through the underbrush, timber, and tall grass, and leaving as little trail as he could. But his exertions were wearing heavily upon him, and, about ten o’clock that night, he fell exhausted to the ground. He lay in a stupor for two hours.

When he was again able to move, a full moon cast its silvery light over the dense woodland, where he had fallen, and no sound broke the stillness of the night save the weird call of a whippoorwill. The redskins could easily have captured him had they been close upon his track, but his care in leaving little trace of his flight had thrown them from the pursuit. Breathing more easily, he again continued his race for life, and, as day came, abandoned his trail for a low, rough ridge, where was little grass or soft earth. On, on, he continued, occasionally stopping to listen at the sounds of the forest, but, except for the occasional call of a bird, no voice came to his expectant hearing. The red men had lost heart and had returned to their wigwams.

As evening came, the frontiersman reached the banks of one of the creeks which empty into the Muskingum, and again sank exhausted to the earth. The mosquitoes swarmed upon him, biting him unmercifully, and as his hunting suit (which the red men had allowed him to put on when tied) was torn to tatters by the nettles and briars, they had a splendid opportunity to get at his bare flesh. Some wild berries furnished him with much-needed food,—the first he had eaten since his escape,—and, if we are to believe his word for it, he says that he was so terrified with fear, that he had forgotten to feel hungry during his flight. “I was fairly peeled from head to foot by briars and mosquitoes,” he has written. “And I was now so hungry that I fell upon two crawfish which I found behind a rock in the Muskingum, and ate them raw.”

The scout was now refreshed, and plunging into the Muskingum, swam to the other shore. Two days later he reached the Ohio River, opposite Wheeling, West Virginia, and seeing a man in a skiff who was apparently fishing, called out to him in a loud voice:

“Hallo! Hallo! Comrade! I’m a fugitive from the Indians and was one of Crawford’s men. Come! Take me over to the settlement!”

The fellow did not seem anxious to hasten to his relief, for he was afraid that Slover was one of the white renegades who had joined the redskins and was anxious to trap him. After a long harangue he finally rowed to the place where the tattered scout was standing. The refugee fairly hugged him for joy, and, in a few minutes, was again safe in the settlement, where he was greeted with warm and affectionate regard by the other men of the frontier, who had received many stragglers from the ill-fated expedition under Colonel Crawford.

The escape of John Slover was one of the narrowest of which there is any record in the annals of war upon the frontier. No wonder that for many years the story of this famous affair was the favorite topic of conversation, when the after-dinner pipes were lighted, and the men of the forest would sit before the glowing embers, there to tell tales concerning the heroism and courage of the gallant settlers of the wild and undeveloped West. Truly the adventures which befell John Slover were the most thrilling of them all.

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