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The next occurrences in Brant's life are even more
deplorable than those narrated in the preceding chapter. The Cherry
Valley episode can only be regarded as a sad instance of what the
use of Indian allies sometimes involved. A peaceful farming district
was devastated; peasants were plundered and slain. It is true that
some of them were in arms against British rule, but as a whole they
were quietly engaged in farming operations, striving to build up
homes for themselves on the outskirts of civilization. In this work
of devastation and death Brant was only second in command; the
leader was a white man and a British officer. But neither Brant nor
Butler, who commanded the expedition, was able to restrain the
cruelty and ferocity of the Indian warriors until much havoc had
A haze was now brooding over the Susquehanna, and the autumn leaves
were being tinged with red. The struggle of the year 1778 seemed
over and Brant decided to spend the winter at Niagara. Accordingly
he set out with a band of warriors from his entrenched position at
Unadilla and went forward by easy stages along the old and
well-beaten Indian trail leading towards Lake Ontario. He had
proceeded well on his way when, to his surprise, a party of former
allies crossed his path in the forest. Led by Captain Walter N.
Butler, a son of Colonel John Butler, the victorious leader at
Wyoming, a body of the Tory Rangers who had been with Brant at
Oriskany were going eastward. In 1777 their youthful officer had
suffered harsh imprisonment among the enemy, and, burning for
vengeance, he was making a late-season tramp into the rebels'
country. He had asked for a number of his father's rangers, and his
request had been granted. He was also allowed the privilege of
taking Brant along with him, should the chieftain be found willing
to join his force.
On meeting with Brant so opportunely by the way, he gave him an
outline of the measures of retaliation which he proposed to adopt.
As the scheme was unfolded, the war-scarred chief of the Mohawks saw
that he was meant to serve under this youth of small experience.
Brant was ready for almost any work that might be of service to his
king, but he was at first reluctant to serve under Butler. The
situation between the two leaders became strained, but at last Brant
gave in; their differences were patched up, and the two men came to
friendly terms. Orders were issued by Brant to his motley throng of
redskins, and five hundred of them reversed their march. The united
contingent of seven hundred men first headed for the banks of the
Tioga river, one of the branches of the Susquehanna. Here a
conference was held, and it was agreed that they should make a
combined attack upon the settlers of Cherry Valley. To Butler this
was more than pleasing, eager as he was to pay off what he
considered a heavy score. The heart of the War Chief throbbed with
savage delight. A flaunting challenge still rang in his ears; the
settlers had invited him to enter their valley, and now he would
answer their gibing call. Little did the inhabitants of Cherry
Valley dream what was in store for them. During the summer they had
carried most of their movable property to a well-built fortress. But
as everything had now grown tranquil, they had taken it back to
their homes again. Yet hardly had this been accomplished before
Colonel Ichabod Alden, commandant of the fort, received a note from
an official source telling him that enemies were near at hand.
In spite of the trustworthy source from which it came, Colonel Alden
gave barely any heed to this warning message. He declared that the
threatened danger was but an idle rumor, that all would be well, and
that he would take every precaution for the safety of his people. On
November 9 spies were sent out in different directions with a view
to getting fuller information. One body of these went boldly down
the Susquehanna, where their own carelessness brought about their
undoing. At nightfall they lit a fire, and, wrapping themselves up
snugly, had gone fast asleep. But to their astonishment, as they
rubbed their eyes in the light of morning, they were surrounded by a
party of Indians, were bundled off as prisoners of war, and hurried
into the presence of Brant and Butler, who extracted much useful
information from them. In the light of this information plans were
made for an immediate attack on the settlement in Cherry Valley. The
settlers were still unsuspecting, when, on the evening of November
10, the enemy arrived within a mile of the fort and crept to the
summit of a hill densely shaded by evergreens, and hid themselves
from sight. The snow was fluttering down, but towards morning this
had changed to a drizzling rain, and the air was thick and murky.
Groping their way forward as silently as possible, they stole upon
the slumbering cluster of habitations. Just as they came near the
edge of the village, a settler was seen riding in on horseback. An
Indian fired and wounded him. But the man clung to his horse and
pressed on heroically to sound the alarm. Before rushing to the
onslaught, the Rangers, under the immediate command of Butler,
paused a moment to see what damage their powder had taken through
the wet. This moment was fatal for the settlement, for the Indians
now rushed on in advance and sped into the doomed village like
hounds let slip from their leashes.
The savages were now beyond control, and Brant knew that even he
could not stay the slaughter. Fiercest of all were the Seneca, who
tomahawked and slew with the relentless fury of demons. But the War
Chief thought of the family of a Mr Wells, whom he knew and hoped
that he might save. He took a short cut for this settler's house,
but the way lay across a ploughed field, and as he ran the earth
yielded under his feet and he made slow progress through the heavy
soil. When he came to the house, he saw that it was already too
late. The Seneca and other Indians with them had done their work.
Not one of the inmates had escaped the tomahawk.
While the attack upon the houses was in progress, the Indians made
several assaults upon the fort, but to no avail. Their work of
destruction, however, went on unchecked among the habitations of the
settlers. It was not long before flames were mounting in every
quarter. Butler, dismayed to see the Indians so completely beyond
control, was forced to hold his regular troops in readiness to
oppose a sally from the garrison. Brant meanwhile exerted himself in
performing numerous acts of kindness, and did what he could to check
the rude violence of his savage band. In one house he found a
peasant woman working calmly at her daily toil.
'Are you thus engaged,' he questioned, 'while all your neighbors are
murdered around you?'
'We are the king's people,' was the simple response.
'That plea will not avail you to-day,' said the chieftain. 'They
have murdered Mr Wells's family, who were as dear to me as my own.'
'But,' replied the woman, 'there is one Joseph Brant: if he is with
the Indians, he will save us.'
'I am Joseph Brant,' came the rapid answer, 'but I have not the
command, and I know not that I can save you.'
No sooner had he done speaking than his sharp eye detected a group
of Seneca coming to the house. 'Get into bed quick,' he said
abruptly, 'and feign yourself sick.' The woman did his bidding, and
the Indians when they entered were completely deceived by her
pretence. Then, as they departed, Brant gave a piercing signal, and
some of his Mohawks gathered into the room. He had called them to
help him save this woman and her family. His mark on them would, he
believed, make them safe even in this time of general slaughter. He
had no coloring matter with him and he asked the Mohawks to use
theirs. With deft fingers the Indians then placed the chief's own
mark upon the woman and her children in order to protect them.
'You are now probably safe,' said Brant and moved out again into the
smoke of fire and battle.
When the massacre was over, it was found that thirty or forty
settlers had escaped death and had been made prisoners. From one of
these Brant made inquiries respecting the whereabouts of Captain
McKean. He learned that this officer had taken his family away to
the Mohawk valley.
'He sent me a challenge once,' remarked Brant; 'I have now come to
accept it. He is a fine soldier thus to retreat.'
'Captain McKean,' was the rejoinder, 'would not turn his back upon
an enemy where there was a possibility of success.'
'I know it,' said Brant, with open generosity. 'He is a brave man,
and I would have given more to take him than any other man in Cherry
Valley. But,' he added, 'I would not have hurt a hair of his head.'
On the evening of the day of carnage the prisoners were led down the
valley to the loyalist encampment, several miles to the south of the
fort. Fires had been lighted on every side, and within the extensive
range of these fires the luckless captives were corralled for the
night. But the air was chill, and many who were clothed in scanty
fashion passed the hours of darkness in helpless agony on the cold,
bare ground. During the night the shrill cries of the Indians, as
they gloated over the scene of their triumph, resounded through the
forest. The spoils were divided among the raiders, and with the
dawning of another day they set out in the direction of Niagara.
The captives were separated into small parties, and apportioned
among the different sections of the force. They had expected little
mercy from the victors, but to their surprise clemency was shown to
them. Butler had now succeeded in reasserting his authority on their
behalf. As the marching bands came to a standstill, they were
collected together and the women and children were released. Only
the wives of two colonial officers with their families were held
captive and carried away into the western forests. In Cherry Valley
heaps of smoking debris were all that remained. Groups of redskins
still hovered about the unhappy village until, on the following day,
they saw that an enemy was approaching. A body of militia had come
from the Mohawk river, but they were too late; the savages, avoiding
an encounter, departed, and the scene was one of havoc and
desolation. As one chronicler has written: 'The cocks crowed from
the tops of the forest trees, and the dogs howled through the fields
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Chronicles of Canada, The War
Chief of the Six Nations, A Chronicle of Joseph Brant, 1915
Chronicles of Canada