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The Scouts of the Valley

The Scouts of the Valley

Author:Joseph A. Altsheler


A light canoe of bark, containing a single human figure, moved swiftly up one of the twin streams that form the Ohio. The water, clear and deep, coming through rocky soil...
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  A light canoe of bark, containing a single human figure, moved swiftly

  up one of the twin streams that form the Ohio. The water, clear and

  deep, coming through rocky soil, babbled gently at the edges, where it

  lapped the land, but in the center the full current flowed steadily and

  without noise.

  The thin shadows of early dusk were falling, casting a pallid tint over

  the world, a tint touched here and there with living fire from the sun,

  which was gone, though leaving burning embers behind. One glowing shaft,

  piercing straight through the heavy forest that clothed either bank,

  fell directly upon the figure in the boat, as a hidden light illuminates

  a great picture, while the rest is left in shadow. It was no common

  forest runner who sat in the middle of the red beam. Yet a boy, in

  nothing but years, he swung the great paddle with an ease and vigor that

  the strongest man in the West might have envied. His rifle, with the

  stock carved beautifully, and the long, slender blue barrel of the

  border, lay by his side. He could bring the paddle into the boat,

  grasp the rifle, and carry it to his shoulder with a single, continuous


  His most remarkable aspect, one that the casual observer even would have

  noticed, was an extraordinary vitality. He created in the minds of those

  who saw him a feeling that he lived intensely every moment of his life.

  Born and-bred in the forest, he was essentially its child, a perfect

  physical being, trained by the utmost hardship and danger, and with

  every faculty, mental and physical, in complete coordination. It is only

  by a singular combination of time and place, and only once in millions

  of chances, that Nature produces such a being.

  The canoe remained a few moments in the center of the red light, and its

  occupant, with a slight swaying motion of the paddle, held it steady in

  the current, while he listened. Every feature stood out in the glow, the

  firm chin, the straight strong nose, the blue eyes, and the thick yellow

  hair. The red blue, and yellow beads on his dress of beautifully tanned

  deerskin flashed in the brilliant rays. He was the great picture of

  fact, not of fancy, a human being animated by a living, dauntless soul.

  He gave the paddle a single sweep and shot from the light into the

  shadow. His canoe did not stop until it grazed the northern shore, where

  bushes and overhanging boughs made a deep shadow. It would have taken

  a keen eye now to have seen either the canoe or its occupant, and

  Henry Ware paddled slowly and without noise in the darkest heart of the


  The sunlight lingered a little longer in the center of the stream. Then

  the red changed to pink. The pink, in its turn, faded, and the whole

  surface of the river was somber gray, flowing between two lines of black


  The coming of the darkness did not stop the boy. He swung a little

  farther out into the stream, where the bushes and hanging boughs would

  not get in his way, and continued his course with some increase of


  The great paddle swung swiftly through the water, and the length of

  stroke was amazing, but the boy's breath did not come faster, and the

  muscles on his arms and shoulders rippled as if it were the play of

  a child. Henry was in waters unknown to him. He had nothing more than

  hearsay upon which to rely, and he used all the wilderness caution that

  he had acquired through nature and training. He called into use every

  faculty of his perfect physical being. His trained eyes continually

  pierced the darkness. At times, he stopped and listened with ears that

  could hear the footfall of the rabbit, but neither eye nor ear brought

  report of anything unusual. The river flowed with a soft, sighing sound.

  Now and then a wild creature stirred in the forest, and once a deer

  came down to the margin to drink, but this was the ordinary life of the

  woods, and he passed it by.

  He went on, hour after hour. The river narrowed. The banks grew higher

  and rockier, and the water, deep and silvery under the moon, flowed in

  a somewhat swifter current. Henry gave a little stronger sweep to the

  paddle, and the speed of the canoe was maintained. He still kept within

  the shadow of the northern bank.

  He noticed after a while that fleecy vapor was floating before the moon.

  The night seemed to be darkening, and a rising wind came out of the

  southwest. The touch of the air on, his face was damp. It was the token

  of rain, and he felt that it would not be delayed long.

  It was no part of his plan to be caught in a storm on the Monongahela.

  Besides the discomfort, heavy rain and wind might sink his frail canoe,

  and he looked for a refuge. The river was widening again, and the banks

  sank down until they were but little above the water. Presently he saw

  a place that he knew would be suitable, a stretch of thick bushes and

  weeds growing into the very edge of the water, and extending a hundred

  yards or more along the shore.

  He pushed his canoe far into the undergrowth, and then stopped it in

  shelter so close that, keen as his own eyes were, he could scarcely see

  the main stream of the river. The water where he came to rest was not

  more than a foot deep, but he remained in the canoe, half reclining and

  wrapping closely around himself and his rifle a beautiful blanket woven

  of the tightest fiber.

  His position, with his head resting on the edge of the canoe and his

  shoulder pressed against the side, was full of comfort to him, and he

  awaited calmly whatever might come. Here and there were little spaces

  among the leaves overhead, and through them he saw a moon, now almost

  hidden by thick and rolling vapors, and a sky that had grown dark and

  somber. The last timid star had ceased to twinkle, and the rising wind

  was wet and cold. He was glad of the blanket, and, skilled forest runner

  that he was, he never traveled without it. Henry remained perfectly

  still. The light canoe did not move beneath his weight the fraction

  of an inch. His upturned eyes saw the little cubes of sky that showed

  through the leaves grow darker and darker. The bushes about him were

  now bending before the wind, which blew steadily from the south, and

  presently drops of rain began to fall lightly on the water.

  The boy, alone in the midst of all that vast wilderness, surrounded by

  danger in its most cruel forms, and with a black midnight sky above him,

  felt neither fear nor awe. Being what nature and circumstance had made

  him, he was conscious, instead, of a deep sense of peace and comfort.

  He was at ease, in a nest for the night, and there was only the remotest

  possibility that the prying eye of an enemy would see him. The leaves

  directly over his head were so thick that they formed a canopy, and, as

  he heard the drops fall upon them, it was like the rain on a roof, that

  soothes the one beneath its shelter.

  Distant lightning flared once or twice, and low thunder rolled along the

  southern horizon, but both soon ceased, and then a rain, not hard, but

  cold and persistent, began to fall, coming straight down. Henry saw that

  it might last all night, but he merely eased himself a little in the

  canoe, drew the edges of the blanket around his chin, and let his

  eyelids droop.

  The rain was now seeping through the leafy canopy of green, but he did

  not care. It could not penetrate the close fiber of the blanket, and the

  fur cap drawn far down on his head met the blanket. Only his face was

  uncovered, and when a cold drop fell upon it, it was to him, hardened by

  forest life, cool and pleasant to the touch.

  Although the eyelids still drooped, he did not yet feel the tendency to

  sleep. It was merely a deep, luxurious rest, with the body completely

  relaxed, but with the senses alert. The wind ceased to blow, and the

  rain came down straight with an even beat that was not unmusical. No

  other sound was heard in the forest, as the ripple of the river at the

  edges was merged into it. Henry began to feel the desire for sleep by

  and by, and, laying the paddle across the boat in such a way that it

  sheltered his face, he closed his eyes. In five minutes he would have

  been sleeping as soundly as a man in a warm bed under a roof, but with

  a quick motion he suddenly put the paddle aside and raised himself a

  little in the canoe, while one hand slipped down under the folds of the

  blanket to the hammer of his rifle.

  His ear had told him in time that there was a new sound on the river. He

  heard it faintly above the even beat of the rain, a soft sound, long and

  sighing, but regular. He listened, and then he knew it. It was made by

  oars, many of them swung in unison, keeping admirable time.

  Henry did not yet feel fear, although it must be a long boat full of

  Indian warriors, as it was not likely, that anybody else would be abroad

  upon these waters at such a time. He made no attempt to move. Where he

  lay it was black as the darkest cave, and his cool judgment told him

  that there was no need of flight.

  The regular rhythmic beat of the oars came nearer, and presently as he

  looked through the covert of leaves the dusky outline of a great war

  canoe came into view. It contained at least twenty warriors, of what

  tribe he could not tell, but they were wet, and they looked cold and

  miserable. Soon they were opposite him, and he saw the outline of every

  figure. Scalp locks drooped in the rain, and he knew that the warriors,

  hardy as they might be, were suffering.

  Henry expected to see the long boat pass on, but it was turned toward

  a shelving bank fifty or sixty yards below, and they beached it there.

  Then all sprang out, drew it up on the land, and, after turning it over,

  propped it up at an angle. When this was done they sat under it in a

  close group, sheltered from the rain. They were using their great canoe

  as a roof, after the habit of Shawnees and Wyandots.

  The boy watched them for a long time through one of the little openings

  in the bushes, and he believed that they would remain as they were all

  night, but presently he saw a movement among them, and a little flash

  of light. He understood it. They were trying to kindle a fire-with flint

  and steel, under the shelter of the boat. He continued to watch them

  'lazily and without alarm.

  Their fire, if they succeeded in making it, would cast no light upon him

  in the dense covert, but they would be outlined against the flame, and

  he could see them better, well enough, perhaps, to tell to what tribe

  they belonged.

  He watched under his lowered eyelids while the warriors, gathered in

  a close group to make a shelter from stray puffs of wind, strove with

  flint and steel. Sparks sprang up and went out, but Henry at last saw a

  little blaze rise and cling to life. Then, fed with tinder and bark, it

  grew under the roof made by the boat until it was ruddy and strong. The

  boat was tilted farther back, and the fire, continuing to grow, crackled

  cheerfully, while the flames leaped higher.

  By a curious transfer of the senses, Henry, as he lay in the thick

  blackness felt the influence of the fire, also. Its warmth was upon his

  face, and it was pleasing to see the red and yellow light victorious

  against the sodden background of the rain and dripping forest. The

  figures of the warriors passed and repassed before the fire, and the boy

  in the boat moved suddenly. His body was not shifted more than an inch,

  but his surprise was great.

  A warrior stood between him and the fire, outlined perfectly against

  the red light. It was a splendid figure, young, much beyond the average

  height, the erect and noble head crowned with the defiant scalplock, the

  strong, slightly curved nose and the massive chin cut as clearly as if

  they had been carved in copper. The man who had laid aside a wet blanket

  was bare now to the waist, and Henry could see the powerful muscles play

  on chest and shoulders as he moved.

  The boy knew him. It was Timmendiquas, the great White Lightning of the

  Wyandots, the youngest, but the boldest and ablest of all the Western

  chiefs. Henry's pulses leaped a little at the sight of his old foe and

  almost friend. As always, he felt admiration at the sight of the

  young chief. It was not likely that he would ever behold such another

  magnificent specimen of savage manhood.

  The presence of Timmendiquas so far east was also full of significance.

  The great fleet under Adam Colfax, and with Henry and his comrades in

  the van, had reached Pittsburgh at last. Thence the arms, ammunition,

  and other supplies were started on the overland journey for the American

  army, but the five lingered before beginning the return to Kentucky.

  A rumor came that the Indian alliance was spreading along the entire

  frontier, both west and north. It was said that Timmendiquas, stung to

  fiery energy by his defeats, was coming east to form a league with the

  Iroquois, the famous Six Nations. These warlike tribes were friendly

  with the Wyandots, and the league would be a formidable danger to the

  Colonies, the full strength of which was absorbed already in the great


  But the report was a new call of battle to Henry, Shif'less Sol, and the

  others. The return to Kentucky was postponed. They could be of greater

  service here, and they plunged into the great woods to the north and,

  east to see what might be stirring among the warriors.

  Now Henry, as he looked at Timmendiquas, knew that report had told

  the truth. The great chief would not be on the fringe of the Iroquois

  country, if he did not have such a plan, and he had the energy and

  ability to carry it through. Henry shuddered at the thought of the

  tomahawk flashing along every mile of a frontier so vast, and defended

  so thinly. He was glad in every fiber that he and his comrades had

  remained to hang upon the Indian hordes, and be heralds of their

  marches. In the forest a warning usually meant the saving of life.

  The rain ceased after a while, although water dripped from the trees

  everywhere. But the big fire made an area of dry earth about it, and the

  warriors replaced the long boat in the water. Then all but four or five

  of them lay beside the coals and went to sleep. Timmendiquas was one of

  those who remained awake, and Henry saw that he was in deep thought. He

  walked back and forth much like a white man, and now and then he folded

  his hands behind his back, looking toward the earth, but not seeing it.

  Henry could guess what was in his mind. He would draw forth the full

  power of the Six Nations, league them with the Indians of the great

  valley, and hurl them all in one mass upon the frontier. He was planning

  now the means to the end.

  The chief, in his little walks back and forth, came close to the edge of

  the bushes in which Henry lay, It was not at all probable that he

  would conclude to search among them, but some accident, a chance, might

  happen, and Henry began to feel a little alarm. Certainly, the coming

  of the day would make his refuge insecure, and he resolved to slip away

  while it was yet light.

  The boy rose a little in the boat, slowly and with the utmost caution,

  because the slightest sound out of the common might arouse Timmendiquas

  to the knowledge of a hostile presence. The canoe must make no plash in

  the water. Gradually he unwrapped the blanket and tied it in a folded

  square at his back. Then he took thought a few moments. The forest was

  so silent now that he did not believe he could push the canoe through

  the bushes without being heard. He would leave it there for use another

  day and go on foot through the woods to his comrades.

  Slowly he put one foot down the side until it rested on the bottom, and

  then he remained still. The chief had paused in his restless walk back

  and forth. Could it be possible that he had heard so slight a sound as

  that of a human foot sinking softly into the water? Henry waited with

  his rifle ready. If necessary he would fire, and then dart away among

  the bushes.

  Five or six intense moments passed, and the chief resumed his restless

  pacing. If he had heard, he had passed it by as nothing, and Henry

  raised the other foot out of the canoe. He was as delicate in his

  movement as a surgeon mending the human eye, and he had full cause, as

  not eye alone, but life as well, depended upon his success. Both feet

  now rested upon the muddy bottom, and he stood there clear of the boat.

  The chief did not stop again, and as the fire had burned higher, his

  features were disclosed more plainly in his restless walk back and

  forth before the flames. Henry took a final look at the lofty features,

  contracted now into a frown, then began to wade among the bushes,

  pushing his way softly. This was the most delicate and difficult task of

  all. The water must not be allowed to plash around him nor the bushes

  to rustle as he passed. Forward he went a yard, then two, five, ten, and

  his feet were about to rest upon solid earth, when a stick submerged

  in the mud broke under his moccasin with a snap singularly loud in the

  silence of the night.

  Henry sprang at once upon dry land, whence he cast back a single swift

  glance. He saw the chief standing rigid and gazing in the direction from

  which the sound had come. Other warriors were just behind him, following

  his look, aware that there was an unexpected presence in the forest, and

  resolved to know its nature.

  Henry ran northward. So confident was he in his powers and the

  protecting darkness of the night that he sent back a sharp cry, piercing

  and defiant, a cry of a quality that could come only from a white

  throat. The warriors would know it, and he intended for them to know it.

  Then, holding his rifle almost parallel with his body, he darted swiftly

  away through the black spaces of the forest. But an answering cry came

  to his, the Indian yell taking up his challenge, and saying that the

  night would not check pursuit.

  Henry maintained his swift pace for a long time, choosing the more open

  places that he might make no noise among the bushes and leaves. Now and

  then water dripped in his face, and his moccasins were wet from the long

  grass, but his body was warm and dry, and he felt little weariness. The

  clouds were now all gone, and the stars sprang out, dancing in a sky of

  dusky blue. Trained eyes could see far in the forest despite the night,

  and Henry felt that he must be wary. He recalled the skill and tenacity

  of Timmendiquas. A fugitive could scarcely be trailed in the darkness,

  but the great chief would spread out his forces like a fan and follow.

  He had been running perhaps three hours when he concluded to stop in a

  thicket, where he lay down on the damp grass, and rested with his head

  under his arm.

  His breath had been coming a little faster, but his heart now resumed

  its regular beat. Then he heard a soft sound, that of footsteps. He

  thought at first that some wild animal was prowling near, but second

  thought convinced him that human beings had come. Gazing through the

  thicket, he saw an Indian warrior walking among the trees, looking

  searchingly about him as if he were a scout. Another, coming from a

  different direction, approached him, and Henry felt sure that they were

  of the party of Timmendiquas. They had followed him in some manner,

  perhaps by chance, and it behooved Mm now to lie close.

  A third warrior joined them and they began to examine the ground. Henry

  realized that it was much lighter. Keen eyes under such a starry sky

  could see much, and they might strike his trail. The fear quickly became

  fact. One of the warriors, uttering a short cry, raised his head and

  beckoned to the others. He had seen broken twigs or trampled grass, and

  Henry, knowing that it was no time to hesitate, sprang from his covert.

  Two of the warriors caught a glimpse of his dusky figure and fired, the

  bullets cutting the leaves close to his head, but Henry ran so fast that

  he was lost to view in an instant.

  The boy was conscious that his position contained many elements of

  danger. He was about to have another example of the tenacity and

  resource of the great young chief of the Wyandots, and he felt a certain

  anger. He, did not wish to be disturbed in his plans, he wished to

  rejoin his comrades and move farther east toward the chosen lands of

  the Six Nations; instead, he must spend precious moments running for his


  Henry did not now flee toward the camp of his friends. He was too wise,

  too unselfish, to bring a horde down upon them, and he curved away in a

  course that would take him to the south of them. He glanced up and saw

  that the heavens were lightening yet more. A thin gray color like a mist

  was appearing in the east. It was the herald of day, and now the Indians

  would be able to find his trail. But Henry was not afraid. His anger

  over the loss of time quickly passed, and he ran swiftly on, the fall of

  his moccasins making scarcely any noise as he passed.

  It was no unusual incident. Thousands of such pursuits occurred in

  the border life of our country, and were lost to the chronicler. For

  generations they were almost a part of the daily life of the frontier,

  but the present, while not out of the common in itself, had, uncommon

  phases. It was the most splendid type of white life in all the

  wilderness that fled, and the finest type of red life that followed.

  It was impossible for Henry to feel anger or hate toward Timmendiquas.

  In his place he would have done what he was doing. It was hard to give

  up these great woods and beautiful lakes and rivers, and the wild life

  that wild men lived and loved. There was so much chivalry in the boy's

  nature that he could think of all these things while he fled to escape

  the tomahawk or the stake.

  Up came the sun. The gray light turned to silver, and then to red and

  blazing gold. A long, swelling note, the triumphant cry of the pursuing

  warriors, rose behind him. Henry turned his head for one look. He saw

  a group of them poised for a moment on the crest of a low hill and

  outlined against the broad flame in the east. He saw their scalp locks,

  the rifles in their hands, and their bare chests shining bronze in the

  glow. Once more he sent back his defiant cry, now in answer to theirs,

  and then, calling upon his reserves of strength and endurance, fled with

  a speed that none of the warriors had ever seen surpassed.

  Henry's flight lasted all that day, and he used every device to evade

  the pursuit, swinging by vines, walking along fallen logs, and wading in

  brooks. He did not see the warriors again, but instinct warned him that

  they were yet following. At long intervals he would rest for a quarter

  of an hour or so among the bushes, and at noon he ate a little of the

  venison that he always carried. Three hours later he came to the river

  again, and swimming it he turned on his course, but kept to the southern

  side. When the twilight was falling once more he sat still in dense

  covert for a long time. He neither saw nor heard a sign of human

  presence, and he was sure now that the pursuit had failed. Without an

  effort he dismissed it from his mind, ate a little more of the venison,

  and made his bed for the night.

  The whole day had been bright, with a light wind blowing, and the forest

  was dry once more. As far as Henry could see it circled away on every

  side, a solid dark green, the leaves of oak and beech, maple and elm

  making a soft, sighing sound as they waved gently in the wind. It told

  Henry of nothing but peace. He had eluded the pursuit, hence it was no

  more. This was a great, friendly forest, ready to shelter him, to soothe

  him, and to receive him into its arms for peaceful sleep.

  He found a place among thick trees where the leaves of last year lay

  deep upon the ground. He drew up enough of them for a soft bed, because

  now and for the moment he was a forest sybarite. He was wise enough to

  take his ease when he found it, knowing that it would pay his body to


  He lay down upon the leaves, placed the rifle by his side, and spread

  the blanket over himself and the weapon. The twilight was gone, and the

  night, dark and without stars, as he wished to see it, rolled up, fold

  after fold, covering and hiding everything. He looked a little while at

  a breadth of inky sky showing through the leaves, and then, free from

  trouble or fear, he fell asleep.