Continuing my leisurely saunter through the encampment, I ventured inside the fort and happened into the meetinghouse, where I chanced upon a scene which might have come straight out of Withers’ Chronicles of Border Warfare: a pioneer woman walking into her cabin to find a Shawnee warrior warming himself at her fire: surely every frontier woman’s worst nightmare.
Unless of course the warrior was feeling sociable and had just stopped by for a brotherly chat and perhaps an aromatic cup of tea . . .
Not (as they say) bloody likely. There was precious little interaction between natives and settlers on the Virginia frontier which was not marked by bloodshed. In the long course of the continent’s settlement by Europeans, periods of amicability between the native tribes and Europeans did occur, but not, as a rule, on the Virginia and Pennsylvania frontiers, and not in the 1770s. For the pioneer families in the vicinity of Pricketts Fort, the native people were implacable foes, and greatly feared. They, and not the British, were the reason Pricketts Fort was built.
On July 12, 1774, the Mingo Chief Logan, bent on revenge for the slaughter of his family two months earlier, led a band of hand-picked warriors in an attack three militiamen from Pricketts Fort who were harvesting a field of flax along the Monongahela. One of the militiamen, Coleman Brown, was killed by a musketball, while the others, William Robinson and Thomas Hellen, were taken captive.
On another occasion, about two miles from Pricketts Fort, around the evening of September 10, 1774, Jacob Prickett’s son Isaiah, a private in the militia, and Mrs Susan Ox, left the fort in search of a lost cow. When the pair failed to return, a search party was sent out from the fort. What they found was sobering: young Isaiah murdered and scalped, and no sign of Susan Ox, who had been taken into captivity.
Another incident occured in the spring of 1778, and here I quote from John Boback’s Pricketts Fort: A Bastion in the Wilderness: “One day . . . a bedraggled woman and child stumbled into the clearing outside the fort’s walls. She identified herself as Mrs William Morgan and explained that she and her child had escaped from some Indians two days earlier. As the men questioned her further, they learned that on April 11th, a war party had attacked her home near the Cheat River, killing six of her friends and relatives. Taking her and her child captive, the Indians headed southwest. After walking many miles, they stopped, tied Mrs Morgan to a bush, and the then headed off into the forest without leaving a guard. Taking advantage of the opportunity, Mrs Morgan managed to free herself by loosening her bindings with her teeth. She and her young child then fled into the forest where they wandered about for a day and a half before chancing upon Pricketts Fort . . .”
Yet even at the height of hostilities, with each side bound to the destruction of the other, fraternity between enemies could still occur. After the attack on the Monongahela on July 12, 1774, when Brown, Hellen and Robinson were set upon by Logan and his warriors, the two surviving militiamen were led as bound captives across the Ohio and deep into Shawnee territory. On that hard march a most unlikely friendship developed between Sgt Robinson and the fearsome Logan. Later, when the band arrived at a town of the Shawnees, Hellen was forced to run the gauntlet, where he was beaten into unconsciousness. Robinson, as the leader of the militiamen, was accorded the terrible honor of being burned alive at the stake. At this critical juncture, however, Logan placed himself between the white man and his own tribe and claimed Robinson as his adopted son, thus sparing his life. Later, Robinson would escape and make his way back to Pricketts Fort, but would count Logan as his fast friend for the rest of his days.
Now, at this distant remove, some two and a third centuries later, the descendents of European pioneers and indigenous Natives — Americans all — walk the old battlegrounds of their forebears not as foes but as comrades, the mutual hatred of their grandfathers long since buried, like a seed that has flowered into a mutual vow to honor the past and keep its memory alive.