Illustration from Pioneer Life in the West. Philadelphia, The Keystone Publishing Co., 1890
Major Samuel McCulloch
"We presume there are but few, if any, among our readers who are
not familiar with the exploit of Putnam, in riding his horse down the steep
declivity at Horseneck, in the endeavor to escape from the British troops. It
is "famed in story;" has been illustrated time and again by the pen
and pencil; has been dramatized, and in every conceivable form, presented to
the public eye, until the merest schoolboy is as familiar with the incident as
with his alphabet. Yet it is by no means comparable with the feats of a
similar character, performed by men of less notoriety, but of equal strong
nerve and desperate courage, which have not attracted a tithe of the
admiration and éclat which have been vouchsafed to Putnam's exploit.
At the siege of Fort Henry, near Wheeling, by a band of Indians, under the
infamous Simon Girty, Major Samuel McCulloch performed an act of daring --
nay, desperate horsemanship -- which has seldom been equaled by man or beast,
and before which the effort of the Pomfret hero pales into insignificance. Let
us turn to the record.
Fort Henry, situated about a quarter of a mile above Wheeling creek, on the
left bank of the Ohio river, was erected to protect the settlers of the little
village of Wheeling, which, at the time of its investment, consisted of about
twenty-five cabins. In the month of September, 1775, it was invested by about
four hundred warriors, on the approach of whom the settlers had fled into it,
leaving their cabins and their contests to the torch of the savages. The whole
force comprising the garrison consisted of forty-two fighting men who know the
use of the rifle, and who were celebrated throughout the borders as the
implacable enemies of the red man, and as the best marksmen in the world. Of
these however, more than one-half perished in an ill-advised sortie before the
siege commenced, and when the fort was surrounded by the foe, but sixteen men
remained to defend it against their overwhelming numbers. -- But their
mothers, vices and daughters were there, and nerved the Spartan band to deeds
of heroism to which the records of the wars of ancient and modern history
present no parallel. Here it was the Elizabeth Zane passed through the fire of
the whole body of redskins in the effort to ring into the fort the ammunition
so necessary to its defense; --here it was, also, that the wives and daughters
of the noble defenders marched to a spring in point blank range of the
ambuscaded Indians, in going to and fro, for the purpose of bringing water for
Messengers had been dispatched, at the earliest alarm, to the neighboring
settlements for succor, and, in response to the call, Captain Van Swearingen,
which fourteen men, arrived from Cross Creek and fought his way into the fort
without the loss of a man. Soon afterwards, a part of forty horsemen, led by
the brave and intrepid McCulloch, were seen approaching, and endeavoring to
force their way through the dense masses of Indians which nearly surrounded
the station. Their friends within the fort made every preparation to receive
them by opening the gates, and organizing a sortie to cover their attempt.
After a desperate hand-to-hand conflict, in which they made several of the
Indians bite the dust, they broke through the lines, and entered the fort in
triumph, without the loss of an individual. All, except their daring leader,
succeeded in the effort. Her was cut off, and forced to fly in an opposite
direction. McCulloch was as well know to the Indians as to the whites for his
deeds of prowess, and his name was associated in their minds with some of the
most bloody fights in which the white and red men had contended. To secure him
alive, therefore, that they might glut their vengeance upon him, was the
earnest desire of the Indians, and to this end they put forth the most
superhuman exertions. There were very few among their number who had not lost
a relative by the unerring aim and skill of the fearless woodsman, and they
cherished toward him an almost frenzied hatred, which could only be satisfied
in his tortures at the stake.
With such feelings and incentives, their crowded around him as he dashed
forward in the read of his men, and succeeded in cutting him off from the
gate. Finding himself unable, after the most strenuous exertions, to
accomplish his entrance, and seeing the uselessness of a conflict with such a
force opposed to him, he suddenly wheeled his horse and fled in the direction
of Wheeling Hill at his utmost speed. A cloud of warriors started up at his
approach, and cut off his retreat in this direction, driving back upon another
party who blocked up the path behind; while a third closed in upon him on one
of the other sides of the square. The fourth and open side was in the
direction of the brow of a precipitous ledge of rocks, nearly one hundred and
fifty feet in height, at the foot of which flowed the waters of Wheeling
Creek. As he momentarily halted and took a rapid survey of the dangers which
surrounded him on all sides, he felt that his chance was indeed a desperate
one. The Indians had not fired a shot, and he well knew what this portended,
as they could easily have killed him had they chosen to do so. He appreciated
the feeling of hatred felt towards him by the foe, and saw at a glance the
intention to take him alive if possible, that his ashes might be offered up as
a sacrifice to the manes of their friends slain by his hand. This was to die a
thousand deaths, in preference to which he determined to run the risk of being
dashed in pieces; and he struck his heels against the sides of his steed, who
sprang forward toward the precipice. The encircling warriors had rapidly
lessened the space between them and their intended victim, and, as they saw
him so completely within their toils, raised a yell of triumph, little
dreaming of the fearful energy which was to baffle their expectations. As they
saw him push his horse in the direction of the precipice, which they had
supposed an insurmountable obstacle to his escape, they stood in wonder and
amazement, scarcely believing that it could be his intention to attempt the
awful leap, which was, to all appearances, certain death. McCulloch still bore
his rifle, which he had retained, in his right hand, and carefully gathering
up the bridle in his left, he urged his noble animal forward, encouraging him
by his voice, until they reached the edge of the bank, when, dashing his heels
against his sides, they made the fearful leap into the air. Down, down they
went with fearful velocity, without resistance or impediment until one-half
the space was passed over, when the horse's feet struck the smooth precipitous
face of the rock, and the remainder of the distance was slid and scrambled
over until they reached the bottom alive and uninjured. With a shout which
proclaimed his triumphant success to his foe above him, McCulloch pushed his
steed into the stream, and in a few moments horse and rider were seen
surmounting the banks on the opposite side.
No pursuit was attempted, nor was a shot fired at the intrepid rider. His
enemies stood in awe-struck silence upon the brow of the bank from whence he
had leaped, and, as he disappeared from their view, they returned to the
investment of the fort. They did not long continue their unavailing efforts,
however, for its capture; the numerous additions it had received to its
garrison; the fearlessness exhibited in its defense, together with the feat
they had witnessed, disheartened them, and they beat a hasty retreat on the
morning after the event I have attempted to describe -- not however, until
they had reduced to ashes the cabins without the stockade, and slaughtered
some three hundred head of cattle belonging to the settlers."
-- Pioneer Life in the West;
comprising the adventures of Boone Kenton Brady Clarke....
Philadelphia, The Keystone Publishing Co., 1890. p. 144-156.
Betty Zane, Lydia Boggs, and Molly Scott: The
Gunpowder Exploits at Fort Henry
By William Hintzen
(From West Virginia History, Vol. 55, Pp. 95-109)
"About noon on September 12, 1782, some 250 Indians and 40 British
Rangers watched in amazement as the gates of the fort they were besieging swung
open, allowing a teenage girl to slip out. Still watching intently, they saw the
girl run quickly across the open field and disappear into an adjacent cabin
about sixty yards from the southeastern corner of the fort. Only a few minutes
passed before they saw this same girl emerge from the cabin, but she now carried
a large bundle wrapped in her apron. Suddenly realizing that this girl carried
several pounds of gunpowder, the Indians opened fire on her during the dozen or
so seconds that their target was in view. Fortunately for the lives of those
settlers in that western Virginia fort, the girl sped up the slight incline to
the fort with such fleetness of foot that she was able to reach her destination
unharmed, carrying her precious cargo of powder. With that powder, the fort
continued to hold off the attackers until the following morning, when, losing
heart, the enemy raised the siege and departed. One group moved off to attack
the much smaller Rice's Fort, fifteen miles north, near present Bethany, Brooke
County. Once again they were frustrated in their plans, as they were unable to
capture the half-dozen defenders of that stockade.
The sixteen-year-old girl who performed that courageous feat was Elizabeth
Zane and the fort saved by her daring was Fort Henry, located in what is now the
downtown business district of Wheeling. The adjacent cabin from which she
obtained the gunpowder was that of her brother, who, in an effort to provide a
cross-fire for the fort, was occupying his own cabin/blockhouse during that
siege. Zane's brother, the thirty-four-year-old pioneer Colonel Ebenezer Zane,
was the founder and defender of Wheeling. The attack was the third since 1777
and the second extensive siege of this fort.
This "Gunpowder Exploit" became one of the standard tales of the
heroism of the pioneers during the long and bloody frontier warfare along the
western border. By the latter decades of the nineteenth century, the author of
any work on the history of the United States could find it sufficient to state
that it was unnecessary to give an account of this story, as it was "known
to every schoolboy." In 1903, Zane Grey, the outstanding author of western
novels and a descendant of the illustrious Colonel Zane, published a
fictionalized account of the story and titled his book simply Betty Zane, secure
in the knowledge that every reader would already be familiar with the basic
theme of his novel. Unfortunately during the last half-century, the heroes and
heroines of American history and the bravery our pioneer ancestors demonstrated
against incredible hardships and struggles have seldom been given more than
grudging notice, at best, in most standard school texts.
That Betty Zane's exploit might not be as well known as could otherwise be
wished may be due, however, to an incident which occurred in 1849, sixty-seven
years after the event. In November of that year, one of the last surviving adult
eyewitnesses of that siege of Fort Henry, an eighty-three-year-old woman named
Lydia Boggs Shepherd Cruger, swore out an affidavit to the effect that it had
not ben Betty Zane who had run with the powder. Instead, the true heroine of
Fort Henry was a young woman named Molly Scott. In addition, she stated it was
not the men in the fort who had run out of powder. Molly Scott had run from
Colonel Zane's cabin to the fort, where she obtained the powder with Cruger's
assistance, and then returned to the Zane cabin. Furthermore, it was not such a
feat of daring, as Molly Scott had been in no danger of being harmed because the
Indians were too distant from the fort to shoot at her. Most incredible of all,
she said that Betty Zane had not even been at the fort during that siege.
Cruger's account raised an immediate, intense, and bitter controversy. For
two-thirds of a century, western Virginians had gloried in the fame attached to
this tale of heroism, this story of a local girl, an ordinary teenager,
performing the act of a real-life heroine. Cruger's eyewitness account not only
discredited Betty Zane but gave such a totally different account of what had
happened during that siege as utterly to confound everyone. Both local residents
and professional historians debated whether, in the face of tradition, it was
possible that the heroine had indeed been Molly Scott. As an eyewitness to the
siege, could Cruger's word be doubted? On the other hand, how could all the
other people present been so mistaken about not only the girl's identity but the
other details as well? Granting that it might have been Molly Scott, how could
Cruger possibly have remembered, so many years afterward, that Betty Zane had
not been present during the siege? Had it really been the men in the Zane cabin
who had run out of powder, rather than those in the fort, as Cruger proclaimed?
And were all the Indians so far away that the heroine, whoever she may have
been, was not fired upon?
The conclusions which historians have generally drawn are:
1) Cruger was mistaken and the credit was properly given to Betty Zane;
2) Cruger was correct and Molly Scott was the true heroine; or
3) there were two gunpowder exploits, one perhaps in 1777 with Molly
Scott as the heroine and another in 1782 with Betty Zane.
The standard accounts of the border wars, such as those by Alexander
Withers and Wills De Hass, establish two sieges of Fort Henry, the first
occurring in September 1777, "the Year of the Bloody Sevens," and the
second five years later in that same month. Students of frontier history are
also likely aware of the controversy surrounding the identity of the true
heroine of Fort Henry's famous gunpowder exploit, Cruger's affidavit having been
published for the first time in De Hass. But most, knowledgeable of these
points, are probably unaware of Cruger's "Narrative" of 1846, which
indirectly contains the solution to the entire riddle.1
In 1846, more than sixty years after the siege, the preeminent historian
of the trans-Allegheny frontier, Lyman C. Draper, interviewed Cruger concerning
those bitter times, and his notes of that interview make up the "Narrative
of Lydia Boggs Shepherd Cruger," published by Jared Lobdell in Indian
Warfare. During that interview, Draper, already quite familiar with the details
of the gunpowder exploit, must have been astounded as he listened to Cruger
blithely speak of helping Molly Scott get powder to take to Colonel Zane's
cabin, of Silas Zane being in Colonel Zane's cabin, and of Betty Zane not being
at Fort Henry during the siege. Draper surely questioned her on this, as he
noted, "Mrs. Cruger in this says she couldn t be mistaken."2
There are five major discrepancies in Cruger's account of this siege, as
recorded by Draper in 1846 and affirmed in her affidavit given in 1849:
1) that it was the men in Colonel Zane's cabin who had run out of
powder. All other accounts stated that the fort had run out of powder and
the imminent loss of the lives of those in the fort caused such concern.
2) that it was Molly Scott who ran with the powder. All other accounts
credited the exploit to Betty (or Betsy) Zane, the sixteen-year-old sister
of the commander of the settlement.
3) that Scott ran from Colonel Zane's cabin to the fort and then back
to the cabin. Other witnesses stated that Zane ran from the fort to her
brother's cabin and then back to the fort with the powder.
4) that Colonel Zane's brother Silas was one of the men helping to
defend the Zane cabin. It is quite well established that Silas was in
command of Fort Henry during the siege. Captain John Boggs, the nominal
commander and Cruger's father, had been sent for reinforcements while
Colonel Zane was defending his fortified cabin/blockhouse.
5) that the Indians did not fire at her because they were too far away.
Admittedly, the Indians did not fire at Zane as she was running toward the
cabin but did fire a volley upon her return to the fort.
Cruger definitely remembered giving powder to none other than Molly Scott
and, as she stated in her affidavit, she
remembers with perfect distinctness every circumstance connected with
the incident. She saw Molly Scott enter the fort, assisted her in getting the
powder, and saw her leave, and avers most positively that she, and she alone,
accomplished the feat referred to, and deserves all the credit there may be
attached to it.3
Cruger also stated: "the undersigned . . . will now state without the
fear of contradiction, that the powder was given to Molly Scott, and not to
Elizabeth Zane."4 She was certainly correct in her claim of "without
the fear of contradiction," as those who could have contradicted her were
no longer alive. Betty Zane had been dead for over twenty years and Molly Scott
for ten. Sixty-seven years after the event, there was only one adult eyewitness
still living, a Mrs. Mary Burkitt, who was then quite elderly.5
The first sentence of Cruger's 1849 affidavit begins, "the
undersigned, having been applied to for a statement of facts respecting . . .
the 'Gunpowder exploit. . . ." She continued:
. . . those within the stockade observed a female leave the residence
of Colonel Zane, and advance with rapid movements towards the fort. . . . [S]he
entered in safety. That person was none other than MOLLY SCOTT, and the object
of her mission, was to procure powder for those who defended the dwelling of
Then follow the details of how Cruger's mother had instructed her to give
the powder to Molly Scott, and "Elizabeth Zane . . . was at that time at
the residence of her father near the present town of Washington, Pa. . .
."7 After a lapse of nearly seventy years, Cruger exhibited an incredible
memory, recalling the whereabouts of someone who was not at the fort.
Three years previously, Cruger told Draper:
Near mid-day [of September 12], having exhausted the powder at Zane's
house, Molly Scott ran over from Zane's to the Fort, sixty yards, for a
supply. Captain Boggs had charge of the magazine, and in his absence the
magazine was ope, and I went in with her and poured out some tenths into
Molly's tow apron, and she ran back. She was not fired at going or returning.
The Indians were on the hillside and elsewhere too far to have shot with any
The major contradiction in her affidavit is given in the statement that it
was the men in Colonel Zane's cabin who ran out of powder. But from official
letters it cannot be disputed that the militia's entire supply of powder for the
defense of the fort was stored in Zane s cabin, having been sent downriver that
summer by the military commandant at Fort Pitt. There was no time, from the
warning of the Indians approach until the beginning of the siege, to move the
powder from the cabin to the fort, and the few men in the cabin would have been
unable to burn up all that powder in a month, much less in twenty hours.
The dilemma presented in this episode, which cannot be explained away, is
that Molly Scott often related the events of that siege of 1782 to members of
her immediate family, as well as to friends and neighbors, and she repeatedly
told all of them that she watched Betty Zane run to Colonel Zane's cabin for
powder and return with it to the fort. A written statement by her grandson James
F. Scott related how he had heard "from her own lips" numerous times
about the exploit of Betsy Zane carrying powder in her apron from Col.
Zane's dwelling to the fort, during the siege . . . as well as the narrow
escape she had from the bullets of the Indians. . . . She [Scott] never gave
any other name than Elizabeth or Betsy Zane, as she called her, as the one who
carried the powder. She never claimed the credit for herself.9
To resolve the differences between these two accounts, some historians
have sought to discredit Cruger, claiming a long-standing personal jealousy of
Betty Zane. Another explanation was that because of her advanced years, she
interchanged Molly Scott with Betty Zane and reversed the direction of the run.
However, neither explanation seems to be acceptable.
Despite this conflicting testimony, it is still possible to maintain:
1) that Lydia Cruger helped Molly Scott put some powder in her apron
under her father s instructions, since Captain Boggs was in the fort;
2) that Molly Scott ran to Colonel Zane's cabin, since the men there
were low on powder;
3) that the Indians did not shoot at Scott, because they were too far
away to have shot with any effect;
4) that Silas Zane was in Colonel Zane's cabin; and
5) that Betty Zane was not there.
Several writers have suggested that there were two gunpowder exploits.
Molly Scott, helped by Cruger, ran with powder from the fort to Colonel
Zane's cabin during the 1777 siege of Fort Henry and that Betty Zane ran
from the cabin to the fort during the 1782 siege. But there was no one in
Colonel Zane's cabin during the 1777 siege and the Indians burned it to the
ground. Cruger was not at Fort Henry in 1777; by her own admission she did
not arrive there until four years later. But almost all of the writers on
this period of frontier history have been totally unaware of or have chosen
to ignore another very important fact. There was a third siege, technically
more of an attack than a siege, being of only a few hours duration, and it
took place in September 1781.
Just after dawn on an early September day, about eighty Indians, led
by the Delaware chief Pekillon, appeared within sight of Fort Henry. Having
been previously warned by David Zeisberger, a Moravian missionary, that a
large body of Indians was moving to attack the frontier settlements, the
settlers at the fort were prepared for them. Commanding the fort was Captain
John Boggs, who only a month previously had moved to Wheeling with his
family. Unable to take the fort by surprise as they had hoped, the Indians
found a man and three boys outside the fort. They killed one boy and took
another captive, while the third escaped into the fort. The man, wounded
through the wrist, also eluded the Indians. Having accomplished so little in
this attack, in Cruger's words, "they [the Indians] then ran off
instantly." Nothing else of consequence happened and very few shots
were fired at the fort, as the majority of the Indians were too far away.10
While Captain Boggs was in command of the fort, Colonel Zane and his
brother Silas, who only recently had returned from the eastern front,
defended their cabin from the Indians. Colonel Zane had rebuilt his cabin in
the form of a blockhouse, with every intention of occupying it in the event
of another Indian attack. He was in his cabin during two attacks-- the one,
in 1781, for only a few hours, and the other, in 1782, for nearly
Having been warned of the approach of the Indians in 1781, Zane had
requested some gunpowder from the militia stores in the fort for the use of
the defenders of the cabin/blockhouse. Captain Boggs had complied, perhaps
instructing his wife to have their daughter assist the messenger from
Colonel Zane's cabin. Cruger helped Molly Scott obtain a quantity of powder
from the magazine for the defense of the cabin, as that was also a military
operation and vital to the defense of the fort. Cruger then watched as Scott
ran back to the Zane cabin with the powder in her apron. She was not fired
on by the Indians, who at that time were on the hillside and on Wheeling
Island on the opposite side of the fort and certainly too far to have shot
with any effect.
Cruger had indeed been involved in Scott's run with powder back to
Zane's cabin, and she thought that was the gunpowder exploit that everyone
talked about. That particular incident, however, had occurred in 1781, and
it had not seemed especially hazardous to her at the time because the
Indians were so far away. Sixty-eight years later, she stated in her
affidavit, "at the time of its occurrence, the achievement was not
considered very extraordinary."11
In 1781, Betty Zane was living with her father at Catfish Camp,
present Washington, Pennsylvania, where Cruger had lived prior to 1777. The
two fifteen-year-old girls were probably close friends, as there could not
have been a great many other unmarried young women on the western border.
Cruger stated in her affidavit that Elizabeth Zane was one of her earliest
acquaintances. She knew quite well that Zane was living there with her
father that fall, while the Zane brothers were at their Wheeling Creek
Sometime around 1780, Captain Boggs had moved his family to Buffalo
Creek, near present Wellsburg about twenty miles north of Wheeling, and in
August 1781, he had been ordered to command Fort Henry. Cruger had been at
the fort only one month when the attack occurred. All the details were
indelibly impressed on her, and sixty-eight years later, there was
absolutely no doubt in her mind as to whom she had given the powder.
One year later, the Indians were back, three times as many of them,
with the aid of forty British Rangers from Detroit. Colonel Zane defended
his cabin, where the militia s supply of gunpowder was being stored. Unlike
the last attack, there had been only a few minutes warning before that large
number of the enemy appeared. Captain Boggs had immediately been sent for
reinforcements, but as he subsequently stated, he had ridden only a mile and
a half when he heard the fort's cannon firing. There had not been time to
transfer the powder from Colonel Zane's cabin to the fort, as there had been
no definite indication that they would need to do so. The siege of 1777 had
lasted less than one day. The Indians successfully ambushed three separate
parties of men on the morning of September 1, and then, satisfied with their
destruction, they withdrew to attack other forts. During the attack in
September 1781, the Indians had been unable to surprise the fort and had
departed after only a few hours. Since the element of surprise again eluded
them, it was reasonable to conclude the Indians would depart. It was
certainly an exception for Indians to besiege a fort; if they could not
capture it by surprise or stratagem, they almost always gave up and moved on
to another fort which offered a promise of more gain with less risk. Being
unsuccessful at Fort Henry in 1781, they had left there almost immediately
and headed for Jacob Link's blockhouse on Middle Wheeling Creek, fourteen
miles from Fort Henry, which they attacked with success, taking the
blockhouse and killing Link and at least one other man. The defenders inside
the fort had no possible way of knowing how long the Indians would persist.
It was probably only at the insistence of the British officer, Captain
Pratt, with his rangers that they remained as long as they did. On the
second day of this siege, September 12, 1782, with no indication that the
Indians were about to withdraw, Betty Zane ran from the fort to her
brother's cabin and returned to the fort with her apron full of gunpowder.
Cruger remembered helping Scott get gunpowder during an Indian attack
but she had not seen Zane run with the powder during the prolonged siege of
1782. When asked about these events by Draper in 1846, she combined elements
of both Indian attacks. She remembered with great clarity details which had
occurred sixty-eight years before but she was being asked about an event
which had taken place one year later.
In the interview with Draper, Cruger stated that Molly Scott ran from
the Zane cabin to the fort, got some powder with her assistance, and ran
back to the cabin. That was correct for the 1781 incident, when the Indians
first appeared on Wheeling Island across from the fort and then later were
on "the hillside and elsewhere too far" away. That her father was
absent was correct for 1782. Captain Boggs had been sent for reinforcements
and Silas Zane was in charge of the fort. The point that Silas Zane was in
the Zane cabin with Colonel Zane and others applies to 1781, when Captain
Boggs was in charge of the fort and the Zane brothers and several other men
defended the cabin.12
Cruger's statement that scouts gave warning of the Indians approach
about three o clock in the afternoon was correct for 1782; in 1781, the
Indians had appeared early in the morning, about an hour after sunrise.13
She was correct that Betty Zane was living with her father at Catfish Camp
in September 1781. Sometime after the 1781 attack, but well before the 1782
siege, Zane, her father, and her new stepmother moved to the Wheeling
settlement to be near the Zane brothers.
Cruger's assertion that the Indians did not shoot at Molly Scott
"going or returning" was correct for 1781, as the Indians were too
far away. That about midday on the second day of the siege, a girl ran
between the fort and the Zane cabin with some powder could only have
referred to the 1782 siege, as there had been no second day in either 1777
or 1781. The girl must therefore have been Betty Zane, Molly Scott having
been the courier the year before. Cruger remembered "the siege
commenced about sun an hour high, Monday, September 11th." In 1782,
September 11 fell on a Wednesday, and in 1781, September 3 was a Monday. It
is more likely that Cruger would correctly recall the day of the week rather
than the date of the month. Perhaps she remembered attending church on
Sunday, September 2, and then the Indians were seen just after sunrise the
In her affidavit she stated: "On Monday afternoon, September
11th, 1782, a body of about 300 Indians, and 50 British soldiers . . .
appeared in front of the fort. . . ." She had earlier told Draper that
the siege began sometime after three o clock in the afternoon, when scouts
gave the alarm of the Indians approach. The 1781 attack, however, began
early in the morning. During the progress of the interview with Draper, she
described the activities of several men from the fort, who were out during
the morning hours of that day in 1782.15
Cruger must have been aware that others recalled the siege of 1782
began on Wednesday, September 11, but she persisted in remembering it as a
Monday. The date of the 1781 attack has never been exactly determined, until
now. Doddridge gave it as September 7 or 8, but if Cruger was correct and it
was a Monday, then it would have been Monday, September 3.16
Her two conflicting statements, "the siege commenced about sun an
hour high" and then "about 3 o clock in the afternoon," could
both be false but both could not be true. Cruger told Draper that the
"siege commenced about sun an hour high, Monday, September 11th--at all
events, the 11th." But during the course of the interview, she also
told him that as a warning of the first approach of the Indians, the scouts
discharged their weapons "about 3 o clock in the afternoon."
Either Cruger confused two different recollections in her own mind, Draper
failed to distinguish between her comments on two different forays by the
Indians against Fort Henry, or in the transcription and cataloging of his
notes, this confusion occurred concerning the times the Indians approached.
Since there is no doubt that at the siege of 1782 the Indians appeared
sometime in the latter part of the afternoon, Cruger's comments about the
scouts warning of the approach of the Indians at three o clock in the
afternoon can refer only to that siege. Therefore her other remark
concerning the appearance of the Indians, "siege commenced about sun an
hour high," must be a reference to 1781.17
It is also interesting to note her use of the phrase "Monday,
September 11th--at all events, the 11th." In 1782, September 11, which
was a Wednesday, the Indians appeared around three o clock in the afternoon,
allowing time for the following events from Cruger s timetable. On "the
morning of the 11th, a damp morning, Stephen Burkam and one Wright"
began their journey "from the Fort to Washington" and traveled
about "three or four miles," where they found signs of Indians and
"returned to the fort and reported." This also allowed time for
the various activities of the other men that morning that Cruger
The controversy involves confusing two separate events, events that
had not concerned Cruger for nearly seventy years and the details of which
had occupied neither much prominence nor much importance in her thoughts.
When questioned about it she was convinced of the accuracy of her
recollections, especially when she was able to remember certain details so
vividly, specifically helping Molly Scott get powder for the men in the Zane
cabin. When interviewed by Draper in 1846, she said that the Indians had not
fired on Molly Scott. However, three years later, evidently having been
involved in disputes about the nature of this episode as a result of
Draper's interviews, she revised her statement somewhat, saying that on the
second day of the siege, "Tuesday, September 12th" (eptember 12 in
1782 was a Thursday):
the enemy having temporarily withdrawn from the attack, but
occupying a position within gunshot of the fort, those within the stockade
observed a female leave the residence of Colonel Zane, and advance with
rapid movements towards the fort. . . .19
In other words, the Indians were now close enough to shoot but for
some reason failed to do so. However, in his official report of the siege,
written on the day following its conclusion, Colonel Zane specifically
stated that during the second day "the enemy kept a continual fire the
whole day."20 They were not on "the hillside and elsewhere too
far" away to shoot at the fort or at anyone running between the fort
and the cabin. As nothing appears in Cruger s affidavit about Silas Zane
being in the cabin in 1782, it seems certain that she correctly remembered
helping Scott get the powder in 1781. But too many people insisted that
Silas was commander of the fort in 1782, and so Cruger remained silent. The
true obstacle to the resolution of this problem has always been the lack of
information on that relatively unimportant Indian attack of 1781, leaving
researchers to conclude that, since the gunpowder exploit could not have
occurred at the 1777 siege, it must have been at the siege of 1782.
There was one other early spectator to this debate, but his evidence
seems to have been as generally neglected as that of Molly Scott's grandson.
George S. McKiernan became interested in the history of the border wars in
the early 1830s when there were still several survivors. Between 1832 and
1836, he interviewed a number of those pioneers, including Lydia Boggs
Shepherd Cruger. Among other observations he stated:
When I first knew Mrs. Cruger she was [a] bright and sparkling
young woman. In her later days her memory became confused. She assured Mr.
Draper, for instance, in 1846, that John McCulloch was the hero of the
leap over Wheeling hill, instead of his brother Sam. . . . >From the
interesting nature of the incident of carrying the powder, I made it the
subject of inquiry in my interviews with all those persons, and I am quite
certain that Mrs. Cruger did not attribute the powder exploit to Molly
Scott or to any one but Betsy Zane, neither did any other of the old
inhabitants. There is not the shadow of a doubt in my mind that she and
not Molly Scott was the heroine of the powder keg. In fact I never heard
any of the old pioneers mention the name of Molly Scott. They were
unanimous in giving the honor to Miss Zane.21
Cruger and the Fort Henry settlement led unbelievably arduous lives,
lives so incredibly difficult that it is no longer possible for us moderns
to even begin to comprehend the difficulties. Mere survival required an
almost Herculean effort, and many failed to survive those rigorous times.
Cruger, born a loyal subject of George III, lived through those terrible
days of revolution and horrific Indian warfare as a teenager. She was well
into her forties when Abraham Lincoln was born in Kentucky, and she survived
to see the end of a civil war and the assassination of the president. Cruger
sought to clarify her interview with Draper in her 1849 affidavit:
But undersigned does not wish to detract any from the heroism of
that feat, she only desires to correct a gross error--to give honor to
whom honor is due. This she deems imperative, that the truth and justice
of history may be maintained.22
Honor to whom honor is due, that the truth and justice of history may
be maintained--and the honor is most certainly due to Betty Zane. As the
illustrious Clonel Zane, speaking through his descendent Zane Grey might
well have said:
. . . we should stop a moment to think of the heroes who have gone
before . . . we who worked, fought, bled beside them, who saw them die for
those they left behind, will render them all justice, honor and love. To
them we give the victory. . . . They were true; then let us . . . likewise
be true in memory of them. . . .23
1. Alexander Scott Withers, Chronicles of Border Warfare (Clarksburg,
VA: Joseph Israel, 1831) and Wills De Hass, History of the Early Settlement
and Indian Wars of Western Virginia (Wheeling, VA: Hoblitzell, 1851). In
addition, the earliest and most important work on the border wars is the
Rev. Joseph Doddridge's Notes on the Settlement and Indian Wars of the
Western Parts of Virginia and Pennsylvania from 1763 to 1783 (Wellsburg, VA:
Joseph Doddridge, 1824). Unfortunately, Doddridge did not include any
material on the various sieges of Fort Henry, deferring instead to Noah
Zane, who had told Doddridge he was preparing a biography of his father,
Colonel Ebenezer Zane, which would as a matter of course include material on
all the sieges. This proposed biography was never completed. Doddridge,
however, wrote an account of the 1777 siege, originally published by Reuben
G. Thwaites and Louise P. Kellogg in Frontier Defense on the Upper Ohio,
1777-1778 (Madison: Wisconsin Historical Society, 1912) 54-58. All of these
works have undergone several reprintings. Doddridge also wrote a few
paragraphs on the sieges of 1781 and 1782 which were published in Jared C.
Lobdell, Indian Warfare in Western Pennsylvania and North West Virginia at
the Time of the American Revolution (Bowie, MD: Heritage Books, 1992).
2. "Ms. notes of conversations with . . . Mrs. Lydia Cruger,
1846--L.C.D," in Louise P. Kellogg, Frontier Retreat on the Upper Ohio,
1779-1781 (1917; reprint, Bowie, MD: Heritage Books, 1994), 821 and
"Narrative of Lydia Boggs Shepherd Cruger (1766-1867) Covering the
years 1772-1786," in Lobdell, Indian Warfare, 124, hereafter referred
to as "Narrative."
3. De Hass, History, 280.
4. Ibid., emphasis in original.
5. According to Gibson Lamb Cranmer, in his History of Wheeling City
and Ohio County, West Virginia (1902; reprint, Apollo, PA: Closson Press,
1994), 129, the names of a number of those inside Fort Henry during the 1782
siege were obtained from "Mrs. Mary Burkitt, who died about 1861, at a
very advanced age . . . who, at the time of the siege, was an inmate of the
fort. . . ."
6. De Hass, History, 280, emphasis in original.
8. "Narrative," 124. The reference to "tenths" is
unclear. Perhaps it was a measure of weight or volume. It is tempting to
believe that it is a mistake in the transcription of Draper's original
handwriting and that the correct word is pounds.
9. Statement of J. F. Scott to W. C. Brockunier, Wheeling, August
1876, published in J. H. Newton, et al, History of the Pan-handle [West
Virginia] (1879; reprint, Bowie, MD: Heritage Books, 1990), 130.
10. "Narrative," 111. One well-known tragedy resulted
directly from this warning. The leader of this raid, Pekillon, had only
recently been serving with the American army under Colonel Brodhead and
until this time had been considered a friend of the Americans. Many also
believed, probably mistakenly, that he was a Christian convert, who often
spent time at the Christian Indian villages on the Tuscarawas River in Ohio.
When Pekillon appeared before Fort Henry with the hostile Indians, he
learned from the captive boy that the fort had been warned of their approach
by a message sent by the Moravian missionaries in Ohio. Upon the return of
the hostile Indians, the Christian Indians living in the three Moravian
villages were forced to evacuate their towns. The Christians, along with
their missionaries Zeisberger and John Heckewelder were taken to te vicinity
of present Upper Sandusky, Ohio. By February of the next year, many of the
Christian Indians had starved to death, and at that time about one hundred
of those remaining, still facing starvation, were granted permission to
return to their villages to harvest what little of their crops they could
hope to find. They were still there on March 6, when Colonel David
Williamson's militia, in pursuit of an Indian raiding party, arrived at
Gnadenhutten, one of the abandoned villages. Mistakenly believing that this
group of Indians, which they had discovered in a supposedly deserted
village, was indeed the band of Indians which they were following,
Williamson's men brutally murdered ninety of these Christian Indians--the
infamous Gnadenhutten Massacre of March 8, 1782.
For the story of David Glenn, the boy captured at Fort Henry, see
"Narrative," 111 and Alexander Scott Withers, Chronicles of Border
Warfare, ed. and with notes by Reuben G. Thwaites (Cincinnati: Robert Clarke
Co., 1895), 317.
11. De Hass, History, 280-81.
12. "Narrative," 117, 119, 124.
13. Ibid., 115, 124.
15. De Hass, History, 280 and "Narrative," 116.
16. According to Doddridge, "on the seventh or eighth of
September, 1781, the second attack on Fort Henry took place." Quoted in
Lobdell, Indian Warfare, 131.
Additional confirmation of this date is given in Paul A. W. Wallace,
Thirty Thousand Miles with John Heckewelder (Pittsburgh: Univ. of Pittsburgh
Press, 1958), 179-82. John Heckewelder was a Moravian missionary who
described the events at this time in the Christian Indian villages of
Schoenbrunn, Salem, and Gnadenhutten. According to Heckewelder:
In the Morning on the 5th . . . both Prisoners and Scalps being
brought in the Evening before an open Councel was held . . . the prisoners
an old Man and Boy had been examined whether they knew if the [Moravian]
Ministers had sent to Fort Pitt for Assistance or not, and the Boy had
declared that he had heard they had done the like; consequently a charge
was laid against Us. [i.e., the hostile Indians ordered that the Christian
Indian villages be immediately evacuated, upon penalty of death.] On the
6th a War party came in again without having done any Mischief . . . in
order to get everything ready for the journey [to Upper Sandusky]. . . .
Heckewelder, in the company of British Indian agent Matthew Elliott,
was taken to the nearby village of Salem on the next day, the 7th.
The next day being the 8th Day. Zeisberger with his Colleagues . .
. arrived by Water likewise at Salem . . . from Shonbrunn also arrived the
greatest part by Water and Land . . . after having according to our Custom
been at prayer in the Church on Sunday, orders were given the next Day,
namely Monday, for the 9th for marching, and we had to bid farewell. . . .
But 9 September 1781 was a Sunday. It appears that Heckewelder was off
by one day in his reckoning; they were at church on Sunday, 9 September and
left Monday, 10 September. Therefore, the war parties mentioned had returned
to Gnadenhutten on Wednesday, 5 September; the council was held on Thursday,
6 September; and on Friday, 7 September, another war party returned, having
been unsuccessful. On Saturday, 8 September, Heckewelder went to Salem, and
on Sunday, 9 September, Zeisberger arrived. Church services were held that
Sunday, according to custom, and on Monday, 10 September, the Christian
Indians began their march to "Captives Town" on the Sandusky
River. The main point of Heckewelder's remarks is that the Indian attack on
Wheeling must have been on Monday, 3 September.
17. "Narrative," 115, 116.
19. De Hass, History, 280.
20. On Saturday, 14 September 1782, the day following the lifting of
the siege, Zane wrote to General Irvine, his military superior at Fort Pitt:
Sir: On the evening of the 11th instant a body of the enemy appeared
in sight of our garrison. They . . . demanded the fort to be surrendered,
which was refused. About twelve o clock at night they rushed hard on the
pickets. . . . About eight o clock next morning, there came a negro from
them to us and informed us that their force consisted of a British Captain
and forty regular soldiers, and two hundred and sixty Indians. The enemy
kept a continual fire the whole day . . . [and] continued around the
garrison till the morning of the 13th instant, when they disappeared. Our
loss is none. . . .
Newton, Pan-Handle, 127.
21. Ibid., 129.
22. De Hass, History, 281.
23. Zane Grey, The Last Trail (New York: A. L. Burt, 1909), 298."
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