Boys' Book of Frontier Fighters - Edwin Sabin

The Five Boy Captives

Adventures of "Little Fat Bear" and All

When in 1778 the energetic Colonel George Rogers Clark marched northwest out of Virginia and descended the Ohio River, to seize the Illinois country bordering the Mississippi, on his way he camped at the Falls of the Ohio, drilled his men upon Corn Island, built a block-house and left thirteen families to form a settlement.

The little settlement crossed to the mainland on the Kentucky side, and the present city of Louisville was founded.

By 1785 it numbered about 150 persons, on Corn Island, and on the mainland, living in log cabins upon clearings amidst the forest.

Among the settlers whose cabins were the farthest out from the village was Colonel Pope. He and several other men formed a small settlement of their own. They lived scarcely within shouting distance of one another, and were independent, like all pioneers.

This winter of 1784—1785 Colonel Pope engaged a tutor for his two boys, to teach them the three R's—Reading, 'Riting and 'Rithmetic. He did not wish them to grow up numbskulls. He invited his neighbors to send their boys over and be tutored at the same time. It was a backwoods school.

Of course, on Saturday the school had vacation. And on a Saturday morning of February, 1785, the two Linn boys (whose father, Colonel William Linn, had been killed by Indians), young Brashear, young William Wells, and a fifth who perhaps was one of the Pope boys, started out duck-hunting.

The War of the Revolution had ceased by treaty of peace almost a year and a half before, but the Indians had not quit. They still were of the belief that the British had not given up their lands "across the Ohio," and that the king their father was "only resting." So they continued their forays along the Ohio River. They killed many more Long Knives.

After having been kept at school for most of the week, frontier boys were not the kind to stay at home on Saturday for fear of Indians. Not when there was good hunting, and they could borrow their fathers' or brothers' guns and skip the chores. A successful hunter made a successful Indian-fighter. It was the right training. A fellow who did not know how to shoot was useless as a soldier, and a fellow who could not take care of himself in the forest and prairies was useless as a scout. Besides, the settler had to depend on his rifle for his meat.

In those days there was wonderful hunting along the Ohio. The boys knew exactly where to go. For turkeys, squirrels and deer they need not go far at all. But the prime place for ducks and geese lay about three miles out, at some swampy ponds near the river.

With a couple of fowling-pieces and the ammunition they trudged away. William Wells and the older Linn were fourteen. Boy Brashear was twelve. The other Linn and the fifth boy were nine or ten.

They hunted around the ponds until dusk. Then they decided to stay out all night—which was no trick at all. They made camp like regular scouts, cooked some ducks, and slept in a bough but that they built. During the night the snow fell, sifting down through the trees, but they did not care a whit.

They had planned to find more ducks in the ponds, in the morning; but the storm interfered.

"Aw, let's go home," said Wells.

"All right. Let's."

After breakfast they gathered their stuff, and were just starting, when with a dash and a whoop the Indians were upon them—likely enough had been watching them since daylight.

"Injuns! Run, boys!"

It was sharp work, but soon over. William Wells, the littler Linn and the fifth boy were grabbed; the larger Limn had a goose and several ducks slung over his shoulder and did not mean to give them up; but he was one of those pudgy, plum-pudding, over-grown boys, and stumbled on his own feet. He was nabbed by a big Indian who patted him on the back and called him "Little Fat Bear."

Brashear, though, nearly got away. He was the best runner at school, and gave the Indians a pretty chase among the trees before they caught him at last. They seemed to think all the more of him for his try, and called him "Buck Elk."

Well, this was a nice how-de-do! Five boys, all captured. Still, the same had happened to other boys, and to trained scouts. Nobody could blame them, but they felt rather sore.

The Indians now began to question them in broken English.

"Where from?"


"You lie. No from Louisville. Where live?" "Louisville."

"You lie. Get beatin'. Mebbe get killed. Where live, fat boy?"


One and all they stuck to the story. They had no notion of betraying the cabins of Colonel Pope and his neighbors.

The Indians grunted in disgust, put the boys in their midst and hustled them to the river.

"Guess we're in for it," remarked William Wells. "We'll keep a stiff upper lip. Who are they? Miamis?"

"Reckon so. Or Potawatomis. Glad they ain't Shawnees," answered Little Fat Bear. "Shucks! If I hadn't tumbled! Don't you cry, brother," he warned.

"Who's cryin'! Don't you bawl, yourself!"

"I blamed near skinned out. If I'd had a better head start I'd have run clean home; and then the folks would be makin' these Injuns hop, you bet," declared Brashear, the "Buck Elk."

"Aw, the Injuns would have followed you. They'd likely have shot you, so you wouldn't give the alarm," retorted Fat Bear, wisely. "We're all right. Who's afraid of Injuns. If we don't act up they'll treat us well. The Miamis and Potawatomis ain't as bad as the Shawnees."

"Wonder where they'll take us," puffed the fifth boy.

They were being hustled at a trot. The river was crossed on the slushy ice. All that day they traveled northward; and all the next day, and the next, and the next, and on and on. No pursuit was sighted. Probably Colonel Pope and the other families had thought that they were spending Sunday at the ponds, and had not looked for them until Monday morning.

The Indians were Miamis. That promised a journey clear to northern Indiana, perhaps. Whew! But Little Fat Bear and Buck Elk encouraged the fellows to "keep a stiff upper lip," and take whatever came; then the Indians would respect them more. If they put up a "holler" and "bellered," they'd be licked.

This worked out finely. Pluck always does. They and their captors got along splendidly, and they were not tied at night nor made to carry loads. Nevertheless, it was a tremendous journey, straight northward through the wilderness, with never a glimpse of any town, until, after a week or more, they arrived at the Miami village.

"How far've we come, you think?" asked William Wells, when the village was to be seen and by the preparations they knew that it was the place.

"Upwards of two hundred miles, I'll bet," replied Fat Bear. He was not so fat, now.

That was a shrewd guess. The village was upon the Little Calumet River, near present Valparaiso in northwestern Indiana—a full two hundred and twenty-five miles from Louisville opposite the southern boundary. They had been taken through the whole state.

"The gauntlet! Cracky! We've got to run the gauntlet!"

"Golly! The same as any prisoners!"

"Don't you show the white feather, any of you. Keep together and run like sixty."

"And don't you tumble over again, either," they warned, of Fat Bear. "If you're down once, you'll get licked proper."

"Make for the council house. That's the way to do."

At the "prisoners' "whoop the village people had boiled out of their woven-reed houses. One of the Indians had hurried in advance, to tell the news, and the gauntlet lines were forming. It was to be a gauntlet by boys for other boys! There were only Indian boys in the lines—they were armed with sticks and switches and stones and small tomahawks and handfuls of salt and dirt (for the eyes), the same as warriors and squaws.

The five captives were halted. They had been greeted with yells and screeches; but they set their lips and clenched their hands, and stood ready. What their brothers and fathers and grandfathers had done, they could do. It was quite an honor, to be made to run the gauntlet, like men.

The littler Linn was shoved forward, to lead the race. He was the smallest, and would hold the other boys back—and he had been the spunkiest, all the way up, because he had a quick temper and was prompt to fight. The Indians had liked to tease him.

"Go!" shouted the chief Indian. "Run!"

They ducked their heads, and ran. How they did run, and dodge, and scoot, in between the two lines which showered them with blows and kicks and stones and dirt! Boys against boys; that was it—and some of the Indian boys were hulking big fellows.

The five white boys did well; they were shifty and butted right on, till young Linn "got his mad up." Two-thirds of the way down a big Indian boy hit him a stunning crack full on the jaw. So what did he do but stop and whirl and with a straight left-hander knock the boy sprawling.

This was contrary to gauntlet rules. Anybody running the gauntlet was fair prey to everybody else, but he couldn't strike back. Now the warriors who were watching the fun doubled over, laughing at the way the small boy had bowled the large boy over. The Indian boy's mother and the other women shrieked angrily.

"Kill him! Kill the little Long Knife demon!" Young Linn—he burst through the line and ran for

life, to the council house. The lines broke, and yelling, chased after. It was to be blood for blood—and more than a mere bloody nose, too.

He got there first. He was a sight. His shock of hair had fallen over his forehead, his eyes glared—he had put his back to the council-house post, planted his foot, his bands were up, and he dared the whole crowd of them. He was so mad he could scarcely see. He looked dangerous for even a ten-year-old.

The largest of the Indian boys rushed him, to down him. Young Linn was left-handed—and a left-hander is a bad proposition, in a fight. "Smack!" Over went the Indian boy; Kentucky Linn was right on top of him in an instant, kicking and pounding and clawing him until he howled.

The warriors were highly pleased. They formed a ring, and danced and cheered and whooped, to see the white boy take care of himself. But the other Indian boys charged in, wild with rage. It might have gone hard with Master Linn had not his four partners joined the fray. Then there was a lively fracas. It was Kentucky against the world. Fat Bear, Buck Elk, William Wells—they all five cleared a circle. The Indian boys large and small toppled right and left—did not know how to use their fists, tried in vain with clubs and rocks, were sent flying every time they dived to grapple, staggered away with bloody noses and swollen eyes; and pretty soon they had enough and to spare.

All this time the men were whooping and yelling, praising the white boys and urging the red boys to thresh them. Now they drove the remaining Indian boys away, and carried the five Kentuckians into the council-house, patting them on the back as heroes.

"We're goin' to be adopted," gasped Little Fat Bear.

"I don't care," wheezed Buck Elk. "Say! Did you see how little Jack uses his left hand?"

"Well, we told him to hold his temper. He'd like to have got killed," complained Fat Bear. "But we licked 'em, anyhow."

"You bet we did!"

They were adopted. All the warriors were eager to have one of the fighting young Long Knives. At last the matter was settled; each boy went into a different family, to be an Indian. But they had to bid good-by to William Wells; his new father lived in another village. He was taken away, and they did not see him again—at least, not for several years. He stayed with the Miamis for eight years; was named Black Snake; grew up with them; lived in Chief Little Turtle's town near the Fort Wayne, Indiana, of to-day; married Chief Little Turtle's sister; and was much thought of by the Miamis. Then in 1793 he left, in the open, saying that he was going back to the white people and help the American army in its fights with the red people. He could not fire upon his own nation.

The four other boys remained here, in this town. They were well treated. They had shown their spunk; they were not cowards. The Indian boys made friends with them. They all played and hunted and fished together, and soon it was hard to tell the white boys from the Indian boys. But the four did not intend to be Indians any longer than they had to. They wanted to go home. It was the kind of vacation they had not figured upon spending—and yet it was fun, if only their folks could know. They learned a lot that they would not have learned in school. Still, they rather preferred school, after all; and home.

The spring passed; and the lively pleasant summer. Indian boys do not work. They are free to loaf or hunt, and train for warriors. Only the girls work, so as to make women who will work.

In the crisp fall all the men except the very old left on a grand hunt, to bring back meat and prepare for winter. The old women and girls and little children remained in the town with the old men. The four young white Indians had not been taken, either. They had to stay. They were thought not to be old enough, yet.

"I reckon this is our best chance to escape," said Buck Elk, when he might.

Little Fat Bear nodded.

"We'll plan and watch sharp. If one goes, all 'll have to go, though. No lone trail."

"Of course. We won't desert each other."

"But we've got to wait for a clear field. It's a pesky long way home."

"That's so. Just the same, we can make it if we have a good start."

They told the other boys, and they all lay low, waiting and scheming.

"We're going fishing to-morrow," finally announced Buck Elk, to Fat Bear. "Want to?" And he winked.


"All of us. Old White Eagle and Singing Bird are going with us, to clean the fish. But that doesn't matter."

They were the old father and mother who lived in the same family with Buck Elk.

"Time's getting awful short," Fat Bear mused. "But maybe we can try something."

With wrinkled White Eagle and Singing Bird scuttling close behind, they went fishing in the river below the village. They had not said it to each other, but they hoped never to come back. They must make a break for liberty soon. The warriors might return within a week. The forest beckoned close at hand. And southward, far, far southward, their real home called to them. They had been gone almost eight months, but it felt like an age.

"To-night, huh?" murmured Buck Elk, as he and Little Fat Bear fished together, and the two old Indians drowsed in the shade, or wove baskets of reeds.


"Light out from camp while they're asleep. May, not get another chance. That's why I told 'em we'd like to stay all night, so as to get plenty fish."

"They'll signal help and trail us. Some of those old men can travel heap fast."

"So can we. We'll have a head start, and I don't believe there's anybody in the village who can catch us."

"All right. They can't do any more than beat us if they do catch us. We'll tell the other fellows."

They sidled along, until they could tell their partners.

"I'll go," Fat Bear's spunky brother agreed at once. "If they try to catch us we'll fight 'em off with clubs and rocks. Who's afraid of the old men? We'll make their tongues hang out."

"I'll go, you bet," agreed the fourth, also. "My

folks need me. I'm sick of playing Injun."

"Well, we'll all lie down to sleep; and in the middle

of the night I'll wake you up," proposed Buck Elk. "Sure?"

"Sure. Now don't let's talk any more."

At dark the camp went to bed. The two old Indians were sound sleepers. About midnight Buck Elk softly turned; he had not slept a wink. He nudged the next boy, the next boy nudged the next, and the nudge was passed on. They softly slipped, one after another, from their blankets. The two old Indians never stirred. In the star-light the four hastily grabbed what food they could; and leaving White Eagle and Singing Bird lying there they tiptoed away, on their silent moccasins, into the forest.

Fat Bear led. He was a good woodsman. Soon they ran; and they ran and walked fast until daylight, traveling with their backs to the North Star. Then

the sun guided them, until about noon, when they had to stop and rest.

"How far, you think?" panted the fourth boy. "Twenty-five miles, I guess. We'd better cover our trail and hide. Come on. Follow me," bade crafty Fat Bear.

They stepped on rocks and logs, swung from tree to tree, and dropped down among bushes. That was an anxious afternoon. One kept watch while the others slept. They took turns watching and listening. They heard not a sound of the pursuit. Except for the birds and squirrels the forest was quiet. Their hearts beat hopefully. But of course tottering old men on the trail was a different matter from that of swift, crafty warriors.

In the dusk they started on again, to travel all night. After this they traveled by night and slept by day. That was the proper way. They knew how to do, as well as men. They trudged down hill and up, scrambled through ravines, crossed brush and forest and swamps, they waded and swam, they ate the ripe berries and nuts of the October crop, managed to kill a squirrel and rabbit, now and again, with a rock or a club; their buckskin clothes and moccasins were worn to tatters, but they slept warm in sunny nooks: and all the nights they were pushing steadily on southward for the Ohio River and Louisville.

A journey like this, of over two hundred miles afoot, making their own trail, avoiding the Indian villages and hunters and outpacing the pursuit, and living off the country, getting food by their wits, no boys ever had achieved before.

It took them three weeks. In November they emerged upon the north shore of the Ohio, squarely opposite Louisville. They had struck their goal exactly. They shouted and waved, but nobody would come for them, and the rapids of the falls ran swiftly between the two shores. They could see people gazing; the people saw them.

"They think us Injuns," Fat Bear gasped, at last. "Blame it, guess we do look some like Injuns, in our rigs."

"Shucks! How'll we get over? We can't swim."

"And Injuns are on our trail. You know we sighted smoke last evening. We don't want to be caught here."

"We'll go up above the rapids and make a raft. Quick! We can manage with this knife."

They hurried. They went up the shore about six miles, and worked hard gathering logs, and cutting brush and vines with their one knife. They feared that they'd hear the Indians any moment. The warriors were hot after them. Whew! And there was home, just across!

The raft, when finished, did not amount to much.

"It won't hold all of us," puffed Fat Bear. "You get on. I'm the heaviest. I'm the best swimmer, too. You-all paddle, and I'll swim alongside."

They tumbled aboard, with branches for oars. Little Fat Bear shoved off and began to swim and push. They had no time to spare


Shrill whoops sounded. The Miamis were on the fresh trail.


Fat Bear kicked and pushed mightily; the others dug with their boughs. The clumsy raft moved slowly, and was carried down stream by the current. Would they never get away from shore? Would the Miamis swim after them, or shoot? They made a good target.

"Look! Somebody's coming to meet us!"

That was so. From the opposite shore a boat—two boats had put out. The raft was drifting badly, but the danger shore gradually receded, the rescue boats neared, and the home shore grew plainer. Swimming, Little Fat Bear was getting blue around the mouth, his face was pale and pinched. The November water had chilled him to the bone.

"Can you keep going"

"Yes, I'm all right. You keep paddling."

"There they are!"

The Miamis had burst out upon the shore behind. They yelled furiously, and shook their fists—but they yelled and threatened in vain. Now they dared not follow farther. The boats from the Kentucky shore took the paddlers off the raft; dragged Little Fat Bear from the cold water. His teeth chattered. He could not manage himself. He had not been taken out any too soon.

"Who are you, anyhow? White boys? Where from?"

"We're the boys that the Miamis stole from the Pope settlement last February—all except Billy Wells. He's with 'em still."

"What! How'd you get away? Your folks had give you up. I declare! Made off alone, did you?"

"Clear from the Little Calumet River. Been three weeks."

"Whoopee! Think o' that! Guess we'd better take you down to Louisville, soon as we can. Colonel Pope's moved into town, 'count o' Injuns. He'll be powerful glad to see you, and so will your other folks."

And that proved true. Colonel Pope met them at the landing. Little Fat Bear was carried ashore, to be rubbed and dosed. And from this time on for many a week there certainly were four boy heroes in the Louisville district, with "tall" stories to be told over and over again.

Sometimes they wondered how William Wells, "Black Snake," was getting along; but they knew that he was all right.