Boys' Book of Frontier Fighters - Edwin Sabin

Odds Against Higgins the Ranger

And his Rescue by Heroine Pursley

Chief Little Turtle and his brother chiefs of eleven other tribes in the Northern Confederacy signed a treaty of peace with the United States, in August of 1795. This opened the way for the white settlers. They crossed the Ohio and spread westward through southern Ohio, Indiana and Illinois, to the Mississippi River.

But the Indians clung to their old hopes that a portion at least of their lands between the Great Lakes and the Ohio would be left to them. In the beginning of the new century, 1800, there arose among the restless Shawnees a medicine-man styled the Prophet and the Open Door. He aimed to band all the Indians of north, south, east and far west into a vast league that, working like one nation, should some day rule the country. His messengers traveled widely, bearing his instructions. He asserted that he spoke directly from the Great Spirit.

His brother, Tecumseh or Shooting Star, aided him. Open Door counseled peace until the Indians had grown strong by right living. Shooting Star planned for war, as soon as the league had been formed. The United States Government knew the schemes of both, and tried to stop the work. The two brothers refused to obey. Governor William Henry Harrison, of Indiana Territory, struck first.

He marched from Vincennes and destroyed the town of the Prophet. The second war with Great Britain, the War of 1812, was about to break, and Tecumseh went to Canada and joined the British.

A great many Indians enlisted under their red general, Tecumseh. The Potawatomis, Miamis, Ottawas, Winnebagos, Kickapoos, the Sioux of present Minnesota and the Sacs of the Rock River at the Mississippi in Illinois, seized the hatchet and followed him. In the south the Red Sticks war party of the Creeks arose. And on the new frontier of the northwest, from the Ohio to the Mississippi, the American settlers again felt keen alarm.

Tecumseh's star sank, and he with it, at the battle of the Thames, October 5, 1813, when General William Henry Harrison and his three thousand crushed the two thousand British and Indians. The red army was shattered; the chiefs and warriors hastened home as fast as they could, by secret trails; some pretended that they had not dropped their blankets in war, others foraged against the settlements, to get what plunder they might while the whites were fighting.

The Government and the settlers had erected a number of small blockhouses north of the Ohio, through Indiana and Illinois, to keep the Indians off, if possible. One block-house had been located in Bond County, half-way down southwestern Illinois, or about eight miles south of present Greenville.

In the summer of 1814 First Lieutenant Nathaniel Jurney and a dozen United States Rangers were stationed here, upon the broad Illinois prairie dotted with timber and cut by streams. Lieutenant Jurney had been captain in the Illinois Rangers raised for service upon the frontier; but a year ago he had been appointed first lieutenant in the Government Rangers, of the army.

The Indians to be feared hereabouts were roving Sacs, Potawatomis and Winnebagos from the north; yes, and the Prairie Kickapoos from the Wabash River on the east.

However, the block-house was not a very stirring place; and when in the evening of August 30 the Lieutenant Jurney men saw a bunch of Indians reconnoitering at a short distance out, they had high hopes of a little "brush" in the morning.

They rode through the gate before daylight, to surprise the Indian camp; but ere sun-up they had been surprised, themselves, on the edge of some timber. At the first volley the lieutenant had been badly wounded, three of the men had fallen, and far out-numbered the six other men, taking the lieutenant, had raced madly for safety in the fort.

The smoke hung so thickly in the still, damp air that they got away without trouble—all except Ranger Higgins.

He had not gone far. Instead of making to the fort he had sprung from his horse and "treed" (the Kentucky way); and in the smoke cover he had stayed for „one more pull at the redskins." That was rash, but plucky. He had often said that he did not fear "trash" like the "beggarly Kickapoos, Saukees, and such." Kentucky was his home, and he had been reared on stories of the Shawnees, Wyandots and Miamis.

So he waited, behind his tree, until the smoke thinned. Soon he glimpsed several Indians; he took aim, fired, killed one, reloaded, and leaped upon his horse. The Indians had not seen him; he would reach the fort and report that he had accomplished a little, anyway.

Just as he tightened rein a voice stopped him. It seemed to come from underfoot.

"Tom! Say, you aren't going to leave me V'

That was Joe Burgess, a comrade, trying to crawl to him.

"No, I won't. Come on, Joe. Get aboard. Quick! We'll make in, double."

"Can't do it, Tom. Leg's busted."

Joe's ankle had been broken by a bullet. Tom, a fine big fellow, was off in a second, picked Joe up bodily, carried him to the horse—and away the horse bolted, without either of them. It had smelled Indians.

"By ginger, but that's a mean trick," Tom rapped. "Never mind. You make a three-legged crawl of it; keep to the tall grass and hug the ground like a snake. I'll cover your trail and fight the Injuns off."

A brave man, he let Joe disappear in the tall grass of the prairie. First he thought that he'd follow. But that wouldn't do. The smoke was drifting slowly and clearing; the Indians would see him—would see the trail, anyway, and kill Joe if they didn't kill him, himself.

He dived for a patch of brush, to leave a trail of his own. Rah! Injuns! There was a large fat fellow searching about, on one side, and there were two others between him and the fort. He'd better draw them after him; maybe he could string them out and fight them separately. That would give Joe a good chance. He jumped from the brush patch and ran for the willows of a little creek. The fat Indian saw him and with a whoop ran in pursuit.

Suddenly his leg went bad, almost throwing him down. He had been wounded in the first "scrimmage" and had not known it. Pshaw! He'd never outfoot the Indian, to the willows. He turned, with lifted gun. The fat Indian dodged briskly. That occurred several times. The two other Indians were now coming, also.

"If I don't get shet o' this fat rascal I'm gone 'coon," muttered Tom. "But, dod rat him, he so lively I can't lay bead on his greasy hide! I'll have to draw his fire, Kentucky way."

Daniel Boone and other Long Hunters of Kentucky knew how to dodge Indians' bullets. They would wait for the fall of the hammer and the flash of the priming in the pan, and would spring aside before the ball reached them. It was a great trick, but it took a quick eye and steady nerve.

Ranger Higgins decided to try it. He did not dare to use his own load. He watched the fat Indian, let him take aim—and at the spurt from the hammer he whirled. But he was too slow. The ball struck him in the thigh and knocked him down.

He bounded up. The fat Indian was reloading and the two other Indians were running in. Tom ran, likewise, as fast as he could, which was not very fast, now. The Indians leveled their guns. Over his shoulder he watched; and when he thought their fingers were pressing the triggers he dropped. He dropped too soon! As he staggered up they fired, then; every bullet hit him! Down he went, a second time, with four bullets in his body, and with a bad leg besides.

Up he got. He was a hard man to kill. The three Indians came on with spears and knives, to finish him. But Tom did not propose to be finished. He threatened them with his gun, and they dared not rush in. The fat Indian at last determined to take a chance. Perhaps the white man's gun was not loaded. He charged, with his spear; Ranger Higgins had to shoot, and shoot he did.

That left two Indians for him to face with his crippled leg and an empty gun. He worked hard to reload before they could reach him—but here they were, prodding at him with their lances. He had more than he could do to ward off the darting points. The heads were of thin hoop-iron, and the shafts were of flimsy cane, so that whenever the weapons penetrated to a bone they bent; but be was being slashed to ribbons.

One of the Indians grew tired of such slow killing, and stepping back a pace threw his tomahawk. That was more quickly done, and resulted, as Ranger Higgins afterward said, "in a close shave!" The whirling blade sliced off his ear, and part of his cheek clear beyond the point of his jaw.

Down went Tom Higgins. The other Indian jumped him, to prod again. Doubled on his back, in a ball, Tom fought with hands and feet, like a 'coon indeed. He got a grip on the lance; he hung on, the Indian tugged, and dragged him to his feet. Tom let go, so that the Indian staggered back; picked up his musket, smashed the Indian's head—and broke the gun at the grasp between stock and barrel! Was there ever such luck!

The third Indian rushed, with a knife. He was only one, but Tom was weak from loss of blood, and other Indians might arrive at any moment. Ranger Higgins parried with his rifle-barrel, found it too heavy, drew his own knife, and gallantly closed. They locked and swayed and panted and stabbed.

The Indian proved much the stronger, but he had no liking for this knife work. He hurled Tom sprawling, and hastened to a rifle. After all, a bullet was the surest weapon against this kind of a white man.

Up rose Ranger Higgins, once more—gory but not defeated. He was chopped and gashed from head to foot, had three balls in his thighs and one in another part of his body, and a crippled lower leg. Now he, too, sought for a gun, and hoped that he might load first.

All this amazing lop-sided duel had occupied but little time—just long enough for Joe Burgess to escape into the safety zone of the block-house. The smoky fog had been split by the first beams of the sun, and much of the struggle had taken place in full view of Ranger Higgins' comrades inside the fort gate.

They were six men and one woman—Mrs. Pursley, the wife of Ranger Pursley. What could they few do? Tom! Hurrah for Tom! See! He was still on his feet—he was still at it! The brave fellow! But how could they help him? The main band of Indians were in sight; the block-house, and the wounded lieutenant, must not be left unprotected

Mrs. Pursley stormed.

"Out with you? Are you men, to let a comrade be butchered?" She appealed to her husband: "Are you a coward, too? Did I marry a coward?"

"We'd save Tom if we could, but the Injuns are ten to one. We don't dare leave."

A cry welled.

"Tom's down again! He's fainted. There's the end to him."

"No, it isn't." Mrs. Pursley tore the gun from her husband's hand. "The more shame on you, to let a defenceless man lie. But I'll not see so fine a fellow as Tom Higgins lost for lack of a little help."

And before they could stop her she was galloping through the gate and into the prairie.

"After her, boys! That's too much to stand. Never mind the fort."

They raced in pursuit. The one Indian was searching for his gun; the other Indians, coming in, halted, confused. Mrs. Pursley was there first—already on the ground and bending over Ranger Tom, trying to lift him to her saddle. They had no time to waste. One helped her—slung Tom across in front of a saddle; and fighting a rear action they gained the block-house without a wound.

Tom Higgins was the hero, but Mrs. Pursley was the heroine.

Two of his bullets were taken out, and he got well, except for a limp and considerable "botheration" from a third bullet. After the war he made a day's ride to find a doctor and have the ball extracted.

"What's your fee, Doc?"

"It'll be fifty dollars."

"What? Not much, by golly! That's more than half a year's pension. For less I'll fetch it out, myself."

He wrathfully rode home again; the ball seemed to have worked toward the surface—yes, he could see it, away in.

"Old woman, hand me my razor, will you?" he bade. "And jest put your fingers on this hole and stretch it."

Without a quiver he cut into his thigh, put in his two thumbs, "and," he said, "I flirted that ball out as slick as a whistle, at the cost of nary a cent!"

In his later years Veteran Ranger Tom Higgins was assistant doorkeeper for the Illinois legislature. His sturdy form and the story of his fight with the three Indians when he covered the escape of Comrade Burgess made him a famous character.