Boys' Book of Frontier Fighters - Edwin Sabin

In the Stockade at Wheeling

and the Great Leap of Major McColloch

While from Virginia, North Carolina and soon from Tennessee the American settlers were pushing on through Kentucky for the closed trail of the broad Ohio River, farther north another outpost had been placed at the river itself.

This was the Zane settlement away up in the pan-handle of North-Western Virginia; to-day the city of Wheeling, West Virginia.

The Zanes, first there, were three brothers: Colonel Ebenezer, Silas and Jonathan. They all were of the roving "wild-turkey" breed, and bolder spirits never wore buckskin or sighted a rifle. A fourth brother, Isaac, had been taken by the Indians when nine years old, and had chosen to stay with them. He married a sister of a Wyandot chief; rose to be a chief himself, but never lifted the hatchet against the whites. On the contrary, he helped them when he might.

It was in the summer of 1769 that the three Zanes led a party from present Moorfield, on the South Branch of the Potomac River in eastern West Virginia, to explore northwest into a country where Ebenezer already had spent a season. They reached the Ohio and looked down upon the shining river, and the lovely vales surrounding, where Wheeling up-sprang.

Ebenezer Zane, then twenty-three years old, built a cabin on a knoll near the river above the mouth of Wheeling Creek. The Zane family home was here long after Wheeling became a town. Jonathan lived with Eb; Silas put up a cabin beside the creek. The next year they went back for their wives and children; other settlers returned with them. Among these were John Wetzel, whose five sons, Lewis, Jacob, Martin, John and George grew to be such frontier fighters that Lewis was called the Boone of West Virginia; there were the McCollochs—John, William and Samuel—whose sister Elizabeth had married Eb Zane; and another of the Zanes, Andrew.

Those were days of large families.

Up and down the east bank of the Ohio, north and south of Wheeling Creek, the number of cabins gradually increased, until in the year of the "three bloody sevens" they numbered some twenty-five or thirty.

They were scattered here and there under the protection of a fort that had been built three years before by the Government. At first it was named Fort Fincastle, after Fincastle County of Virginia; the name had been changed to Fort Henry, in honor of the great Patrick Henry, orator and governor of the State of Virginia; but it was known also as Wheeling Fort.

And considerable of a fort it was, too—ranking second to only the famed Fort Pitt at Pittsburgh. It stood near the river edge of a flat bluff about a quarter of a mile up the Ohio from the mouth of Wheeling Creek. Its stockade of sharpened white-oak pickets seventeen feet high enclosed more than half an acre, with small block-houses or bastions in the corners, and with a commandant's log house of two stories, in the middle.

Inland, or east from it, there arose a high hill—Wheeling Hill. Between the fort and the base of the hill were the Ebenezer Zane cabin and the other cabins, on the bottom-lands, forming Wheeling.

To this time young Wheeling had been little bothered by the Indians. But the Ohio River was the border country; it flowed through a No-Man's Land. On the east and south the white people were pressing toward it, on the west and north the red people were seeking to keep its banks clear. The struggle waged back and forth. All the territory of present Ohio was red, and in Ohio and adjacent Indiana the Shawnees, Miamis, Wyandot Hurons, the Mingos, the war Delawares, and such, had their principal towns. The Wheeling settlements in the pan-handle were within short striking distance of the Indian strongholds.

The War of the Revolution had been in full stride for a year. The majority of the Indians of the north-west sided with the British, in the hopes of keeping their country from the Americans. It is said that Isaac Zane, the white Wyandot, sent the word of danger to the commanding officer at Fort Pitt. At any rate, on the first day of August, 1777, Chief White-eyes the friendly Delaware appeared there with warning that the Indians of the Northern Confederacy, helped by the British, were making ready "to take Wheeling home with them."

General Edward Hand of Fort Pitt dispatched a runner to Colonel David Shepherd, of Fort Shepherd, six miles up Wheeling Creek.

"The Indians are planning to attack Wheeling. You will therefore remove your forces from Fort Shepherd and rally all the militia of your district between the Ohio and the Monongahela at Fort Henry."

No regular troops might be spared by General Washington; they were needed at the front—and these were dark days for the Buff and Blue. The home guards, or militia, needs must protect the settlements on the far border. But Fort Henry itself had no garrison of any kind. The settlers around-about were supposed to defend it when defending themselves.

Colonel David Shepherd was lieutenant in charge of the pan-handle—which at that time included a slice of Pennsylvania on the east. He had under him a number of small block-houses. From these and the settlements he summoned eleven companies of militia. He also worked hard to put Fort Henry in good repair.

Had the Indians struck at once, they might have scored heavily, in spite of the fighting Zanes, Wetzels, McCollochs, and all. But they delayed, and by the last week of August Colonel Shepherd reported to General Hand:

"We are well prepared. Fort Henry is Indian proof."

He relaxed, and dismissed nine of the militia companies, so that only two remained: the companies of Captain Joseph Ogle and Captain Samuel Mason, composed mainly of Wheeling men. There were about sixty, in all.

The night of the last day of August Captain Ogle returned to the fort from a scout with twelve of his men. He had been watching the trails.

"Never a sign of Injun anywhere around," he and Martin Wetzel and the others declared.

The warning by White-eyes seemed to have been a false alarm, or else the Indians had learned of the preparations and had backed out.

That very night, however, the Indians cunningly crossed the Ohio below the fort, instead of above; there were almost four hundred of them—Shawnees, Wyandots, Mingos, accompanied by a white man interpreter. They saw the lights in the fort, and planned their favorite morning surprise instead of a direct attack.

So they formed two lines from the river to a bend in the creek, facing the fort and surrounding the settlers' cabins. A corn field hid them. The main road from the fort down through the corn field led right between the two lines. Then they posted six warriors, who should show themselves and decoy the garrison out.

Some of the militia-men were in the fort; others were with their families in the cabins, for after the first alarm the cabins had been used again. Wheeling slept well this night of August 31, with no inkling that three hundred and eighty or more red enemies were occupying its own corn fields.

A heavy fog dimmed the sunrise. Andrew Zane, Samuel Tomlinson, John Boyd (a mere lad) and a negro slave started out to hunt the horses of James McMechen, who had decided to leave. All unsuspecting, they passed right through the first line of Indians. They met the six decoys.

For a few minutes there was lively work. A single shot brought poor young Boyd to the ground; in making for the fort Andrew Zane leaped a terrific distance (the stories say, seventy feet) down a cliff bank; but the six Indians did not pursue far, none of the other Indians took part, and Andrew Zane, Samuel Tomlinson and the negro reached safety.

"How many out there, Andy'?"

"Six is all we counted. We saw no sign of more," panted Andrew Zane.

"By thunder, we can't let Boyd lie unavenged, without a try. That's beyond human nature. With Colonel Shepherd's permission I'll take some men and shake the rascals up," Captain Mason exclaimed.

Out he marched, with fourteen of his company. The six Indians decoyed them on. Those scores of fierce eyes that had been peering from trees and corn-stalks, waiting for the morning to break and for this very sally to occur, focused on the sight.

Suddenly the war-whoop rang. Behind, and on either flank of the Captain Mason party the painted scalps and faces of the Indians rose above the tassels and brush—their muskets belched smoke and lead through the fog.

Wellnigh by the one volley two-thirds of the men fell; the others turned in retreat. Soon it become every man for himself. William Shepherd, son of Colonel Shepherd, almost gained the stockade. Shelter beckoned, faintly seen. But his foot caught in a grape-vine, down he pitched, head-long, and a war-club finished him. Captain Mason and his sergeant burst through the Indian line, and raced up the slope, for the protection of the loop-holes. The captain had been twice wounded, and had lost his rifle.

Midway, the sergeant dropped. Captain Mason paused for a moment, to help him.

"No use, Cap. I've got to stay. Take my gun and save yourself. Better one, here, than two."

It had to be. Captain Mason took the gun. Without a weapon, the brave and crippled sergeant died like a hero.

An Indian, tomahawk in hand, pursued the captain close. Captain Mason sensed the lifted hatchet poised to split his head. He was too weak to run farther—he whirled, to grapple. He had not noticed that the sergeant's rifle was loaded. By a vigorous shove he pushed the Indian backward, down hill, and the tomahawk blade was buried in the ground. The gun! It was loaded and capped! He leveled and fired just in time, and the Indian, at the very muzzle, fell dead.

The captain made onward. He concealed himself under a large felled tree; remained there for the rest of the day and into the night.

The people of the cabins and the fort had heard the fracas out in the fog. They could see little. Still not knowing how many Indians there were, Captain Ogle and twelve men sallied to the reinforcement. They, too, were ambushed, and wiped out. Captain Ogle himself hid in a fence-corner, until darkness. Only Sergeant Jacob Ogle, his son, Martin Wetzel and perhaps one other man, escaped to the fort.

From the Captain Mason party only Hugh McConnell and Thomas Glenn came. Of the twenty-six men under the two captains these five, alone, ran gasping in from the deadly fog; and two had been badly wounded.

By this time the women and children, carrying the babies, and many of them still in their night-clothes, had scurried from their cabin homes into the fort. The mists were lifting; and barely had the gates of the fort been closed again when the Indian lines advanced upon the village. They appeared, marching to beat of drum, with the British flag flying; crossed the corn-field bottom-land and took possession of the village. The cabins and out-buildings swarmed with them.

From a window of a cabin near to the fort the white savage shouted a message. He promised mercy to all the people who would join the cause of their sovereign, King George; he had come to escort them safely to Detroit. And he read a proclamation from Lieutenant-Governor Henry Hamilton, the general commanding the British Northwest, offering pardon to the "rebels" who would renounce the cause of the Colonies. The people here would be allowed fifteen minutes to decide.

There were no faint hearts in Fort Henry. Colonel Ebenezer Zane replied at once.

"We have consulted our wives and children, and we all are resolved to perish, sooner than trust to your savages, or desert the cause of liberty. You may do your worst."

"Think well of that," retorted the Indian's spokesman. "I have a thousand warriors. They are rich with powder and guns furnished by their father at Detroit. Once you enrage them, I will not be able to hold them back. Then it will not be possible for you to escape. Better for you to save your wives and children by accepting the offer of the governor and yielding to your rightful king."

But a rifle bullet made him duck. The attack opened at once.

There were thirty-three men and grown boys in the fort; and as many women and children. Led by the white savage, the Indians charged the gate with battering-ram logs; the log-carriers fell, but a hundred warriors stormed the palisade and tore with their knives and tomahawks and fingers at the pickets.

From the loop-holes the long rifles cracked in a steady drum-fire. Every man and boy who could raise a muzzle aimed and fired and aimed and fired again. Every woman was busy—running bullets, filling powder flasks, loading rifles and leaning them ready for the eager, groping hands, and serving out water and food.

Two of the strongest women, Mothers Glum and Betsy Wheat, took station at loop-holes and shot the same as the men. Border women, they, who well knew the uses of a rifle.

A dummy cannon, of painted wood, had been mounted upon the flat roof of the commandant's quarters. But the Indian soon saw that it did not awaken. They laughed and jeered, and grew bolder.

Within the fort all was a reek of powder-smoke; the stout pickets quivered to the pelting balls—every loop-hole was a target. Never did a garrison work harder; there was not an idle hand, for the wounded crawled about, helping.

The Indians withdrew as quickly as they had come, and from the cover of the cabins shot furiously. In the afternoon they tried once more. They divided, and launched a heavy attack upon the south end of the fort. The garrison rushed to repel. A cry arose:

"Here! In the front! Quick!"

The attack had been a feint—battering-rams were crashing against the gates again. Back to defend the gates ran the men, and the enemy did not get in.

Toward evening the attacks lessened. The little garrison had a breathing space, sorely needed. Their faces were grimy, their eyes wearied, their rifles fouled in spite of the frequent cleanings by the women. Fortunately the fort had its own well—but how long would the ammunition and provisions last?

That proved to be a hideous night. About nine o'clock the Indians rallied, in a third attack. They fired the cabins and out-buildings before the fort; the blaze gave them light. All was pandemonium. Colonel Zane saw his home go up in flame and smoke, while the feathered, shrieking foe danced and capered and deluged the fort with lead. The whole village blazed, and the frightened cows and horses and dogs scampered in slaughter.

The fort showed no lights; the Indians' figures were outlined blackly, and the rifles of the Zanes, the Wetzels, and the others—every man a dead shot—picked them off.

So the night attacks failed. Morning brought a pleasant surprise. Colonel Andrew Swearingen, Captain Bilderdock and Private Boshears entered at the rear of the fort, having climbed up from the river. They brought the news that they had left twelve men, near by, from Fort Holliday, twenty-four miles above. But they had feared, by reason of the burning houses, that Fort Henry had been taken.

"Not yet, sir," reproved Colonel Zane. "Not while we have a bullet for a rifle."

Back went the three, to the boat, and the twelve men were brought in.

The Indians had been strangely quiet since before daylight. Had they actually quit, defeated! Who might say? It was decided to send out two scouts, to see. The scouts stole as far as the corn-field and sighted nothing but the plundered, smoking homes, the carcasses of the cattle, and the bloody trail of bodies that had been dragged off. Not a shot was fired at them.

Scarcely had they returned, hopeful, and Colonel Ebenezer Zane was about to lead out a larger force, when they all heard a cheer. They looked. Hurrah! Another company of men, on horse, were galloping across the bottom, for the top of the bluff, and the fort gates.

"It's Major McColloch! It's Sam McColloch, from Short Creek! Huzza! Huzza!"

Short Creek was a dozen miles north. The McCollochs lived there. Here they came—the Short Creek settlers, business bent.

And on a sudden, as the battered double gates of the fort swung, the Indians sprang from the very ground, and charged to cut off the galloping company. 'Twas a race for life or death. Shooting right and left, the Short Creek riders tore on. They were winning, they were winning. Major Sam McColloch veered aside, to let his men pass. He was resolved that not one should fail. It was a generous act—the act of a real captain. But he lingered too long. The Indians were upon him—they out-stripped him, as he turned late, and before his horse had caught its stride they were between him and the gates.

He wheeled around, and bending low to avoid the bullets he sped at a tangent in the opposite direction, for the timber of Wheeling Hill. The Indians afoot could not catch him, no bullet caught him; he would make it—he would make it; there he goes, up the hill. He was safe—but was he?

He had planned to reach another fort: Van Metre's Fort, a block-house beyond the hill. And he himself thought that he was safe, until, galloping more easily along the brow of the hill, he ran squarely into another band of Indians, trooping to the siege of Fort Henry.

The 'Indians recognized him. They all knew Sam McColloch and his white horse; they asked no better prize.

Major McColloch


"Sam! Now we got you, Sam!" They spread, to take him alive.

Again he wheeled. There were foes in front of him, foes closing in hot behind him, and a dusky line extending on his right. On his left the lull ended in a precipice. He chose the precipice, and with his moccasined heels hammered his horse straight for it.

Yelling gleefully, the Indians ran after. Now they had Sam.

Just as the foremost arrived at the spot where Major Sam should be at bay, they heard a crashing of brush and branches, a grinding of rock and gravel. They peered over. It was three hundred feet to the creek below—and plunging, scrambling, now on its haunches, now on its nose, the white horse was bounding, leaping, sprawling, already half way down, with the major firmly astride, reins in one hand, rifle in the other.

For one hundred feet there was a sheer drop that might have daunted even a deer. But the horse had taken it—he had struck on his feet, where the rougher slope commenced; from there he had slid, braced, and scratching fire from the rock; he was still sliding and pitching. Other Indians panted in, to peer. Presently the defiant shout of Major McColloch echoed up to them. He flourished his rifle, and splashing through the creek went clattering into the timbered flat on the other side.

Major McColloch's Leap was a famous spot through many years.

The reinforcements to the fort discouraged the Indians. It was saved. Major McColloch also had been saved, but the red enemy did get him, at last, five years later.

That was the fall of 1782. He and his brother John were looking for Indian sign, out of the same Fort Van Metre which was located east of the Short Creek settlement, over near the Monongahela River. They made a circuit west, almost down to Wheeling, and on July 30 were circuiting back by way of Short Creek, for Van Metre's again, without having discovered a single track, when from the bushes half a dozen guns opened on them.

Major Sam wilted in his seat and fell to the ground dead. John's horse crumpled under him, dead also, but he himself was wounded only by a scratch across his hip.

He saw that Sam was dead; the Indians were yelling—and as quick as thought he had sprung to his brother's horse, and was away, to give the alarm at Van Metre's. He looked back. The Indians were flocking into the trail, and one was about to scalp Sam. John drew rein, threw his rifle to his shoulder, the ball sped true. That Indian took no scalp.

John reached Van Metre's. The next day Major Sam McColloch 's body was rescued. The Indians had eaten his heart, to make them as bold, they said in after years, as he had been.