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Captive!
The Story of David Ogden
and the Iroquois


Excerpt

(From Chapter 3: 1777 - 1780: The Cherry Valley Massacre)

After some time had passed, Ogden began to shiver slightly from the cold. He huddled down beside the trunk of the large tree where he had been posted, unwrapped his blanket roll, and wrapped the heavy frayed cloth around his shoulders. He was careful to position himself so he still had a clear view in every direction. Although it was only the middle of the afternoon, it was getting colder, and hunkering down into his heavy woolen shirt and breeches gave Ogden a false sense of warmth. He saw that a few of the other guards were doing the same. Corporal Betts noticed too that many of the men in his guard squad were beginning to squirm about and shiver from the cold, but he didn't admonish them since they seemed to be maintaining their vigil.

The neat stacks of wood that dotted the woodcutters' trail would be picked up on another day when the snow-pack was hard enough for horses and sleighs to gather it and return it to the fort. The woodcutters were obviously weary from their labors. All idle conversations had ceased. Even Moffat had stopped grumbling. It had grown very quiet. The only sounds were the rhythmic chop - chop - chop of the axes, and an occasional crunch from a break in the snow's crust when somebody shuffled his snowshoes about.

The guards continued to watch and listen, barely aware of the gentle whoot-whoo-whoo, whoot-whoo-whoo of an owl in the distance. Over the past few hours the small troop of woodcutters and guards had gradually drifted eastward as they downed the trees, chopped and split them into firewood, and stacked it. In so moving, they had positioned themselves so there was a small, thickly wooded hummock between them and the fort off in the distance. There was comfort and security in watching the blue-gray smoke from the fort's distant fires corkscrew up into the sky; but the troop had not noticed the gradual change in the landscape, and the fact that the smoke was now obscured by the hummock and its cover of trees.

Sergeant Williamson took notice of the tree-studded hill that blocked their view toward the fort; and he had probably heard the cry of the owl too, an unlikely sound in broad daylight. He told Corporal Betts he was going to take a walk around the hill to check things out. His experience told him that something wasn't quite right, and he warned Corporal Betts to make sure his sentinels were alert.

Williamson had only completed about a quarter of his intended route when the first shot rang out sharply. From the safety of the trees on the hill came the rattle of musketry accompanied by bright orange flashes of exploding powder. Lead balls rained down all around the small troop of sentinels and woodcutters, kicking up glistening fingers of ice from the ground. The volley of balls was only "to intimidate them," according to historian Jeptha Simms, and it probably worked. However, it was immediately followed by the terrifying yells, shrieks and howls of nearly two hundred Indians and fifty Tories, all of which added significantly to the soldiers' fear. The raiding party poured down the hillside in the odd, choppy gait required to run in snowshoes. Heading the party was the notorious Iroquois chief Joseph Brant himself, although Ogden and the other seventeen men did not realize it at the moment.

About halfway down the hillside, a few of the Indians spotted Sergeant Williamson who had broken away from the rest of the detail. Williamson was now sprinting as fast as his snowshoes would allow toward the fort, and by the time he was discovered he had put a healthy distance between himself and the marauding party. Nevertheless, a number of the braves and a couple of green-coated Tory Rangers gave chase, shooting wildly at the fleeing man in hopes of stopping him before he could alert the fort. But Williamson's luck held out and he was not hit. Eventually, sensing the futility of their mission, the Indians and Tories turned back.