5/24/13

Pennsylvania To Kentucky In A Flatbottom Boat

Harry Smith was a Pennsylvania farmer. He was living in a time of new beginnings for those who were tough enough and willing to brave the hardships and dangers of 'The Great Westward Movement'.  Harry and his brother had heard about the rich farmland ready for the taking and the newly opened route that would take them down the Ohio River.  The were convinced they could navigate a Broadhorn Flatbottom Boat and began their trip where the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers formed the northeastern mouth of the Ohio River in Pittsburg and flowed in a southwesterly direction to the Mississippi. 

Harry Smith, his wife Nancy, their two daughters Ann and Margaret most likely were part of a small contingent of farmers who contracted one of the larger flatboats referred to as Arks.  The Ark Barges were built for navagating big rivers like the Ohio and Mississippi and carried two or more families traveling West with their farm animals.  The trip took a month or longer depending on the final destination, the number of times they banked for supplies, and how often they stopped to forage feed for the animals.  Then there was the ever present danger of encountering Indian raiding parties.  It was on a banking for the cattle to feed that the Smith Party came under attack.

Not far from the Falls of the Ohio River at Fort Washington (now Cincinnati), the Smith Ark poled over to an embankment that led to a grassy pasture.  The cattle were hered to the field while Harry and his brother scythed and bundled grass for storage.  When time came to round up the cattle, Harry noticed the milk cow was missing.  He followed the sound of her bell coming from the wooded area just beyond the pasture.   To late, he realized that the Indians had taken the cow and were using the bell to lure him closer to the woods where he would not be able to warn his family and the crew on the boat.  He was shot and killed while running back to the boat.  The warning he shouted gave the crew just enough time to push off the bank and fight off the Indian's from boarding the barge.

Nancy and her daughters were tending to housekeeping chores atop the covered compartments when she heard her husbands shouts.  She instantly knew they were under attack and threw her body over her daughters to protect them, all the while screaming her husbands name.   After the attack, Nancy and her daughters were devastated at the loss of their husband and father, but had no choice but to continue downstream to Louisville where they thought they would be safe.  Louisville had been under attack and all river boats were routed across the Ohio to Clarksville and the fort.

Fearing for their lives, Nancy and her daughters quickly left the barge with the rest of the Smith's and the crew, leaving their belongings and animals on the boat.  Before they could get off the river bank, they were attacked again.  Nancy and her younger daughter Margaret were able to escape the onslaught as the soliders from the fort arrived.   As soon as they reached safety, Nancy noticed that Ann was not with them.  She tried to run back, but was stopped. 

All through the siege, Nancy prayed  that if her daughter was dead that her death at the hands of the Indians be quick and merciful, as she was remembering the accounts she had read about another young girl's horrifying death not so many years earlier.  The story of  Jane McCrea had been published in the Pennsylvania Ledger and it was all Nancy could think of as she waited for the fighting to end. 

As Nancy and Margaret clung to each other and prayed, shouts could be heard to open the gate.  A soldier was running toward the fort and not far behind, a band of savages, their weapons raised.   Thrown over his shoulder was the lifeless figure of Ann Smith.

As soon as he was through the gate, he collapsed.  Nancy too, fell to the ground and took her daughter in her arms.  Anns face and strands of hair around her face were covered and soaked in blood.  As Nancy touched her daughters head to pull her close for a hint of a breath, she felt a mixture of blood and dirt, and heard Margaret scream,

 "She has been Scalped!"

1 comment:

Wendy said...

Interesting historic background. Exciting story. Tragic story.