Monday, November 23, 2015

The Price of Vengeance

The Battle of Point Pleasant, October 10, 1774
This was personal. Captain James Ward sighted down the barrel of his flintlock musket at the Shawnee warrior making a dash for better cover behind a fallen chestnut. He fired his musket. The Shawnee brave lurched forward, clutching his chest. He fell short of the relative safety of the toppled chestnut tree never to rise again.

Captain Ward wasn't satisfied though. The death of one Shawnee brave was not going to atone for twenty two years of hate and a longing for vengeance. He would not be appeased until every Indian north of the Ohio was dead. This was personal.

The date was October 10, 1774. The place was Point Pleasant in, what is today, West Virginia, at the confluence of the Ohio and Great Kanawha Rivers. In 1774, this was all part of a wilderness frontier people referred to as the "Middle Ground" - a mysterious land west of Fort Pitt along the Ohio, where few white men ever went and returned to tell about it. Men like Daniel Boone, David Duncan, and Simon Butler were exceptions though, and were largely responsible for opening up the Ohio for settlement. Soon, wilderness settlements started springing up between the Cumberland and Ohio Rivers in the sacred hunting grounds the Indians called "Can-tuc-kee". Here, anyone could come to hunt, but no one, red or white, could take up permanent residence.

As more and more settlers pushed deeper into the sacred hunting grounds, establishing wilderness outposts like Harodsburg, Boonesboro, and Logan's Fort, hostilities escalated between the Indians and the whites. Eventually, a frontier militia was formed to deal decisively with the problem. It is this militia, composed of approximately eight hundred men under the command of Colonel Andrew Lewis, that, on October 10, 1774 is now engaged in a point blank confrontation with about one thousand Shawnee warriors led by Cornstalk, the principal chief of all of the Shawnees.

But our story is not so much about the battle of Point Pleasant as it is about two of it's participants. So, let's get back to Captain Ward.

As I said, this was personal. With each flash of powder in his flash pan, fifty four year old James Ward thought about that terrible day twenty two years ago when Indians raided his homestead, burning it to the ground, killing his wife and stealing his young son John. The memory of his lost family is probably what motivated Captain Ward to distinguish himself so well during the battle, as he exacted his revenge against one Shawnee brave after another. It was probably also the memory of their faces that was the last to float across his consciousness. Poking his head up over the log behind which he was concealed, a well aimed rifle ball caught him right between the eyes. Two days later, Captain James Ward departed this life with his vengeance unfulfilled.

Not far away, White Wolf, a thirty three year old Shawnee brave, reloaded his musket. He had built up a reputation among his people as being deadly accurate with a flintlock, preferring that particular weapon over his tomahawk or bow and arrows. He was very calm in battle. Every action was precise and deliberate, and every shot either killed or wounded an enemy. He would patiently wait until one got careless and exposed himself, sticking his head out from behind cover. Then White Wolf would shoot and that would be the end of the careless white man.

For White Wolf, this was also a personal battle. For as long as he could remember, the white man had been stealing the land, killing off the game, breaking treaties, and pushing the red man farther and farther west.

"No more", thought White Wolf, as he aimed his musket and fired again. Too many bad memories, and for White Wolf, memories are what bothered him the most. Particularly, vague memories of his childhood. Memories that were more like a dream than anything else, and a bad dream at that. Foggy. Unclear. Uncertain. A dream of people with no faces. A dream of names and places that meant nothing to him, but which he felt must somehow be important to him. A dream of a time when he was very young. A time before he was a warrior. A time even before he was a Shawnee. A time, long ago, before he was called White Wolf. A dream of a time when he was called by another name - John Ward.