The story of the March, 1780 attack on Moses, his Father, Brother, Johan Rogers, and Peter Pence has been chronicled many times. The following version appeared in the 1858 book, Wyoming by George Peck, D.D..
Wyoming; Its History, Stirring Incidents, and Romantic Adventures
By George Peck, D.D.
Harper & Brothers, Publishers, Franklin Square, New York, 1858
THE CAPTURE AND ESCAPE OF JONAH ROGERS, MOSES VAN CAMPEN, PETER PENCE, AND ABRAM PIKE.
"To kill man-killer, man has lawful power,
But not the extended license to devour."
In the account given in the preceding section of the capture of the Bennets and Hammond, it is stated that they met a large party of Indians, led by a Tory, on their way to Wyoming. This company divided into three parties, and made their descent upon the settlers at the foot of the valley, and on the west branch. The information which they received from Mr. Bennet induced them to keep clear of the neighborhood of the fort, which was what he designed to accomplish by his strong representation of the strength of the garrison and the security of the settlers.
On the 29th of March, ten of these Indians in a gang, at daybreak, surprised Upson and Rogers, who were camped out, making sugar, on what was called "Stuart's Flats," at the lower extremity of Wyoming Valley. Upson was killed and scalped. Mrs. Myers says the Indians poured boiling sap down his throat as he lay on his back asleep, with his mouth open. This account was extensively circulated and believed, but Rogers says he was shot. Rogers was thirteen years of age, and has left a written statement of his captivity and deliverance, which is now before us. He was taken prisoner, and told that he "must go to Niagara." They put a blanket around him, and he submitted with apparent cheerfulness, saying, "I will go and be an Indian too." They left the river, and went through the woods to "Big Fishing Creek." Here they surprised another encampment, where Mr. Van Campen, his two sons, and Peter Pence were making sugar. This was on the morning of the 30th of March. Mr. Van Campen was shot and speared, and one of his sons tomahawked and flung into the fire, while the eldest son and Pence were made prisoners. The savages hastened on to another "sugar camp," where they found another Van Campen and two sons, brother to the one previously killed. They murdered Mr. Van Campen and his youngest son, and took the other, a lad twelve years of age, and took the back track. On the road from Shickshinny to Huntington, the Indians saw "signs of Yankoos." Six of the Indians took the road, and surprised four men. Shots were exchanged, and Parks and Ransom were wounded; but, taking refuge in a house near by, the Indians left them. The two fractions of the company were united the next morning in Dallas. They started early, and soon saw fresh shoe-tracks. The leader, who spoke good English, said to Van Campen, "Call." On his doing so, some one answered, and soon Abram Pike came in sight, and nine Indians seized him. He fell on his knees, and cried "Quarter! quarter!" His wife and a child were with him in a sugar camp, and the Indians painted her, and told her to go home. The leader of the party said, "Joggo-squaw, tell Captain Butler me captain too."
This gang were now well freighted with prisoners. Besides the boys and young Pence, they had two military characters of considerable importance. Van Campen had been lieutenant in a company of volunteers, and quarter-master under General Sullivan during his expedition against the Indians, and Pike was a British deserter. Pike had been in the Continental army under General Washington; came into the Valley before the Indian battle; had his thigh broken in the battle, and escaped down the river before the capitulation. He had on a coat of the Continental uniform, which marked him in the eye of the Indians as a considerable prize. They knew not his former relations to the English army, but from the buttons on his coat they concluded he was an American officer, and they called him, by way of eminence, "Congless."
Pike was an Irishman, strongly marked with the peculiarities of his race. He was witty and roguish, presuming and adventurous. It used to be told of him that, when in Washington's army on the Hudson, he and three other fellows stole by the sentry in the night, crossed the river, and broke into a store near the enemy's lines. His comrades were shot, and he narrowly escaped. He was reported in the morning, and, on being brought before the general, he said, "Plase your excellency, I went over with three boys to make a prisoner of the English officer, but we had bad luck." The general, turning to his staff and smiling, said, "Did you ever see such a set of foolhardy fellows? Four of them went to capture the British general! Pike, go to your duty."
Pike was always poor, but always preserved an air of independence. He used to say, "The world owed him a living, and he was determined not to be chated out of it." He sometimes committed petty thefts, and always avoided the penalties of the law, either from the kind consideration of the party injured, or by some stroke of Irish wit. He was once brought before a magistrate charged with having stolen a silver spoon. The evidence was circumstantial, and not very conclusive. Pike solemnly denied the charge, and appealed to all the saints for the truth of the denial. "Well," said the squire, "I will swear you, Pike." "Jist as your honor plases about that," was the reply. Pike kissed the Bible, and still positively denied any knowledge of the spoon. The complainant, being shrewd, and knowing the soldier well, then said, "Now, Pike, if you will lift up your hand, and swear by the honor of a soldier that you did not take the spoon, I will let you off." The court said, "Pike, lift up your hand." Pike looked wise, and, shrugging up his shoulders and shaking his head, said, "The de'il a bit;" and, thrusting his hand into his bosom, he drew out the spoon and dashed it upon the table, exclaiming, "Troth, an' I'll not violate the honor of a soldier for all the spoons in America." The owner took his spoon, and the squire laughed heartily. Pike was finally discharged with a reprimand.
The company now commenced their march for the north. They encamped before they reached Bauman's Creek. Early the next morning they set off, and that day came to their canoes, in which they crossed the Susquehanna above Tunkhannock, and then set them afloat. That night they encamped on the Meshappen, but how they passed without observing the scene of Bennets' and Hammond's slaughter of the Indians, which had occurred but two days before, directly in their path, it is difficult to say. There was no doubt a providence in this, for the discovery would have provoked them to put their prisoners to torture without delay, or would at least have put them upon their guard.
On the next day, April 1st, Mr. Rogers says, "There was some talk of trying to make our escape, as we came across flocks of deer, which gave the prisoners an opportunity of being by themselves. Pike, upon inquiry, found out who was the commanding officer at Niagara, and said he knew him as well as he did his father. He swore that he would that night be a free man or a dead man. He well knew his fate should he reach Niagara."
Van Campen says, "It came into my mind that sometimes individuals performed wonderful actions, and surmounted the greatest dangers; I then thought that these fellows must die, as well as of the plan to dispatch them." Their views were compared and their plans matured. That night was the time, for later than that time they might be in the hands of a large body of Indians, who would certainly put to torture the first prisoners they should secure after the ravages of the American army in their country. Such was the reasoning of the prisoners, and such their conclusions.
The spirit of liberty struggled in the bosom of these brave fellows: to them the hazards of an unequal fight were preferable to the exigencies of captivity among the savages. With the poet they said:
"Thy spirit, Independence, let me share,
Lord of the lion-heart and eagle-eye:
Thy steps I follow with my bosom bare,
Nor heed the storm that howls along the sky."
That night they encamped near the river, about fifteen miles below Tioga Point, not far from the mouth of the "Wysox. The prisoners brought wood and made up a good fire. How they were to get loose from their pinions was a question. As the boy Rogers had not been pinioned, it was presumed he would still be left free, and he could help them to the "wood-hatchets" and a knife. The prisoners were pinioned and laid down, each one between two Indians. When all were sound asleep, Rogers arose, and secured a knife and gave it to Pike, and at the same time put an axe in the way of Van Campen, and returned to his place. "Pike cut himself loose, and then cut the other prisoners loose." So says Mr. Rogers, albeit Mr. Van Campen says, "I slipped to Pence, who rose; I cut him loose, and handed him the knife; he did the same for me. I, in turn, took the knife and cut Pike loose; in a moment's time we disarmed them." Pike's account agrees with that of Rogers, that he cut the prisoners loose. And, according to him, while he took away the guns, Van Campen and Pence, each with an axe in his hand, resumed their position, with the understanding that, should the Indians take the alarm before the guns were removed, they should each dispatch the two Indians which lay by their side. The guns were all removed, and set up by a tree at a short distance. All, so far, seems probable and well planned; but after this, Pike's story and Van Campen's differ widely. According to Pike, he next proceeded to take the blankets from the Indians, that they might freeze if they should escape. He pulled off their blankets, and they shrugged their shoulders and shivered, but slept on until he had uncovered the last one, when, in stepping over him, he hit him with his toe, upon which he lifted up his head and exclaimed " Woo!" Then the slaughter began. Rogers says, "An Indian awaked and began to jabber." Van Campen and Rogers agree in saying that Pence fired upon them; he, of course, must have sprung to the guns during the first onslaught. Several—it is not certain how many—were slaughtered at the first onset, and the remainder fled a few paces to the woods; but, finding themselves naked and defenseless, they made a rush upon the prisoners, when nearly all shared the same fate. Pence fired; Pike dealt out heavy blows with his axe, first using the head and then the edge, as Rogers reports, while Van Campen had a grapple with a stout fellow whom he had wounded, which is thus graphically described by himself; "There was one—his name was Mohawk—a stout, bold, daring fellow. In the alarm he jumped off about three rods from the fire; he saw that it was the prisoners that made the attack, and, giving the war-whoop, he darted to take possession of the guns; I was as quick to prevent him; the contest was then between him and myself. As I raised my tomahawk, he turned to jump from me; I followed him and struck at him, but missed his head: my tomahawk struck his shoulder, or, rather, the back of his neck; he pitched forward and fell; at the same time, my foot slipped, and I fell by his side; we clinched; his arm was naked; he caught me around the neck; at the same time, I caught him with my left arm around the body, and gave him a close hug, feeling for his knife, but could not reach it. In our scuffle my tomahawk dropped out; my head was under the wounded shoulder, and I was almost suffocated with the blood. I made a violent spring, and broke his hold; we both arose at the same time, and he ran. It took me some time to clear the blood from my eyes; my tomahawk got covered up, and I could not find it in time to overtake him. He was the only one of the party that escaped."
"Now cuffing close, now chasing to and fro,
Now hurtling round advantage for to take,
As two wild boares together grappling go,
Chaufing and foaming choler each against his foe.
At last they have all overthrown to ground
Quite topside turvey, and the pagan hound
Amongst the iron hooks and grapples run,
Torn all to rags, and rent with many a wound."
The bloody tragedy closed, and Rogers began to jump up and down. Pike, frantic with joy, gave him a blow on the side of the head which felled him to the ground. They remained in the camp until morning; Van Campen, recovering the scalps of his father and other relatives, and scalping the Indians, strung the scalps on his belt. Early in the morning the victors gathered up the plunder and proceeded to the river. They constructed a raft, which proved insufficient; it sunk under them, and they lost nearly all their plunder. They traveled down as far as "the Narrows," where they saw a smoke, and had no doubt an Indian's camp was there. After a little reconnoitring, they discovered that the Indians had left, probably upon a hunting expedition. They found a new raft, which they immediately took possession of, and paddled off with all their might. Just as they were out of danger, the Indians made their appearance on the shore and fired upon them, but without effect. They landed on an island, and made themselves as comfortable as possible for the night.
Van Campen tells a ludicrous story of Pike, of what he says occurred that night. They heard a noise, and Pike, supposing it to be the tread of an Indian, was much alarmed. He, Van Campen, "kept watch, and soon a noble raccoon came under the light." He shot the raccoon, "when Pike jumped up and called out, 'Quarter, gentlemen—quarter, gentlemen.' " He took the raccoon by the leg, and threw it down by the fire, saying, "Here, you cowardly rascal, skin that, and give us a roast for supper." This story is wholly incredible upon any other supposition than that Pike was merely exhibiting a little of his Irish humor; more, it is wholly inconsistent with Mr. Rogers's account of the facts of this famous retreat.
According to Mr. Rogers, they left the scene of conflict, and landed on the island on the 2d of April. He says, "April 3d, early, crossed on to the west side, and traveled with nothing to eat. We have now been two days without any thing to eat." Where was that "noble raccoon" which the "cowardly rascal" Pike was ordered to dress and prepare "a roast for supper?"
"April 4, traveled all day; nothing to eat but a small piece of dead deer we found." The deer had died of wounds which it had received, and had began to decay. The flesh was a sorry morsel for any but starving men. At this point the boy Rogers became overcome with fatigue, and besought his friends to let him lie down and die. Pike took him upon his back, and encouraged him to keep heart. He said to his companions, "I'll tak' the boy to his mother, or I'll die in the struggle." After a little rest on the back of the old Irish soldier, the lad plucked up courage and went on.
"April 5, traveled all day; nothing to eat. April 6, came to the river not far from Esquire Sutton's, in Exeter. About the middle of the afternoon we killed a deer. I ran, and before it was dead I had a piece in my mouth." He paid but little attention to the "hair and skin," but forced the quivering flesh between his teeth, as he says, "until the blood dropped from my mouth. It was the sweetest morsel I ever tasted." The same day, at nine o'clock, they arrived at Wilkesbarre. The journal concludes:
"Friday, April 7, I went from Wilkesbarre to Plymouth, to my parents, who received me as one from the dead."
This wonderful tale we have drawn up partly from Mr. Van Campen's narrative, found in his memorial to Congress asking for a pension, partly from a brief narrative written by Mr. Rogers, which has been in the hands of John Bennet, Esq., of Kingston, since 1830, and which he has kindly allowed us to use, and partly from our own recollection of a verbal relation of the circumstances by Abram Pike in 1818. There is some clashing between Van Campen's story and Pike's. Each makes himself the great hero of the tragedy, and makes the other a "coward." In this they were both influenced by prejudice, and are both wrong. Colonel Stone, in the second edition of his history of Wyoming, fully credits Van Campen, and brands Pike with cowardice. The colonel was misled by Van Campen's memorial. Pike was a regularly disciplined soldier; was in the Indian battle, and escaped by swimming down the river a mile or more with his thigh broken. "Sergeant Pike, the Indian Killer," as he was often familiarly called, was no coward; nor were either of his comrades in that heroic exploit "at the mouth of the Wysox" cowards. The testimony of Jonah Rogers, which we now have in writing from under his own hand, is entirely reliable, and he gives the two contestants for the honor about an equal measure of credit.
The account which Pike gives us of his pulling off the blankets from the Indians is scarcely credible; and a portion of the story of Van Campen's grapple with "Mohawk," while Pike and Pence were on hand, is doubtful. It is hardly likely that they would stand by and see their comrade so near being killed by a wounded Indian, and finally let him escape, when all the company excepting him were dead or dying. The main facts are indisputably true; as to some of the particulars, it is not strange that there should be some diversity, and even contradictions in the different relations. Van Campen's story was published after Pike and Rogers were both dead, and, so far as it is unnaturally in his own favor, and against one of his companions in captivity and danger, it is to be taken with a large discount.
The stories of Pike and Rogers were as familiar in the country as household words for many years, while they were both living in the same neighborhood, and they were always understood to agree in all essential particulars. When Pike related the tale to us, it was in the presence and at the instance of old Mrs. Reynolds, of Truxville, who had heard it so often that she understood it perfectly, and would have marked the slightest variation from the known truth of the history. We have made these remarks from a regard to historical truth, and without the slightest prejudice against or in favor of either of the parties.