The Burning of Col. Crawford
The following I found in a site titled “The Rise and Progress of
An American State.” It was an early history of Ohio. I previously
Wrote about the Battle of Upper Sandusky. This covers the
Retreat of the Colonists and the capture and the burning, torture
Of Colonel William Crawford. As a descendant of William
Caldwell (who was in charge) I am grateful that he was not present.
It may be wishful thinking on my part that if he was there he might
Have been able to stop this – but then again, maybe he could not have.
This was taken word-for-word - nothing has been changed from
the article. If anyone can add or correct, please do.
AT the halt of the retreating army, on June 6th, Colonel Crawford, his son John Crawford, his son-in-law William Harrison, William Crawford, his nephew, Dr. Knight, the surgeon, and John Slover, the pilot, were counted among the missing. The fate of those men is the tragic finale to the failure of the expedition,
The confusion incident to the commencement of the retreat of the Americans from their Battle Island camp under the veil of night, June 5th, was the cause of the separation of Crawford from his command. Just as the army began its excited exit from the grove the commander missed his son, son-in-law and nephew, whose welfare was naturally uppermost in his mind. Dr. Knight was at his side and joined with the colonel in calling aloud for the missing men, as the retreating columns straggled by. There was no response. The confusion as the lines emerged from the forest, became worse confounded, the firing of the approaching Indians, driving the American soldiers forward, added to the danger, while the onrush of the savages cut off the colonel and his companion from the fleeing army. In the recital of Crawford's capture we follow closely the narrative of Dr. Knight, than whom there is no better authority, as originally printed in Pittsburg, in September, 1782. The colonel and the doctor were compelled to flee for their lives in a northerly direction, away from the conflict and along paths most likely to give them security; they were later joined by other fugitive soldiers.
On the afternoon following the night of their flight, they came upon the route which had been taken by the retreating army and they were not far distant when the Battle of Olentangy was being waged. Avoiding the Indian and British forces, the colonel and his companion continued their stealthy flight until past midday of the 7th, when, picking their way cautiously along the banks of the Sandusky, near the present Leesville, "several Indians suddenly started up within fifteen or twenty steps of the colonel and me." The escaping party had fallen into an ambuscade of the Delaware Indians, from Chief Wingenund's camp, which was only half a mile away, to which Craw-ford and Knight were speedily taken, and to which within a few hours nine other prisoners were brought, the captors in addition boastfully waving the scalps of two American captains. The news was quickly conveyed to the nearby villages that the "Big Captain" of the Americans had been taken. His doom was foreordained, for at the news of Crawford's intended expedition the chiefs of the Indian allies had decreed that all prisoners taken were to be tortured and killed either by the fagot or the tomahawk.
Nothing less than burning at the stake would suffice to appease the vengeance of the Delawares in the case of Crawford. But, according to Butterfield, this method of death had become an obsolete
custom with the Wyandots," though still practiced by the Delawares and other tribes. The Delawares, Craw-fords captors therefore, did not dare to inflict this form of death penalty within the territory of the Wyandots without the consent of the half-king Pomoacan in whose Sandusky country the delawares were ‘tenants at will.’ This consent Captain Pipe and Chief Wingenund obtained through a messenger sent to the Sandusky quarters of Pomoacan, though it is alleged the permission was obtained through a subterfuge on the part of the Delaware chiefs, they asking merely that the Wyandot Half-King permit them to "accomplish a project in view," which they ardently wished to carry out—not specifying the execution intended. Yet it would seem that Pomoacan would have readily acceded to the request of the Delawares, if the purpose of the request had been fully known, as only a few months before, two of the sons of the Wyandot Half-King had been killed on the banks of the Ohio, by the noted Indian pursuers, the Poe Brothers, Adam and Andrew, whose adventures have furnished material for many a thrilling story of frontier life,
On Monday, the loth, Crawford and Knight, with the nine other prisoners, -under guard of seventeen Delawares, were "paraded" to march to Sandusky, some thirty miles distant. On arriving at the Half-King's town, Crawford's hopes of possible delivery were aroused by meeting Simon Girty, whom he had often met before, and to whom he "made earnest appeal for his safety," even offering the renegade a thousand dollars ransom. Girty "promised, with no intention of keeping his word," at the same time informing Crawford that his nephew William Crawford and son-in-law William Harrison had been taken by the Shawnees "but pardoned at their towns." This latter statement was not true. They had been disposed of in some way, probably tomahawked; "what became of them is entirely unknown—tradition,
even, is silent concerning them." John Crawford, only son of the Colonel, likewise disappeared, his fate remaining unrecorded; it being generally supposed that he was tortured to death in the wilderness.
Crawford and Knight well knew their fate was sealed, for Captain Pipe, Wingenund being a witness and reluctant to take part, for he had often been be- ' friended by both Crawford and Knight, painted the faces of the prisoners black, the first ordeal in the preparation of those condemned for the stake. Guarded by the two Delaware chiefs, and an escort of their tribesmen, the blackened captives were led several miles from the Half-King's village to the banks of the Little Tymochtee Creek. Here five of the prisoners, thus far accompanying the colonel and the doctor, were tomahawked by a party of squaws and boys, one old squaw cutting off the head of John McKinley and "kicking it about on the ground." The reeking scalps of the slain were dashed in the faces of Crawford and Knight. The party then moved on, perhaps a mile farther, to the spot selected for the execution, on the east bank of the Tymochtee, about three-quarters of a mile from the Delaware village, in Crawford township, Wyandot county, the spot now marked by a simple monument in an open lot, a short distance northeast of the town of Crawfordsvillefat which spot each year the county pioneer association, in the midst of large gatherings of people, commemorates with fitting exercises the never-to-be-forgotten event
It was about 4 o'clock in the afternoon of Tuesday, June u, 1782, that the frightful torture and orgies were inaugurated, "exceeding in fiendish, ferocious,
devilish cruelty and barbarity, anything recorded in savage annals." Simon Girty, Captain Pipe, Chief Wingenund and probably Mathew Elliott were present. A post, about fifteen feet high, was firmly set in the ground; fagots, sticks and stubble, gathered nearby, were heaped in a pile for the fire, some eighteen or twenty feet from the stake to which Crawford was tied. The colonel was stripped naked and ordered to sit down by the fire and "then they beat him with clubs and their fists." Albach is responsible for the statement that after "Crawford was bound to the fatal post, the surrounding Christian Indians were called upon to come forth and take vengeance on the prisoner, but they had withdrawn and their savage relations stepped forward in their stead." It is, however, highly improbable that any Christian Indians were near enough to the scene to be invited as participants. We let Dr. Knight, who, guarded by an Indian named Tutelu, was obliged to sit upon a log and witness the horrible spectacle, describe the scene in his own rugged words;
"They then tied a rope to the foot of a post about fifteen feet high, bound the Col's [Colonel's] hands behind his back and fastened the rope to the ligature between his wrists. The rope was long enough for him to sit down or walk round the post once or twice and return the same way. The Col. then called to Girty and asked if they intended to burn him ?—Girty answered, yes. The Col. said he would take it all patiently. Upon this Captain Pipe, a Delaware chief, made a speech to the Indians, viz: about thirty or forty men, sixty or seventy squaws and boys.
"When the speech was finished they all yelled a hideous and hearty assent to what had been said. The Indian men then took up their guns and shot powder into the Colonel's body, from his feet as far up as his neck. I think not less than seventy loads were discharged upon his naked body. They then crowded about him, and to the best of my observation, cut off his ears; when the throng had dispersed a little, I saw the blood running from both sides of his head in consequence thereof.
"The fire was about six or seven yards from the post to which the Colonel was tied; it was made of small hickory poles, burnt quite through in the middle, each end of the poles remaining about six feet in length. Three or four Indians by turns would take up, individually one of these burning pieces of wood and apply it to his naked body, already burnt black with the powder These tormentors presented themselves on every side of him with the burning fagots and poles. Some of the squaws took broad boards, upon which they would carry a quantity of burning coals and hot embers and throw on him, so that in short time he had nothing but coals of fire and hot ashes to walk upon..In the midst of these extreme tortures, he called to Simon Girty, and begged of him to shoot him; but
Girty making no answer, he called to him again Girty then, by way of derision, told the Colonel he had no gun, at the same time turning about to an Indian who was behind him, laughed heartily, and by all his gestures seemed delighted at the horrid scene. For_three hours Colonel Crawford endued the most excruciating, agonies with sublime patience, when
faint and almost exhausted, with the faith and fortitude of a religious martyr of the olden days, he commended his soul to God, and fell upon his face, prone upon the bed of burning coals. One of the savages, who were dancing about the victim like incarnate fiends,— Zeisberger in his Diary says it was a Moravian Indian —then scalped him and repeatedly swung the scalp into the face of Knight, saying, "he is your great Captain." An old withered squaw then seized a board with which she poured scorching coals and ashes upon his back and head. In one final effort, he raised himself upon his feet but strength failed him and he sank into the welcome arms of death. The scene beggars description and the hand palsies in repeating the recital of Knight. Judge James Anderson closes his address, delivered on the scene of the event, a few years ago, with this just tribute: "If Socrates died like a philosopher, and Jesus Christ like a God, then verily the manly, calm, courageous soul, whose sufferings were a thousand fold greater, died like a hero, and patriot and martyr. His name shall live in the great American heart, and in the pantheon of history, while true patriotism is cherished, and the memory of the father of our country revered."
That this indescribable murder of Crawford was meted out as a special retaliation by the Delawares, for the Moravian massacre by Williamson and his men, was often asserted by writers, conspicuously by the Moravian missionaries whose accounts were contemporaneous with the event. And later historians have accepted this retributive motive as accounting for the fiendish deed of the infuriated tribesmen of
Pipe and Wingenund; "it had been regarded as an inscrutable act of Providence that Crawford should fall into the hands of the savages, exasperated by the murder of the Moravians, and suffer tortures unheard of in the annals of men, as a consequence of William-son's wickedness and ferocity," wrote Charles Whittle-sey in his account in the American Pioneer. Many other rewriters of the event express similar reflections. To our mind, however, neither the facts nor the probabilities sustain this theory of "special punishment," by the Delawares. Neither Captain Pipe, an implacable enemy of the Americans, nor Chief Wingenund, scarcely less hostile, were friendly to the Moravians; indeed the indifference, if not downright hatred to the Christian Indians, was invariably exhibited by these chiefs when occasion offered. They could hardly have been so "wrought up" over the Gnadenhutten slaughter, as the writers would have us infer. But it was, as Butterfield suggests, quite natural, that these two chiefs, the arch-fiends in the damnable drama, "should afterward assign it as a reason, when these cruelties made them odious at Detroit." Indeed Wingenund "was so bold as to deny complicity on his part, in any cruelties inflicted upon the prisoners."
Doddridge, in his Notes, evidently taking his cue from Zeisberger's Diary and Heckewelder's Narrative, says Crawford's expedition "in one point of view at least, is to be considered as a second Moravian campaign, as one of its objects was that of finishing the work of murder and plunder with the Christian Indians at their new establishments on the Sandusky." The second object was that of destroying the Wyandot
towns on the same river; "it was the resolution of all those concerned in this expedition not to spare the life of any Indians that might fall into their hands, whether friends or foes." This is unquestionably the view of the Moravian missionaries who were, however, at this time, scarcely in a frame of mind to pass impartial judgment upon the motives or actions of the western frontiersmen. There is no evidence that Crawford's expedition was other than a campaign against the Indians as the allies of Great Britain and the dangerous foes of the new American nation. The further persecution of the Moravian converts was not even a secondary motive with Crawford's men—that idea was the shadowy supposition of the Moravian mind.
On the other hand, as intimated, there is no need of seeking a justification or even explanation on the part of the Delawares for the unparalleled atrocities of Crawford's burning, through the motive of retribution for the previous massacre by Williamson's men. The savage allies of Great Britain fully realized that from that point on the contest between the bordermen and the tribal warriors would be one of extermination of the latter from their Ohio country.
When death had put an end to the frightful sufferings of the brave and immortal colonel, the fagots were heaped together, his burned body, now a mass of raw flesh, was placed upon the glowing embers and "around his charred remains danced the delighted savages for many hours."
The shocking orgies having been completed, Simon Girty returned to Lower Sandusky, where he found
the disabled Captain Caldwell, to whom he made report of Crawford's execution.
Doctor Knight, "a small and weak-looking man," was taken to Captain Pipe's house, and his face again blackened, evidence that there awaited him the doom that had been meted out to his commander. Under guard of Tutelu, who rode horseback, driving Knight on foot before him, the two set out for a Shawnee town, forty miles distant. During the encampment of the first night, the captive doctor slipped his bands from his wrists, sprang to his feet and seizing a large stick, smote the "burly savage" on the back of the head as he was stooping over the fire, into which the blow felled him. Howling with pain, the Indian sprang into the woods leaving Knight to make good his escape, which he did, reaching Fort Mclntosh, after three weeks of adventures and sufferings, subsisting " altogether on wild gooseberries, young nettles, a raw terrapin and two young birds."