Bennet" and the
Indians by Stephen Crane
My father was so well known of the Indians that, as I was saying,
his old grey coat was a sign through the northern country. I know of no
reason for this save that he was honest and obstreperously minded his
own affairs, and could fling a tomahawk better than the best Indian. I
will not declare upon how hard it is for a man to be honest and to mind
his own affairs, but I fully know that it is hard to throw a tomahawk
as my father threw it, straighter than a bullet from a duelling pistol.
He had always dealt fairly with the Indians, and I cannot tell why they
paled him so bitterly, unless it was that when an Indian went foolishly
drunk my father would deplore it with his foot, if it so happened that
the drunkenness was done in our cabin. It is true to say that when the
war came, a singular large number of kicked Indians journeyed from the
Canadas to re-visit with torch and knife the scenes of the kicking.
If people had thoroughly known my father he would have had no
enemies. He was the best of men. He had a code of behaviour for
himself, and for the whole world as well. If people wished his good
opinion they only had to do exactly as he did, and to have his views. I
remember that once my sister Martha made me a waistcoat of rabbits'
skins, and generally it was considered a great ornament. But one day my
father espied me in it, and commanded me to remove it for ever. Its
appearance was indecent, he said, and such a garment tainted the soul
of him who wore it. In the ensuing fortnight a poor pedlar arrived from
the Delaware, who had suffered great misfortunes in the snows. My
father fed him and warmed him, and when he gratefully departed, gave
him the rabbits' skin waistcoat, and the poor man went off clothed
indecently in a garment that would taint his soul. Afterwards, in a
daring mood, I asked my father why he had so cursed this pedlar, and he
recommended that I should study my Bible more closely, and there read
that my own devious ways should be mended before I sought to judge the
enlightened acts of my elders. He set me to ploughing the upper twelve
acres, and I was hardly allowed to loose my grip of the plough handles
until every furrow was drawn.
The Indians called my father Ol' Bennet, and he was known
broadcast as a man whose doom was sealed when the redskins caught him.
As I have said, the feeling is inexplicable to me. But Indians who had
been ill-used and maltreated by downright ruffians, against whom
revenge could with a kind of propriety be directedmany of these
Indians avowedly gave up a genuine wrong in order to direct a fuller
attention to the getting of my father's scalp. This most unfair
disposition of the Indians was a great, deep anxiety to all of us up to
the time when General Sullivan and his avenging army marched through
the valley and swept our tormentors afar.
And yet great calamities could happen in our valley even after the
coming and passing of General Sullivan. We were partly mistaken in our
gladness. The British force of Loyalists and Indians met Sullivan in
one battle, and finding themselves over-matched and beaten, they
scattered in all directions. The Loyalists, for the most part, went
home, but the Indians cleverly broke up into small bands, and General
Sullivan's army had no sooner marched beyond the Wyoming Valley than
some of these small bands were back into the valley plundering outlying
cabins and shooting people from the thickets and woods that bordered
General Sullivan had left a garrison at Wilkesbarre, and at this
time we lived in its strong shadow. It was too formidable for the
Indians to attack, and it could protect all who valued protection
enough to remain under its wings, but it could do little against the
flying small bands. My father chafed in the shelter of the garrison.
His best lands lay beyond Forty Fort, and he wanted to be at his
ploughing. He made several brief references to his ploughing that led
us to believe that his ploughing was the fundamental principle of life.
None of us saw any means of contending him. My sister Martha began to
weep, but it no more mattered than if she had began to laugh. My mother
said nothing. Aye, my wonderful mother said nothing. My father said he
would go plough some of the land above Forty Fort. Immediately this was
with us some sort of a law. It was like a rain, or a wind, or a
He went, of course. My young brother Andrew went with him, and he
took the new span of oxen and a horse. They began to plough a meadow
which lay in a bend of the river above Forty Fort. Andrew rode the
horse hitched ahead of the oxen. At a certain thicket the horse shied
so that little Andrew was almost thrown down. My father seemed to have
begun a period of apprehension at this time, but it was of no service.
Four Indians suddenly appeared out of the thicket. Swiftly, and in
silence, they pounced with tomahawk, rifle, and knife upon my father
and my brother, and in a moment they were captives of the
redskinsthat fate whose very phrasing was a thrill to the heart of
every colonist. It spelled death, or that horrible simple absence,
vacancy, mystery, which is harder than death.
As for us, he had told my mother that if he and Andrew were not
returned at sundown she might construe a calamity. So at sundown we
gave the news to the Fort, and directly we heard the alarm gun booming
out across the dusk like a salute to the death of my father, a solemn,
final declaration. At the sound of this gun my sisters all began newly
to weep. It simply defined our misfortune. In the morning a party was
sent out, which came upon the deserted plough, the oxen calmly
munching, and the horse still excited and affrighted. The soldiers
found the trail of four Indians. They followed the trail some distance
over the mountains, but the redskins with their captives had a long
start, and pursuit was but useless. The result of this expedition was
that we knew at least that father and Andrew had not been massacred
immediately. But in those days this was a most meagre consolation. It
was better to wish them well dead.
My father and Andrew were hurried over the hills at a terrible pace
by the four Indians. Andrew told me afterwards that he could think
sometimes that he was dreaming of being carried off by goblins. The
redskins said no word, and their mocassined feet made no sound. They
were like evil spirits. But it was as he caught glimpses of father's
pale face, every wrinkle in it deepened and hardened, that Andrew saw
everything in its light. And Andrew was but thirteen years old. It is a
tender age at which to be burned at the stake.
In time the party came upon two more Indians, who had as a prisoner
a man named Lebbeus Hammond. He had left Wilkesbarre in search of a
strayed horse. He was riding the animal back to the Fort when the
Indians caught him. He and my father knew each other well, and their
greeting was like them.
What! Hammond! You here?
Yes, I'm here.
As the march was resumed, the principal Indian bestrode Hammond's
horse, but the horse was very high-nerved and scared, and the bridle
was only a temporary one made from hickory withes. There was no saddle.
And so finally the principal Indian came off with a crash, alighting
with exceeding severity upon his head. When he got upon his feet he was
in such a rage that the three captives thought to see him dash his
tomahawk into the skull of the trembling horse, and, indeed, his arm
was raised for the blow, but suddenly he thought better of it. He had
been touched by a real point of Indian inspiration. The party was
passing a swamp at the time, so he mired the horse almost up to its
eyes, and left it to the long death.
I had said that my father was well known of the Indians, and yet I
have to announce that none of his six captors knew him. To them he was
a complete stranger, for upon camping the first night they left my
father unbound. If they had had any idea that he was Ol' Bennet they
would never have left him unbound. He suggested to Hammond that they
try to escape that night, but Hammond seemed not to care to try it yet.
In time they met a party of over forty Indians, commanded by a
Loyalist. In that band there were many who knew my father. They cried
out with rejoicing when they perceived him. Ha! they shouted, Ol'
Bennet! They danced about him, making gestures expressive of the
torture. Later in the day my father accidentally pulled a button from
his coat, and an Indian took it from him.
My father asked to be allowed to have it again, for he was a very
careful man, and in those days all good husbands were trained to bring
home the loose buttons. The Indians laughed, and explained that a man
who was to die at Wyallusingone day's marchneed not be particular
about a button.
The three prisoners were now sent off in care of seven Indians,
while the Loyalist took the remainder of his men down the valley to
further harass the settlers. The seven Indians were now very careful of
my father, allowing him scarce a wink. Their tomahawks came up at the
slightest sign. At the camp that night they bade the prisoners lie
down, and then placed poles across them. An Indian lay upon either end
of these poles. My father managed, however, to let Hammond know that he
was determined to make an attempt to escape. There was only one night
between him and the stake, and he was resolved to make what use he
could of it. Hammond seems to have been dubious from the start, but the
men of that time were not daunted by broad risks. In his opinion the
rising would be a failure, but this did not prevent him from agreeing
to rise with his friend. My brother Andrew was not considered at all.
No one asked him if he wanted to rise against the Indians. He was only
a boy, and supposed to obey his elders. So, as none asked his views, he
kept them to himself; but I wager you he listened, all ears, to the
furtive consultations, consultations which were mere casual phrases at
times, and at other times swift, brief sentences shot out in a whisper.
The band of seven Indians relaxed in vigilance as they approached
their own country, and on the last night from Wyallusing the Indian
part of the camp seemed much inclined to take deep slumber after the
long and rapid journey. The prisoners were held to the ground by poles
as on the previous night, and then the Indians pulled their blankets
over their heads and passed into heavy sleep. One old warrior sat by
the fire as guard, but he seems to have been a singularly inefficient
man, for he was continuously drowsing, and if the captives could have
got rid of the poles across their chests and legs they would have made
their flight sooner.
The camp was on a mountain side amid a forest of lofty pines. The
night was very cold, and the blasts of wind swept down upon the
crackling, resinous fire. A few stars peeped through the feathery pine
branches. Deep in some gulch could be heard the roar of a mountain
stream. At one o'clock in the morning three of the Indians arose, and,
releasing the prisoners, commanded them to mend the fire. The prisoners
brought dead pine branches; the ancient warrior on watch sleepily
picked away with his knife at the deer's head which he had roasted; the
other Indians retired again to their blankets, perhaps each depending
upon the other for the exercise of precautions. It was a tremendously
slack business; the Indians were feeling security because they knew
that the prisoners were too wise to try to run away.
The warrior on watch mumbled placidly to himself as he picked at the
deer's head. Then he drowsed again, just the short nap of a man who had
been up too long. My father stepped quickly to a spear, and backed away
from the Indian; then he drove it straight through his chest. The
Indian raised himself spasmodically, and then collapsed into that camp
fire which the captives had made burn so brilliantly, and as he fell he
screamed. Instantly his blanket, his hair, he himself began to burn,
and over him was my father tugging frantically to get the spear out
My father did not recover the spear. It had so gone through the old
warrior that it could not readily be withdrawn, and my father left it.
The scream of the watchman instantly aroused the other warriors,
who, as they scrambled in their blankets, found over them a terrible
white-lipped creature with an axean axe, the most appallingly brutal
of weapons. Hammond buried his weapon in the head of the leader of the
Indians even as the man gave out his first great cry. The second blow
missed an agile warrior's head, but caught him in the nape of the neck,
and he swung, to bury his face in the red-hot ashes at the edge of the
Meanwhile my brother Andrew had been gallantly snapping empty guns.
In fact he snapped three empty guns at the Indians, who were in the
purest panic. He did not snap the fourth gun, but took it by the
barrel, and, seeing a warrior rush past him, he cracked his skull with
the clubbed weapon. He told me, however, that his snapping of the empty
guns was very effective, because it made the Indians jump and dodge.
Well, this slaughter continued in the red glare of the fire on the
lonely mountain side until two shrieking creatures ran off through the
trees, but even then my father hurled a tomahawk with all his strength.
It struck one of the fleeing Indians on the shoulder. His blanket
dropped from him, and he ran on practically naked.
The three whites looked at each other, breathing deeply. Their work
was plain to them in the five dead and dying Indians underfoot. They
hastily gathered weapons and mocassins, and in six minutes from the
time when my father had hurled the spear through the Indian sentinel
they had started to make their way back to the settlements, leaving the
camp fire to burn out its short career alone amid the dead.