« SebelumnyaLanjutkan »
Mayfield the day before. That Col. Willett was fearful the enemy had escaped him in consequence of his having made the detour to Fort Dayton, or that they might have gone a more northern route than the one usually taken, to reach the Black river or Oneida lake. A light autumnal snow had fallen during the night. Thornton was sent out from Willett's encampment as early in the morning as objects were visible, with a few men, and among them was an artilleryman, for the purpose of reconnoitring and finding the enemy's trail, if there was one to be found. The party separated into files of two for the purpose of examination, moving towards the West Canada creek. The artilleryman was with Capt. Thornton, and they had been sometime afoot without discovering any traces of the enemy, when they began to fear they were not on the right course; they continued on, however, until they reached Butler's ridge, when, from their examinations, they were satisfied there had been an encampment the night before, although the snow on the ground rendered the question somewhat doubtful. Having communicated this fact to Col. Willett, Thornton and his companion struck what they supposed was the enemy's trail, and continued their course in pursuit, little expecting to find the enemy near at hand. It was not long, however, before they heard voices, and looking in the direction of this noise they saw a small scouting party, who had probably been on the lookout for Willett, coming up in a direction partly from their rear. Thornton and his comrade avoided this party by hiding in the underbrush. After this scout had passed them long enough to allow an advance with safety, as they believed, they struck the fresh trail and continued the pursuit cautiously, expecting every moment to be overtaken by Willett's advanced guard in force.
The artilleryman was soon killed, by a volley from a thicket in advance; and when hit by the ball he jumped two or three feet into the air. Willett's forces followed the enemy to the creek, the southerly bank being covered with large hemlock trees and a thick undergrowth. A heavy, dense fog hung over the creek, when the American advance got into it for the purpose of crossing, which being suddenly lifted by the wind, exposed them to the enemy on the opposite bank, who gave them so warm and unlooked-for a reception that they retired momentarily up the creek bank, behind the trees and into the bush, having some of the party killed and wounded. The fog again settled upon the creek and the parties fired four or. five rounds, each at the other, quite at random, as they could not see across the stream at the time. The enemy's fire slackened, and the Americans then went over and found Butler and five of the enemy dead on the bank of the creek. Thornton stated he was among the first who reached the opposite bank, but an Indian was the first of their party who went to the spot where Butler lay dead, near a tree, and looking at him a moment turned and told Thornton who it was. Thornton examined the lifeless body; the hat, with a gold band around it, was then on the head; he pulled it off, saw the bullet hole in the head, and no other wound or fracture about it. When Thornton started on the expedition he wore a thin pair of summer pantaloons, which were pretty much gone when he reached the creek. The Indian pulled off Butler's pants at Thornton's request, and the latter put them on. Major Thornton was confident no one knew or could tell who it was that killed Butler, he being dead before any of his pursuers found him.
The enemy were pursued by Col. Willett, until hunger and want of provisions compelled him to retrace his steps. On their return to the creek crossing, our people heard the cry of a child near the wayside; some of them went in search of it and found a female infant near a large fallen elm tree, which had been abandoned by its stricken and toil-worn mother to a far different fate from that which awaited it. The child was brought away from its cold and comfortless cradle by some hungered and weary rebel, whose heart may have been sorely riven more than once by the hand of its father. Thornton also stated that Willett's forces had a smart brush with the enemy at Black Creek, in the pursuit out.
After Willett's forces recrossed the Canada creek, they turned off in the direction of Mount's place in Jerseyfield, to bury some of their dead. At this time the party had a British sub-officer, a prisoner, who seems to have been abandoned to the tender mercies of the Indians. This man was a tory and had formerly lived in the valley. Anticipating his fate, he inquired of the American officers whether they intended to allow the Indians to massacre him. No direct answer was given to the inquiry, and the officer disappeared before the troops reached Fort Dayton.
This relation of the manner Butler was killed, corresponds with that given by Col. Willet in his official account of the affair. It is fully corroborated by several traditional statements handed down from persons who were on the spot, and who saw and knew all about it. In every published account I have seen, from that of Marshall, in his Life of Washington, down to our own times, no two of them correspond in the precise statement of facts. Col. Willett could not have had any motive in withholding a full and true relation of the facts attending Butler's death. If he had been wounded and afterwards despatched, when discovered, by one of Willett's men, or an Indian, why should not that fact have been officially stated by the commander of the expedition? He had inquired into the matter; it was a subject too important to be omitted. When, therefore, the Colonel says, "he was shot dead, at once, having no time to implore for mercy," we are called upon to pause a little before we pronounce the statement untrue. But, to use a legal phrase, how stand the impeaching witnesses? One says that Butler, in fleeing from his pursuers, steam his horse across the stream, and then turning round to them on the opposite bank, defied them. An Indian discharged his rifle at him and he fell wounded. The Indian then swam to the opposite bank, found Butler alive and able to supplicate for mercy, but who answered the supplication by burying his tomahawk in Butler's brains. This relation assumes the improbable facts that Butler was entirely alone and unattended by any of his men, otherwise, if only wounded and capable of speech, having a horse at hand, he could and would have been carried a long distance into the wood, while the Indian, axe in hand, was swimming across the stream. Another says he was sorely wounded while standing behind a tree watching a brisk engagement between the hostile parties, on opposite sides of the creek, and that when he fell, his troops fled in great confusion, leaving him uncared for, whether dead or alive, when they had full time to remove him, and ample means at hand to do it. The Indian then crossed the creek and finding Butler alive, shot him again, through the eye. An Indian never loses a charge of powder and ball, when his tomahawk, his never-failing and favorite weapon, will answer his purpose. And yet another says the enemy had passed the creek, when Butler stopped, dismounted from his horse, and was in the act of drinking water from a tin cup, in full view from the opposite bank, when he was fired at by two of his enemy and fell. The Indian, a Mohawk, immediately crossed the creek, and finding Butler wounded, only, ended his life with a tomahawk. Now let us consider a moment. Was it not quite remarkable that the commanding officer of an expedition, who had been three days straining every nerve to elude the pursuit of a superior, active and vigilant foe, and whose rear guard had been skirmishing nearly the whole day with his enemy's advance, should loiter in his way, suffer all his men to proceed on their route without him; nay, more, that he should deliberately dismount and drink a tin cup of water, exposed to full view of his pursuing enemy on the left bank of the creek. But opposed to this, is Col. Willett's official declaration,that Butler "was shot dead, at once, having no time to implore for mercy," when this last account makes him present when Butler was scalped; and when he, Willett must have been informed, if it was true, that Butler, in the first instance, had only been wounded and afterwards tomahawked.
I have already given quite as much space to the subject as its importance will justify. Many persons had expressed a desire to know which of the several accounts describing the manner and circumstances of Butler's death was the more probable or true one. That is, whether he was shot dead in the first instance, and nothing was known of his person until the body was afterwards examined, or whether he was first identified across the stream, then fired at, wounded, deserted by his followers, and finally shot in the eye or tomahawked. The scalping part of the tragedy was probably performed in the best style of Indian execution.
I have elaborated Maj. Thornton's statement, and, in the main fact, it seems to accord with the official report. Although the memory of the man has been and is still regarded in our county with deep and unalleviated horror, there are many who would still like to be informed of the truth of history.
The route taken by Maj. Ross and the survivors of this cruel expedition, after leaving the West Canada creek, is spoken of by Stone as in the direction of Oneida lake, where the batteaux had been left when the expedition camo from Canada, while other writers assume that Ross proceeded to the Genesee country. It is not probable that he would have attempted the latter route in the destitute condition of his men. He reached Granadier island in about eight days after leaving the creek, in a most pitiable condition, having suffered every thing but death by exposure and want of food.
Thus ended the career of Walter N. Butler, a man of enterprizing boldness, but whose heart was a compound of ferocious hate, insatiable cruelty, and unappeasable revenge.