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The Captivity Of James Smith
by [?]

The stories of captivity among the Ohio Indians during the war that ended in 1794 would of themselves fill a much larger book than this is meant to be. Most of them were never set down, but some of them were very thrillingly told, and others very touchingly, either by the captives themselves, or by such of their friends as were better able to write them out. One, at least, is charming, and the narrative of Colonel James Smith deserves a chapter by itself, not only because it is charming, but because it shows the Indians in a truer and kindlier light than they were often able to show themselves.

Smith was born in Franklin County, Pennsylvania, which in 1737 was the frontier of the white settlement, and he was taken prisoner in 1755, by a small party of Delawares, near Bedford, while he was helping to cut a road for the passage of General Braddock’s ill-fated expedition against the French. The Indians hurried from the English border, and forced him to run with them nearly the whole way to Fort Duquesne, which afterwards became Fort Pitt, and is now Pittsburg. A large body of savages was encamped outside the post, and there Smith expected to be burned to death with the tortures he afterwards saw inflicted upon many other prisoners; but he was only made to run the gantlet. Two lines of Indians were drawn up, with sticks in their hands, and Smith dashed at the top of his speed between their ranks. He was cruelly beaten, and before he reached the goal he fell senseless. When he came to himself he was in the hands of a French surgeon. He was well cared for, and he lived in hopes of rescue by Braddock’s army, which was marching against Fort Duquesne in greater force than had ever been sent into the wilderness. But while he was still so broken and bruised as to be scarcely able to walk, the Indians came in with plunder and prisoners from the scene of their bloody victory over the British troops.

A little later, Smith’s captors claimed him from the French, and carried him to an Indian town on the Muskingum. The day after their arrival a number of the Indians came to him, and one of them began to pull out his hair, dipping his fingers in ashes to get a better hold, and plucking it away hair by hair till it was all gone except a lock on the crown. This they plaited with strings of beadwork and silver brooches, and then they bored his ears and nose and put rings in them. They painted his face and body in different colors, hung a band of wampum about his neck, and fitted his arm with bracelets of silver. An old chief led him into the street of the village, and gave the alarm halloo, when all the Delawares, Caughnewagas, and Mohicans of the place came running, and formed round the chief, who held Smith by the hand, and made them a long speech. He then gave Smith over to three young squaws, who pulled him into the river waist-deep, and made signs to him that he should plunge his head into the water. But Smith’s head was full of the tortures of the prisoners whom he had seen burnt at Fort Duquesne; he believed all these ceremonies were the preparations for his death, and he would neither duck.

He struggled with them, amidst the shouts and laughter of the Indians on the shore, until one of them managed to say in English, “No hurt you,” when he suffered them to plunge him under the water and rub at him as long as they chose.

By this means they washed away his white blood, and he was adopted into the tribe in place of a great chief who had lately died. He seems never to have known why this honor was done him; but he was then a lusty young fellow of eighteen who might well have taken the fancy of some of his captors; and he probably fell into their hands at a moment which their superstition rendered fortunate for him.