“Well now, my friends, I can tell you of a brave man who was not fearful enough to be prudent,” observed Colson. “I allude to Gen. Herkimer. No man can dispute his courage; and it is clear that if he had possessed more fear of Indian wiles, he would not have fallen into an ambuscade.”
“Will you tell us about the battle in which he fell?” enquired Hand.
“I was about to do so,” replied Colson. “Brig. Gen. Herkimer was the commander of the militia of Tryon County, N.Y., when news was received that St. Leger, with about 2,000 men, had invested Fort Schuyler. The General immediately issued a proclamation, calling out all the able-bodied men in the county, and appointed a place for their rendezvous and a time for them to be ready for marching to the relief of Fort Schuyler.
“Learning that Gen. Herkimer was approaching to the relief of the garrison, and not being disposed to receive him in his camp, St. Leger detached a body of Indians and tories, under Brant and Col. Butler, to watch his approach, and to intercept, if possible, his march. The surrounding country afforded every facility for the practice of the Indian mode of warfare. In the deep recesses of its forests they were secure from observation, and to them they could retreat in case they were defeated. Finding that the militia approached in a very careless manner, Butler determined to attack them by surprise. He selected a place well fitted for such an attack. A few miles from the fort there was a deep ravine sweeping toward the east in a semicircular form, and having a northern and southern direction. The bottom of this ravine was marshy, and the road along which the militia were marching crossed it by means of a log causeway. The ground thus partly enclosed by the ravine was elevated and level. Along the road, on each side of this height of land, Butler disposed his men.
“About ten o’clock on the morning of the 6th of August, 1777, the Tryon County militia arrived at this place without any suspicions of danger. The dark foliage of the forest trees, with a thick growth of underbrush, entirely concealed the enemy from their view. The advanced guard, with about two-thirds of the whole force, had gained the elevated ground, the baggage-wagons had descended into the ravine—Col. Fisher’s regiment was still on the east side—when the Indians arose, and with a dreadful yell poured a destructive fire upon them. The advanced guard was entirely cut off. Those who survived the first fire were immediately cut down with the tomahawk. The horror of the scene was increased by the personal appearance of the savages, who were almost naked and painted in a most hideous manner. They ran down each side, keeping up a constant fire, and united at the causeway; thus dividing the militia into two bodies. The rear regiment, after a feeble resistance, fled in confusion, and were pursued by the Indians. They suffered more severely than they would have done had they stood their ground, or advanced to the support of the main body in front.