FIGHTING ON THE FRONTIER
Brant was now regularly in the pay of the British, and until the close of the war he was to be employed actively in weakening the colonists by destroying their settlements intervening between the populous centres of the Atlantic states and the borders of Canada. In this unhappy fratricidal war each side used the Indians to strike terror into the hearts of its enemies, and as a result, in the quiet valleys lying between the Hudson and Ohio and the Great Lakes, there was an appalling destruction of property and loss of life. Brant proved himself one of the most successful of the leaders in this border warfare, and while he does not seem ever to have been guilty of wanton cruelty himself, those under him, on more than one occasion, ruthlessly murdered their foes, irrespective of age or sex. That he tacitly permitted his followers to murder and scalp unarmed settlers shows that he was still much of a savage. As one historian has written: ‘He was not a devil, and not an angel.’ It is true, as we shall see, that on several occasions he intervened to save Tory friends and acquaintances, but these are isolated examples, and his raids were accompanied by all the horrors of Indian warfare. The only excuse that can be offered for him is that he was no worse than his age, and that the white loyalist leaders, such as the Butlers, as well as the colonial commanders of the revolutionists, were equally callous regarding the destruction of property and life.
Brant appears to have spent the winter of 1777 and 1778 in Canada, but with the opening of military operations in the spring he was again at Oquaga and Unadilla. One of his first exploits of the year 1778 was at Springfield, a small settlement lying some miles beyond Cherry Valley at the head of Lake Otsego. When news of Brant’s approach reached this place, a number of the men-folk fled for their lives. Those who remained were taken prisoners. The chief gathered the women and children into one house and set the torch to all the other buildings in the settlement. Brant’s care for the weaker sex and the children during this expedition shows that he had a tenderness of heart unusual among the red men of his time.
During the hay-making season the chief was reconnoitring in the Schoharie district, which was situated some distance west of Albany and south of the Mohawk river. The scythe had been at work in the tall grass, and a farmer’s lad was busy in a sunlit meadow raking hay. As he dragged the loose bundles over the stubble, he heard a footfall in his rear. Turning about he saw that a sturdy Indian dressed in warrior’s garb had stolen upon him. The boy involuntarily raised his rake as though to strike.
‘Do not be afraid, young man,’ the intruder said in good English; ‘I will not hurt you.’
The warrior then asked the youth in friendly terms where a Mr Foster, a loyalist, had his dwelling. He went further and asked the lad his name.