Two years before the close of the Revolutionary War,
was mustered out of the service. He had been in the
army since 1776, much of the time in active warfare, but never was wounded
till in a skirmish with the English just before his
dismissal, he received a bullet in the thick flesh and muscles of his leg.
The wound made him very lame for several months
and this, with the extreme poverty of his family, got him his discharge.
He went back to his little home in what is now known as Herkimer County,
in New York, where his wife and little son had lived
during the years of his absence. The cabin was about half a mile from
Fort Herkimer, and a few neighbors were scattered
about in the clearings at about the same distance.
Grandmother had managed to keep the little home together by spinning and
knitting besides cultivating with the help of her
little boy, the small plot of cleared land. She also had a cow which
her father had given her as a wedding present. Luckily
this had not been stolen by Indians of English.
Grandfather was a wagon maker and he at once began to work at his trade.
Wagons were in great demand for the transporting of
supplies for the troops stationed through the country, and he soon saved,
for the times, quite a sum of silver. It seemed
like wealth to him and he kept it locked up in a small tin box hidden in
a chest, which stood in one corner of the cabin.
So far they had had little of no trouble with the English or Indians; but
at the time of this story, for a week or more,
rumors were coming in of a band of Indians who were plundering isolated
farm houses and that a company of American militia
were in pursuit.
This news caused several families in the neighborhood to flock to the Fort,
but grandfather felt no uneasiness. He thought
they would not dare venture so near to where they knew a portion of the
regular army was stationed. He did not take in
consideration that several of the families in that section were suspected
to be in sympathy with the English; and would be
apt to assist instead of hindering depradition on one who had served in
the patriotic ranks. It was afterwards found out
that one of these Tories did inform the Indians that grandfather had money
concealed in his house.
One morning before it was fairly light, grandfather and
uncle John* (then
about 14 years old) had just got up. Grandfather
raked the coals in the fireplace and threw on some wood for the air was
keen and chilly as it often is in early summer. They
were about to start for the log barn, which was used for a shop as well
as cow stable, to do the chores, when the door was
suddenly burst open and with fearful yells, twenty or more Indians rushed
in the room.
The attack was so sudden and unexpected, that for a moment grandfather was
almost paralyzed. Grandmother, not up yet,
clapped her hand over my mother's mouth, a baby about three months old,
and pulled the coverlid over her head.
The Indians began at once to search the house, taking everything that struck
their fancy. Grandfather's musket was seized
from where it hung on the wall before he had time to recover from the shock
of their attack. One Indian grabbed the quilts
on the bed and in jerking them off, pulled grandmother and the baby on the
floor. With great presence of mind, grandmother
kept her hand over the little girl's mouth, and as soon as she touched the
floor still covered by the quilts, rolled under
the bed, with the baby in her arms. In the half twilight and confusion,
she was not noticed nor did the Indians once look
where she lay hidden.
Two big Indians broke open the chest and took out grandfather's tin box
holding his hard earned savings. This roused
grandfather's ire more than anything that had yet happened and he at once
started to hunt for his ax, intending to make the
thieving redskin give up his money or to split some of their heads before
they could take it away. It was lucky he did not
find the ax, for resistance would probably have made the Indians massacre
Before he had reached the cabin door, the Indians had seized him and uncle
John and made them prisoners. As soon as the
money was found, the savages started off with captives and plunder, which
had been accumulating for several weeks. They
seemed to be in a hurry when they left and tried to leave as little trace
as possible of the course they took through the
forest. Very likely they did not dare fire the cabin, as it would
have been a signal of their presence to the Fort, and the
stolen property made their retreat rather slow.
Grandmother lay still for a long time, which in the fear and suspense seemed
days, expecting every moment to see some savage
peer under the bed at her or to hear the crackling of the flames around
her. She hugged her baby closer to her breast,
wondering what the fate of her boy and his father would be, but she knew
any effort on her part to assist them would only add
to their trouble.
As soon as she was satisfied that the Indians were all gone, she crept out
expecting to find the murdered bodies of her
family. But she found no blood or signs of murder, and she then hastened
with the baby in her arms, to the Fort to tell them
of the outrage and get them to go in pursuit for she was now certain husband
and son had been carried off captives and well
she knew the stake or tomahawk might be their fate. In a short time,
a company of soldiers were in pursuit, but several
hours already had elapsed and their trail was difficult to follow.
Grandmother stayed at the Fort during the absence of the soldiers. At night
she would sit and rock back and forth with the
baby in her arms, tearless but with strained ears and eyes, hoping yet without
hope; while during the day she watched for a
glimpse of the returning loved ones through an opening in the forest.
No wonder she never entirely recovered from the shock
of those terrible days, for the fate of the Indian captive was not often
to return to his friends.
Meanwhile grandfather and uncle John were being hurried as rapidly as possible
northward toward the Canada border. No stop
was made during the day for rest or food, and at night when they camped,
only a little meal and water was given the exhausted
From the moment of his capture, grandfather began to plan how to escape,
and had it not been for his boy, perhaps he might
have succeeded, but to do so he felt would be instant excuse for killing
his son. He, therefore watched and listened all
day, and when night came on meant to break for liberty. During the
day, father and son had not been allowed to talk
together, but when they stopped for the night the tired, frightened boy's
cry of 'daddy, oh, daddy' touched the savage hears
and they were allowed to be together. Grandfather now cautiously told
John that he felt sure they could escape; to be
courageous and whatever he saw him do, to try to do just the same.
When the Indians had finished their meal, they replenished their fire and
prepared to roll themselves in their blankets and
rest. They tied long ropes around grandfather's and uncle John's legs
and shoulders, leaving two ends to each side, and on
either of these lay an Indian. As soon as all was quiet and the Indians
apparently sleeping soundly, grandfather tried to
loosen himself from the ropes which bound him, but careful as he was, it
aroused his guards and they raising themselves on
their elbows angrily growled "Ugh! Ugh!" at him. Seeing that all hope
then to escape was hopeless, he tried to rest his
tired body so as to be able to act in an emergency when they were not guarded
Before it was fairly light the next morning, and with a few scraps thrown
them for breakfast, the prisoners were hurried on.
During the forenoon, no chance to escape presented itself, but in the afternoon
they felt somewhat cheered for the Indians
acted excited and scouts were being sent out and frequent conferences held.
The prisoners were put in front with the luggage
and when late at night they stopped to eat and rest, no campfire was lighted.
Grandfather felt sure that help was near and it helped give the prisoners
strength even though the food was only a little
meal and water. Yet he was filled with apprehension at the ominous
scowls cast at him and uncle John by many of the
warriors. During the night, every sound or move made by the savages
he heard, expecting any moment perhaps to hear his boy's
skull crushed in or feel the knife pierce his own heart. It was a
night of terror.
They were so faint from lack of food and exposure that the afternoon of
the second day, they were put on the horses' backs
with the plunder and during the night the poor boy kept moaning in his sleep
'Oh, daddy, I'm so tired, so tired.' The
Indian on his rope would growl "Ugh! Ugh!" and once one of them gave him
an angry kick.
In the morning, by the time the sun had just begun to tinge the eastern
horizon and the forest still in almost midnight
darkness, the Indians again were ready to push on. The luggage was
bundled up and strapped on the few horses and hurried on
ahead with a few Indians to drive them while the rest of the warriors with
the captives, who were again given nothing to eat.
Hurried as rapidly as possible, but uncle John could only drag along and
grandfather limped sadly.
Soon they heard the echo of a gun in the distance and it fairly made grandfather's
heart leap but not his limbs, for he
limped worse than ever. He knew from the direction of the sound that
help was near even had not the actions of the Indians
convinced him. Their captors pushed them along some distance with
angry 'Ughs' and some kicks and blows. This did no good
for grandfather's lameness constantly increased. He pointed to his
musket which one of the Indians was carrying, and then to
his leg motioning to show them where and how he was wounded.
When it was found they could not be hurried, a brief counsel was held.
Their leaders and a few others seemed to expostulate
with some who brandished their weapons in a way that made grandfather's
blood chill, while uncle John grew white and gasped
"Daddy they are going to kill us." His father tried to reassure him
but it was with but little hope and his thoughts went
with great sorrow to the poor wife who would see the scalped bodies of her
husband and son found by the rescuing party whose
muskets had been heard occasionally all the morning.
Suddenly a big Indian with uplifted tomahawk came over to their side and
said to grandfather in broken English but with a
threatening voice "Daddy, you know way we go? You follow or we kill."
Lifting his tomahawk suggestively which made uncle
John draw close to his father and close his eyes. On grandfather's
assenting, the Indians started rapidly away while father
and son limped on slowly behind.
Why they did not dispatch them at once, he could never understand unless
they though by leaving them and they were found by
the soldiers, would keep them from further pursuit, thus giving them a chance
to escape with their plunder, which was quite
valuable. Had they murdered their prisoner, the soldiers
would have been apt to take vengeance on them.
Every few minutes the Indians would look back to see if they were following
and call out "Daddy" and he would answer "Yes,
Yes". But the calls of "Daddy" grew fainter and fainter and at the last
"Yes, Yes" they were out of sight. Grandfather and
uncle John then turned and dashed back at full speed in the direction of
the firing they had heard at intervals for two or
three hours. The wounded leg and starved bodies were forgotten.
No lameness now or lagging steps; over logs and bushed,
scratching and tearing themselves, it was wonderful the agility and strength
developed in so short a period. On they went
until they suddenly dashed in a little clearing which they must have passed
in the forest the evening before.
The sight of an open door with the woman standing in it and a man chopping
wood near by filled them with relief. The reaction
was such they could hardly tell their story to the excited couple who helped
them in their log house. The man at once looked
to the loading of his musket and prepared for defense in case the Indians
should turn back after their prisoner; while the
wife brought mild and course bread for the famished couple.
Uncle John ate so greedily after having been about starved that it made
him very sick for a short time and he came near
dying. In after years he said nothing had ever tasted so good to him
as that course bread and milk.
It was not long before the soldiers came in sight and stopping to inquire
of the settlers if they had seen a band of Indians,
were surprised to find grandfather and uncle John had escaped.
In their hurry to go to the relief, only a few soldiers had been left at
the Fort and it was thought best not to follow the
Indians any farther but return to the Fort which in case of attack, might
easily be taken having so few men to guard it for
after all the lives of the rescued party was much more than the stolen property.
Grandmother's joy on seeing her husband and boy safe and sound needs no
description, and the little girl she carried that
terrible morning in her arms to the Fort, lived to tell this story many
times to her own children, one of whom told it to her
granddaughter myself Elizabeth.
Story told by
Elizabeth Hufstader Goo granddaughter of
to her granddaughter
Eva Elizabeth Multer Howe.
Transcribed by: Mary Renee Pirrello
* Editor's note: Johann Christian Rima is believed to be the 'uncle John' in this story because of his age at end of the war. That is, the war ended in 1782. If grandfather Rima left the army 2 years prior, that would have been 1780. He took some time to accumulate his silver, say at least 1 year. Johann Christian would have been 14 on Aug. 14, 1781.