GRANDMOTHERS STORY


Two years before the close of the Revolutionary War, grandfather Rheman 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 them.

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 prisoners.  

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 so closely.

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
Grandfather Rheman
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.