The Capture One fateful day in May 1755, James Smith, just 18 years old set out on horseback to help 300 men cut a wagon road from Fort Loudon to join General Braddock's road near the forks of Ohio, Allegheny, and Monongahela River at Fort Duquesne. As he rode along the trail, he day dreamed of returning to the beautiful young lady he had fallen head over heels in love with. But as fate would have it, James Smiths' life would change forever that day and the events would forge a special place in history for him. As James and friend, Arnold Vigorous, rode along near Bedford, a small war party attacked them. Arnold Vigorous was killed and James Smith was taken captive. The war party traveled through the mountains, rarely stopping, for several days. They shared moldy biscuits and roasted groundhog with their captives. Finally, they reached Fort Duquesne (which is now Fort Pitt in Pittsburgh). James was startled by the large number of Indians running towards him, painted in a hideous manner in shades of red, black, blue, & brown, the men were nothing but a breechcloth. As the group, estimated to be 400-500 strong, formed two lines. An English speaking Indian told James he must run the gauntlet. This meant running the length of the lines, while being beaten with sticks, stones, and tomahawks. How severely a captive was treated depended largely on the temper of the Indians at the time. Managing to make it near the end of the line, James collapsed from severe pain.
Escape from Death He awoke in Fort Duquesne where a French doctor was treating his wounds. His pain was intense. When he became strong enough he was taken to the Indian town of Tullikes. The day after his arrival, he underwent a complete transformation at the hands of his captives. After dipping his fingers in ashes, one of the Indians pulled all the hair from James Smith except for a small spot about three to four inches square on his crown. James felt like a turkey being plucked. The remaining section of hair the Indian cut off except three locks which was braided with narrow beaded garter and silver broaches. Then they put holes in his nose and ears, putting in nose rings and earrings. They stripped him of his clothes, had him put on a breechcloth, painted his face, head, and body in various colors. They finished by putting a large wampum belt on his neck and silver bands on his hand and right arm. Thinking that he must surely be going to be put to death, the old chief took him by the hand and lead him to three young Indian women. These women took him down the bank into the river, until he was in water up to his middle. The squaws pushed him under the water and as soon as he came back up, pushed him under again. When one woman said "No hurt you", he began to calm down a bit. They washed and rubbed him severely, then led him to the council house. Here they gave him a new ruffled shirt, a pair of leggings decorated with ribbons and beads, mocassins and garters, dressed with beads, porcupine quills and red hair, completing the outfit with tinsel laced cappo for his head. Again, they painted his face and head and tied a bunch of red feathers in his scalp lock. Then, they seated him on a bear skin and gave him a pipe tomahawk and a polecat skin pouch, which contained tobacco, killegenics or dry sumac leaves, which they mix with their own tobacco. They also gave him spunk flint and, steel. The Indians came in, dressed and painted in their grandest manner and sat around James. Then one of the chiefs gave a speech. Another Indian, who could speak English, translated to James Smith. The chief told him that the ceremony at the river and the council house was the Indian was of washing the white blood from his veins and adopting him into the Conewago tribe. James was now considered one of them and he had nothing to fear. They were obligated to love, support, and defend him and one another. From that day on, they never made any distinction between the white man, James Smith, and themselves. His adoption was to replace members of a family that were killed in battle.
The Conversion Throughout the next five years, James (whom the Indians called Scoourva) went on hunts with them, killing deer, elk, buffalo, bear, and wild turkeys. He was with them when they moved into the sugar camp to collect maple sap. They cooked the sap into maple sugar, mixed it with bear fat and dipped roast venison in it. James also helped the men trap foxes, raccoons, and wild cats at the camp. While James was recuperating from his beatings at Fort Duquesne, a Frenchman gave him a book, "Russell's Seven Sermons" , and later a Dutch woman prisoner gave him a copy of an English Bible. He treasured these books and kept them in a deerskin pouch with him. One day when he went out to hunt chestnuts, his books disappeared. He thought the Indians destroyed them because he read them so much. But a year later, when they camped at the same site, his Indian friends found his books still in the deerskin pouch not showing much damage except to the binding. His companions were very happy that the books were found because they knew how much they meant to James Smith. This incident marked a turning point in James relationship with the Indians. He began to regard them more as human beings. He never forgot the shocking tortures he witnessed at Fort Duquesne, but accepted the fact that cruelty was commonplace at that time. One time while hunting beaver, they decided to track several raccoons. James separated from the group, checking a certain tree for the raccoons. The snow storm became worse and began blowing causing him to lose track of his companions. He was unable to start a fire having with him only bow arrows and a tomahawk. He was also not clothed for the cold weather. Finally, he found a hollow tree with a hole at one side that he could crawl in. It was about three feet in diameter and high enough for him to stand in and it was dry. There was a considerable amount of soft, dry rotten wood around the hollow area. Wearing nothing but a breechclout, leggings, mocassins, and a blanket he chopped strips from a fallen tree nearby and set them on end against the opening. Having stopped up all the holes, he was safe and secure from the snowstorm. He made a bed from the soft rotten wood and went to sleep while the snowstorm raged outside. It was very dark in the tree trunk, so when he thought it must be daylight, he tried to push the tree strips away from the opening in the tree but nothing happened on his first try. The heavy snow had blocked the strips tightly against the hollow tree. He wrapped his blanket around him and lay down and prayed to God to direct and protect him. Finally, he was able to move the strips enough to push himself through the opening. He estimated lines and eventually found the campsite. His companions expressed great joy at his return and took him into a tent, gave him plenty of fat beaver meat to eat and smoked with him. When they returned to the village, he had to retell the story of his night in the hollow tree. His brother Tecaughretanego said " Brother, your conduct on this occasion hath pleased us much, you have given us an evidence of your fortitude, skill, and resolution, and we hope you will always go on to do great actions that can make a great man." James thanked them for their care and kindness and told them he hoped he never did anything to dishonor any of them.
Homecoming In July 1759 after five years with his Indian captives, he walked away from his hunting party, boarded a French ship at Montreal that had English prisoners on board returning to the colonies to be exchanged. But, ironically all were sent to prison in Montreal so he remained there for four months. Finally, he and the prisoners were sent to Crown Point a fort and English trading post near Lake Champlain New York. He traveled on foot for almost a year returning early in 1760 to his home between Mercersburg and Fort Loudon. He learned that his sweetheart had married a few days before he arrived. He stated it was impossible for him to describe his emotions upon learning of this news. His family received him with great joy, but were surprised at how much he looked and acted like an Indian. He settled in his old home and became a farmer. In May 1763, he married Anne Wilson. They had seven children. Indian war parties once again continued raiding the whole Conococheague Valley, now Franklin County, driving out and killing hundreds of settlers. These settlers were Scotch-Irish Presbyterians. Pennsylvania was Quaker government at the time and wanted to maintain a pacifist role. So, the local settlers hired James Smith as captain of a company of rangers. As he chose the men to become "Smith's Rangers" he dressed them in the Indian manner, with breechclouts, mocassins, and green shrouds. In place of hats, they wore red hankerchiefs tied around their heads. Painted their faces red and black like Indian warriors. He taught them how to look like and Indian, dress like an Indian, and fight like an Indian. Believing strongly that the British were allowing unscrupulous traders to supply the Indians with weapons, ammunition, etc. Smiths' Rangers way laid these pack trains and burned their supplies. (81 horse loads, 63 were destroyed) Three hundred men strong, Smiths' Rangers marched to Fort Loudon where the traders had fled. They continued firing upon the fort. Lt. Charles Grant of the 42nd Highland regiment commanded Fort Loudon. Lt. Grant had confiscated many weapons from the county people. Smiths' Rangers fired on the fort for two days and nights, so closely that no one was permitted to go in or out. Firing was kept up on all corners of the fort, so that the sentrses could not stand upright on the bastions . No one was hurt. Finally, November 11, 1765, Lt. Grant surrendered the guns to Wm. McDowell and vacated the fort with his troops. The British flag came down and the "First Rebel", James Smith and his Rangers proclaimed victory. James Smith truly believed in his cause of protecting the settlers. Smiths' Rangers patrolled the area for several months. When Sir William Johnson proclaimed peace with the Indians, the traders were once again allowed to pass unharmed. James Smith went on to explore the county west of the Cumberland Mountains in Tennessee. He had earned the rank of Colonel in the Revolutionary War. He moved to Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania and settled on a farm on Jacob's Creek. Here his beloved wife died. He returned to Kentucky in 1785 looking after some land claims and married Margret Rodgers Irvine, a widow with five children. Col. James Smith was a man of very quiet character, a reader and a thinker, much given to religious reading and meditation. He was able to keep a journal during his captivity which was unusual. When he put his story into book form his notes were a great asset, for most captivity narratives that were written years later from memory. Apparently Smith continued to keep journals all his life. Some may still survive and would be of rare historical values. He spent his later years in Washington County, Kentucky, where he died in 1812.
This story was written by Anna Rotz, with historical reference from
The First Rebel, Swanson, N., Farrar & Rinehart, 1937.
Portrait: Charles J. Stoner