Simon Girty & The Torture of Crawford

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Posted by Champ - the Renegade of Caldwell's Coy on January 23, 1999 at 02:52:32:

During the long warfare maintained between the pioneers of the west and the Indians, the latter were greatly assisted by some renegade white men. Of these, Simon Girty was the most noted and influential. He led several important expeditions against the settlements of Virginia and Kentucky, displayed much courage, energy, and conduct, and was the object of bitter hatred on the frontier. Recent investigations into the stirring events of his career have shown that however bad he might have been, much injustice has been done his memory by border historians.

Simon Girty was born and reared in Western Pennsylvania, near the Virginia line. His parents are said to have been very dissipated, and this, perhaps, had some influence in disgusting him with life in the settlements. Becoming skilled in woodcraft, he served with young Simon Kenton, as a scout upon the frontiers. He joined the Virginia army in Dunmore's wars, and, it is said, showed considerable ambition to become distinguished as a soldier. He was disappointed, and so far from gaining promotion, was, for a trifling offence, publicly disgraced, it is said, through the influence of Colonel Gibson. The proud spirit of Girty could not take such a blow. With a burning thirst for revenge, he fled from the settlements, and took refuge among the Wyandottes.

The talents of the renegade were of the kind and of the degree to secure influence among the red men. He excelled the majority of them in council and field, and neither forgave a foe, nor forgot a friend. He was successful in many expeditions after plunder and scalps, and spared none because they were of his own race. He was cruel as many of the borderers were cruel. Becoming an Indian, he had an Indian's hatred for whites. The borderers seldom showed a red man mercy, and they could not expect any better treatment in return.

The exertions of Girty to save his friend, Simon Kenton, from a horrible death have been noticed in another place. That he did not make such exertions freqently on the side of humanity is scarcely a matter of wonder - in as much as he could not have done so consistantly with a due regard for his own safety. After he had become a renegade, the borderers would not permit a return; and as he was forced to reside among the Indians, he was right in securing their favor. Besides saving Kenton, he posted his brother, James Girty, upon the banks of the Ohio, to warn passengers in boats not to be lured onto the shore by the arts of the Indians, or of the white men in their service. This was a pure act of humanity. The conduct of Girty on another memorable occasion, the burning of Colonel William Crawford, was more suspicious.

In the early part of the year 1782, the incursions of the Indians became so harassing and distructive to the inhabitants of Western Pennsylvania, that an expedition against the Wyandotte towns was concerted, and the command given to Colonel Crawford. On the 22nd of May, the army, consisting of four hundred and fifty men, commenced its march, and proceeded due west as far as the Moravian towns, where some of the volunteers deserted. The main body, however, marched on, with unabated spirit. The Indians, discovering the advance of the invaders gathered a considerable force, and took up a strong position, determined to fight. Crawford moved forward in order of battle, and on the afternoon of the 6th of June, encountered the enemy. The conflict continued fiercely until night, when the Indians drew off, and Crawford's men slept on the field. In the morning the battle was renewed, but at a greater distance, and, during the day, neither party suffered much. As soon as it was dark, a council of war was held, and it was resolved to retreat as rapidly as possible. By nine o'clock, all the necessary arrangements had been made, and the retreat began in good order. After and advance of about a hundred yards, a firing was heard in the rear, and the troops, seized with a panic, broke and fled in confusion, each man trying to save himself. The Indians came on rapidly in pursuit and plied the tomahawk and scalping knife without mercy. Colonel Crawford and Dr. Knight were captured, at a distance from the main body, which was soon dispersed in every direction.

On the morning of 10th of June, Crawford, Knight, and nine other prisoners were conducted to the old town of Sandusky. The main body of Indians halted within eight miles of the village; but as Colonel Crawford expressed great anxiety to speak with Simon Girty, who was then at Sandusky, he was permitted to go under the care of the Indians. On the morning of 11th of June, the Colonel was brought back from Sandusky on purpose to march into town with the other prisoners. To Knight's inquiry as to whether he had seem Girty, he replied in the affirmative, and added, that the renegade had promised to use his influence for the safety of the prisoners, though as the Indians were much exasperated by the recent outrages of the whites at Guadenhutten upon resisting the Moravian red men, he was fearful that all pleading would be in vain.

Soon afterwards, Captain Pipe, the great chief of the Delawares appeared. This distinguished warrior had a prepossessing appearance and bland manners, and his language to the prisoners was kind. His purposes, however, were bloody and revengeful. With his own hand he painted every prisoner black! As they were conducted to the town, the captives observed the bodies of four of their friends, tomahawked and scalped. This was regarded as a sad presage. In a short time, they overtook five prisoners who remained alive. They were seated on the ground, and surrounded by a crowd of squas and boys, who taunted and menaced them. Crawford and Knight were compelled to sit apart from the rest, and immediately afterwards the doctor was given to a Shawnee warrior, to be conducted to their town. The boys and squas fell upon the other prisoners and tomahawked them in a moment. Crawford was then driven towards the village, Girty accompanying the party on horseback.

Presently a large fire was seen, around which were more than thirty warriors, and about double that number of boys and squas. As soon as the Colonel arrived, he was stripped naked, and compelled to sit on the ground. The squas and boys then fell upon him, and beat him severely with their fists and sticks. In a few minutes, a large stake was fixed in the ground, and piles of hickory poles were spread around it.

Colonel Crawford's hands were then tied behind his back; a strong rope was produced, one end of which was then fastened to the bottom of the stake. The rope was long enough for him to walk around the stake several times and then return. Fire was applied to the poles, which lay in piles at the distance of six or seven yards from the stake.

The colonel observing these terrible preparations, called to Gorty, who sat on horseback, at a distance of a few yards from the fire, and asked if the Indians were going to burn him. Girty replied in the affirmative. The colonel heard the intelligence with firmness, merely observing that he would bear it with fortitude. When the hickory poles had been burnt asunder in the middle, Captain Pipe arose and addressed the crowd, in a tone of great energy, and with animated gestures, pointing frequently to the colonel, who regarded him with an appearance of unruffled composure. As soon as he had ended, a large whoop burst from the assembled throng, and they all rushed at once upon the unfortunate Crawford. For several seconds, the crowd was so great around him, that Knight could not see what they were doing; but in a short time; they had dispersed sufficiently to give him a view of the colonel.

His ears had been cut off, and the blood was streaming down each side of his face. A terrible scene of torture now commenced. The warriors shot charges of powder into his naked body, commencing with the calves of his legs, and continuing to his neck. The boys snached the burning hickory poles and applied them to his flesh. As fast as he ran around the stake, to avoid one party of tormenters, he was promptly met at every turn by others, with burning poles, red hot irons, and rifles loaded with powder only; so that in a few minutes nearly one hundred charges of powder had been shot into his body, which had become black and blistered in a dreadful manner. The squas would take up a quantity of coals and hot ashes, and throw them upon his body, so that in a few minutes he had nothing but fire to walk upon.

In the extremity of his agony, the unhappy colonel called aloud upon Girty, in tones which rang through Knight's brain with maddening effect: "Girty! Girty!! shoot me through the heart!! Quick! Quick!! Do not refuse me!!" "Don't you see I have no gun, colonel!!", replied the renegade, bursting into a loud laugh, and then turning to the Indian sitting beside him, he uttered some brutal jests upon the naked and miserable appearance of the prisoner. While this awful scene was being acted, Girty rode up to the spot where Dr. Knight stood, and told him that he had now had a foretaste of what was in reserve for him at the Shawnee towns. He swore that he need not expect to escape death, but should suffer it all the extremity of torture.

Knight, whose mind was deeply agitated at the sight of the fearful scene before him, took no notice of Girty, but preserved an inpenetrable silence. Girty, after contemplating the colonel's sufferings for a few moments, turned again to Knight, and indulged in a bitter invective against a certain Colonel Gibson, from whom, he said, he had received a deep injury; and dwelt upon the delight with which he would see him undergo such tortures as those which Crawford was then suffering. He observed, in a taunting tone, that most of the prisoners had saif that the white people would not injure him, if the chance of war was to throw him into their power; but that for his own part, he should be loath to try the experiment. "I think, (he added with a laugh,) that they would roast me alive, with more pleasure than those red fellows are now having broiling the colonel! What is your opinion, doctor? Do you think they would be glad to see me?" Still Knight made no answer, and in a few minutes Girty rejoined the Indians.

The terrible scene had now lasted more than two hours, and Crawford had become much exhausted. He walked slowly around the stake, spoke in a low tone, and earnestly besought God to look with compassion upon hin, and pardon his sins. His nerves had lost much of their sensibility, and he no longer shrunk from the firebrands with which they incessantly touched him. At length he sunk in a fainting fit upon his face, and lay motionless. Instantly an Indian sprung upon his back, knelt lightly upon one knee, made a circular incision with his knife upon the crown of his head, and clapping the knife between his teeth, tore the scalp off with both hands. Scarecly had this been done, whan a withered hag approached with a board full of burning embers, and poured them upon the crown of his head, now laid bare to the bone. The colonel groaned deeply, arose, and again walked slowly around the stake! But why continue a description so horrible? Nature at length could endure no more, and at a late hour in the night, he was released by death from the hands of his tormenters.

Whether Girty really took pleasure in the torture of Colonel Crawford, or was forced by the circumstances to seem to enjoy it is a question which historians have generally been in too much haste to determine. It is well known that at the time of Crawford's expedition the Indians were very much exasperated by the cold-blooded slaughter of the Moravian red men at Guadenbatten (also spelled Gnadenhutten), an atrocity without parallel in border warfare, and to have seemed merciful to the whites for a single moment would have been fatal to Girty. Indeed, it is said, that, when he spoke of ransoming the colonel, Captain Pipe threatened him with death at the stake. Let justice be rendered even to the worst of criminals.

Dr. Knight, made bold or desperate by the torture he had witnessed, effected his escape from the Shawnee warrior to whose care he was committed, and after much suffering, reached the settlements. From him the greater portion of the account of Crawford's death is derived, and corrected by the statements of the Indians present on the occasion.

Simon Girty never forsook the Indians among whom he had made his home; but his influence gradually diminished. Some accounts say that he perished in the battle of the Thames; while others assert that he lived to extreme old age in Canada, where his descendants are now highly resepected citizens.

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