The Captivity of Jonathan Alder (1773-1849)
and his life with the Indians
Running the Gauntlet - The Adoption - The Indian Language - Col. Crawford
When the preparations had been completed, they all moved up to the place of starting, and sat down upon the ground. The entire population of the village men, women and children came out and formed two lines, single file, about two rods apart, facing each other. The lines were long and straight. Young Alder was bidden to stand up, so they could see him. About twenty or thirty small boys came where he stood. Out of that number, the Indians selected six boys to pursue him as he ran the gauntlet. The remaining boys took their places in the line, while the six, thus selected, were placed about two rods behind young Alder, and armed with keen switches, which they flourished about their heads evincing deep anxiety to commence the race. We will allow the prisoner to express his sensations, during the balance of the ordeal. He says, "My knees felt a little weak while these preparations were going on, which took perhaps an hour. After I was made to stand up, the white man came to me to give the proper instructions. He said, 'Do you see those boys behind you, with switches?' I told him I did. 'Well' said he, 'Look away upon the hill between the lines - do you see a woman standing there?' I replied I did 'Well,' said he, 'when the word is given to run, run as fast as you can, for your life, right to that woman. These boys behind you will run after you, and if they catch you, will whip you as much as they please. Now be sure and run right to the woman, and start just as quick as you hear the word.' The Indians had acted fairly in this matter, so much so, that if it were necessary for me to run this - to me - terrible race. I could not blame them. I examined the boys carefully, they were all fresh and active, while I felt sore and tired from my long march. But the boys were all smaller than myself, which gave me some encouragement. My eyes were continually passing from the woman to the boys, all the time calculating my prospect for success. The boys were cutting the air with their switches behind me, while the woman held out her hands and beckoned me cheerfully and hopefully to come to her, but it was a long way to her. However, I concealed my fears, determined to do my best, let what would come."
After some maneuvering and changing of positions the Indians all took their places in the line, and perfect silence prevailed. The white man now told young Alder to be ready. He nerved up all his energies for the race, and discovering that the Indian boys were getting anxious to achieve their supposed easy victory, he determined, if in his power to prevent it. As soon as the white man gave the word "run," young Alder sprang forward with all of his might, the Indian boys in full pursuit: He continues: "As I would pass the Indians, they would raise the war whoop, and the boys all the time yelling at the top or their voices. I felt a little embarrassed at first, for about fifty yards, but soon began to get more strength, and it seemed that every yell behind, gave me more strength and courage. The noise was all behind me, for all the Indians in front kept perfectly still until I passed them, when they would raise the yell - so the farther I ran, the louder the shouts grew, and the stronger I got, for it seemed to me the yelling and cheering was for my success, and if ever there was a foot race - run where all the parties did their bests it was this one, at least it was so on my part. I kept my eyes fixed on the woman and watched every motion. When I got within about one hundred yards of her - it was a little up hill - she commenced waving her hand to me very encouragingly, but running up hill broke my wind a little, still my courage did not fail in the least. I reached the woman in triumph, when she reached out her hand and took hold of mine. I then took the liberty to look back over my shoulder for the first time. I saw the boys were a little further behind me than they were at the start. As soon as the woman grasped my hand she ran with me to the council house, which was about one hundred yards farther on. I am sure she lifted me ten feet sometimes, without touching the ground, she ran so fast. Indeed, she thought I was a little hero, and was very proud of my success. We reached the council without my receiving a single stroke from the switch boys. She took me into the council house prepared for that purpose. They dropped their switches at the door, and came in and took seats close by me. They were puffing and blowing at a high rate, and their faces were very red, and dripping with sweat. The Indians all came in and took seats. It was a very large house, and it seemed to me they never would get done coming in. The house was perfectly jammed full. In a short time, all became perfectly quiet. There was no moving or changing places according to custom, the head Indian stood up and related the whole story of the captivity of Mrs. Martin and myself, from the time the party of Indians first started out until they returned, so that all could hear the same story at once, and at first hand. This saved all inquiry afterwards. The head Indian was about one and a half hours in telling the story, while I sat there surrounded by Indians and unable to understand one word of what they said. When the Indian got through with his story, the Indians began going out, and after most of them had gone the Indian that made me prisoner took me to his wigwam. Here I put in my first night, in the village, in my master's house."
The next day he was pained to learn that Mrs. Martin was to go to another town. She belonged to a man of another tribe. Nothing of importance occurred for several days after he arrived at the village, but after the departure of Mrs. Martin, for whom he had formed a strong friendship, he felt very lonesome. He was unable to understand the Indian language, and had no one with whom he could converse. About the fourth day after his arrival, the white man told him that arrangements had been made for his adoption into a family, in the village, in a few days, and that his new father and mother were good people and would treat him kindly.
The next morning after a good deal of talk and arrangements, he was taken to another wigwam, where he was to be adopted into a new family, and have a new father, mother and sisters. He was told his new father was Chief of the Mingo tribes by name Succopanus and his new mother, Winecheo, a Shawnee. They had three children living - Hannah, Sally, and Mary, and a son, who died quite young, and wished to adopt young Alder in his place. The day before he was taken to his new home, his Indian mother gathered a great quantity of herbs of various kinds, and, on the morning of his adoption, put them in a brass kettle and boiled them a long time, and then took them off the fire and strained the water, which was set aside and cooled until it was about blood warm, after which she stripped young Alder, and commenced rubbing him with soap, and washed him with the herb-water. The soap was of the best British quality. She talked rapidly in Shawnee during the whole process of washing, which occupied about half an hour. So thorough was the cleansing that Mr. Alder says, "I never was washed so clean before or since." Her talk seemed to be a sort of invocation to the Great Spirit, to bless her new son, and make him a great hunter and brave warrior, fit to fill a place in the house of a great Chief and nation. After she had finished washing him she carefully wiped his body dry, and brought out a new suit of clothes she had been for some time making. It was made out of the finest English goods, in Indian fashions. The moccasins were made out of tanned deer-skin and covered with colored beads and ornamented with large silver buckles which were polished very bright. A large and beautiful silk handkerchief was tied around his head. In fact, he was dressed as richly and gaily, from head to foot, as a chief's son or a young prince, a position he was about to assume. On carefully surveying his wardrobe, he says, "There was no boy in the town that could come up to me by a long ways, so far as dress was concerned.
Notwithstanding his adoption, and the kindness shown by his new parents, he felt unhappy, and desired nothing so much as to be restored to his own mother. Mrs. Martin had disappeared, and now, the last link was about to be broken in the departure of the white man who had taken much interest in his welfare, and given him good advice. There was not a living soul with whom he could converse, but his new parents and their language was only communicated by signs and gestures. He was indeed very lonely, and would sit for hours thinking of home, his mother and little brothers. At times, he became so full of sorrow that he could not refrain from crying, wherever he was. In this condition, he made it a rule, every day for a long time, about the middle of the afternoon, to go down into the river bottom, to a certain large walnut tree, and sit down and cry until he could give full vent to his grief. He then arose, wiped or washed his face, to prevent the Indians from suspecting he was in trouble. Notwithstanding all his efforts to conceal his grief, his Indian mother could see he was very unhappy. She frequently talked to him about it, and tried to persuade him not to be so troubled. In fact she did everything within her power, to make him comfortable, and tried, in every way, to convince him that she really loved him, as her own son.
He learned the Indian language very rapidly, for all the boys and girls of the village took a deep interest in his welfare, and were ready to answer his questions, and explain the name of everything, as best they could and seemed especially anxious to instruct him in the Indian tongue. He soon became a great favorite with all and they had no sport or play unless he was invited to be present and participate in their merriment. He says: "I could not have been treated better by my own brothers than I was by the boys and girls of the town." His first lesson was from his Indian mother, who taught him to call his new parents father and mother, a lesson he never forgot as long as he stayed with the Indians. His mother frequently catechized him on his adoption, after he learned to talk the Indian tongue, and explain the nature and importance of the ceremony. His father and mother being of different tribes, spoke a different tongue, though each could speak the language of the other and under-stood both. Such was their partiality for their respective tribes, that when Succopanus spoke to Winecheo, he used the Mingo language, and when Winecheo spoke to him, she used the Shawnee tongue, and when either of them spoke to young Alder they did it in their native tongue and in that way he learned the Mingo and Shawnee languages at the same time. His father, however, was determined he should be a Mingo, while his mother was equally resolved in teaching him to be a Shawnee. The result of these desires was to stir up frequent family jars and disputes, but no violence, especially on the part of Winecheo, who proved to be really the best woman he ever saw. His sisters were remarkably kind, especially Mary. She took as much care of him as if she had been his natural sister, and he a small child. Indeed, she seemed ready to sacrifice her own life to protect him, while Sally was quite indifferent about his comfort. She was mischievous in disposition, and took much pleasure in teasing and tormenting him, and when she desired to seriously wound his feelings, would call him a "nasty, dirty prisoner." These annoyances by Sally were always resented by Mary and Hannah, for whom he entertained a very high regard. In this manner he passed the first winter of his captivity at the Mingo town. He had made good progress in the language and formed many strong friendships among the boys and girls.
The spring of 1782, came, and with it many consultations among the Shawnee, Wyandots and Mingoes, concerning raids upon Virginia and Kentucky. Early in the summer of 1782, just after his adoption, he was told that there was a white man to be burned at Sandusky, and an opportunity given to him to go and see the white man executed, if he wished. It was but a short distance from where they were encamped, but he had no desire to see so horrible an execution, and refused to go. Nearly all the village, men women and children visited the place of execution, and witnessed that dreadful tragedy. Mr. Alder did not learn the particulars at the time but was told the captive was an officer of very high in rank. Early in August, (1782) a grand council of Indian warriors was held at Chillicothe, near the present site of Xenia, at which Succopanus was present.
We have stated that Mr. Alder learned two languages at the same time, the Mingo and the Shawnee. In fact he learned also the Delaware language, for there were many Indians of that tribe in the village, and many of the boys and girls with whom he played, spoke all three dialects so he learned them all about the same time.
The Indian mode of life and diet did not agree with him, and he became very thin in flesh. The Indians lived the major part of the time almost exclusively upon flesh, sometimes having a little hominy and boiled beans. Bread was out of the question. The Indians rarely used salt in their foods. Young Alder found it difficult to accustom himself to the Indian style of preparing food. There was but little tidiness among the squaws, and the appearance of most of their cooking destroyed all taste for it. It was hard for his stomach to become accustomed to food destitute of salt or seasoning, but in fifteen or twenty months his appetite began to increase, and he improved in flesh. During this continued system of fasting, he became much reduced in strength, very gloomy and taciturn, preceiving which, his Indian father, attempted to relieve his despondency by holding out the flattering hope that he would yet see his mother and friends. He frequently suggested that there might be an exchange of prisoners sometime soon, when he would be permitted to go back to his own country. He, therefore, urged his new son to become reconciled to his present situation that when the proper time came for his return home, he might be looking well. Notwithstanding, these assurances, young Alder had a suspicion that his Indian father had no real intention of permitting him to return, but was actuated by motives of flattery, to keep up his spirits until he became more attached to the Indian mode of living.
About this time a white man came to the Indian village and took especial pains to attract the attention of young Alder. He took him to one side where they had a long talk. He inquired all about the parents and relations, where they lived, and how he liked to live among the Indians, and if they treated him kindly and he thought he could be satisfied to live with them. Having responded in a satisfactory manner, to all these questions, the strange white man said his name was "Simon Girty", that he was formerly from Pennsylvania, and that if he (Alder) was not satisfied, he would buy him, and send him across the lake into Canada among the British, and they would learn him a trade. but continued saying --"If you stay with this people, someday you will be exchanged for another prisoner, and have a chance to get back to your mother." And further, "You will he more likely to get back to your people, if you stay with the Indians, than if with the British. Besides, you will soon get to like the Indians and will not care to leave them, even to go home. And further, the war will not last always, for the whites will conquer the Indians and then there will be peace, and then you can go where you please. Reflect on what I have told you, and I will be back in about two weeks, and if you are not satisfied by that time, I will do as I have said, buy you and send you to the British across the lake." The name "British" to young Alder, at that time, was almost as bad as "Indian". He reflected upon the words and promises of Girty for a number of days, and the more he weighed his propositions, the more fully he became convinced that his chances of getting home were better with the Indians than with the British across the lake, and therefore, resolved to remain where he was. Girty returned as agreed and inquired of young Alder, if he had made up his mind. He says, "I told him I had, and that I would stay with the Indians". He seemed pleased at this decision, arid talked for sometime, giving him much good advice, telling him to be a good boy, and some day he would be sure to get back to his folks. H e met Girty many times afterwards, and he always took a lively interest in his welfare, gave him much encouragement, and good advice. In conversation about this time, Girty gave young Alder a full history of the capture and execution of the lamented Ed. William Crawford. Girty evinced a warm friendship for the young captive, on all occasions. Years afterward, upon his return to Virginia, he was greatly surprised to learn that Girty was regarded a very cruel and treacherous man. As to his conduct at the execution of Col. Crawford, Mr. Alder, knew next to nothing, but as to the power of Girty to save Col. Crawford he knew he had none. Girty belonged to the Senecas, and Crawford was captured by the Delaware's, and over that tribe, Girty had no control whatever. With his own tribes his influence was very great, but he had none among the Delaware, and some other tribes. Each tribe managed its own business and punished its own criminals in the mode and manner it judged best, and no one dared interfere in any way whatever. Yet, he says, "There were exceptions to this general rule. In the case of Leatherlips, in Franklin County, who was executed for supposed witchcraft, much influence was brought to bear upon the tribe to save the old chief, but to no effect, for he was put to death."