McCulloups Leap

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The building you see in the backround is where Gerrero Music Is located. There is a parking lot to the left of the building. The former Imperial Display was located here and destoyed by fire. As was the original Gerrero Music Store. They both were facing Main  Street. To see a arial view of Wheeling and the distance from the fort to the Leep of Samuel McCullough [Click here]

Fort Henry

  Wheeling, Fort Henry,McCullough’s leap

The Leap

Picture on left is from the 30’s picture below is in the 1880’s


Wheeling, a village of thirty houses, was, with the exception of Pittsburg, the most important place on the Ohio River. Fort Henry was its citadel. The fort stood on a lofty bluff. It was an oblong square, of oak palisades, inclosing two or three acres of ground. At the corners of the stockade were block-houses. Inside were the magazine and a few solid cabins, quarters for the neighboring settlers who might take refuge there. In the few years since their coming, the founders of Wheeling had made the wilderness to blossom as the rose. Standing on the ramparts of Fort Henry, looking out over the landscape, one might have seen not only the encircling forests, the distant purple of the mountains, and the winding river, but also green pastures, populated with contented cattle, waving fields of yellow grain, leafy orchards, from which peeped the blushing fruit, and solid barns to store the products of the farms.

On the 31st of August, 1777, scouts brought definite information of the approach of five hundred Indians, all armed with the best weapons, and abundantly supplied by the British Government with ammunition. They were commanded by a white man. On receipt of this intelligence, every one repaired to the fort. The cattle were driven into the stockade. Provisions and ammunition were hurriedly carried up the bluff, and lodged in the store-house and magazine. Camp fires were built inside the stockade.

As night came on, the women and children spread improvised beds on the floors of the cabins. But, although they retired, they were wide-awake. The women talked to each other in excited whispers. The crackling of a twig caused shudders of apprehension. Forty times during the night, it was said: “There they are!” The men remained outside to watch. They sat around the camp-fire, gun in hand, saying little, constantly on the alert, and grimly awaiting the attack. There were just sixty men in the fort. But the night passed without any indication of the presence of the foe. The truth was the Indians had come within sight of the fort. They had seen the sparks from the camp-fires, and the light in the block-houses. This showed that the garrison was awake. The night attack was abandoned.

For this disappointment the Indians resolved to compensate themselves. An ambuscade would be about as gratifying as the night attack. They ranged themselves in a double line across the fields. When the sun rose they lay hidden in the weeds. The people at the fort did not suspect the trap. A white man and a negro went out to drive in some horses which had been over looked the night before. They walked into the snare. Six Indians sprang up. The white man was killed. But the negro was purposely allowed to escape, that he might carry word to the fort and induce more men to come out. The scheme succeeded. He reported that there were six Indians down there. Fourteen men under Captain Mason, at once set out to punish the murderers. Sure enough they found six Indians retreating across the field. The pursuers fired. As if by magic the field was instantly blackened with Indians starting up from their concealment. Retreat was cut off. The white men fell on the encircling lines with the fury of despair. They hacked, clubbed, cut, gashed, and beat their way through. We said “they.” Who? The fifteen? No, the four! Eleven never got through. Mason and three men started to run for the fort. William Shepherd’s foot caught in a grape vine. He fell. Before he could rise, a tomahawk clove asunder his skull. Another was shot as he ran. Mason snatched his gun. He, himself, was wounded twice, but he pressed on in the race for life. He felt the warm breath of his pursuer. He stopped short, tripped up the savage, and shot him. He could proceed no farther. He crawled into a hollow log, and lay there till the pursuers ceased to be such.

The discharge of guns and the yells of the Indians had been the only information at the fort of the ambuscade. As has been said, it was a little after sunrise. A dense fog from the river made it impossible to see an object ten feet off. The defenders of the fort saw nothing. Captain Ogle took twelve men and went to the rescue. He was a little in the rear of his party. Suddenly a ring of Indians was discovered to have completely surrounded the party in the fog. Ogle alone was left outside that circle. The scene that followed was the worst sort of butchery. In two minutes all but two of Ogle’s men were killed. Ogle hid himself in a fence corner. An Indian came, and sat just above him on the fence. He was wounded and in pain. He did not notice the white man. When the wounded Indian left, Ogle made his way to the fort. They were making a list of the dead. Twenty-seven of the best men had left the fort. Only four had returned alive, and they were wounded.

There was no time to grieve. The whole force of Indians was starting up the hill, flourishing the bloody scalps of the slain, for an assault on the fort. These scalps were valuable. Colonel Hamilton, the British commandant at Detroit, who had fitted out this terrible war-party, paid thirty dollars for every settler’s scalp. Twenty-three scalps were worth six hundred and ninety dollars. Hamilton is known to history as the “hair buyer.” There were thirty-three men and about a hundred women and children left in the fort. Every heart was heavy with grief from the terrible disasters of the morning. The Indians called for a surrender. But the weakened garrison replied that death alone could conquer them.

The Indians began the attack. At first, they fought at long range, firing into the walls of the palisade, and doing no execution. The defenders of the fort reserved their fire. At last, the Indians started in a dead run for the gates of the palisade, to tear them down and force an entrance. They were met by a deadly fire at point-blank range. The charging column wavered. To hesitate in a charge is to retreat. The Indians retreated.

It was an hour before this maneuver was repeated. This time the danger to the fort was great. Its defenders were splendid marksmen. Many a noble form was stretched lifeless in the grass as the Indians swarmed up the slope. But the numbers of the foe were so great that it seemed almost impossible to beat them back. Instead of retreating at the first fire, the survivors continued to advance.

The women of the fort were busy. Some moulded bullets. Others loaded guns, and handed them to the men, who could, as a consequence, fire three times where they could only have done so once. The garrison seemed to multiply itself. Some of the women stood at port-holes, loading and firing with all the skill and precision of the men. The battle is said to have lasted twenty-three hours. During the lulls in the conflict, the women would carry bread and meat to the smoke-blackened men at the port-holes. It seemed as if the strength of the Indians would never be weakened. It seemed as if their persistence would never be wearied out. During all that time, not an eye was closed in slumber, not a hand removed from a rifle.

There were many incidents of personal heroism during the siege. As there was another siege of Fort Henry in 1782, there has been great dispute as to which siege the respective incidents belong. The best authorities differ. But for our purpose, this doubt is unimportant. The place, persons, and circumstances were the same at both sieges. The defenses were equally heroic. This is not a critical history. It is a popular recountal. We will take advantage of the doubt as to time. We will range ourselves with those authorities which hold that Elizabeth Zane’s gunpowder exploit and Sam. McCullough’s leap for life occurred in the siege of 1777. It would be interesting to relate this historical dispute. Both sides rest their argument on the sworn testimony of eye-witnesses. Either account, taken by itself and judged by the canons of historical criticism, would appear unimpeachable. Yet they are absolutely contradictory. They differ not only as to time, but as to the actors themselves., and as to the transaction itself.

One woman, who was an eye-witness, swears that she saw the gunpowder exploit performed by Mollie Clark, in 1782, that she herself handed out the gunpowder, that the supply had run short, not at the fort, but at Colonel Zane’s cabin outside the stockade, and that Elizabeth Zane was not present at the siege at all. On the other hand, the first published accounts of the affair were prepared by scrupulously careful writers who obtained their whole information from the people of Wheeling, who were participants in the siege. They say the exploit was performed at the first siege, and relate it as we give it herein. This dispute shows how apt eye-witnesses are, after a shorter or longer lapse of time, to exaggerate, to pervert it, to wholly change the facts, no matter how honest their intentions. It illustrates the slenderness of so much of what is called historical evidence. It warns us to be cautious as to how we receive accounts of marvelous and unusual occurrences, and explains in a very practical way the growth of legends and historical myths.

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During the afternoon of the first day, the supply of gunpowder was perceived to be dangerously small. Colonel Zane, the founder of Wheeling, remembered that in his cabin, sixty yards from the fort, was a full keg of powder. He called the men about him, told them the facts, and asked for volunteers to procure the keg of powder. Several brave fellows offered, but at this point, Elizabeth Zane, a handsome and vivacious girl, stepped forward.

She was a younger sister of the colonel, and had just come from Philadelphia, where she had been educated in the best school for young ladies in the city. Though wholly unfamiliar with border warfare, she had thrown herself into the work of casting bullets, making cartridges, and loading rifles, with the greatest zeal and courage. Now she bounded forward and imperiously announced, “No one shall go but myself!” The men turned quickly as her clear voice rang out in the air. Her flashing eyes and mounting color added emphasis to the bold declaration. At first, her offer was peremptorily refused, but the high-spirited girl was not to be denied. She argued that the enfeebled garrison could better spare her than any of the men.

In a moment she opened the heavy gate, and flew towards the cabin. The Indians saw her and watched her movements. When she came out of the building, and, with the keg of powder in her arms, sped with the fleetness of a fawn toward the fort, they sent a heavy volley of bullets after her, but not a ball touched the person of the daring girl. The gates were opened. She entered safely with her prize. A loud cheer welcomed her, and every man, inspired by her heroism, and thrilled with her loveliness, resolved to repulse the foe or die in the effort. The young heroine lived to a ripe age, becoming the founder of Zanesville, Ohio, it is said. “The story of Elizabeth Zane,” says Lossing, “ought to be perpetuated in marble and preserved in the Valhalla of our Revolutionary heroes.”

During the night the savages kept up their assaults with unwearied vigor. About midnight they began to fire the houses of Wheeling, one after another. Meanwhile, relief was coming from two directions. How news flies so rapidly in a wilderness where there are neither telegraphs, railroads, mails, stagecoaches, couriers, nor travelers, is a mystery impossible to explain. However it may be, Major Sam. McCullough, at the head of forty mounted men, was on his way from the Short Creek settlement, and Colonel Swearinger, with fourteen men, was coming down the river in a boat from Halliday’s fort. About four o’clock in the morning McCullough’s men dashed through the burning village and up to the fort. McCullough himself reined in, refusing to go in till all of his men had entered. The Indians made a rush to intercept the relief party, but were too late for any one except McCullough. He was left outside as the gates closed. They could have killed him, but desired to take him alive and save him for torture, to avenge themselves for the many injuries he had inflicted on them. McCullough, the hero of many a close encounter, put spurs to his horse and dashed along the hillside, toward Van Meter’s block-house, several miles away. He had reached the top of Wheeling Hill, fairly distancing his pursuers, when a body of Indians appeared just ahead of him, moving rapidly to surround him.

A glance taught him the peril of the situation. On one side was a steep precipice; on the others were his foes. He hesitated not an instant, but curved his horse abruptly toward the precipice, and, with a leap disappeared from the view of his astounded pursuers. The hill was very high and exceedingly abrupt in its declivity. The Indians ran to the brink, expecting to see his mangled corpse on the rocks below. Instead of this, they saw him firmly seated in his saddle, galloping rapidly around a point of rocks safe from their pursuit.

Swearinger’s party, coming down the dark and foggy river, now running ashore, now far out in mid-stream, out of sight of land, half rowing, half drifting, were apprehensive lest they should pass Wheeling in the pitchy darkness. Their fears were groundless. Long before they reached the place, a red and angry glare lit up the canopy of clouds which overhung the unfortunate settlement.

It was dawn before they reached their destination. Half-stifled by the smoke from the ruined cabins, they crawled up to the fort and entered. Not an Indian was visible. A furious attack had been repulsed and was followed by an unusual stillness. Two bold scouts went out to reconnoiter. They returned without discovering the whereabouts of the foe. Then Colonel Zane took twenty men and explored the field and forest where the savages had so lately encamped. They were gone. Discouraged by the re-enforcement of Colonel McCullough’s men, they had abandoned the siege, after burning the village and killing three hundred cattle.

A day passed. No signs of Indians were visible. The settlers ventured out of the fort to the desolate site of their frontier homes. Many a family had lost not only their home, but the strong right arm of the husband and father, which could have replaced the home. Place and prospect were to them but a vista on dreariness. With many a stifled sigh the survivors took up again the burden of life. In a day or two Captain Foreman arrived with more re-enforcements from Hampshire. For several weeks the people at Wheeling kept their guard. That the Indians had returned to their towns in the west seemed possible.

On September 26th a cloud of smoke seemed to be rising from the region of Tomlinson’s place, twelve miles below Wheeling. To ascertain the facts and lend assistance if necessary, Foreman took a strong party and started in the direction of the smoke. Grave Creek, as the place was called, was found all safe. The men remained over night and commenced their return trip.

Foreman, a thick-headed fellow, inexperienced in Indian fighting, indulged in fatal recklessness. In his company was a weather-beaten scout, named Lynn. His crafty eye took in the danger of this proceeding, and after a caution to Foreman, he and two or three of his fellows withdrew to a dark spot in the forest for their night’s repose. About two o’clock in the morning, a faint plashing could be heard by a practiced ear. It came from the other side of the river. It was too regular and rythmical to be occasioned by the dash of the current on a hidden rock, or the sportive leapings of the fish from the dark depths. Lynn awoke. He listened. He made his way over to Foreman, roused him, and told him that he believed that Indians had seen their camp-fire, and were embarking from the opposite shore of the river on rafts, for an attack. Foreman repulsed him rudely, and turning over went to sleep. A shade fell on the honest face of the scout. He withdrew again into the forest. But he remained wide awake. He stood behind a tree, his finger on the trigger of his musket. He watched.

But the enemy, if present, gave no indications of it. With the morning came the order for marching. There were two routs. One along the river bottom, the other along a ridge of hills. Lynn urged the latter, as being safer from ambuscade, and a different way from the one by which they came. Whom the gods wish to destroy, they first make mad. Foreman was mad. He scoffed at the rusty-looking scout. The fatal command was given to take the lower route.

Lynn and a half dozen companions left the company to return by the ridge. It was well. As Foreman’s party proceeded the men discovered some Indian trinkets on the ground. A man in advance picked them up. Such a find is unusual. The backwoodsman is, after all, a man. He has curiosity. But his life is barren. Of the splendors of a great city, with its magnificent store windows, filled with dazzling and brilliant displays, he has no conception. A few beads are to him an object of wonder. To find them in the woods is a miracle. The men crowded eagerly around the finder of the treasure. The big, rough fellows, brave as lions, behaved like children. They jostled and crowded each other to get a better sight of the toy. They were intently absorbed. Every eye was on the treasure. Had one of them looked around he would have seen that they were surrounded by Indians.

There was a fearful explosion. The unseen circle of enemies had fired. Twenty-one white men fell dead on the spot. The rest would have fallen at the second fire. But suddenly there were heard terrific yells from the top of the hill. The Indians turned to listen. It seemed as if a whole army was coming. The Indians broke and ran; the faster the better. In a moment they were gone. The yells did not come from an army. They came from Lynn and his companions. The remainder of Foreman’s party was saved. He, himself, had paid the penalty for his obstinacy. But it was small recompense for the poor fellows lying cold in death.