Thursday, May 20, 2021

Blood on the Frontier


Ensign Charles Mayberry stepped outside of the fort's stockade, as he did so he brushed imaginary specks of dust and lint off of his uniform coat. It was a coat he was very proud of and he wore it every chance he got. Now that war seemed imminent, that was all of the time.

Mayberry had done well in New England. He had been a successful trader in Boston but had grown tired of the town and longed to see the frontier. When the governor of New Hampshire issued a proclamation indicating that that colony intended to raise a number of independent infantry companies for service on the frontier, Mayberry had hurried to Portsmouth, the capital of that colony, with a letter of introduction from a business acquaintance who knew the governor.

He had been disappointed in having to settle for a commission as an ensign, in light of his absolute lack of military experience, but the man appointed as captain, one Samuel Jenkins, was a decent enough fellow and he and Mayberry got along quite well. Which is what had led to Mayberry being dispatched along with twenty-five men to this outpost on the Cannitticutt River. Jenkins trusted the younger man more because of his business acumen than for any military qualities he might possess. Mayberry's success in business marked him as an organized man, careful with his assets. Good qualities in a soldier.

"Sergeant Adams, please accompany me down to the river." Mayberry had called out to his sergeant because he was still somewhat nervous about being out here in the open. Rumors of Abenaki war parties were rife and Mayberry thought that having the sergeant and his flintlock along would perhaps deter any nearby natives long enough for him to survey the land along the river. The sergeant came out of the stockade just as Mayberry was lighting his pipe.

"Certainly Sir, not much to worry about right now I think, but better safe than sorry me Mum always said."

Josiah Adams had been a soldier in a regular regiment of foot before coming to New England. He had been mustered out during one of Parliament's attempts to save money by cutting the size of the army. With no prospects in England, he had decided to try his chances in the New World.

He had worked as a dockhand in Portsmouth for a time but he tired of that and when the governor issued a call for experienced men, he jumped at the chance. Based on his experience he had been made a sergeant right away, which was an increase in pay as well. Service on the frontier didn't worry him, he'd faced French regulars in battle, how tough could these natives be?

Black Deer turned to his companion and gestured for him to bring up the rest of the war party. Spotted Wolf nodded and slid back into the brush. He had seen the same thing the party's leader had noted. Two of the English were outside of the protection of the small fort and they had left the gate open!

The war band of the Goasiak¹ numbered twenty-five warriors, they took up positions at the forest's edge, one party by the river, a second party in the forest to the left, and waited for the signal from Black Deer to begin their attack. As the men watched, the two Englishmen began walking to the river. One was smoking a pipe, the other, an older man, had a firestick but held it casually, as if he wasn't expecting trouble.

Black Deer decided to start the action himself, he drew his bow and sighted on the man with the firestick. The man in the fancy coat smoking a pipe had no weapon, so he would die second.

On a whim, Mayberry stopped and turned to his sergeant, "Sergeant Adams, have the men fall out, I wish to exercise them."


"Don't you agree that the men would benefit from extra firing drills?"

Adams raised his hat and said, "Very good Sir!" then turned on his heel and moved towards the fort, bellowing for the company to muster.

Just after Adams began his move to the fort, an arrow stabbed into the turf at the sergeant's heel. He didn't notice it immediately but Mayberry did. He drew a pistol from his sash, checked that it was primed and cocked it.

The war party hesitated, they had expected to dash from cover when they saw an Englishman fall, that didn't happen, most didn't even see the arrow in the ground near the soldier's foot. They did see the Englishman with the fancy coat pull something from that coat. They watched him fiddle with it, none were familiar with pistols, then watched as the man extended his arm, pointing his hand towards the river and their leader's party. They were stunned when they saw flame and smoke issue from the end of the man's outstretched hand. What sorcery was this?

As Mayberry saw the natives towards the river, he saw one man with a bow, drawing an arrow as he watched. Can't have that, he thought, then he extended his arm. aimed, and pulled the trigger. He owned a very fine set of duelling pistols, specially made for him on the Continent. They were very accurate and he loved to practice with them. That practice paid off this day.

Black Deer felt as if he had been punched in the lower part of his chest, very hard. It caused him to drop the arrow he had been about to place on his bow. The two warriors nearest to him were staring at him in alarm. They had seen the Englishman point his hand and then had seen flames and smoke issue from that hand. The Englishman in the fancy coat had a firestick for an arm, that's all they could assume.

Spotted Wolf watched in shock as Black Deer fell to one knee, blood was pouring from the wound in his chest. "Take him to last night's camp," he told two of the men.

As Spotted Wolf looked up, there were more Englishmen near the fort, they all had firesticks. It was time to run or to attack.

Spotted Wolf was a cautious man, he didn't understand what he had just seen, he was also somewhat terrified. A man with a firestick for an arm, what strange creatures these Englishmen were!

"All of you, back to the camp!" As they began to move off, a volley from the Englishmen passed overhead, the hissing of the balls made the men move that much faster. Spotted Wolf called out to the others in the forest, "Fly, back to the camp!"

Mayberry was tempted to fire his second pistol at the backs of the fleeing Indians, but decided against it. The captain had cautioned him about getting involved in actual fighting, "Remember old boy, you're there to lead the men and direct their efforts. Fighting is such a pedestrian activity don't you know? Best leave that to the soldiery. We use our brains to fight!"

As Adams bellowed for the company to reload, Mayberry saw another party of Indians break from cover to his right, they too seemed to be fleeing. He thought for a moment, then said, "Right Sergeant! Let's get the lads back into the fort before the savages give it another try!"

Spotted Wolf was beside himself. They had tried their best to keep Black Deer alive but he had succumbed to his wound shortly after arriving back at their previous night's campsite. A number of the men wanted to go back to the fort and attack the English who had killed their leader. Spotted Wolf knew that that would only lead to more dead warriors.

"I have a better idea." Spotted Wolf knew of a small English settlement just up the river. There were no soldiers there.

"We must prepare Black Deer for his journey to the spirit world." Spotted Wolf announced.

"Here? In this desolate place?" One of the men protested.

"No, there is a grove of white pine just to the east of here. We shall bury him there. It is fitting, after all, are we not the people of the white pines? After that, we go to the English settlement up the river. We shall kill the men and take the women and children captive. Tomorrow we paint ourselves black, to remember our war chief."

War had come to the frontier once more.

¹ Also known to the Europeans as the Cowasuck.

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  1. Replies
    1. To be fair, it was just paused...

    2. War does seem to be our natural state.

    3. William Federer, American historian, has determined that in the 5,000 years of human history which he studied, there have been only fifty years of true peace. (the mere absence of hostilities is not a true peace)

  2. Being not from lands far distant from New England. So I looked it up. As the Goasiak are of the Abenaki nation, it seems the Abenaki ARE on the warpath. Up to this point in the story, I thought it only mere rumor, bolstered by hyperbole, that the Abenaki was heading for war.

    If I were to put this into a question, what brought the Gosiak to go on the war path?

    I'm now thinking this skirmish will soon trigger all the peoples into war. Kind of like an Archduke assassination 'round 'bout 1914. But, I wish not to advance ahead of this fine story.

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. Ugh....

      Being from lands distant from NE, I had not heard before of the Goasiak...

    3. In my tale the Abenaki are growing tired of English settlers moving up the Connecticut River valley. They are also being raided by the Mohican, with English backing. The conflict between England and France in the New World is close to boiling over. Their surrogates (the natives of the region) are starting to fight each other.

  3. Why are settlers living in the wilderness outside a garrison? That would be evidence that there has been a long period of peace, including tolerance between the indians and the settlers. Was Black Deer a rebel, acting on his own? What brought Black Deer to try to attack the fort? Did the Abenaki truly wish for war?

    Of course, I'll wait to see how it unfolds. Yet I wish to see these questions addressed.

    1. It was fairly typical for the time to have settlers pushing deeper into the interior. They would form their own militia for protection, but often they lived in an area by the forbearance of the original inhabitants. As the settlers sought richer land for farming they would run into conflicts with the locals. Imagine, if you will, that people starting living in your backyard. At first they keep to themselves, they're quiet and neat but then they want to use your bathroom. Then they're parking in your driveway. Encroachment, the settlers were very guilty of that. Eventually the locals said, "Enough!"

    2. And the settlers often pushed the edges of the frontier specifically against the wishes of the Governors and the Crown. That's something that a lot of people don't understand.

      We see the same thing in the Western Expansion after the Great Unpleasantness of 1861-1865, settlers violating treaties and the Government moving the settlers out - just watch the first episode of "Little House on the Prairie" (or read the books, if you can find them.)

    3. Humans seldom listen to government, unless they're part of the government.

      Governments are big on expediency as well. "The Black Hills are yours forever." they told the Lakota. "Wait, what, they found gold in the Black Hills? Send in the Army to protect the Black Hills! What the poorly paid soldiers deserted to seek gold?"

      And so it goes.

    4. Now that is history I know about... but I'm liking the yarn you're spinning in the east.

    5. Sarge, since you mentioned the Black Hills. To answer what Beans had brought up (settlers pushing into prohibited territories) I have oft thought the intrusion into the Black Hills to be a prime example. 'finding gold' was their excuse. Of course there is gold in them hills, but not to the extent to which the settlers used it as an excuse. Too, in this example, the U.S. Army was woefully lacking in discharging their duties.

      Dakota, I find early American history quite fetching. That she is my country makes it doubly so. I urge everyone to travel throughout this grand country and find the history.

    6. The history is everywhere.

    7. (Don McCollor)... On the frontier was where government authority was the weakest. Without the resources or manpower to control either side...

    8. Which led to many misunderstandings, which led to much bloodshed.

  4. One wonders - I do not know that we can ever fully know at this point - what the tribes thought of the first settlers when them came. Did they grasp that they were coming not to hunt or trade and leave but to settle and acquire land? Perhaps they thought it was similar to the other tribes they dealt with (certainly migrations and driving out other tribes were known). They just did not grasp the number of people that were capable of coming because they could not imagine such a thing (I know that for Crowfoot, a leader of Cree people in Canada.. He encouraged his tribe to not participate in the 1885 rebellion. He later traveled to more Eastern Canada and saw how many "white" settlers there were and realized that at that point, there seemed no end to them.).

    1. It took a while for them to realize that the Europeans were there to stay and that their appetite for land was insatiable.

  5. With apologies to the "Princess Bride," it's not wise to fight a land war in the Americas. If one views the two cultures, Indians who inhabit a continent without end and Europeans who only got land through inheritance or royal appointment and their driving ambitions as too what to make of each other. The Indians fought for resources on the land, the Europeans fought for the land. Instilled hunter gatherer versus agrarian farmer mind sets. One seeks the means of survival while one creates the means for survival. Conflict was inevitable with the natives and then conflict with in the invaders.


    1. Partially true in the Northeast, the tribes in my area were both farmers and hunters.

      But yes, conflict was inevitable.

    2. Conflict was inevitable within the Indian tribes, too. The plagues that the Whites brought opened up areas for tribal expansion at the time that many tribes were overpopulating their areas. What some historians describe as a 100 (or more) Years War all throughout America, as shifting climates (caused by cursed SUVs and soccer moms, no doubt) made previously fertile land unfertile and vice-versa. What was moderate climate change in Europe was radical climate change in America.

    3. Referring, of course, to the effects of the mini-ice age in the 1600's and the slow recovery in the 1700's.

    4. Another, seldom mentioned, aspect of life before the Pilgrims was that the peoples of the northeast farmed and hunted. They would move their villages periodically (every ten to thirty years depending on the area I read in one source) as the soil became exhausted and the game got scarce. Add in population increases and you have a guarantee of stresses leading to war. 'Tis very human.

    5. Ah yes, the Maunder Minimum. The effects of that lasted longer than the event itself. Winters were extremely harsh in Europe all the way into the Napoleonic period.

    6. OAFS #1 - Thus the fallacy of the natives being one with the land and knowing how to farm successfully on their lands. Oh, we farmed the land to depletion, gee, it's not like we don't know about fertilizer or something (referring to the horrid story of Injuns teaching Pilgrims to fertilize the land (that was probably depleted by the local Indians on top of NE soil not being as nutritious as good old Europe.))

      OAFS #2 - Well, the Icelandic volcanos firing off majorly in the late 1780's did manage to push semi-unstable France over the edge into outright revolution, and then when the revolutionaries didn't fix things, push it down further into hell-on-this-earth. Yup, one of the major causes of the French Revolution was no food and government intrusions and screwups. And then the new powers-that-be said to the city folk "We promise you food" and to the country folk "We promise not to seize your food and seed stocks" and then lying about both promises. (Greatly simplified, but...)

  6. A good brace of dueling pistols is a wonder to behold and to hold. A teacher brought in a pair, back when guns were still 'cool in school' and it's amazing how unwieldy and heavy they are until you get them level and then it's like they're gyroscopically balanced. Really neat effect. And with good balance and excellent tolerances (much more than with a standard smoothbore musket) and better casting of ammunition, the accuracy is really fantastic. And they were really fantastically expensive at the time versus regularly available or 'munitions grade' pistols.

    Good call on the 'his arm was a firestick' thingy. Between the baggy great coat (because the climate was just warming up from the mini-ice age, and the shorter pistol, it would have looked like his arm sprung a gun. See? Being a preening dandy can save your life...

    Once again, your attention to detail and to culture makes your stories far more educational than most histories. Good job!

    1. Thanks Beans.

      While pondering the fates of Ensign Mayberry and Sgt. Adams I assumed that Mayberry would have some sort of weapon on his person. While I wondered whether he would have a pistol or not, I wondered if the Indians were that familiar with that sort of firearm. I decided that this band of Goasiak were not, one thing led to another.

      I doubt the Indians will fall for that one twice!

  7. I can remember some whole years of peace in my life in the sixties, but that was before I got married.


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