Hugh Gibson’s Captivity

According to Daniel Mark, born in 1835, (died 1922), when the aged
Seneca Indian, Isaac Steel, stood beside the moss-grown stump of the
giant “Grandfather Pine” in Sugar Valley, in the early Autumn of 1892,
he was silent for a long while, then placing his hands over his eyes,
uttered these words: “This is the Indians’ Twilight; it explains many
things; I had heard from Billy Dowdy, when he returned to the
reservation in 1879, that the tree had been cut by Pardee, but as he had
not seen the stump, and was apt to be credulous, I had hoped that the
report was untrue; the worst has happened.”

Then the venerable Redman turned away, and that same day left the
secluded valley, never to return.

The story of the Grandfather Pine, of Sugar Valley, deserves more than
the merely passing mention already accorded it in forestry statistics
and the like. Apart from being probably the largest white or cork pine
recorded in the annals of Pennsylvania sylviculture–breast high it had
to be deeply notched on both sides, so that a seven foot cross-cut saw
could be used on it–it was the sacred tree of the Seneca Indians, and
doubtless of the earlier tribes inhabiting the country adjacent to the
Allegheny Mountains and the West Branch Valley.

It was a familiar landmark for years, standing as it did near the mouth
of Chadwick’s Gap, and could be seen towering above its fellows, from
every point in Sugar Valley, from Schracktown, Loganton, Eastville and

Professor Ziegler tells us that the maximum or heavy growth of white
pine was always on the winter side of the inland valleys; the biggest
pines of Sugar Valley, Brush Valley and Penn’s Valley were all along the
southern ridges.

Luther Guiswhite, now a restauranteur in Harrisburg, moving like a
voracious caterpillar easterly along the Winter side of Brush Valley,
gradually destroyed grove after grove of superb original white pines,
the Gramley pines, near the mouth of Gramley’s Gap, which Professor
Henry Meyer helped to “cruise”, being the last to fall before his
relentless juggernaut.

Ario Pardee’s principal pineries were mostly across the southern ridge
of Nittany Mountain, of Sugar Valley, on White Deer Creek, but the tract
on which the Grandfather Pine stood ran like a tongue out of Chadwick’s
Gap into Sugar Valley, almost to the bank of Fishing Creek. It is a well
known story that after the mammoth pine had been cut, Mike Courtney, the
lumberman-philanthropist’s woods boss, offered $100 to anyone who could
transport it to White Deer Creek, to be floated to the big mill at
Watsontown, where Pardee sawed 111,000,000 feet of the finest kind of
white pine between 1868 and 1878.

The logs of this great tree proved too huge to handle, even after being
split asunder by blasting powder, crushing down a number of trucks, and
were left to rot where they lay. Measured when prone, the stem was 270
feet in length, and considering that the stump was cut breast high, the
tree was probably close to 276 feet from root to tip. The stump is still
visible and well worthy of a visit.

In addition to boasting of the biggest pine in the Commonwealth, one of
the biggest red hemlocks also grew in Sugar Valley, in the centre of
Kleckner’s woods, until it was destroyed by bark peelers in 1898. It
dwarfed the other original trees in the grove, mostly superb white
hemlocks, and an idea of its size can be gained when it is stated that
“breast high” it had a circumference of 30 feet.

When Billy Dowdy, an eccentric Seneca Indian, was in Sugar Valley he
told ’Squire Mark the story of the Grandfather Pine, then recently
felled, and while the Indian did not visit the “fallen monarch” on that
occasion, he refrained from so doing because he said he could not bear
the sight. The greatest disaster that had yet befallen the Indians had
occurred, one that they might never recover from, and meant their final
elimination as factors in American history.

Dowdy seemed unnerved when he heard the story of the demolition of the
colossal pine, and it took several visits to the famous Achenbach
distillery to steady his nerves so that he could relate its history to
his old and tried friend the ’Squire. In the evening, by the fireside,
showing emotion that rarely an Indian betrays, he dramatically recited
the story of the fallen giant.

Long years ago, in the very earliest days of the world’s history, the
great earth spirit loved the evening star, but it was such an unusual
and unnatural attachment, and so impossible of consummation that the
despairing spirit wished to end the cycle of existence and pass into
oblivion so as to forget his hopeless love. Accordingly, with a blast of
lightning he opened his side and let his anguish flow away. The great
gaping wound is what we of today call Penn’s Cave, and the never ending
stream of anguish is the wonderful shadowy Karoondinha, now renamed John
Penn’s Creek.

As time went on fresh hopes entered the subterranean breast of the great
earth spirit, and new aspirations towards the evening star kindled in
his heart of hearts. His thoughts and yearnings were constantly onward
and upward towards the evening star. He sought to bridge the gulf of
space and distance that separated him from the clear pure light of his
inspiration. He yearned to be near, even if he could not possess the
calm and cold constellation so much beyond him. He cried for an answer,
but none came, and thought that it was distance that caused the
coldness, and certainly such had caused the great disappointment in the

His heart was set on reaching the evening star, to have propinquity with
the heavens. Out of his strong hopes and deep desires came a tall and
noble tree, growing in eastern Sugar Valley, a king among its kindred,
off there facing the shining, beaming star. This tree would be the
symbol of earth’s loftiest and highest aspirations, the bridge between
the terrestrial and the celestial bodies. It was earth’s manliest,
noblest and cleanest aspiration, standing there erect and immobile, the
heavy plates of the bark like gilt-bronze armor, the sparse foliage dark
and like a warrior’s crest.

The Indians, knowing full well the story of the hopeless romance of the
earth spirit and the evening star, or _Venus_, as the white men called
it, venerated the noble tree as the connecting link between two
manifestations of sublimity. They only visited its proximity on sacred
occasions because they knew that the grove over which it dominated was
the abode of spirits, like all groves of trees of exceptional size and
venerable age.

The cutting away of most of the bodies of original pines has
circumscribed the abode of the spiritual agencies until they are now
almost without a lodgement, and must go wailing about cold and homeless
until the end of time, unless spiritual insight can touch our
materialistic age and save the few remaining patches of virgin trees
standing in the valley of the Karoondinha, the “Stream of the Never
Ending Love”, now known by the prosaic cognomen of “Penn’s Valley”.

The Tom Motz tract is no more, the Wilkenblech, the Bowers and the Meyer
groves are all but annihilated. Where will the spirits rest when the
last original white pine has been ripped into boards at The Forks, now
called Coburn? No wonder that Artist Shearer exclaimed, “The world is
aesthetically deal!”

The Indians were greatly dismayed at the incursion of white men into
their mountain fastnesses, so contrary to prophecy and solemn treaties,
and no power seemed to stem them as they swept like a plague from valley
to valley, mountain to mountain. The combined military strategy and
bravery of Lenni-Lenape, Seneca, Cayuga, Tuscarora and Shawnee failed
before their all-conquering advance. How to turn back this white peril
occupied the mind and heart of every Indian brave and soothsayer.

One evening just as Venus in the east was shedding her tranquil glory
over the black outline of the pine covered ranges of the Nittanies, a
mighty council of warriors and wise men, grave and reverent, assembled
under the Grandfather Pine. Hitherto victory, while it had rested with
the white invaders, had not been conclusive; there was still hope, and
the Indians meant to battle to the end.

It was during this epochal conclave that a message was breathed out of
the dark shaggy pigeon-haunted tops of the mighty tree. Interpreted it
meant that the Indian braves and wise men were reminded that this great
pine reached from heaven to earth, and by its means their ancestors used
to climb up and down between the two regions. In a time of doubt and
anxiety like this, the multitudes, conferring beneath the tree, were
invited to ascend to hold a council with the stars, to exchange views
and receive advice as to how the insidious white invader could be kept
in proper bounds, and to preserve the glory and historic dignity of the
Indian races. The stars, which were the spirits of undefeated warriors
and hunters and huntresses of exceptional prowess–their light was the
shimmer of their silvery targets–had always been the allies of the red

In solemn procession the pick of the assemblage of Indian warriors and
wise men ascended the mighty tree, up, up, up, until their forms became
as tiny specks, and disappeared in the dark lace-like branches which
merged with the swart hues of the evening heavens. They set no time for
their return, for they were going from the finite to the infinite, but
they would be back to their beloved hills and valleys in plenty of time,
and with added courage and skill, to end the regime of the pale faced

Every wife and mother and sweetheart of a warrior who took this journey
was overjoyed at the privilege accorded her loved one, and none
begrudged being left behind to face the enemy under impaired leadership,
or the risk of massacre, as in due course of time the elite would return
from above and rescue them from their cruel tormentors.

Evidently out of space, out of time, was almost the equivalent of “out
of sight, out of mind” for all who had witnessed the chosen band of
warriors and warlocks ascend the pine, even the tiny babes, reached
maturity and passed away, and yet they had not returned or sent a
message. The year that the stars fell, in 1833, brought hopes to the
anxious ones, but never a falling star was found to bring tidings from
that bourne above the clouds.

Generation after generation came and went, and the ablest leaders still
were absent counseling with the stars. Evidently there was much to
learn, much to overcome, before they were fully fledged to return and
battle successfully.

The succeeding generations of Indian braves fought the white foes as
best they could, yet were ever being pushed back, and they were long
since banished from Sugar Valley where grew the Grandfather Pine.
Occasionally those gifted with historic lore and prophecy journeyed to
the remote valley to view the pine, but there were no signs of a return
of the absent Chieftains.

It was a long and weary wait. Were they really forsaken, or were there
affairs of great emergency in the realm of the evening star that made
them tarry so long? They might be surprised on their return to find
their hunting territories the farms of the white men, their descendants
banished to arid reservations on La Belle Riviere and beyond. They had
left in the twilight; they would find the Indians’ Twilight everywhere
over the face of the earth. It was a sad prospect, but they never gave
up their secret hope that the visitors to strange lands would return,
and lead a forlorn hope to victory.

Then came upon the scene the great lumberman, Ario Pardee. The bed of
White Deer Creek was “brushed out” from Schreader Spring to Hightown, to
float the millions of logs that would pile up wealth and fame for this
modern Croesus. What was one tree, more or less–none were sacred, and
instead of being the abode of spirits, each held the almighty dollar in
its heart.

Pardee himself was a man of dreams and an idealist, _vide_ Lafayette
College, and the portrait of his refined and spiritual face by Eastman
Johnson, in the rotunda of “Old Pardee”. Yet it was too early a day to
care for trees, or to select those to be cut, those to be spared; the
biggest tree, or the tree where the buffaloes rubbed themselves, were
alike before the axe and cross-cut; all must fall, and the
piratical-looking Blackbeard Courtney was the agent to do it.

Perhaps trees take their revenge, like in the case of the Vicar’s Oak in
Surrey, as related by the diarest Evelyn–shortly after it was felled one
of the choppers lost an eye and the other broke a leg. Mike Courtney, it
is reported, ended his days, not in opulent ease lolling in a barouche
in Fairmount Park with Hon. Levi Mackey, as had been his wont, but by
driving an ox-team in the wilds of West Virginia!

The Grandfather Pine was brought to earth after two days of chopping by
an experienced crew of woodsmen; when it fell they say the window lights
rattled clear across the valley in Logansville (now Loganton). It lay
there prone, abject, yet “terrible still in death”, majestic as it
sprawled in the bed that had been prepared for it, with an open swath of
forest about that it had maimed and pulled down in its fall.

Crowds flocked from all over the adjacent valleys to see the fallen
monarch, like Arabs viewing the lifeless carcass of a mighty lion whose
roar had filled them with terror but a little while before.

Then came the misfortune that the tree was found to be commercially
unprofitable to handle, and it was left for the mould and the moss and
the shelf-fungi to devour, for little hemlocks to sprout upon.

Billy Dowdy was in the West Branch Valley trying to rediscover the Bald
Eagle Silver Mine–old Uriah Fisher, of the Seventh Cavalry, can tell you
all about it–when the story was told at “Uncle Dave” Cochran’s hotel at
Pine Station that Mike Courtney had conquered the Grandfather Pine. It
is said that a glass of the best Reish whiskey fell from his nerveless
fingers when he heard the news. He suddenly lost all interest in the
silver mine on the Bald Eagle Mountain, which caused him to be roundly
berated by his employers, and dropping everything, he made for Sugar
Valley to verify the terrible story. ’Squire Mark assured him that it
was only too true; he had strolled over to Chadwick’s Gap the previous
Sunday and saw the prostrate Titan with his own eyes.

The Indians’ twilight had come, for now the picked band of warriors and
warlocks must forever linger in the star-belt, unless the earth spirit,
out of his great love, again heaved such a tree from his inmost creative


Sometimes the Indians notice an untoward bright twinkling of the stars,
the evening star in particular, and they fancy it to be reassuring
messages from their marooned leaders not to give up the faith, that
sometimes they can return rich in wisdom, fortified in courage, ready to
drive the white men into the sea, and over it to the far Summer Islands.
When the stars fell on the thirteenth of November, 1833, it was thought
that the starry hosts were coming down en masse to fight their battles,
but not a single steller ally ever reported for duty.

Old John Engle, mighty Nimrod of Brungard’s Church (Sugar Valley), on
the nights of the Northern Lights, or as the Indians called them, “The
Dancing Ghosts”, used to hear a strange, weird, unaccountable ringing
echo, like exultant shouting, over in the region of the horizon, beyond
the northernmost Allegheny ridges. He would climb the “summer” mountain
all alone, and sit on the highest summits, thinking that the wolves had
come back, for he wanted to hear them plainer. In the Winter of 1859 the
distant acclamation continued for four successive nights, and the Aurora
covered the entire vault of heaven with a preternatural brilliance.
Great bars of intensely bright light shot out from the northern horizon
and broke in mid-sky, and filled the southern skies with their
incandescence. The sky was so intensely red that it flared as one great
sheet of fire, and engulfed the night with an awful and dismal red
light. Reflected on the snow, it gave the earth the appearance of being
clothed in scarlet.

The superstitious Indians, huddled, cold and half-clad, and half-starved
in the desert reservations, when they saw the fearful glow over beyond
Lake Erie, and heard the distant cadences, declared that they were the
signal fires and the cries for vengeance of the Indian braves imprisoned
up there in star-land, calling defiance to the white hosts, and
inspiration to their own depleted legions, the echo of the day of
reckoning, when the red men would come to their own again, and finding
their lost people, lead them to a new light, out of the Indians’

After the brutal massacre, by the Indians, of the Woolcomber family,
came fresh rumors of fresh atrocities in contemplation, consequently it
was considered advisable to gather the women and children of the
surrounding country within the stockade of Fort Robinson, under a strong
guard, while the bulk of the able-bodied men went out in companies to
reap the harvest. Some of the harvesters were on guard part of the time,
consequently all the men of the frontier community performed a share of
the guard duty.

Among the most energetic of the guardsmen was young Hugh Gibson, son of
the Widow Gibson, a name that has later figured prominently in the
public eye in the person of the Secretary of the American Legion at
Brussels, who endured a trying experience during the period of the
over-running of the Belgian Paris by the hordes of blood-thirsty Huns,
as rapacious and merciless as the red men of Colonial Pennsylvania.

Hugh Gibson, of Colonial Pennsylvania, was under twenty, slim and dark,
and very anxious to make a good record as guardian of so many precious
lives. As days wore on, and no Indian attacks were made, and no fresh
atrocities committed by the blood-loving monster, Cooties, the terror of
the lower Juniata Valley, even the punctilious Gibson relaxed a trifle
in the rigidity of his guardianship.

It was near the end of the harvest when the majority of the men
announced that they would remain away over night at a large clearing on
Buffalo Creek, as it would be difficult to reach the fort by nightfall
and be back at work by daybreak the next morning. Hugh Gibson was made
captain of the guard and placed in charge of the safety of the stockade
full of refugees.

All went well with Gibson and his fellow pickets until about midnight,
when the Indians launched a gas attack. The wind being propitious, they
built a fire, into which they stirred a large number of oak balls, and
the fumes suddenly engulfing the garrison, all became very drowsy, with
the result that the nimble redskins rushed in on the defenders, who were
gaping about, thinking that there must be a forest fire somewhere, but
too dazed and semi-conscious to think very succinctly about anything.

When the guards saw that it was red men, and not red fire, they roused
themselves as best they could, and fought bravely to save the fort and
its inmates. By throwing firebrands into the stockade, the women and
children, and cattle, were stampeded, and by a common impulse burst open
the gates, and dashed past the defenders, headed for the creek, to
escape the threatened conflagrations. Then the Indians closed in, and in
the darkness, amid the crackling of the fire–for a forest fire was now
in progress, and part of the stockade wall was blazing, amid war whoops
and shrieks of hatred and agony, the barking of dogs, the bellowing of
cattle running amuck, rifle shots, the crack of tomahawks on defenseless
skulls, the midnight air resounded with uncouth and horrible medley.

The fight continued all night long, until the approach of dawn, and the
danger of the forest fire cutting them off made the Indians decamp. They
did not stop until in the big beaver meadow at Wildcat Valley, they
paused long enough to take stock of prisoners, and to count wounded and
missing. They had captured an even dozen prisoners, and as the light
grew stronger they noticed that they had one male captive, his face
almost unrecognizable with soot, and mostly stripped of clothing, who
proved to be none other than the zealous Hugh Gibson himself.

It was a strange company that moved in single file towards the
Alleghenies, eleven women and one man, all tied together with leather
thongs, like a party of Alpinists, one after another, not descending a
monarch of mountains, but descending into captivity, into the valley of
the shadow. The Indians were jubilant over the personnel of their
captives. In addition to Hugh Gibson, late captain of the guard, they
had taken Elsbeth Henry, daughter of the most influential of the
settlers, a girl of rare beauty and charm, who had enjoyed some
educational advantages among the Moravians at Nazareth, the pioneers of
women’s education in America.

Gibson had for a year past, ever since he first appeared in the vicinity
of Fort Robinson, admired the uncommonly attractive girl, and being
ambitions in many ways, aspired to her hand. She had never treated him
with much consideration, except to be polite to him, but she was that to
everyone, and could not be otherwise, being a happy blend of Huguenot
and Bohemian ancestry.

The minute that Gibson saw that Elsbeth was his fellow prisoner he
forgot the chagrin at being the sole male captive, and congratulated
himself in secret on the good fortune that would make him, for a year or
more, the daily companion of the object of his admiration. He would
redeem the humiliation of this capture by staging a sensational double
escape, and then, after freeing the maiden, she could not fail to love
him and agree to become his wife. He was, therefore, the most cheerful
of prisoners, and whistled and sang Irish songs as he marched along at
the tail end of the long line of captives.

It seemed as if they were being taken on a long journey, and he surmised
that the destination was Fort Duquesne, to be delivered over to the
French, where rewards would be paid for each as hostages. He could see
by the deference paid to Elsbeth Henry that the redmen recognized that
they had a prisoner of quality, and as she walked along, away ahead of
him, whenever there was a turn in the path, he would note her youthful
beauty and charm.

She was not very tall, but was gracefully and firmly built. Her most
noticeable features were the intense blackness of her soft wavy hair,
and the whiteness of her skin, with minute blue veins showing, gave her
complexion a blue whiteness, the color of mother of pearl almost, and
Gibson, being a somewhat poetical Ulster Scot, compared her to an
evening sky, with her red lips, like a streak of flame, across the
mother of pearl firmament, her downcast eyes, like twin stars just

The further on the party marched the harder it was going to be to
successfully bring her back in safety to the Juniata country, through a
hostile Indian territory, for he had not the slightest doubt that he
would outwit the clumsy-witted redmen and escape with her. It might be
best to strike north or northwest, out of the seat of hostilities, and
make a home for his bride-to-be in the wilderness along Lake Erie, and
never take her back to her parents. But then there was his mother; how
could he desert her? He must go back with Elsbeth, run all risks, once
he had escaped and freed her from her inconsiderate captors.

After a few days he learned that the permanent camp was to be on the
Pucketa, in what is now Westmoreland County. Cooties was located there,
and since his unparalleled success in massacring whole families of
whites, he was apparently again in favor with the Indian tribal
Chieftains. He was to take charge of the prisoners, and when ready,
would lead them to Fort Duquesne, or possibly to some point further up
La Belle Riviere, to turn them over to the French, who would hold them
as hostages.

It was in the late afternoon when the party filed into Cooties’
encampment, at the Blue Spring, near the headwaters of the beautiful
Pucketa. Cooties had been apprised of their coming, and had painted his
face for the occasion, but meanwhile had consumed a lot of rum, and was
beastly drunk, so much so that in his efforts to drive the punkis off
his face, which seemed to have a predilection for the grease paint, he
smeared the moons and stars into an unrecognizable smudge all over his
saturnine countenance.

As he sat there on a huge dark buffalo robe, a rifle lying before him, a
skull filled with smoking tobacco on one side, and a leather jug of rum
on the other, smoking a long pipe, his head bobbing unsteadily on its
short neck, he made a picture never to be forgotten. The slayer of the
Sheridan family was at best an ugly specimen of the Indian race. He was
short, squat–Gibson described him as “sawed off”; his complexion was
very dark, his lips small and thin, his nose was broad and flat, his
eyes full and blood-shot, and his shaven head was covered with a red
cap, almost like a Turk’s fez.

He was too intoxicated to indicate his pleasure, if he felt any, at the
arrival of the prisoners. In front of where he sat were the embers of a
campfire, as the weather–it was early in March–was still very cold. He
had the prisoners lined up in front of him beyond the coals, while he
squatted on his rug, eyeing them as carefully as his bleared, inebriated
vision would permit. Calling to several of his henchmen, he had them
fetch fresh wood and pile it beside the embers, as if a big bonfire was
to be started later.

Just as they were in the midst of bringing the wood, a group of six
stalwart Indians rushed on the scene, literally dragging a rather
good-looking, dark-haired white woman of about thirty years, whose face
showed every sign of intense terror. From words that he could
understand, and the gestures, Gibson made out that this woman had
belonged to another batch of prisoners, but before she could be
delivered at Shannopin’s Town had somehow made her escape.

To deliver a body of prisoners short one of the quota had brought some
criticism on Cooties, and he was in an ugly frame of mind when she was
brought before him. There was an ash pole near the wood pile, to which
prisoners were tied while being interrogated, and Cooties ordered that
the unfortunate woman should be strapped to it. The Indian warriors,
needless to say, made a thorough job and bound her to it securely, hand
and foot.

Though she saw twelve or more white persons, the bound woman never said
a word, and the captives from Fort Robinson and other places were too
terror-stricken to address a word to her. They stared at her with that
look of dumb helplessness that a flock of sheep assume when peering
through the bars of their fold at a farmer in the act of butchering one
of their number. Sympathy they may have felt, but to express it in words
would have availed nothing.

Once tied to the tree, Cooties ordered that the wood be piled about her
feet. It was ranked until it came almost to her waist. Then the cruel
warrior turned to his victim, saying to her in German, “It’s going to be
a cold night; I think you can warm me up very nicely.”

Then he grinned and looked at each of his other prisoners menacingly.
Silas Wright in his excellent “History of Perry County” thus quotes Hugh
Gibson in describing the scene then enacted: “All the prisoners in the
neighborhood were collected to be spectators of the death by torture of
a poor, unhappy woman, a fellow-prisoner who had escaped, and been
recaptured. They stripped her naked, tied her to a post and pierced her
with red hot irons, the flesh sticking to the irons at every touch. She
screamed in the most pitiful manner, and cried for mercy, but the
ruthless barbarians were deaf to her agonizing shrieks and prayers, and
continued their horrid cruelty until death came to her relief.”

After this fiendish episode, the Fort Robinson prisoners were sick at
heart and in body for days, and most of them would have dropped in their
tracks if they had been compelled to resume the long, tedious western

It appeared that in the foray on Fort Robinson one young Indian had been
slain; rumor among the Indians had it that he had been shot by mistake
by a member of his own party. At any rate his parents, who lived near
Cooties’ camp-ground, took his end very hard, and the squaw, who was
Cooties’ sister, demanded the adoption of Hugh Gibson to take the place
of her lost warrior son. This was a good point for Gibson, although the
warrior’s father, Busqueetam, acted very coldly towards him, and he
feared he might some day, in a fit of revenge and hate, take his life.
However, the young white man, by making every effort to help his Indian
foster parents, who were very feeble and unable to work, won their
confidence, and also that of Cooties, who requisitioned him to do all
sorts of errands and work about the encampment.

One day Busqueetam was in a terrible state of excitement. His spotted
pony, the only equine in the camp, and the one that he expected to give
to Cooties to ride with chiefly dignity through the portals of the Fort
had strayed off in the night.

Most of the Fort Robinson and other prisoners who had been brought in
from various directions since their arrival, to make a great caravan of
captives to impress the commanders at Shannopin’s Town, like a Roman
triumph, were allowed their liberty during the daytime. At night they
were all tied together as they lay about the campfire, not far from the
charred stump of the ash pole where the poor white woman had been burned
to death, and where the small Indian dogs were constantly sniffing.
There were about twenty-five prisoners, all told, and with these were
tied about half a dozen guards, and all lay down in a circle about the
fire, guards and prisoners sleeping at the same time. It was a different
system from that of the whites, for if a prisoner got uneasy or tried to
get up, he or she would naturally pull on the leather thongs, and rouse
the guardians and other prisoners. The thongs were around both wrists,
so a prisoner was tied to the person on either side.

Hugh Gibson managed to have a few words with Elsbeth, when he heard of
the horse’s disappearance. Much as he would like to have talked to her,
few words passed between them during the captivity. Elsbeth was
naturally reserved, and had never known Hugh well before, and he was
playing for big stakes, and saw how the Indians resented any hobnobbing
among their prisoners. He managed to whisper to her that he would
volunteer to hunt for Busqueetam’s missing pony, but would return at
night and wait for her in the Panther Glade, a dense Rhododendron
thicket through which they had passed on their way to the campground;
that she should gnaw herself free with her teeth, and that done, with
her natural agility and moccasined feet, could nimbly spring away into
the darkness and escape to him. He thought he knew where the pony was
hiding, and she could ride on the animal to civilization. And now let
Gibson tell the adventure in his own words:

“At last a favorable opportunity to gain my liberty. Busqueetam lost a
horse and sent me to hunt him. After hunting some time, I came home and
told him I had discovered his tracks at some considerable distance, and
that I thought I would find him; that I would take my gun and provisions
and would hunt him for three or four days, and if I could kill a deer or
a bear, I would pack home the meat on the horse.”

Hugh Gibson, the privileged captive, strolled out of camp with a
business-like expression on his lean face, and carrying Cooties’
favorite rifle. He took a long circle about through the deep forest, and
at dark was ensconced in the Panther Glade, to wait the fateful moment
when Elsbeth, his beloved, would come to him, and as his promised wife,
he would lead her to liberty.

It was a cold night, and his teeth chattered as he squatted among the
rhododendrons waiting and listening. The wolves were howling, and he
wondered if the girl would feel afraid!

At the usual time the various prisoners and their guards were lashed
together, and lay down for their rest around the embers of the campfire.
Most of them were short of coverings, so they huddled close together.
Not so Elsbeth, for Cooties looked after her and provided her with four
buffalo robes, which she would have loved dearly to share with her less
favored fellow prisoners, but they would not allow it. The Indians made
the captives work hard during the day cutting wood, dressing furs and
pounding corn. They did not feed them any too well, as game was scarce
and ammunition scarcer, so all were tired when they lay down by the
campfire’s soothing glow.

One by one they fell asleep, all but Elsbeth, who, covering her head
with the buffalo robes, began to gnaw on the leather thongs as if they
were that much caramel, first this side, then the other. She felt like a
rodent before she was half through, and her pretty pearl-colored teeth
grew shorter and blunter before she was done. It was a gigantic task,
but she stuck to it bravely, and some time during the “wee, sma’” hours
had the delicious sensation of knowing she was free, even though she
felt horridly toothless and sore-gummed in her moment of victory.

Like a wild cat she slipped out from under the buffalo robes, wiggled
along among the wet leaves and moss, then crawled to her feet and was
off like a deer towards the Panther Glade, regardless of the howling of
the wolves. Hugh Gibson’s quick sense of hearing told him she was
coming, and he walked out so that he stood on the path before her, and
clasped her white shapely arms in heartfelt congratulations.

“Now that we are free,” he said, “I will take you to the pony in three
hours’ travel. I want to arrange the one final detail to make this
reunion always memorable for us both. We have shared common hardships
and perils; we have plotted and planned for freedom together. Let us
guarantee that our lives shall always be together, for I love you, and
want you to be my wife.”

Elsbeth drew herself back out of his grasp, and a shudder went through
her supple little frame. “Why I have never heard the like of what you
say, much as I have appreciated all you have done; ours was only a
common misfortune. I could not care for you that way, even though
recognizing your bravery, your foresight and your kindliness.”

For a moment Hugh Gibson was so angry that he felt like leading her back
to Cooties, where she would probably have been received with open arms,
and be burned at the stake, but he finally “possessed his soul” and
accepted the inevitable.

They found the pony by morning, but it took some maneuvering to capture
the wily beast, and packed him across the Kittanning Path, where, at
Burgoon’s Run, they came upon a party of traders headed by George
McCord, who had lately come from the Juniata.

McCord told them the details of the conflict at Fort Robinson, of the
shocking killing of Widow Gibson, Robert Miller’s daughter, James
Wilson’s wife, John Summerson, and others, on that bloody night of gas,
forest fires, smoke and surprises.

It was the turning point in Hugh Gibson’s life; his mother gone, and not
a sign of weakening in Elsbeth Henry’s mother-of-pearl countenance; in
fact, the indistinct line of her mouth was more like a streak of crimson
flame than ever. A new light had dawned for him out of these shocking
misfortunes; his purpose would be to redeem his inactivity at Fort
Robinson, his overconfidence, his over self-esteem, by going at once to
Carlisle to secure a commission in the Royal American Regiment of
Riflemen. He left Elsbeth in charge of the McCord party who would see
her back to her distracted parents, while he tramped over the mountains
towards Reastown and Fort Littleton, by the shortest route to the
Cumberland Valley.