Sunday, March 25, 2007

The Harmans Of Clear Fork

The following is the first in a series.

In this series I'll be telling the story of a remarkable Virginian, Mrs. Jean (Jenny) Sellards Wiley who was captured in 1789 by a mixed band of Shawnee and Cherokee from her home in what is now Tazewell County, Virginia.

Chapter One
The Harmans of Clear Fork

The old man set about getting the camp in order. After years on the frontier Henry knew just how he liked his hunting camp, and his sons knew better than try to help him set it up. The old man was particular that way. His sons, George and Mathias, put their guns in order and started into the woods to look for sign and maybe even kill a deer for the evening meal, Leaving Henry to tinker with the details of his camp while George Draper, the fourth member of their party, made himself busy in hobbling and caring for the horses.

It was late afternoon on November 12, 1788 when Henry Harman and his sons along with George Draper arrived at their hunting camp on the banks of the Tug Fork River. They had left the settlement in the valley of Clear Fork of Wolf Creek early the day before, expecting to be gone for most of the early part of winter.

Just before darkness fell George returned to camp with the startling news that he had found signs of Shawnee, an unusual circumstance at this time of year. The Shawnee lived primarily north of the Ohio River, and generally west of this part of the Virginia frontier, but they did often use the Tug Fork as a warpath between themselves and the Cherokee to the south. The settlers in western Virginia had learned that the Shawnee and the Cherokee generally remained close to home during the winter; at least they had a tendency to stay away from the rugged country around the Tug Fork and Clinch River during that time of year. Even so, George had found their camp nearby, with a smoldering fire still burning.

Now old Mr. Harman was well experienced on the frontier and having that remarkable self-possession that such a life requires, took a seat near the fire and began to interrogate his oldest son on the dimensions, appearance, and condition of the camp that George had discovered. When the old man had fully satisfied himself, he told his sons and Draper that there must be between five and seven Indians about, maybe even watching them now. The men still did not know just why this party of Shawnee was so far away from the Indian villages along the northern shore of the Ohio River. Henry just knew that they must head back to the settlements near the headwaters of the Clinch River to prevent, if possible, any mischief the Indians might be planning.

George and Mathias immediately repacked the horses while Mr. Harman and Draper began to load their rifles. When the old man noticed the nervous trembling of Draper he suggested that he and Draper should lead the way with the pack horses following and George and Mathias bringing up the rear.

The group had gone only a short way when Draper remarked to Mr. Harman that he would go ahead, as he could see better than Mr. Harman, and that he would keep a sharp lookout. As any hunter knows, if you look at it hard enough a tree can change itself into a buck right before your eyes. Something similar must have happened to Draper, as he soon spun about on his horse declaring he saw the Indians, which proved to not be true. Within a few minutes Draper called out an alarm once again, "Yonder they are - behind that log." Like the boy who cried "wolf!", Draper was ignored by the more seasoned men. Mr. Harman rode on while the dog that was with them ran up to the log betraying the Indian's presence. At that instant a sheet of fire and smoke from the Indian's rifles was all that could be seen in the darkness. Mr. Draper had spoken the truth this time.

With agility that belied his age, the old man dismounted and he and the dog fell back to where his sons stood ready to face the Indians, while Draper fled with all the speed within his swift horse. Of the seven Shawnee, only four had guns, the rest being more traditionally armed with bows and arrows, tomahawks and scalping knives.

The Shawnee immediately surrounded the Harmans who had formed themselves into as much of a circle as can be formed by only three men. Henry told Mathias to hold his fire while he and George fired into the group, wounding two.

I should say here that George, having had white swelling in his childhood, was slightly lame. After firing a couple of rounds one of the Indians noticed his limp and rushed him, thinking him wounded. George briefly held off the tomahawk attack by using his empty rifle as a club. The Indian mounted a second charge, half-bent and head foremost. George sprang up and jumped across him, which brought the Indian to his knees. George, reaching for his knife and not getting hold of it, seized the Indian‘s from his grasp and plunged it deep into his side. Mathias struck him on the head with a tomahawk, and finished the work with him.

Two of the Indians had attacked the old man with bows, and were maneuvering around him, to get clear aim at his left breast. The Harmans, like most seasoned Indian fighters on the frontier, wore their bullet pouches on the left side, and with this and his arm he so effectively shielded his breast, that the Indians did not loose their arrows until they saw the old man's gun nearly loaded again. The first arrow struck his right elbow, cutting an artery, the second into his chest, lodging against a rib. He had by this time reloaded, but as he raised his rifle to fire, the blood from his wounded elbow spurted into the pan, spoiling the load. The act of raising his gun to aim had the effect of sending the bowmen back to cover.

Mathias, who had obeyed his father's order to hold his fire, now had the only loaded rifle left among them, Harmans or Indians, and he asked permission to fire, which the old man granted. The target Mathias chose appeared to be the chief and was standing under a large beech tree. At the report of the rifle, the Indian fell, throwing his tomahawk high among the limbs of the tree under which he stood.

Seeing two of their number lying dead upon the ground, and two more badly wounded, the Shawnee immediately made off. Several hundred yards along the trail they never noticed the hidden Draper, who had left his horse, and concealed himself behind a log.

As soon as the Indians retreated, the old man fell back on the ground exhausted and fainting from the loss of blood. George and Mathias tended Henry's wounded arm, removed the arrow from the shallow wound in his chest, and washed his face in cold water. Somewhat refreshed, the old man said, "We've whipped them boys, give me my pipe." George packed the old man's pipe for him while Mathias scalped the two dead Shawnee.

When Draper saw the Indians pass him, he stealthily crept from his hiding place, and pushed on for the settlement. Arriving back on the Clear Fork of Wolf Creek the next day Draper reported the attack and told of the deaths of the Harmans. Several men gathered to go across East River Mountain to retrieve the bodies of the old man and his sons for a proper Baptist burial. They had not gone far before they met the well known old hound followed by the obviously alive Harmans coming down the mountainside. Though tired and wounded, they were in much too good condition to need burying.

Chapter Two
Revenge On Clear Fork

All of the events in this and the following chapters are true. Many accounts of the Jenny Wiley story exist, with most following two distinct, very different versions. I have researched the story and taken the most likely and best documented events from all of the various accounts in order to produce this version. As I write this I'll also be compiling linkable footnotes which will be added soon after the story's completion.

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