Adams County History & Genealogy

Adams County, Ohio History

Captivity and Escape of Samuel Davis

Mr. Samuel Davis, who is now (1846) residing in Franklin County, near Columbus, was taken prisoner by the Indians. He was born in New England, moved to the West, and was employed by the governor of Kentucky as a spy against the Indians on the Ohio. The circumstances of his captivity and escape are from his biography, by Colonel John McDonald:

In the fall of 1792, when the spies were discharged, Davis concluded he would make a winter's hunt up the Big Sandy River. He and a Mr. William Campbell prepared themselves with a light canoe, with traps and ammunition for a fall hunt. They set off from Massie's Station [now Manchester, Adams County OH] up the Ohio; thence up Big Sandy some distance, hunting and trapping as they went along. Their success in hunting and trapping was equal to their expectation. Beaver and otter were plenty. Although they saw no Indian sign, they were very circumspect in concealing their canoe, either by sinking it in deep water, or concealing it in thick willow brush. They generally slept out in the hills, without fire. This constant vigilance and care was habitual to the frontier men of that day. They hunted and trapped till the winter began to set in. They now began to think of returning, before the rivers would freeze up. They accordingly commenced a retrograde move down the river, trapping as they leisurely went down. They had been several days going down the river; they landed on a small island covered with willows. Here they observed signs of beaver. They set their traps, dragged their canoe among the willows and remained quiet till late in the night. They now concluded that any persons, white, red or black, that might happen to be in the neighborhood, would be in their camp. They then made a small fire among the willows, cooked and ate their supper, and lay down to sleep without putting out their fire. They concluded that the light of their small fire could not penetrate through the thick willows. They therefore lay down in perfect self-security. Some time before day, as they lay fast asleep, they were awakened by some fellows calling in broken English: "Come, come; get up, get up". Davis awoke from sleep, looked up and to his astonishment, found himself and companion surrounded by a number of Indians, and two standing over him with uplifted tomahawks. To resist in such a case would be to throw away their lives in hopeless struggle. They surrendered themselves prisoners.

The party of Indians, consisting of upwards of thirty warriors, had crossed the Ohio about the mouth of the Guyandotte River, and passed through Virginia to a station near the head of Big Sandy. They attacked the station and were repulsed, after continuing their attack two days and nights. Several Indians were killed during the siege and several wounded. They had taken one white man prisoner from the station, by the name of Daniels, and taken all the horses belonging to the station. The Indians had taken, or made, some canoes, in which they placed their wounded and baggage, and were descending the river in their canoes. As they were moving down in the night, they discovered a glimpse of Davis' fire through the willows. They cautiously landed on the island, found Davis and Campbell fast asleep, and awakened them in the manner above related.

Davis and Campbell were securely fastened with tugs, and placed in their own canoe. Their rifles, traps and the proceeds of their successful hunt, all fell into the hands of the Indians. The Indians made no delay, but immediately set off down the river in their canoes with their prisoners, while their main force went by land, keeping along the river bottoms with the horses they had taken from the station -- keeping near the canoes so as to be able to support each other in case of pursuit or attack. Early the next day they reached the Ohio River. The wounded and prisoners were first taken across the Ohio, and placed under a guard. They returned with the canoes (leaving their arms stacked against a tree), to assist in getting the horses across the river. It was very cold, and as soon as the horses would find themselves swimming they would turn around and land on the same shore. The Indians had a great deal of trouble before they got the horses across the Ohio. The guard who watched Davis and his companions were anxious, impatient spectators on the restive disposition of the horses to take the water. Upon one occasion, the guard left the prisoners twenty or thirty yards, to have a better view of the difficulty with the horses. Davis and his fellow prisoners were as near to where the arms were stacked as were the Indian guard. Davis who possessed courage and presence of mind in an eminent degree, urged his fellow prisoners to embrace the auspicious moment, seize the arms and kill the guard. His companions faltered; they thought the attempt too perilous. Should they fail of success, nothing but instant death would be the consequence. While the prisoners were hesitating to adopt the bold plan of Davis, their guard returned to their arms, to the chagrin of Davis. This opportunity of escape was permitted to pass by without being used. Davis ever after affirmed that if the opportunity which then presented itself for their escape had been boldly seized, their escape was certain.

He frequently averred to the writer of this narrative that if Duncan McArthur, Nat Beasley or Samuel McDowell had been with him upon this occasion, similarly situated, that he had no doubt that they would not only have made their escape, but killed the guard and the wounded Indians, and carried off or destroyed the Indians' arms. He said, if it had not been for the pusillanimity of his fellow prisoners, they might have promptly and boldly snatched themselves from captivity, and done something worth talking about. The opportunity, once let slip, could not again be recalled. The Indians, after a great deal of excursion, at length got the horses across the Ohio, and hastily fixed litters to carry their wounded. They destroyed their canoes, and went ahead for their own country.

This body of Indians was commanded by a Shawnee chief, who called himself Captain Charles Wilkey. After Wayne's treaty in 1795, when peace blessed our frontiers, the writer of this sketch became well acquainted with this Captain Wilkey. He was a short, thick, strong, active man, with a very agreeable and intelligent countenance. He was communicative and social in his manners. The first three or four years after Chillicothe was settled, this Indian mixed freely with the whites, and upon no occasion did he show a disposition to be troublesome. He was admitted by the other Indians who spoke of him to be a warrior of the first order: fertile in expedients, and bold to carry his plan into execution. Davis always spoke of him as being kind and humane to him.

The Indians left the Ohio River and pushed across the country in the direction of Sandusky; and as they were encumbered with several wounded and a good deal of baggage, without road or path, they traveled very slowly, not more than ten or twelve miles a day. As many of the prisoners, taken by the Indians, were burned with slow fires or otherwise tortured to death, Davis brooded over his captivity in sullen silence, and determined to effect his escape the first opportunity that would offer, that would not look like madness to embrace. At all events, he determined to effect his escape or die fighting.

The Indians moved on till they came to Salt Creek, in what is now Jackson County OH, and there camped for the night. Their manner of securing their prisoners for the night was as follows. They took a strong tug made from the raw hide of the buffalo or elk. This tug they tied tight around the prisoner's waist. Each end of the tug was fastened around an Indian's waist. Thus, with the same tug fastened to two Indians, he could not turn to the one side or the other without drawing an Indian with him. In this uncomfortable manner, the prisoner had to lie on his back till the Indians thought it proper to rise. If the Indians discovered the prisoner making the least stir, they would quiet him with a few blows. In this painful situation, the prisoners must lie till light in the morning, when they would be unconfined. As the company of Indians was numerous, the prisoners were unconfined in daylight, but were told that instant death would be the consequence of any movement to leave the line of march, upon any occasion whatever, unless accompanied by an Indian.

One morning, just before day began to appear, as Davis lay in his uncomfortable situation, he hunched one of the Indians to whom he was fastened, and requested to be untied. The Indian raised up his head and looked round, and found it was still dark, and no Indians up about the fires. He gave Davis a severe dig with his fist and bid him lie still. Davis's mind was now in a state of desperation. Fire and faggot, sleeping or awake, were constantly floating before his mind's eye. This torturing suspense would chill his soul with horror. After some time a number of Indians rose up and made their fires. It was growing light, but not light enough to draw a bead. Davis again jogged one of the Indians to whom he was fastened, and said the tug hurt his middle, and again requested the Indian to untie him. The Indian raised up his head and looked round, and saw it was getting light, and a number of Indians about the fires; he untied him. Davis rose to his feet, and was determined, as soon as he could look around and see the most probable direction of making his escape, to make the attempt, at all hazards. He screwed up his courage to the sticking point. It was a most desperate undertaking. Should he fail to effect his escape, death, instant, cruel death was his certain doom.

As he rose up to his feet, with this determined intention, his heart fluttered with tremors -- his sight grew dim at the thought of the perilous plunge he was about to take. He rose up to his feet, stood a minute between the two Indians to whom he had been fastened, and took a quick glance at the Indians who were standing around him. In the evening, the Indians had cut two forks, which were stuck in to the ground; a pole was laid across these forks, and all their rifles were leaned against the pole. If he made his start back from the Indian camp, the rifles of the Indians, who were standing round the fires, and who, he knew, would pursue him, would be before them; and as they started after him, they would have nothing to do but pick up a rifle as they ran. On the contrary, if he made his plunge through the midst of them, they would have to run back for their guns, and by that time, as it was only twilight in the morning, he could be so far from them that their aim would be very uncertain. All this passed through his mind in a moment. As he determined to make his dash through the midst of the Indians who were standing around the fires, he prepared his mind and body for the dreadful attempt.

The success of his daring enterprise depended on the swiftness of his heels. He knew his bottom was good. A large, active Indian was standing between Davis and the fire. He drew back his fist and struck the Indian with all his force, and dropped him into the fire; and with the agility of a buck, he sprang over his body, and took to the woods with all the speed that was in his power. The Indians pursued, yelling and screaming like demons; but as Davis anticipated, not a gun was fired at him. Several Indians pursued him for some distance, and for some time it was a doubtful race. The foremost Indian was so close to him that he sometimes fancied that he felt his clutch. However, at length David began to gain ground upon his pursuers; the breaking and rustling of brush was still farther and farther off. He took up a long, sloping ridge; when he reached the top, he, for the first time, looked back, and to his infinite pleasure, saw no person in pursuit.

He now slackened his pace, and went a mile or two farther, when he began to find his feet gashed and bruised by the sharp stones over which he had ran, without picking his way, in his rapid flight. He now stopped, pulled off his waistcoat, tore it into pieces and wrapped them around his feet instead of moccasins. He now pushed his way for the Ohio. He crossed the Scioto River, not far from where Piketon, Pike County, now stands. He then marched over the rugged hills of Sunfish, Camp Creek, Scioto Brush Creek and Turkey Creek, and struck the Ohio river eight or ten miles below the mouth of the Scioto River. It was about the first of January. He was nearly three days and two nights without food, fire or covering, exposed to the winter storms. Hardy as he undoubtedly was, these exposures and privations were almost too severe for human nature to sustain. But as Davis was an unwavering believer in that All-seeing eye, whose providence prepares means to guard and protect those who put their trust in Him, his confidence and courage never forsook him for a moment during this trying and fatiguing march.

When he arrived at the Ohio he began to look about for some dry logs to make a kind of raft on which to float down the stream. Before he began to make his raft, he looked up the Ohio and to his infinite gratification, he saw a Kentucky boat come floating down the stream. He now thought his deliverance was sure. As soon as the boat floated opposite to him he called to the people in the boat, and told them of his lamentable captivity and fortunate escape. The boatmen heard his tale of distress with suspicion. Many boats about this time had been decoyed to shore by similar tales of woe, and as soon as landed their inmates cruelly massacred. The boatmen heard his story, but refused to land. They said they had heard too much about such prisoners and escapes to be deceived in his case. As the Ohio was low, he kept pace with the boat as it slowly glided along.

The more pitiably he described his forlorn situation the more determined were the boat crew not to land for him. He at length requested them to row the boat a little nearer the shore and he would swim to them. To this proposition the boatmen consented. They commenced rowing the boat towards the shore, when Davis plunged into the freezing water and swam for the boat. The boatmen seeing him swimming toward them, their suspicion gave way, and they rowed the boat with all their force to meet him. He was at length lifted up into the boat, almost exhausted. (Our old boatmen, though they had round exteriors, had Samaritan hearts.) The boatmen were not to blame for their suspicion. They now administered to his relief and comfort everything that was in their power. That night, or the next morning, he was landed at Massie's Station, among his former friends and associates, where he soon recovered his usual health and activity.

An Encyclopedia of the state: History both general and local, geography with descriptions of its counties, cities and villages, its agricultural, manufacturing, mining and business development, sketches of eminent and interesting characters, etc., with notes of a tour over it in 1886.
The Ohio Centennial Edition
- Henry Howe, LL.D. [© 1888]