Mary Ingles, Early American Heroine Part 8

April 08, 2024

In October of 1755 Mary Ingles and Duchess, another Indian prisoner, were part of a canoe caravan that included about two dozen Indian warriors, three Frenchmen and an assortment of squaws and children. The ragtag group floated about 160 river miles down the Ohio River to Big Bone Licks, now part of Boone County, KY near Cincinnati. The days were becoming shorter and the nights were getting colder.

Mary was captured in July of that year and brought to the Indian village along the Ohio River after a group of Shawnee warriors burned her cabin and killed her mother. She gave birth to a beautiful baby girl on the journey but the infant died after she was taken from Mary and adopted by one of the chiefs. Mary’s sons were also taken from her. She was bent on escaping and made plans with an older Dutch woman who was captured several years earlier in Pennsylvania.

The area around the salt lick attracted large animals for thousands of years and many large bones from the wooly mammoth and other creatures were scattered about the area.

Each day found Mary and Duchess scouring the nearby woods looking for grapes, herbs and spices. Mary had learned that her cooking and household talents were helpful to the Indians they were given free reign of the region to aid in their search for needed items.

Although the two appeared to be happy they secretly talked about escaping and were making preliminary plans. They both had a knife, tomahawk and blanket when they escaped. Mary took the tomahawk that belonged to one of the Frenchmen as he sat and cracked walnuts on the skull of a giant mammoth. They took no food except for some parched corn and pemmican (dried meat.) They didn’t want to arouse the suspicion of the Indians.

The chiefs were well aware they could escape but where could they go? They were in a total wilderness, hundreds of miles from a pioneer village and they were without transportation. One was very unhealthy.

Mary Ingles and Duchess set out supposedly to hunt grapes but immediately headed for the Ohio River a couple miles from their camp, and then followed the river. They knew the undertaking was extremely dangerous. They not only had to travel by foot through dense forests but they also had to avoid roving bands of Indians. The women had no firearms. They knew if they were recaptured it would likely mean death. They were enthusiastic however about the thoughts of getting away from their captors and were anxious to put as many miles between them and the Indians as possible.

They forded (waded) across the small streams flowing into the Ohio and luckily found abandoned canoes left by the Indians on at least two occasions when the streams were too deep to ford. At other times they traveled inland until they found the water shallow enough to wade across.

Their travel was slow because of the rough terrain and the denseness of the undergrowth yet the women stayed alert in order to spot any danger. The nights were cool and the women huddled together to stay warm. They parceled out the small amount of food they had but it was gone by the third day.

Mary and the older lady knew they would have to pass near the Indian village and would have to be doubly attentive. Both women were tired and hungry and the old lady became grouchy. That night, the fourth since their escape Mary attempted to calm her.

“There will still be corn ears in the fields,” Mary told her. “We’ll go after dark. Many of the Indians are at the salt lick and others will be on hunts. The village on this side of the river may be deserted. If it is we can stay in one of the cabins. We’ll make a grip from a blanket and take some corn. (In olden times most everyone would have a bag made from an animal pelt, clothing remnant, food sack or something used to carry items from the garden, barn, orchard. It was commonly called a grip and many still call it that.

Mary told them if they get caught to tell the Indians they were out hunting herbs and spices and got lost.

Another day passed without reaching the Indian village and then another. Duchess began to grumble. Mary was tired and hungry but she knew her whole life was at stake. She encouraged the older woman and reminded her of the way they lived before they were taken by Indians. It increased her interest and made her feel like she belonged to her way of life she had missed for the last several years.

They saw a dozen Indians canoeing down the Ohio River the following morning and lay quietly in shrubbery until they passed out of sight. In mid-afternoon the women saw the Shawnee village ahead. They watched from a distance until nightfall and saw no IIndians on the south side of the river. They were equally pleased by not seeing any of the Indian’s dogs.

Soon after dark Mary and Dutchess slipped into the village and stealthed from one hut to the next without finding anyone. They returned to the first cabin they had checked. It was the hut nearest the brush. They slept soundly that night for the first time in days. Mary dreamed of better times. She dreamed of her husband Will and of Draper’s Meadows. She dreamed of her sons Thomas and George.

Suddenly Duchess was awakened by the sound of a horse. She awoke suddenly causing her heart to race.

“It’s an Indian rider,” she fretted to herself. “All of that walking, all of that pain and it comes to this. Maybe we can slip into the brush without being seen.”

She nudged Dutchess to awaken her, cautioning her to be quiet. Once the women were prepared, Mary peeked through an opening… worried about what she might see.

Copyright 2024

Editor’s note: Read more of Jadon’s story Fom the Mountains next week. Past issues are available for purchase at the News office. Jadon Gibson is a widely read Appalachian writer. His stories are both historic and nostalgic in nature. Thanks to Brook’s Tires, Gen. Paul Phillips, Harrogate Hospital for Animals, Elmer Kincaid Coal, Lincoln Memorial University, the Museum of Appalachia, Arnett and Steele Funeral Home and Long’s Pic Pac for their assistance.