Mary Ingles, Early American Heroine Part 10

May 18, 2024

Mary Ingles and Duchess exhibited signs of extreme physical and mental strain after escaping from the Shawnee Indians in October of 1755. They immediately began a lengthy trek through the wilderness in hopes of finding their way back to the pioneer settlements.

Their moccasins wore out and their clothes grew ragged. This was compounded by wintry days that came earlier than usual. The injuries they sustained and the lack of adequate clothing caused Duchess to second guess her decision to follow Mary in flight from their Indian captors.

Mary was able to appease Duchess but it became increasingly more difficult each day. When they reached the Kanawha River, Mary fell to her knees and thanked God. She told Duchess that she then knew where they were. They would now only have to follow the river to return to the settlements. From that point it would be a relatively short distance to her husband Will and to other family and friends.

They suffered a setback the following morning when a blanket of snow appeared and temperatures fell. It made their traveling conditions unbearable yet their choice was to travel or die. The snow lasted for several days and made it difficult for them to forage for nuts and roots. Duchess was going mad from the physical and mental strain on her body.

She threatened to kill Mary and cut her up and eat her. This worried Mary greatly as she had spontaneous periods of blindness which occurred more frequently.

Finally, knife uplifted, Duchess began to rave and started to attack Mary who had to think quickly to save her life.

“Duchess, you are right,” She said in agreement. “We are cold and hungry and have no food. Our best chance is for one of us to go alone. We’ve been through a lot. We both deserve to get back to the settlements but it is unlikely that we can. My friend Duchess, I think it is only fair that we cast lots to see who shall die and who will go on.”

Duchess would have none of that and approached Mary with raised knife. Mary grasped the woman’s wrist and pulled her toward her and threw her across her hip. Duchess landed in a heap.

Mary had no desire to harm Duchess so she took the opportunity to grab her torn blanket and run from the camp along the Kanawha River. Soon she heard the woman coming after her.

“I’ve had it with you Mary Ingles,” she said in near darkness. “I’m going to cut off your head.”

Mary knew she meant it. The Dutch lady was older, bigger and stouter yet Mary was faster afoot. She decided that she would have to outrun Duchess or hide. Finally she noticed where she could step down near the edge of the Kanawha River and hide without being seen. She climbed down and hid beneath the bank. Soon she heard the mad woman pass by as she looked for her. Mary, demoralized, thought about her situation. She thought about her husband and friends she hadn’t seen for months.

“Surely it can’t be too much further back to the settlement,” she thought to herself. “If I’m going to die, if I’m going to freeze to death, I’m going to do it trying to get back to Will. I won’t stay here and die.”

On a couple of occasions she heard Duchess walking along the bank over the next two hours but Mary decided to stay put until the moon got higher in the sky and afforded more light.

When it did she climbed up from the riverside and continued along the bank by the moonlight…alone. After a couple hours she came upon the camp where she had stayed with the Indians after her capture and during their travel northward.

“This is my chance to save myself from Duchess,” she thought to herself. “The Indians hid a canoe up the hill to use when they passed by here. If I take it across and travel on the opposite side Duchess won’t be able to get me.”

Mary found the canoe after looking about the area. It was full of water, leaves and snow. With great difficulty she emptied the canoe and pulled it to the water’s edge. She had mixed emotions as she pushed off with a makeshift oar which was a piece of wood she found nearby. She felt she couldn’t abandon Duchess or any human being like this, but she knew her life depended on it.

She breathed a sigh of relief upon reaching the opposite shore. Within minutes she found the little cabin she had seen before. Mary wrapped up in her blanket inside.

“Thank you Lord for delivering me to this place,” she whispered. “Warm this frail, freezing body and help me find my way back to Will. Watch over my children and watch over Duchess too, dear Lord. If I can find my way back to Will, I promise we’ll send help for her.”

Mary fell into a deep sleep.

copyright 2024 Jadon Gibson

Editor’s note: Duchess spots Mary across the river in Jadon’s epic story about Mary Ingles in an upcoming release. Gibson is a freelance writer from Harrogate, TN. His writings are both historical and nostalgic in nature. Thanks to Elmer Kincaid Coal,Lincoln Memorial University, the Museum of Appalachia, Arnett and Steele Funeral Home, Long’s Pic Pac, Gen Paul Phillips, Brook’s Tire and Harrogate Hospital for Animals for their assistance.