Mary Ingles, Early American Heroine Part 11

May 18, 2024

Mary Ingles and Duchess spent weeks in the wilds while trying to find their way back to the pioneer settlements after escaping from their Shawnee Indian captors in October of 1755. They had little food. Their clothing was tattered and their moccasins used up. Duchess became delirious from the physical and mental strain and Mary fought bouts of blindness.

Mary escaped when Duchess attacked her with a knife and rowed to the opposite shore in an Indian canoe she found. She slept in a cabin that she recalled from the trip northward with the Indians following her capture. That seemed like ages ago to Mary.

She arose early and searched about the cabin for anything that would be useful before going outside to forage for food. Soon she found where corn was planted the previous spring but buffaloes and other animals had broken down the fencing and destroyed the crop.

“Nothing here to eat,” she told herself. “I must go on and follow the river.

What’s that? Well, I’ll be. How did that escape the animals and the elements?”

Tucked away in a fence corner were several small turnips and a bunch of kale. Soon she made what was to her a tasty breakfast. Then she proceeded to the river and continued her quest for freedom.

“Mary,” came a call from Duchess on the opposite bank, surprising her.

“Mary, come and bring me across in the canoe.”

“No, Duchess, I ain’t going to,” she answered.

“Please Mary, I won’t hurt you,” the older woman responded. “I can help find food and we can find our way back together. Come and get me Mary.”

“No, I can’t do it,” Mary answered as she restarted her journey. “But you can follow along on that side of the river. As for me, I’ll stay over here.”

Duchess complained again but she reluctantly walked along on the opposite riverbank. The weather was becoming more bitter and the women were ill- clad for the cold. Their moccasins were worn and their feet were bruised and aching with open sores. Mary thought about giving up time and again.

“I must be within one or two days travel from the settlements,” she thought to herself. “I can’t give in now, not after all the hunger, freezing and pain. Yet I’m almost frozen to death. I can’t feel my feet anymore. They were sore and cold. Now I can’t even tell that I have feet. I guess that’s good though ‘cause I’m so weary I don’t know how much more I can take.”

Mary kept plodding along, always staying alert for danger. She also looked for anything to eat but seldom did she find anything. Mary forgot about Duchess at times as she would sometimes go for hours without seeing or hearing her. Then she would be surprised when Duchess would reappear on the opposite shore. Mary could be of no use to Duchess. She could hardly help herself. She simply had to continue moving along, forever putting one foot in front of the other.

Mary worried about collapsing and freezing to death without waking up. It was now late November and many of the nights were bitterly cold, often compounded by strong winds.

“Oh God help me to go on,” she prayed only loud enough for herself to hear, tears running from her eyes. “Don’t let me die here. Not this close to Will and the others.”

She became encouraged as she passed through the new River Narrow, the butte of Wolf Mountain and the mouth of Wolf Creek though she was half crazed from the bodily torture.

After passing what settlers called Angel’s Rest Mountain, 4,000 feet high she didn’t pause, knowing she may die if she did. Somehow Mary climbed and passed two miles of cliff overhangs, opposite Walker’s Creek. Afterwards she was forced to scale another seemingly impassable cliff.

“Home, sweet home,” she thought to herself over and over. “It can’t be far now. Surely I will find someone soon.”

Nightfall was approaching as Mary arrived at Salt Pond Mountain. It had been spitting snow but now there was a general downpour of large white flakes.

A huge obstacle lay before her, a giant cliff, hundreds of feet high. There was no foot-hold so Mary decided, despite the cold, to wade the river. Soon she found the water was too deep. Wracked by cold, hunger and soaked head to toe, she retreated to the riverbank.

Copyright 2024 Jadon Gibson

Editor’s note: Mary Ingles refuses to give up in an upcoming segment.

Jadon Gibson, a UK graduate is a widely read Appalachian writer from Harrogate, TN. His writings are both historical and nostalgic in nature. Thanks to Lincoln Memorial University, the Museum of Appalachia, Arnett and Steele Funeral Home, Long’s Pic Pac, Gen. Paul Phillips, Brook’s Tire, Harrogate Hospital for Animals and Elmer Kincaid Coal for their assistance.