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THE PERILS OF THE WILDER
On the 31st day of October, in the year 1753, a young man, whose name was as yet unknown outside the colony of Virginia, though it was destined to attain world-wide fame, set out from Williamsburg, in that colony, on a momentous errand. It was the first step taken in a series of events which were to end in driving the French from North America, and placing this great realm under English control,—the opening movement in the memorable French and Indian War.. The name of the young man was George Washington. His age was twenty-one years. He began thus, in his earliest manhood, that work in the service of his country which was to continue until the end.
The enterprise before the young Virginian was one that needed the energies of youth and the unyielding perseverance of an indefatigable spirit. A wilderness extended far and wide before bim, partly broken in Virginia, but farther on untouched by the hand of civilization. Much of his route lay over rugged mountains, pathless save by the narrow and difficult Indian trails. The whole distance to be traversed was not less than five hundred and sixty miles, with an equal I.--. 9
distance to return. The season was winter. It was a task calculated to try the powers and test the endurance of the strongest and most energetic man.
The contest between France and England for American soil was about to begin. Hitherto the colonists of these nations had kept far asunder,-the French in Canada and on the great lakes; the English on the Atlantic coast. Now the English were feeling their way westward, the French southward,- lines of movement which would touch each other on the Ohio. The touch, when made, was sure to be a hostile one.
England had established an “Ohio Company," — ostensibly for trade, really for conquest. The French had built forts,—one at Presque Isle, on Lake Erie; one on French Creek, near its head-waters; a third at the junction of French Creek with the Alleghany. This was a bold push inland. They had done more than this. A party of French and Indians had made their way as far as the point where Pittsburgh now stands. Here they found some English traders, took them prisoners, and conveyed them to Presque Isle. In response to this, some French traders were seized by the Twightwee Indians, a tribe friendly to the English, and sent to Pennsylvania. The touch had taken place, and it was a hostile one.
Major Washington-he had been a Virginian adjutant-general, with the rank of major, since the age of nineteen-was chosen for the next step, that of visiting the French forts and demanding the with. drawal of their garrisons from what was claimed to be English territory. The mission was a delicate one. It demanded courage, discretion, and energy. Washington bad them all. No better choice could have been made than of this young officer of militia.
The youtbful pioneer proceeded alone as far as Fredericksburg. Here he engaged two companions, one as French, the other as Indian, interpreter, and proceeded. Civilization had touched the region before him, but not subdued it. At the junction of Will's Creek with the Potomac (now Cumberland, Mary land), he reached the extreme outpost of civilization. Before him stretched more than four hundred miles of unbroken wilderness. The snow-covered Alleghanies were just in advance. The chill of the coming winter already was making itself felt. Recent rains had swollen the streams. They could be crossed only on log-rafts, or by the more primitive methods of wading or swimming,-expedients none too agreeable in freezing weather. But youth and a lofty spirit halt not for obstacles. Washington pushed on.
At Will's Creek e added to his party. Here he was joined by Mr. Gist, an experienced frontiersman, who knew well the ways of the wilderness, and by four other persons, two of them Indian traders. On November 14 the journey was resumed. Hardships now surrounded the little party of adventurers. Miles of rough mountain had to be climbed ; streams, swollen to their limits, to be crossed; unbroken and interminable forests to be traversed. Day after day they pressed onward, through difficulties that would have deterred all but the hardiest and most vigorous of men. In ten days they had accomplished an important section of their journey, and reached those forks of the Ohio which were afterwards to attain
such celebrity both in war and peace,-as the site of Fort Duquesne and of the subsequent city of Pittsburgh.
Twenty miles farther on the Indian settlement of Logstown was reached. Here Washington called the Indian chiefs together in conference. The leading chief was known as Tanacharison (Half-King), an Indian patriot, who had been much disturbed by the French and English incursions. He had been to the French forts. What he had said to their command. ers is curious, and worthy of being quoted :
“Fathers, I am come to tell you your own speeches; what your own mouths have declared. Fathers, you in former days set a silver basin before us, wherein was the leg of a beaver, and desired all the nations to come and eat of it,—to eat in peace and plenty, and not to be churlish to one another; and that, if any person should be found to be a disturber, I here lay down by the edge of the dish a rod, which you must scourge them with ; and if your father should get foolish in my old days, I desire you may use it upon me as well as others. Now, fathers, it is you who are the disturbers in this land, by coming and building your towns, and taking it away unknown to us, and by force. ...
“Fathers, I desire you may hear me in civilness if not, we must handle that rod which was laid down for the use of the obstreperous. ... Fathers, both you and the English are white; we live in a country between; therefore, the land belongs to neither one nor the other. The Great Being above allowed it to be a place of residence for us; so, fathers, I desire
you to withdraw, as I have done our brothers the English: for I will keep you at arms' length. I lay this down as a trial for both, to see which will have the greatest regard for it, and that side we will stand by, and make equal sharers with us. Our brothers, the English, have heard this, and I now come to tell it to you; for I am not afraid to discharge you off this land.”
The poor Half-King was to find that he had undertaken a task like that of discharging the wolves out of the sheep-cote. The French heard his protest with contempt, and went on building their forts. He thereupon turned to the English, whom he, in the simplicity of his heart, imagined had no purpose save that of peaceful trade. His “fathers” had contemned him; to his “brothers” he turned in amity.
Washington told his purposes to his dusky auditors. He had come to warn the French intruders off the Indian lands. He desired a guide to conduct him to the French fort, one hundred and twenty miles distant. His statement pleased the Indians. Their English “brothers” were in sympathy with them. They would help them to recover their lands. The generosity of their white brothers must have seemed highly meritorious to the simple savages. They had yet to learn that the French and the English were the two millstones, and they and their lands the corn to be ground between.
The Half-King, with two other chiefs (Jeskakake and White Thunder by name), volunteered to guide the whites. A hunter of noted skill also joined them. Once more the expedition set out. The 973 m83 9*