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‘Murdering-Town’
An Excerpt from the Journal of Washinton’s White Indian Guide
Christopher Gist was an Indian trader who ran a trading post in southwestern Pennsylvania, was hired by Major Gorge Washington as a guide, suffered terribly from the icy conditions, with Pennsylvania rivers and creeks frozen solid in places and snow and rain constantly oppressing them. Gist seems to have lost some fingers and toes. He certainly was a classic “white Indian” a white man who speaks a native tongue, can use universal sign and has “an Indian name” as he describes himself as being identified by the man sent to assassinate his employer. Before the Plantation America series is done an effort will be made to collect the rest of Gist’s journals, seemingly written at the end of his life, soon after his harrowing adventure with the young Major.
The text has been broken for ease of reading.
My comments are in italic.

Thursday 27.—We rose early in the morning, and set out about two o’clock. Got to the Murthering town, on the southeast fork of Beaver creek.
Washington used the more modern spelling, “Murdering-Town.”
Here we met with an Indian, whom I thought I had seen at Joncaire’s, at Venango, when on our journey up to the French fort. This fellow called me by my Indian name, and pretended to be glad to see me. He asked us several questions, as how we came to travel on foot, when we left Venango, where we parted with our horses, and when they would be there, etc.
Major Washington insisted on travelling on the nearest way to forks of Alleghany. We asked the Indian if he could go with us, and show us the nearest way. The Indian seemed very glad and ready to go with us. Upon which we set out, and the Indian took the Major’s pack. We travelled very brisk for eight or ten miles, when the Major’s feet grew very sore, and he very weary, and the Indian steered too much north-eastwardly. The Major desired to encamp, to which the Indian asked to carry his gun. But he refused that, and then the Indian grew churlish, and pressed us to keep on, telling us that there were Ottawa Indians in these woods, and they would scalp us if we lay out; but to go to his cabin, and we should be safe.
This Indian, like many post-contact Eastern Woodland Indians, lives in a cabin, a structure seemingly first used by the Swedes in Jersey and Delaware in the early 1600s, although captain John Smith, in 1609, notes English-Style houses in the Potomac Watershed of unknown origin.
I thought very ill of the fellow, but did not care to let the Major know I mistrusted him. But he soon mistrusted him as much as I. He said he could hear a gun to his cabin, and steered us more northwardly. We grew uneasy, and then he said two whoops might be heard to his cabin. We went two miles further; then the Major said he would stay at the next water, and we desired the Indian to stop at the next water. But before we came to water, we came to a clear meadow; it was very light, and snow on the ground. The Indian made a stop, turned about; the Major saw him point his gun toward us and fire. Said the Major, “Are you shot?” “No,” said I. Upon which the Indian ran forward to a big standing white oak, and to loading his gun; but we were soon with him. I would have killed him; but the Major would not suffer me to kill him.
Washington, though he was fain to let this backwoods merchant kill his own Indian assassin, would later standby as the Half-King slew a French officer who was his prisoner of honor, igniting the French and Indian War. This may very well mean that the Iroquois Half-King was in effect an agent of English influence among their perpetual enemies, the Iroquois. Or, perhaps, this harrowing experience hardened Washington’s heart towards his French enemies, for French officers had sent this assassin after him while he was under safe-conduct. By permitting his Indian ally to murder the brother of the man who had set assassins on his track, the young Washington may have simply proven himself to have learned some Indian ethics from Gist.
We let him charge his gun; we found he put in a ball; then we took care of him. The Major or I always stood by the guns; we made him make a fire for us by a little run, as if we intended to sleep there. I said to the Major, “As you will not have him killed, we must get him away, and then we must travel all night.” Upon which I said to the Indian, “I suppose you were lost, and fired your gun.” He said, he knew the way to his cabin, and ‘twas but a little way.
“Well,” said I, “do you go home; and as we are much tired, we will follow your track in the morning; and here is a cake of bread for you, and you must give us meat in the morning.”
He was glad to get away. I followed him, and listened until he was fairly out of the way, and then we set out about half a mile, when we made a fire, set our compass, and fixed our course, and travelled all night, and in the morning we were on the head of Piney creek.
(Christopher Gist’s Journals, ed. William M. Darlington [Cleveland, 1893], pp. 84–86.)
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