The Surrender of
Forty Fort by Stephen Crane
Immediately after the battle of 3rd July, my mother said, We had
best take the children and go into the Fort.
But my father replied, I will not go. I will not leave my property.
All that I have in the world is here, and if the savages destroy it
they may as well destroy me also.
My mother said no other word. Our household was ever given to stern
silence, and such was my training that it did not occur to me to
reflect that if my father cared for his property it was not my
property, and I was entitled to care somewhat for my life.
Colonel Denison was true to the word which he had passed to me at
the Fort before the battle. He sent a messenger to my father, and this
messenger stood in the middle of our living-room and spake with a
clear, indifferent voice. Colonel Denison bids me come here and say
that John Bennet is a wicked man, and the blood of his own children
will be upon his head. As usual, my father said nothing. After the
messenger had gone, he remained silent for hours in his chair by the
fire, and this stillness was so impressive to his family that even my
mother walked on tip-toe as she went about her work. After this long
time my father said, Mary!
Mother halted and looked at him. Father spoke slowly, and as if
every word was wrested from him with violent pangs. Mary, you take the
girls and go to the Fort. I and Solomon and Andrew will go over the
mountain to Stroudsberg.
Immediately my mother called us all to set about packing such things
as could be taken to the Fort. And by nightfall we had seen them within
its pallisade, and my father, myself, and my little brother Andrew, who
was only eleven years old, were off over the hills on a long march to
the Delaware settlements. Father and I had our rifles, but we seldom
dared to fire them, because of the roving bands of Indians. We lived as
well as we could on blackberries and raspberries. For the most part,
poor little Andrew rode first on the back of my father and then on my
back. He was a good little man, and only cried when he would wake in
the dead of night very cold and very hungry. Then my father would wrap
him in an old grey coat that was so famous in the Wyoming country that
there was not even an Indian who did not know of it. But this act he
did without any direct display of tenderness, for the fear, I suppose,
that he would weaken little Andrew's growing manhood. Now, in these
days of safety, and even luxury, I often marvel at the iron spirit of
the people of my young days. My father, without his coat and no doubt
very cold, would then sometimes begin to pray to his God in the
wilderness, but in low voice, because of the Indians. It was July, but
even July nights are cold in the pine mountains, breathing a chill
which goes straight to the bones.
But it is not my intention to give in this section the ordinary
adventures of the masculine part of my family. As a matter of fact, my
mother and the girls were undergoing in Forty Fort trials which made as
nothing the happenings on our journey, which ended in safety.
My mother and her small flock were no sooner established in the
crude quarters within the pallisade than negotiations were opened
between Colonel Denison and Colonel Zebulon Butler on the American
side, and Indian Butler on the British side, for the capitulation of
the Fort with such arms and military stores as it contained, the lives
of the settlers to be strictly preserved. But Indian Butler did not
seem to feel free to promise safety for the lives of the Continental
Butler and the pathetic little fragment of the regular troops. These
men always fought so well against the Indians that whenever the Indians
could get them at their mercy there was small chances of anything but a
massacre. So every regular left before the surrender; and I fancy that
Colonel Zebulon Butler considered himself a much-abused man, for if we
had left ourselves entirely under his direction there is no doubt but
what we could have saved the valley. He had taken us out on 3rd July
because our militia officers had almost threatened him. In the end he
had said, Very well, I can go as far as any of you. I was always on
Butler's side of the argument, but owing to the singular arrangement of
circumstances, my opinion at the age of sixteen counted upon neither
the one side nor the other.
The Fort was left in charge of Colonel Denison. He had stipulated
before the surrender that no Indians should be allowed to enter the
stockade and molest these poor families of women whose fathers and
brothers were either dead or fled over the mountains, unless their
physical debility had been such that they were able neither to get
killed in the battle nor to take the long trail to the Delaware. Of
course, this excepts those men who were with Washington.
For several days the Indians, obedient to the British officers, kept
out of the Fort, but soon they began to enter in small bands and went
sniffing and poking in every corner to find plunder. Our people had
hidden everything as well as they were able, and for a period little
was stolen. My mother told me that the first thing of importance to go
was Colonel Denison's hunting shirt, made of fine forty linen. It had
a double cape, and was fringed about the cape and about the wristbands.
Colonel Denison at the time was in my mother's cabin. An Indian
entered, and, rolling a thieving eye about the place, sighted first of
all the remarkable shirt which Colonel Denison was wearing. He seized
the shirt and began to tug, while the Colonel backed away, tugging and
protesting at the same time. The women folk saw at once that the
Colonel would be tomahawked if he did not give up his shirt, and they
begged him to do it. He finally elected not to be tomahawked, and came
out of his shirt. While my mother unbuttoned the wristbands, the
Colonel cleverly dropped into the lap of a certain Polly Thornton a
large packet of Continental bills, and his money was thus saved for the
Colonel Denison had several stormy interviews with Indian Butler,
and the British commander finally ended in frankly declaring that he
could do nothing with the Indians at all. They were beyond control, and
the defenceless people in the Fort would have to take the consequence.
I do not mean that Colonel Denison was trying to recover his shirt; I
mean that he was objecting to a situation which was now almost
unendurable. I wish to record also that the Colonel lost a large beaver
hat. In both cases he willed to be tomahawked and killed rather than
suffer the indignity, but mother prevailed over him. I must confess to
this discreet age that my mother engaged in fisticuffs with a squaw.
This squaw came into the cabin, and, without preliminary discussion,
attempted to drag from my mother the petticoat she was wearing. My
mother forgot the fine advice she had given to Colonel Denison. She
proceeded to beat the squaw out of the cabin, and although the squaw
appealed to some warriors who were standing without the warriors only
laughed, and my mother kept her petticoat.
The Indians took the feather beds of the people, and, ripping them
open, flung the feathers broadcast. Then they stuffed these sacks full
of plunder, and flung them across the backs of such of the settlers'
horses as they had been able to find. In the old days my mother had had
a side saddle, of which she was very proud when she rode to meeting on
it. She had also a brilliant scarlet cloak, which every lady had in
those days, and which I can remember as one of the admirations of my
childhood. One day my mother had the satisfaction of seeing a squaw
ride off from the Fort with this prize saddle reversed on a small nag,
and with the proud squaw thus mounted wearing the scarlet cloak, also
reversed. My sister Martha told me afterwards that they laughed, even
in their misfortunes. A little later they had the satisfaction of
seeing the smoke from our house and barn arising over the tops of the
When the Indians first began their pillaging, an old Mr. Sutton, who
occupied a cabin near my mother's cabin, anticipated them by donning
all his best clothes. He had had a theory that the Americans would be
free to retain the clothes that they wore. And his best happened to be
a suit of Quaker grey, from beaver to boots, in which he had been
married. Not long afterwards my mother and my sisters saw passing the
door an Indian arrayed in Quaker grey, from beaver to boots. The only
odd thing which impressed them was that the Indian had appended to the
dress a long string of Yankee scalps. Sutton was a good Quaker, and if
he had been wearing the suit there would have been no string of scalps.
They were, in fact, badgered, insulted, robbed by the Indians so
openly that the British officers would not come into the Fort at all.
They stayed in their camp, affecting to be ignorant of what was
happening. It was about all they could do. The Indians had only one
idea of war, and it was impossible to reason with them when they were
flushed with victory and stolen rum.
The hand of fate fell heavily upon one rogue whose ambition it was
to drink everything that the Fort contained. One day he inadvertently
came upon a bottle of spirits of camphor, and in a few hours he was
But it was known that General Washington contemplated sending a
strong expedition into the valley, to clear it of the invaders and
thrash them. Soon there were no enemies in the country save small
roving parties of Indians, who prevented work in the fields and burned
whatever cabins that earlier torches had missed.
The first large party to come into the valley was composed mainly of
Captain Spaulding's company of regulars, and at its head rode Colonel
Zebulon Butler. My father, myself, and little Andrew returned with this
party to set to work immediately to build out of nothing a prosperity
similar to that which had vanished in the smoke.