The story of a Jefferson County Pioneer
published in the Madison Weekly Courier – Jan. 28, 1874
In a book entitled, “Thrilling Adventures Among the Indians,” we found the story of George Ash with the introduction below.
The following was communicated to the Cincinnati Chronicle in the autumn of 1829 by a gentleman, in substance as related below. He received it from the mouth of Ash himself, who resides on the Ohio in Indiana, upon lands first presented to him by the Indians, and afterward confirmed in part by Congress – he paying for the same. We copy it from Turner’s Traits of Indian Character:
The following narrative possesses much interest. It has been handed us for publication, by a gentleman of this city, in whose integrity we have entire confidence. He states that he saw and conversed with Ash and made many enquiries concerning him, which leave no doubt of the truth of his history. It adds another to the list of those strange and adventurous lives that have been of no infrequent occurrence in the early settlement of the Western States.
In traveling through the Western States, I have heard and seen a few things which I have deemed worth recording. In another journal of this city I have published some of them; the following if you think proper, I will thank you to insert in the Chronicle.
The individual whose story is given below, I met in the state of Indiana—and learned, by mere accident that his life had been somewhat peculiar. He, at first, refused to give me his history; and I had to use some address, in order to overcome his reluctance. It was with manifest repugnance that he entered upon the relation, pleaded haste, and finally left me unsatisfied as to some parts. Gentlemen present assured me that I had been particularly fortunate—that they had never known him so communicative on these subjects before, but that I might in their opinion place implicit reliance on his statements, as his character for veracity was fair. I will endeavor to give his narrative as nearly in his own words as my memory, assisted by a few hasty notes, will enable me.
The Story of George Ash
“My father, John Ash, was one of the earliest emigrants to Kentucky, and settled near Bardstown, Nelson County, many miles from any other white settlement. In the month of March, 1780, when I was about ten years of age, we were attacked by the Shawnee Indians; a part of the family was killed, the rest taken prisoners. We were separated from each other, and excepting a younger sister, who was taken in the same party that had me in possession, I saw none of my family for seventeen years. My sister was small; they carried her two or three days, but she cried and gave them trouble, and they tomahawked and scalped her, and left her lying on the ground. I was after this transferred from one family to another, several times, and treated harshly, and called a “white dog”; till, at length, I was domesticated into a family, and considered a member of it. After this my treatment was like that of other children in the tribe.
“The Shawnees at this time, lived on the Big Miami, 20 miles above Dayton. Here we continued until Gen. Clark came out and attacked us, and burnt our town. We then removed to St. Mary’s, and continued there about two years. After this we removed to Fort Wayne, on the Maumee. Here we were attacked by Gen. Harmer. We then removed to the Auglaze River, and continued there some years. While there, Gen. St. Clair came out against us. Eight hundred and fifty warriors went out to meet him; and on their way were joined by fifty Kickapoos.
“The two armies met about two hours before sunset. When the Indians were within about a half a mile of St. Clair, the spies came running back to inform us, and we stopped. We concluded to encamp; it was too late, they said, to begin the “play”. They would defer the sport till next morning. Gen. Blue Jacket was our commander. After dark he called all the chiefs around him., to listen to what he had to say, – “our fathers”, said he, ‘used to do as we now do – our tribes used to fight other tribes – they could trust to their own strength and their number, but in this conflict we have no such reliance – our power and our numbers bear no comparison to those of our enemy, and we can do nothing, unless assisted by our Great Father above. ‘I pray now’ continued Blue Jacket, raising his eyes to Heaven, ’that he will be with us tonight, and (it was now snowing) that to-morrow he will cause the sun to shine out clear upon us, and we will take it as a token of good; and we shall conquer.’ Blue Jacket appears to have been a priest as well as a warrior.
“About an hour before day, orders were given for every man to be ready to march. On examination, it was found, that three fires or camps, consisting of fifty Pottawatomies, had deserted us. We marched till we got within sight of the fires of St. Clair. Then Gen. Blue Jacket began to talk, and to sing a hymn, as Indians sing hymns.” (Here the narrator mentioned some ceremony that I did not well understand). “The fight commenced and continued for an hour or more, when the Indians retreated. As they were leaving the ground, a chief, by the name of Black Fish, ran in among them, and with the voice of thunder, asked them what they were doing, where they were going, and who had given them orders to retreat? This caused a halt, and he proceeded in a strain of the most impassioned eloquence to exhort them to courage and to deeds of daring; and concluded with saying, what the determination of others might be, he knew not, but for himself, his determination was to conquer or die. ‘You who are like minded, follow me.’ And they raised the war whoop, which is “We conquer or die.” The attack was most impetuous and the carnage for a few moments shocking. Many of the Indians threw away their guns, leaped in among the Americans and did the butchery with tomahawks. In a few moments the Americans gave way; the Indians took possession of the camp and the artillery, spiked the guns, and parties of Indians followed the retreating army many miles. Eleven hundred Americans were left dead on the field. The number of Indians killed, together who afterwards died of their wounds, amounted to only thirty five.
” In this battle a ball passed through the back of Ash’s neck, and left a scar, which he showed me. He fell, and says his recollection returned while and Indian was carrying him away on his back. Many years after, he ascertained that he had a brother in St. Clair’s army, who was killed in this battle. Who can say that he did not direct the ball that did the fatal work, for all who have seen Ash will allow that he was not a man to be idle in battle.
“After this battle, I started with eight others, on an embassy to the Creek Nation. Our subject was to renew the friendly relations between that nation and our own tribe; and two of our number were regularly accredited ambassadors for that purpose. We made a visit of a year, and were successful in the objections of our mission. The nations north of the Ohio were desirous of strengthening themselves against the whites, by foreign alliances.
“While we were absent, our tribe had had a battle with the whites near Fort Hamilton. The American army was commanded, I think by Gen. Bradley. After our return Wayne came out against us with 8,000 men. We sent our runners to all nations to collect together warriors and soon an army of fifteen hundred men were in the field. We marched on to meet Wayne, who then lay at Fort Recovery. We took one of Wayne’s spies in our march, a Chickasaw. He was taken to the Indian army that he might give us some account of Wayne’s movements, but the Indians were so enraged at him for his treachery, that they fell upon him in the midst of his narrative, and killed him. Our army was then in great want of provisions. The Chippeway Indians cut him up, roasted and ate him. Near Fort Recovery we met a part of the American army, and fought them – without much success – and returned home. Wayne marched on to the towns, and only three hundred warriors could be mustered to meet him. We went out however and fought him in the two battles within three days of each other. These battles were fought near Fort Wayne, and the places where they were fought are not more than five miles from each other. The Indians were in effect conquered and the war ended. Gen. Blue Jacket, that winter, hoisted the flag of truce, and marched into Greenville, to treat with Wayne.”
We are all familiarly acquainted with the history of these Indian wars – of the gallant but unfortunate St. Clair – and of the chivalrous and successful Wayne. This, for aught I know, is the first Indian account of these transactions that has appeared, and if it is correct, and I have abundant reason to think it is, it must go at least to diminish our censure of St. Clair, if it does not detract from the credit of Wayne. St Clair suffered himself to be surprised by the Indians in their own territory, a fault which Washington thought admitted of no excuse; besides, his army exceeded the enemy’s in numbers. But when we take into consideration his ignorance of Indian warfare, and that he had to fight them in their own wilds, we must acknowledge the disparity was not very great. By their showing, likewise, their army consisted of nearly a thousand men , and such men as are not easily conquered by any force, for their motto was “we conquer or die.”
Ash had now been with the Indians seventeen years, he had long since identified himself with them, spoke their language perfectly, and almost forgotten his own; and had adopted their dress and all their modes of life. His right ear is fixed in a peculiar manner for the purpose of wearing jewels. The edge of the ear, about a third of an inch deep, is cut off, excepting at the ends where the ear joins the head. This rim hangs down on the face, and serves as a kind of loop. The parting gristle of the nose is perforated; there is likewise, a hole in his left ear. I made some inquiries as to his painting. He said he painted, and wore about a hundred dollars worth of silver in ornaments, when he visited the ladies. In his nose he wore three silver crosses and seven half moons, valued from five to six dollars each, and as he proceeded to describe his decorations for these excursions of gallantry, and the reception he met with, I could not but reflect upon the effect which ornament has with the fair in all ages, and among all nations.
“After peace,” he proceeded, “ I told the Indians I wished to go to the white settlements, and see if any of my family were living. They at first made objections, but finally consented, and in full dress, with a good horse, a good gun, and a good hunting dog, I started for Fort Pitt. Having traveling along fourteen days in the wilderness, I arrived at my place of destination. I there found a brother, and learned that my father was still living in Kentucky. After staying sometime at Fort Pitt, I was employed by a gentlemen as a guide through the wilderness to Detroit. When we arrived in the neighborhood of Detroit, I told my employer he might go on, and that I would spend the winter among the Indians with my wife, for I had taken a wife before I left them. He called for me in the spring, and we returned to Fort Pitt together.
“I there sold my horse and proceeded down the Ohio river in a boat, with the intention of visiting my father. I arrived at his house in the night, called him up, and requested entertainment for the night. He said he denied such a request to no man, whoever he might be, but evidently was not much pleased with my appearance, for I was still in my Indian costume, and could speak but a few words of English. He paid me but little attention, gave a servant some orders about my lodging, and was about retiring to bed when I drew him into a conversation by asking some questions about his family. I asked him if he had not a son George (many years before) taken by the Indians. He replied that he had – that he had heard he was in St. Clair’s defeat, and was killed. I assured him that the report was incorrect, and that I knew something of his son. He asked with eagerness where he was. I replied, he now stands before you. He looked at me with searching scrutiny for a few moments, and commenced pacing the room. He walked up and down the room for two hours before he uttered another syllable. ‘Would you know your brother Henry,’ said he at last, ‘ If you should see him?’ I told him no, for he was a mere infant when I went away. He thought I should, and though late in the night, rode several miles to bring him.”
In this part of the narration I perceived that Ash’s eyes grew moist, and that his voice was husky. He rose to depart, but by some entreaty, he was induced to return, and continue his tale. “My father,” said he, “had become wealthy, possessing negroes and fine horses in abundance; but my mother was dead and my father married a second wife, who was not backward in letting me know that that was no place for me.
“I started again for the Indian country, crossed the Ohio, and pitched my camp on the spot where my house now stands on the bank of the Ohio, exactly opposite the mouth of the Kentucky. After hunting for some time, I determined to make another visit to my red brethren, and a friend gave me a horse to ride. I found them preparing a deputation for their great Father the President, and nothing would do but that I should make one of the party. With a number of chiefs, I set out for Philadelphia, and after visiting the President and all great people there, and by them no doubt thought a very good Indian, I returned to my old camp where I now live. As a compensation for my services in this mission, the Indians granted me a tract of land opposite the mouth of the Kentucky, four miles in length of the river and one mile back. When the territory was ceded into the United States, the Indians neglected to reserve my grant. I had cultivated some parts of my land, and it was worth more than the government price. It was offered for sale, and I petitioned Congress to secure to me, what was in fact my own. They denied me the request, but permitted me to purchase as much as I could at the government price. I had considered myself high in land, but I was poor in cash, and my domain was reduced to about two hundred acres. On this I have lived ever since, and this completes the history of George Ash.”
Ash is about six feet in height, of light complexion, with a fine blue eye, and in the days of his prime, might have exhibited all the symmetry and fine proportions of a well made Indian. He evidently has felt and still cherishes a strong prejudice in favor of the Indian character and manners. Till within the last fifteen years he generally wore his jewels and Indian ornaments. This perhaps contributed to produce the prejudice and suspicions which existed against him during the late war, and before that time. Suspicions were entertained that he was some way concerned with the Indians in the massacre of the Pigeon Roost. About that time a woman passed through the settlements who had been scalped; and report said, that Ash in his Indian days had done the deed. His neighbors, however, informed me, that those prejudices and suspicions have died away. Ash has long supported a fair character, is a member of the Methodists church and considered a good Christian. If the reader of this narrative finds as much satisfaction in the perusal as I did hearing it, I shall be amply compensated for my trouble.