Archie’s head hurt. Whether from the heat, the old wounds or the events of the past weeks he didn’t know. He laid the hammer down and leaned heavily against the open doorway. Not two weeks ago mother had died and now, just yesterday, they had buried father, too. Now what; what was he to do? Yes he was 60 years old but he had spent his entire life with his parents. True, he had been married once and she had given him a son and a daughter but she and the children were gone, too. They were all gone now and the thought made his head whirl. Mother and father had always been there for him, especially when his brain failed to cooperate. They said he had a clouded mind. “You would too if it had happened to you,” he thought whenever he heard those words. The throbbing behind his eyes made the idea of hammering more steel today out of the question. It was too hot anyway. “If I were a good blacksmith I wouldn’t mind this heat,” he thought; but still, he just wanted to sit and think. He couldn’t believe they were really gone; so many memories.
He mopped the sweat from his head and felt, as he had most of his life, the ragged scars, the uneven places where the bones had mended the best they could. How tenderly his mother had touched those wounds so long ago. His mind drifted back, as it had countless times since, to that day not quite fifty years ago now; the day his life had changed.
It was July 26, 1764; a warm, muggy Thursday. He was only ten years old and unlike his older brother George, he wasn’t needed in the fields during the summer months. So his days were spent in school. Like many pioneer children he had to walk several miles through the dense woods to reach the little log school house. Although the school was in the heart of the Conococheague settlement, it was still an isolated location and he had felt uneasy that morning as he walked to the school.
How many times had they all fled their homes and gone back east when news of nearby Indian attacks reached the settlement? He was so young then he couldn’t really remember but he knew it had happened several times. During those years many of their neighbors had been killed or taken captive. His own family hadn’t been spared. On this very day, eight years earlier, his cousins James and John had been taken captive by the Indians not far from here and no one knew if they were dead or alive. Well, John had been alive four years ago but he had become so much like an Indian that he escaped from his father, Uncle James, when he had found and ransomed him and was trying to bring him back home.
And now, after many years of peace, the attacks had begun again. Last summer the Indians had attacked settlements to the north and west but Colonel Bouquet’s army had defeated them at the Battle of Bushy Run near Fort Pitt and it had been thought the Cumberland Valley was safe again. It had been a quiet winter and spring but then just last month the Indians had suddenly attacked and killed almost 20 of their neighbors and burned their homes just a few miles to the west.
Surely the Indians must have fled back to Ohio after such a brazen attack. The newspaper had even said so. His father had said Colonel Bouquet was gathering troops again to stop the Indian attacks once and for all and that there couldn’t possibly be an Indian within 200 miles. Certainly his parents wouldn’t have sent him into these dark woods alone if there were really any danger. And yet…
He had nearly reached the school when he saw them.