Massacre Of The Devil's Hole
After the conquest of Canada, there was a general uprising of the Indian
tribes, led by the famous Pontiac, against the British forts and
settlements. In the war that followed, a remarkable incident took place
a little way below Niagara Falls.
The carrying-place of Niagara formed an essential link in the chain of
communication between the province of New York and the interior country.
Men and military stores were conveyed in boats up the river, as far as
the present site of Lewiston. Thence a portage road, several miles in
length, passed along the banks of the stream, and terminated at Fort
Schlosser, above the cataract. This road traversed a region whose
sublime features have gained for it a world-wide renown. The River
Niagara, a short distance below the cataract, assumes an aspect scarcely
less remarkable than that stupendous scene itself. Its channel is formed
by a vast ravine, whose sides, now bare and weather-stained, now shaggy
with forest-trees, rise in cliffs of appalling height and steepness.
Along this chasm pour all the waters of the lakes, heaving their furious
surges with the power of an ocean and the rage of a mountain torrent.
About three miles below the cataract, the precipices which form the
eastern wall of the ravine are broken by an abyss of awful depth and
blackness, bearing at the present day the name of the Devil's Hole. In
its shallowest part, the precipice sinks sheer down to the depth of
eighty feet, where it meets a chaotic mass of rocks, descending with an
abrupt declivity to unseen depths below. Within the cold and damp
recesses of the gulf, a host of forest-trees have rooted themselves;
and, standing on the perilous brink, one may look down upon the mingled
foliage of ash, poplar, and maple, while, above them all, the spruce and
fir shoot their sharp and rigid spires upward into sunlight. The roar of
the convulsed river swells heavily on the ear, and, far below, its
headlong waters may be discerned careering in foam past the openings of
the matted foliage.
On the thirteenth of September, 1763, a numerous train of wagons and
pack horses proceeded from the lower landing to Fort Schlosser, and on
the following morning set out on their return, guarded by an escort of
twenty-four soldiers. They pursued their slow progress until they
reached a point where the road passed along the brink of the Devil's
Hole. The gulf yawned on their left, while on their right the road was
skirted by low and densely wooded hills. Suddenly they were greeted by
the blaze and clatter of a hundred rifles. Then followed the startled
cries of men, and the bounding of maddened horses. At the next instant,
a host of Indians broke screeching from the woods, and rifle-butt and
tomahawk finished the bloody work. All was over in a moment. Horses
leaped the precipice; men were driven shrieking into the abyss; teams
and wagons went over, crashing to atoms among the rocks below. Tradition
relates that the drummer boy of the detachment was caught, in his fall,
among the branches of a tree, where he hung suspended by his drum-strap.
Being but slightly injured, he disengaged himself, and, hiding in the
recesses of the gulf, finally escaped. One of the teamsters also, who
was wounded at the first fire, contrived to crawl into the woods, where
he lay concealed till the Indians had left the place. Besides these two,
the only survivor was Stedman, the conductor of the convoy, who, being
well mounted, and seeing the whole party forced helplessly towards the
precipice, wheeled his horse, and resolutely spurred through the crowd
of Indians. One of them, it is said, seized his bridle; but he freed
himself by a dexterous use of his knife, and plunged into the woods,
untouched by the bullets which whistled about his head. Flying at full
speed through the forest, he reached Fort Schlosser in safety.
The distant sound of the Indian rifles had been heard by a party of
soldiers, who occupied a small fortified camp near the lower landing.
Forming in haste, they advanced eagerly to the rescue. In anticipation
of this movement, the Indians, who were nearly five hundred in number,
had separated into two parties, one of which had stationed itself at the
Devil's Hole, to waylay the convoy, while the other formed an ambuscade
upon the road a mile nearer the landing-place. The soldiers, marching
precipitately, and huddled in a close body, were suddenly assailed by a
volley of rifles, which stretched half their number dead upon the road.
Then, rushing from the forest, the Indians cut down the survivors with
merciless ferocity. A small remnant only escaped the massacre, and fled
to Fort Niagara with the tidings. Major Wilkins, who commanded at this
post, lost no time in marching to the spot, with nearly the whole
strength of his garrison. Not an Indian was to be found. At the two
places of ambuscade, about seventy dead bodies were counted, naked,
scalpless, and so horribly mangled that many of them could not be
recognized. All the wagons had been broken to pieces, and such of the
horses as were not driven over the precipice had been carried off,
laden, doubtless, with the plunder. The ambuscade of the Devil's Hole
has gained a traditionary immortality, adding fearful interest to a
scene whose native horrors need no aid from the imagination.
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