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 sto
es 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.