Document:In the Shadow of the Chillhowie



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Publication History

The following is taken from a scan of a pamphlet, prepared by P.D. Cowan probably about 1931. The copyright for this work is thought not to have been renewed, and so is in the public domain.

Jim Havron developed the transcription from a scan of an original copy of this work. Jim notes:

The following is a computer-generated transcript of the small pamphlet, In the Shadow of Chilhowee. The transcript was made using scans of the original text that were created in December 1999 using a Vissioneer 3110B Scanner and Paperport7 software. The scans were transcribed from backup images of the scans in January 2004 using the OCR software supplied with Paperport9 Deluxe.-JTHjr.] [...Several people have given the estimated publication date of Shadow of Chilhowee as circa 1920. There is a birth date at the end of the book that suggests that this printing, at least, is from 1931 or later. I have found no records as yet to give a firm publishing date of the story. ---JTHjr. 23 January 2004]

This transcription was originally presented on FamilyPedia in July of 2005


Indian Captivity Stories of the Cowan Family
Analysis:Captivity Stories for Ann Walker Cowan, and Mary Walker Cowan


In The Shadow Of Chilhowee
A Story of the Early Settlement of Tennessee
By P. D. Cowan

East Tennessee, cradled in the giant arms of the Alleganie's [sic] and the Cumberland Mountains, may well share with Kentucky the title of "The Dark and Bloody Ground," Its well-watered uplands and wooded slopes and grassy vales, alive with game, made it a favorite hunting ground for the aborigines. -the Cherokees and Creeks to the South and the Shawnees to the North. When Daniel Boone pointed the first white settlers thither, and the smoke from their rude log cabins curled over the trees of the primeval forests, it was no wonder that the brows of the dark-hued braves grew darker still, and their hearts were filled with jealous hate and a deter-mination to thwart the white invasion. Somewhere in the nineties of the eighteenth century (1790), Major John Cowan, venturing out into the wilderness with the characteristic enterprise of the Scotch-Irish settler, reared his log cabin almost under the shadow of the Chilhowee Mountains. His wife, Mary Walker, of like sturdy lineage, was nobly fitted to stand by his side, even amid the privations and dangers of pioneer life. In their case, the latter was specially emphasized by the proximity of the mountains, already mentioned, and, also, of the Little Tennessee River, whose clear waters rippled in the sunlight a little to the west of them. Both mountain and river furnished facilities for stealthy approach and sudden attack by the Indians. Everything had to be kept in readiness for a quick flight to the block-house, which served as a frontier fortress not far away.

The days slipped by. A little clearing was made, which soon grew green with the promise of a harvest. One night the Major was awakened by a peculiar noise, which seemed to come from the stable. Alert with apprehension, he seemed to hear the horses trampling as if in fright and pulling at their halters in an effort to escape.

"Indians!" he muttered in a suppressed voice. His wife could scarcely suppress a scream, as she quickly rose and ran towards the children's cots, while her husband, snatching up his rifle, opened the door, listened, then stealthily slipped out into the darkness. But even as he did so, a shot rang out in the night, and he fell across the doorway, while a war-whoop woke the sleeping echos [sic] of the clearing, and six Indians dashed through the cabin door, pausing only to take the scalp of their victim.

"Run, children, run!" cried the mother, as she hurried to block the way of the savages. But she was seized and bound. James, a strong boy of fifteen, was roughly dragged from his cot, bound in the same way, and laid helpless beside his mother. The little sister screamed and struggled, but was silenced by a heartless blow which wrung a groan from the agonized mother, and for a moment caused her to faint away. The cabin was ransacked, and one of the Indians caught a fire-brand from the hearth, intending to burn it to the ground, but the torch was knocked from his hand by the leader, who called out: "Ugh! paleface [sic] see fire! He come and make fight!"

Hastily snatching up their booty and packing it on the stolen horses which had been left in charge of the rest of the band, the Indians made off to a retired spot in the depths of the wood, dragging their captives with them. There the Cherokees and Shawnees, with a good deal of wrangling, finally divided their spoils. While the dispute was in progress, the mother seized the opportunity for a hurried word of encouragement. She whispered, with tears in her eyes, "We may be separated, if so, be brave, and trust your father's God; there may come a chance to escape." While she was speaking, the Shawnee who had captured her came toward her, making signs that she was going with him toward the North. "Not without my boy! Oh, I can't go without him!" she moaned, and made a motion, as far as her bound wrists would allow, as if to hold him.

The Shawnee frowned and pointed to the boy and then to the men of the other tribe. "He Cherokee!" he said, and motioned to her to come with him. Obey she must, but it was cruel. As she walked her look was still backward upon the lad, as if she might never see him again - until waving a tearful good-bye, she was lost to sight in the depths of the forest. Before her there was a long hard journey toward the Great Lakes of the North, and she felt that every step she took was placing just as much of the vast wilderness between herself and those she loved. The chief, whose captive she was, shielded her from harsh treatment; but she was compelled to carry a pack, and her feet were bruised and sore, and her limbs full of aches by the time they reached the headwaters of the Kentucky River. Here, however, she found her painful hours afoot were over. The canoes, which the Indians had tied up close to the bank at this point, on their raid southward, were found just as they had been left, hidden under the overhanging foliage. They were quickly drawn out and put in order, and soon the whole band was sweeping silently down the smooth current of the river. The tired captive was yielding herself to the restful gliding motion of the boat, and snatching an occasional glance at the changeful panorama on either bank of the stream, when a paddle was thrust into her hands and a gruff voice commanded, "White squaw work!" At sunset they watched for a good place to land, where they could hide their canoes for the night. When this was accomplished, most of the Indians threw themselves lazily upon the ground to rest. Not so with the captive; her day's work was not yet over.

"Make fire!" was the next order; and she had to gather the leaves and dry sticks, while one of the Indians cautiously selected a spot behind a fallen tree, hidden by the bushes on either side, so that the fire would make the least show towards the river. Then he struck a spark from his gun-flint into the dry grass and leaves which she had prepared, and a sign was made to her to cook the evening meal. She obeyed, for she reasoned that her chance for escaping would be improved if she could seek the good-will of the chief and appear to be contented with her lot. And she continued to obey and to smile, though each day she was borne farther from liberty and friends - down the Kentucky and up the Ohio a little way - till at last they arrived at a Shawnee village on the banks of a stream flowing from the direction of the Great Lakes.

Here, as she looked out upon the rude huts and unsightly litter of the small hamlet, she groaned inwardly, "Oh, must I live here! Can I ever endure it?" But to the Indians it was home, and they were all animation.

As soon as they could secure the canoes, a little below the village, they sounded the great war-whoop, which announces the return of warriors from an expedition with victory and spoils. At once there was an answering shout, and from the wig-wams and huts the whole population bubbled over, and were soon dancing about the little band with every demonstration of welcome and congratulation.

Proudly the Shawnee chief led forward his captive and presented her to his squaw to be her slave. The captive's eyes flashed, and she drew herself up, saying, "I'm a free white woman; I'll not be a slave to any one!" But the squaw answered her only with a blow, while the chief looked on and laughed. It was conclusively vain to resist. It would only make her lot worse, and still further lessen the chance for a successful flight. So, from that time, Mary Cowan bent her back to her burdens, with all the patience she could summon, and bore up under the daily drudgery with a brave heart under the inspiration of hope, even though it was the most menial work which was given her to do - whether cooking and scrubbing indoors, or digging and planting and hoeing under the eye of the squaw in the little clearing outside. Her mistress was not always rough with her, and at times would show by some kindness that even an Indian's heart is not all stone. And gradually, as the days went by, the close watch which had been kept upon her began to be relaxed.

Thus the days passed into months, and the seasons into years. One day she noticed that there was a great excitement in the village. A half-breed trader and his wife had come with a canoe well stocked with trinkets and bright cloths such as Indians love, to barter for fur skins and Indian work, to take back to the settlements. Quietly sauntering down the path, a little way, she saw the women and the boys and the girls swarming about the landing. And she thought she could detect even in the usually stolid faces of the men a gleam of eagerness, in the presence of this oppor-tunity to renew their stock of powder and lead.

But for her! What might it mean for her? With a flash her withered hopes started into life. Here was a possible connection with the outer world! She must see this trader; but she must be wary. Would he help? If so, how? Assuming an appearance of mere idle curiosity, she ventured on to the group about the canoe, and soon seemed to be absorbed, like the rest, in the examination of some trinket in the trader's stock. Watching her chance, as she stood nearby, she managed to whisper, in a low voice, 'Save me!" The trader was startled, but betrayed it by no outward sign. He noticed that the woman before him was different from the rest, though the sun and wind had bronzed her face and she wore the Indian dress. Evidently she was a captive, and his deep interest was at once enlisted. Making an excuse of showing her something different in the stock, he drew her slightly away from the crowd, while he whispered,

"Where from?"
She scarcely more than mentioned with her lips, "Tennessee!"
"How long?"
"Seven years!"
"Mary Cowan. Can you save me?"

Already others were approaching, with keen eyes turned in their direction. He could only murmur, "I'll see." There was no chance for further conversation, but she felt that he would do what he could, and waited hopefully.

The same afternoon she was rewarded by seeing the trader's wife standing before her door, under the pretense of seeking some instruction how to do a piece of beadwork. Soon both were seated on the floor of the hut, with their heads together over the beads. Of course it was an easy matter, in their talk about the beads, to catch the whisper, "Canoe-midnight! Be prompt!" The glad answer was only a look into the eyes and a nod. But there was a gleam in the captive's eye, and a new firmness in her tread.

That night she lay down in the dark corner of the hut, but not to sleep. It seemed as though the hours would never pass. As the night wore on, and the deep breathing of the chief and his squaw showed that they were sound asleep, she quietly arose and rolled up the bed covering to keep the appearance of some one still lying there. Then in her moccasined feet she tiptoed out of the hut. The dog uttered a low growl, but she quieted him with a gentle pat and soft 'Sh!" and stole on to the water's edge, where everything was ready. The trader and his wife were waiting. The darkness of the night was friendly. Lifting some of the furs in the bottom of the canoe, the trader said in a low voice, "Lie down here until we get a safe distance away." When the furs had been replaced, the trader seemed to have only an ordinary load of pelts. He then noiselessly pushed out into the stream. His wife took a second paddle, and with strong, swift strokes they soon had the canoe flying over the water. "Speed, speed!" were the words. Everything now depends on their putting a good distance between themselves and the Shaw-nee village before morning. The trader toils as though it was his own life which was in danger, and the anxious fugitive is filled with new strength born of joy and hope.

When morning dawned over the little village they had left, there was no surprise that the trader had gone. He had casually dropped the inti-mation that he might proceed to one or two other points, higher up on the river. But what had become of the white captive? The chief who claimed her declared, "She here so long, she keep so still, she not fly away-she come again soon!" But when the day passed without any news of her, the chief and his squaw grew uneasy. "Go up the river; see trader there!" he directed. Several Indians quickly started upon a run of several miles to test the clue. In this way time was consumed, greatly to the advantage of the fugitives. When, after several hours delay, the runners returned and reported no news of the captive, and, furthermore, not even the trader's canoe had been up the river, the truth was plain-the captive had fled. The men fairly tumbled over one another in their preparations for quick pursuit. Several canoes were hastily manned-Guns, ammunition, and a few provisions were thrown into the canoes, and away they went. The race was on, but the fugitives were far away. The Indian blood of the half-breed trader stood him in good stead; the course was well known to him; and but little time had been given to rest or sleep, while a sharp lookout was kept both in front and rear, and when other canoes were seen the white woman was hidden away under the furs, while the trader's well known character saved him from annoying inquiries.

Thus a few days passed. Down the Ohio a little way to the mouth of the Kentucky River-then up that stream to the south and east, with an unbroken forest on either side-on they sped-until at last, as they turned a point, the eager captive's eyes first discerned, far ahead, a little clearing with a few log cabins upon it. "A trading post," she cried. "We are almost there; oh, if my people could only meet me!"

Here were friends and a frontier fortress, but she knew that safety from her pursuers would re-quire a much larger force. Her deliverer, the fur trader, was of the same opinion, for he scarcely waited to greet the men who came down to meet the canoe, but called out from the boat: "I have brought Mary Cowan from the Shawnees; she has been in captivity seven years; the redskins are in hot pursuit; start a man at once to the settlements in Blount County, Tennessee, and hurry her friends to the rescue!"

Almost before they could land, a hardy rifle-man with quick sympathy was galloping away in all haste, and the interest of the rest was earnestly aroused in her behalf. They quickly found a place of concealment for her among the rubbish in a cellar, and closing the gate of the stockade, stood ready to defend her with their lives-if need should arise.

As the eager courier urges his horse along the way, he learns that an old-fashioned camp meeting, such as he had often attended, was being held near the point to which he was going. This was fortunate. All the men of the section that had gathered at the meeting were needed without delay. He pictures the scene to himself as he hurries along the families that had come in large numbers from the surrounding country and the wagons which had brought them arranged in orderly rows about the great square space reserved for the preaching services. "And then," it occurs to him, 'it will be Sunday morning-and I will be dashing in about the middle of the meeting-so everybody will be there and no time will be lost." It proved as he thought. He galloped up to the camp-his hone covered with foam-just as the congregation were settling down for the sermon. Of course all eyes were turned upon him as he entered, while wonder grew as to what message such a courier might have to bring. Skirting an open space to a point in front of the preacher's stand, he faces the wondering congregation and cries out:

"Is there a man here named Russell-Major Russell? Or Colonel Walker or any man named Cowan?"

Quickly Major Russell rises, a leading yeoman of the district, and looking the courier straight in the eye, demands:

"What do you want?" 'There is a woman in the French Trading Post making her escape from the Indians. Her name is Mary Cowan. The Indians are in hot pursuit to recapture her. I am sent to tell her friends to come as quickly as possible to her rescue."

A thrill of sympathetic excitement runs through the entire assembly. All know the horror of savage cruelty and treachery. There is only one thought-Mary Cowan must be rescued. Russells indeed are here-family connections of the captive woman; Walkers, too, whose name she bore in her maidenhood. And Cowans are here-overjoyed at news of one whom they had mourned as lost. "Why, it's my mother! She's alive! She's alive!"

It was no wonder that James Cowan, whose own captivity was very short, and who had grown to be a strong young man of twenty-two, instantly leaps to his feet and hurries to saddle his horse.

At once the preaching service came to an end, and all was stir and bustle. Volunteers by the score were on their feet, and in less than an hour a hundred men were in their saddles, starting on their mission of rescue. Their rifles they had brought with them to the meeting, their powder-horns and bullet-pouches always kept well filled, because of the constant danger of an Indian sur-prise, stood them well in the particular emergency. They had little to do but to saddle their horses, roll up some extra blankets, receive from their wives and mothers a small haversack of the provisions cooked for the meeting, grasp their rifles, mount and speed away. They were the Minute Men of the frontier, and a wholesome fear of them lay upon all the Indian villages.

There was brief taking of leave. A few tears were brushed away as wives and children brushed the bronzed cheek of husband or father. Then the long line of hardy riflemen touched the spur to their horses, and passed quickly out of sight along the forest trail. And none too quickly, for a scout sent out to reconnoiter from the Trading Post reported a band of pursuing Indians to be close at hand. And the fugitive, in her make-shift hiding place was crying out impatiently for her friends: "Will they never come! Will they never come!" So nearly free, yet so fiercely pursued! Trembling she would peer through the chinks between the logs- shaken with dread lest she would discern the creeping shadow of a stealthy foe or should hear a horrifying war-whoop split the air.

At one time, as she was thus engaged, she almost screamed, as an Indian did, indeed, appear, hastily stepping out of the thicket into the open. But immediately she saw that something unusual had occurred. For this Indian had laid aside the ordinary precaution of his race to keep within the shadow of the wood, and was taking the shortest cut to reach his companions. "What is driving him in such haste? What has he seen? What can be coming on the trail?" were questions in her mind.

The fears of the captive were rapidly giving way to hope, and all the more as she caught on her ear the shout of rage and alarm with which the arrival of the runner at the camp was greeted. The men at the Trading Post also heard the sounds ominous with rage and alarm, and hurriedly sent out an old scout to find and report the occasion for the disturbance or the true state of affairs. Great precaution was always in order in dealing with hostile Indians. The scout slipped away through the bushes, under the favor of a gathering twilight. Cautiously parting the leaves he peered through at the lurking camp of the Indians. But no Indian was to be seen, though the campfire was burning and scattered remnants of the evening meal were discoverable. They had precipitously taken flight. But why? This was the question in the mind of the scout. The answer was almost simultaneous with the question. Looking back he saw a horseman, with a rifle swung over his saddle bow, coming out of the Tennessee trail. Following him, came another, and another, and stiti others. Speedily the troop was at the front of the stockade. Major Russell's squadron of riflemen had come, and come in the nick of time.

As the scout went forward, the Major called out, "Is Mary Cowan here?" Almost before the answer could be given, she herself appeared at the gate. She had been listening and watching, and had caught the sound of the trampling feet of the horses before they appeared. She knew that deliverance had come. Some she recognized as she grasped their hands, half laughing and half crying. She notes one pushing through the throng toward her, whose lace betrayed something familiar. As she looks her heart beats wildly. He is smiling and approaching her with open arms. Instantly all doubt vanishes. She leaps forward crying, "Jim! Jim! my boy the Cherokees tore from me seven years ago! Is it possible? God has not forgotten me!" As she bowed her head on the shoulder of the stalwart young man and wept for joy, strong men turned their heads away to hide their sympathetic tears. The sufferings of seven long years had found expres-sion. They had also found an end. The captive of the Shawnees was free.