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Battle of the Trough
American Pioneer
Vol. II, no. V (May 1843), pp. 37-42

Indian Creek Farm, near Chillicothe, Sept. 24, 1843.

Dear Sir - Your note, by the hand of your son Joseph, is just received, and I perceive you have fallen into some mistakes as to matters of fact by a misconstruction of a paragraph near the close of my "Second Trip to the West;" for the late appearance of which you offer a sufficient apology. That paragraph is not to be construed as intended to convey the idea that captain Parsons belonged to colonel Lewis' division of Dunmore's army, but merely as reminding the reader of the general state of feeling, not only in that army, but throughout the American colonies. It is generally supposed that Dunmore's course toward the Indian's at that time, had in view the services of the Indians against the colonies in the event of a civil war. Captain Parsons and his company belonged to Dunmore's division.

One of the Indian towns, as I mentioned, was built on each side of Congo creek, near the Chillicothe road, the suburbs of which was where Wm. Renick's house now stands. Lewis' camp was on Congo creek about two and a half miles east of Mr. Renick's; with the location of this camp I was well acquainted, having seen it on my first trip to this country, and very often afterwards. It was immediately on one of the first traveling traces used between Chillicothe and the Pickaway plains. It differed in some respects from Camp Charlotte. There was no appearance of any thing having been done toward fortifying it. Lewis and his men seem to have been willing and anxious to meet the enemy on their own ground and fight them their own way, for you see how near they had approached the towns they intended to destroy, before they could be restrained or stopped by Dunmore.

From your note now before me, it seems you think such insubordination as was manifested by captain Parsons and his men, would not be ventured upon in Dunmore's division so close to the commander-in-chief. In this you are mistaken. Had you been as well acquainted with many of the men in that campaign as I was in early life, you would be of a different opinion. A great portion of Dunmore's division of the army, was made up of the same materials as Lewis'; reared in the same region of country, of the same habits, with like feelings toward the Indians. They adhered to the principles of Indian warfare, that after a battle is commenced every man is his own commander. Lewis' men had had an opportunity of testing their bravery and winning laurels to carry home: they were only seeking revenge for their loss at Point Pleasant; but many of Dunmore's division panted for an opportunity of gaining like honors. They were strangers to fear and impatient of restraint, and almost regardless of subordination.

To give you some idea of the sort of stuff captain Parsons and his men were made of, I will give you some account of one of the sorest battles that was ever fought in the valley of the south branch of the Potomac between the whites and Indians. In this battle Parsons, then quite a youth, bore a conspicuous part. He was a very large, athletic man, some six feet four or five inches in height, and that without any surplus flesh. He must have weighed upwards of two hundred and thirty in the prime of life, and, from accounts, came to his growth at a very early age. When about fourteen or fifteen, as he has often told me, the Indians broke in on the settlement, committed sundry depredations, and drove all the inhabitants into forts, which had been previously erected for safety in times of danger. The Indians, after loitering round, reconnoitering all the forts, taking care never to show themselves in full force, and finding the forts too well fortified to risk taking them by force, concluded to try a stratagem, which too well succeeded. They divided into small squads and appointed a time and place of combining their force at a large spring at the lower end of the valley, a few miles below Fort Pleasant, the lowermost fort. According to arrangement, a part of them made their appearance before that fort early in the morning and fired a few shots at the fort, and then marched off down the valley in full view of the fort. Encouraged by the small number that made their appearance, spies were immediately sent out to ascertain if any other signs or trails could be discovered. They soon returned and reported that there was no other signs or trails, and that there could be plenty of men spared from the fort to follow and avenge the depredations recently committed by them. Immediate preparations were accordingly made for hot pursuit. Among the volunteers' who offered their services, was young Parsons. His size was ample, but his age and premature growth was such that the officers did not think it prudent to give him much encouragement. His parents, peremptorily refused letting him go, and standing at the gate kept him back, and locked the gate as soon as the men were out. Our young hero was not to be balked in this way; he soon slipped out of sight of his parents and got a young friend to assist him in scaling the fort wall and hand him his gun. He was soon in the front rank of the pursuit. The Indian trail crossed the river about a mile above the said spring, at which the Indians had been in the habit of stopping and preparing something to eat on their passages up and down the valley. Here the whites expected to overtake them; and in this were not disappointed. Soon after crossing the river their smoke was discovered, but in place of taking their repast at the spring, as usual, they had advanced up to the head of a small branch entering into the Potomac immediately below the spring. A point projected down to the bottom on each side of this branch; the right hand point being somewhat easiest of ascent, the whites concluded to ascend that point to bring on the battle. The Indians, expecting to be followed, had their spies out, and as soon as it was discovered which point the whites took, a part of the Indians slipped down the other point and got in the rear of the whites without their being aware of this movement. The battle soon commenced, and raged with great fury for some time on both sides, but the whites found that they were outgeneraled as well as largely outnumbered; they were soon beat back and compelled to force their way through the enemy in their rear. In doing so, many lost their lives and many were wounded. Those that succeeded in breaking through, had each to shift for himself - some plunged into the river, winch was not far from the spring; some took up the bottom, on the route they had pursued the Indians. Among the latter was young Parsons, and, as was expected, for want of maturity of muscle and nerve, he soon found himself in the rear in place of the front rank which ho occupied in the pursuit. Having about a mile to run to the river, he said, many of the Indians were close at his heels when he got to the bank; he sprang down the bank, threw down his gun, and plunged into the river head foremost, kept under water and swam for life as long as he possibly could, and rose to catch his breath, as he supposed, about the middle of the river ; and as soon as his head appeared above water, the bullets, he said, popped into the water on each side of his head as thick as hail. He put under again and came up near the shore he was aiming for, the river not being very wide at that place. Most of the Indians in pursuit also threw down their guns and put into the river, tomahawk in hand, and was close on them when they cleared the river - they then had a cornfield of some width to run through to reach the road leading to the fort. Young Parsons said there were several Indians close on him when he got into the road; he then exerted himself to the utmost extremity, and maintained his distance pretty well. The Indians beginning to despair of getting close enough to strike, several of them threw their tomahawks, which whistled by his head, but fortunately did him no injury, and he got into the fort with the skin of his teeth, covered with sweat, dirt, and blood. The blood he supposed proceeded from numerous lacerations and scratches received in running through brush, greenbriers, &c. All was confusion and no time for examination; the men were immediately put on duty to defend the fort, and so remained all night. Next morning, when it was found that the Indians were not. in the immediate vicinity of the fort, young Parsons was prevailed on by his mother to wash the blood and dirt off his face and hands, and let her comb out his hair, which was a mat of dirt and blood. In doing this, she discovered a small, hard protuberance on the top of his head, and on examination it was found to be a small bullet or buck shot that had entered the skin at the edge of the hair in the forehead, ranged up between the skin and skull bone to the top of his head, and there had lodged for want of force to drive it through the skin. It was soon extracted without difficulty or pain, and in a few days he was as well in head and body as ever, and much better in mind; for that, with the incidents of Dunmore's campaign and some others, lasted him his life time. He told these incidents with so much life, and gratification to himself, that had they been even destitute of interest, they could hardly fail to gratify the hearer.

This battle was a very memorable one in the annals of that valley on account of its severity and the great loss sustained by the whites; it was called the Trough-hill battle, it being fought on the side of a hill or mountain of that name. I was well acquainted with the battle ground, having lived from my birth to the age of thirty years within three miles of it; have often viewed it and admired the sagacity of the Indians in its selection, and wondered at the imprudence of the whites in going into battle on such unequal terms. My parents at the time, as they informed me, were in a fort higher up the valley.

This instance, among many other similar ones that has come to my knowledge, has sometimes almost led me to the conclusion that the whites have often been impelled by an influence that they were not aware of, to rush into conflict at such great odds, that they might be punished or scourged for the great injustice done the red people. In my youth I was ready to sanction almost every thing done to them by the whites; but a mature age, with much reflection on the subject, has convinced me of my former error; and now, taking an impartial view of the past, I fear we have a great debt on this score that must at some time and in some fearful way be cancelled, unless we make them proper amends.

The valley I have been speaking of, perhaps affords one among the strongest and most striking proofs of injustice done to that people that is to be found in the annals of their history. Though small in extent compared with many of those in the west, yet in beauty and fertility of soil, it is not surpassed by any; and I venture to say, that no place could be found better suited to the habits and pursuits of their life, With a fertility of soil so well calculated to supply their wants with so little labor, (a great desideratum with them,) and surrounded on all sides as it is with hills and mountains, as well calculated as nature could well make them to afford an abundant and everlasting supply of game - what more could they ask or desire? From appearances, they had been there in the enjoyment of their claim to the soil, time immemorial; and, for aught we know, from or soon after the creation of the world. And, I would ask, where is the people to be found that would not struggle hard to maintain such a right? and if driven from it by the strong arm of power, without compensation, that would not use all the means in their power to avenge the wrong? And I ask again, is there such a people or nation to be found on the face of this globe? i may answer with saftety - no, not one.

Yours, very respectfully, Felix Renick

Settlement in West Virginia