An unusual story from the borderland

Published 4:09 pm Monday, April 24, 2023


Contributing writer

Indians are often portrayed as somber and introspective, yet they have a wide range of emotions like everyone else.

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It was a beautiful spring day in April of 1782 and several residents of the Lexington Station (present day Lexington) were continuing with the spring planting while others were repairing and making additions to the fort. The warmth of the sun found Alexander McConnell hunting deer. Wild game was plentiful and McConnell was an expert marksman. On this day he killed a large buck that was too big for him to carry.

He returned to the fort to fetch a horse for transporting his prize. Soon thereafter, a party of five Indians passing through the area noticed the freshly killed deer. They surmised the hunter would soon return and went into hiding with plans to waylay him. The unsuspecting hunter soon returned astride a horse riding into an ambush. A barrage of shots resulted in McConnell’s horse receiving mortal wounds.

McConnell was lucky that he wasn’t killed, but unlucky in that the dying horse fell on his leg. His leg wasn’t seriously injured but was caught underneath the horse preventing his opportunity to escape. The Indians took him prisoner and began a trek toward their village north of the Ohio River. They tied him with buffalo strands at night and secured a rope from him to one of their braves so they would be awakened if he attempted escape.

The Indian party was comprised of a happy-go-lucky group of mostly younger braves. They knew McConnell must be a good hunter judging from the buck he had killed. On the second day, they allowed him to carry his own gun and supplies in order that he could hunt for their food. They outnumbered him five to one and agreed to watch him closely so they felt he wouldn’t try to escape.

McConnell moved along cheerfully, and later in the day he shot a deer. It was a happy camp that night and the Indians were pleased with their prisoner. After a couple days they reached the Ohio River late one afternoon and made camp. McConnell knew they would cross the river the following morning and decided he should try to escape that night. If he waited until crossing the Ohio River it would be much more difficult for him to return.

In that era, many Indians learned some of the settler’s jargon, and McConnell could also understand much of what they said.

“The ties are hurting my wrists,” he told them that night. “We have come far, and I am happy to be your friend. You don’t have to tie me. I am lost without you.”

After talking among themselves, the braves decided to loosen his ties. They then fell fast asleep after their day’s lengthy journey.

McConnell lay quietly until after midnight. He saw the reflection of the fire in one of the Indian’s knives who lay nearby and methodically used his feet to bring it close enough for him to grasp. He was then able to cut the buffalo tug (tie) and the rope that bound him to one of the Indians.

McConnell was afraid if he fled into the night the Indians would soon be on his heels and their countenance would no longer be good-natured. He devised a plan and quietly stacked the Indians guns near him. He took a gun in each hand and rested the muzzles on a log within six feet or so of two Indians. He aimed at the head of one Indian and with the second he aimed at the heart of another. Both triggers were pulled in unison and both Indians were killed.

The three other Indians sprang to their feet, but McConnell grabbed another rifle, aimed and fired. The shot went through the Indian’s body striking a second brave, leaving him yelling and writhing in pain.

The fifth Indian darted into the woods pleased to escape with life and limb intact. McConnell retrieved his rifle and began his return to Lexington without undue delay. He arrived after two full days of travel.

Sometime thereafter ,Evelyn Dunlap, the widow of a settler killed by Indians, escaped from the Indian camp in Ohio and eventually found her way back to the Lexington fort. Her return was long and arduous, but she was young and stout. Like Mary Ingles and Jenny Wiley at other times, she persevered and found her way back.

She said that several weeks before a young Indian brave returned to the village with an unusual story that received much interest in the Indian village. He was likely the “fifth Indian” who had taken McConnell prisoner, but was fortunate to escape with his life.

“The Indian told them a large group of paleface attacked them during the night,” Dunlap said.

“They were among us so quickly with firing guns we could do nothing but run,” the returning brave told them. “They killed everyone including a prisoner who we had tied to us. I was the only one who could escape.”

The brave didn’t want to explain that a lone captive, bound by leather thongs and tied to them by rope no less, was able to overcome and escape from all of them.

The Indians remained pesky around the Lexington fort and Wilderness Road in the months that followed.

Jadon Gibson is a freelance writer from Harrogate. Thanks to Lincoln Memorial University, Alice Lloyd College and the Museum of Appalachia for their assistance.