Sunday, July 2, 2017

The Destruction of Kittanning: Part One

KIttanning War Memorial
Standing in front of the War Memorial near the Armstrong County Courthouse, I could see down Market Street to the Benjamin Franklin Bridge, the spot where Route 422 crosses the Allegheny River. Kittanning, a corrupted version of the Indian word, roughly translates as "At the Great River" and later that day, as I stood on the Benjamin Franklin Bridge, I understood why the Indians called the place Kittanning - even in the modern world, the river here maintains a great beauty that is hard to describe.

"Did you read this?" Zech asked, drawing my attention back to the Armstrong County War Memorial. I scanned through the names on the wall, and while all sacrifices were and are important, my attention focused on those who died during the French and Indian Wars. Though I had visited a number of war memorials that day, this one was unique in its own way.

I read the words on the monument, "This monument recognizes the unique circumstances that placed American Indians, particularly the Delaware and Senaca (sic), against the colonial government that became the United States. With the exception of Captain Jacobs, the names of those Delawares who fell at the Battle of Kittanning and the 29 who died during the Border War are lost to history."

As I stood taking in my surroundings, my mind drifted back to the events leading up to the battle fought here on September 8, 1756.

Kittanning was one of the most important Indian towns in Western Pennsylvania and was the home of Delaware Chief Captain Jacobs. It is believed that the village had between three and four hundred residents at the time of Colonel Armstrong's attack. The majority of those taken captive by the raiding Indians in Eastern and Central Pennsylvania were brought here - children would be distributed among Indian families and adults either taken prisoner or tortured and killed.

The plan to rescue the captives held there began almost immediately after the fall of Fort Granville. Colonel John Armstrong was seeking revenge for the murder of his brother during the siege of Fort Granville. More information about the siege can be found here: Fort Granville.

With the help of John Baker, who escaped from Kittanning, Colonel Armstrong devised a plan to attack the Indian settlement. Baker claimed that over one hundred prisoners were being held captive at Kittanning at the time of his escape. Outgoing Governor Morris agreed to the plans put together by Armstrong and Baker and the planned attack would continue under Governor Denny.

Colonel Armstrong gathered men at Fort Shirley throughout the end of July and beginning of August 1755. On August 30, the force left the fort and started a westward march. On September 3, the group led by Colonel Armstrong joined with an advance force to make Colonel Armstrong’s party 307 men strong.

They began the one hundred and twenty-six mile journey towards Kittanning. Surprisingly, they made the complete journey without being discovered, although six miles from Kittanning the attack force was almost discovered. Approximately ten in the evening on September 7, 1756, scouts came back with the report of three or four Indians sleeping along the trail. Armstrong left Lieutenant James Hogg with twelve men to attack the party at dawn.

The rest of the party arrived at the Indian villages early in the morning after finishing the last thirty miles of the march. As the men approached Kittanning through a cornfield, a loud whistle stopped the men in their tracks. Fearful that they had been discovered, John Baker informed them that it was an Indian calling to his mate. Fires began to appear around them in the cornfield and Baker informed Colonel Armstrong that they would soon be out. The purpose of the fires was to drive the gnats away.

Pennsylvania Historical Marker for Kittanning
Along Business Route 422 in town
It was daybreak before Colonel Armstrong was ready to attack. Most of his men were asleep or fighting to stay awake due to the previous day’s march. In the past four days the men had marched close to one hundred and fifty miles to attack the Indian villages at Kittanning. By the time the sun began peaking over the eastern mountains the full line of soldiers had yet to arrive.

With the threat of daybreak and being discovered, Colonel Armstrong sent a small detachment to the hillside overlooking the town. He gave them twenty minutes to get into position before his large force began to move through the cornfield. When the men arrived at the edge of the field, the soldiers opened fire upon the village.

Surprised by the attack, Captain Jacobs gave the War Whoop and the battle began in full.

Though tired, Colonel Armstrong's men mostly stayed in the fields using the corn as cover. The Delawares warriors returned fire, hoping that they were hitting their unseen attackers. The command for the Indian women and children to flee was given and they did not waste time seeking the safety of the woods.

The commotion on the eastern bank of the river definitely aroused those Indians living on the western bank. The small settlement on the western side of the Allegheny River was the home of Chief Shingas, the noted terror of the Pennsylvania frontier. Shingas had some of his warriors firing across the river while others prepared their canoes to cross the Allegheny to help Captain Jacobs and his men.

With the fighting going on in the cornfields, Captain Jacobs retreated to his house. Captain Jacobs maintained a log cabin for his home complete with portholes from which those inside could shoot through. The building was well protected and Armstrong noted that those within rarely missed; every shot wounded or killed one of Colonel Armstrong’s men.

During the battle, one of those inside Captain Jacobs’ cabin shot at Colonel Armstrong and wounded him. This action seems to be the moment that changed Armstrong's attack plan. He immediately gave the order to put fire to the building, with Captain Jacobs, his family, and the other defenders still within. Those within began to sing, accepting their fate as men as the building began to burn.

As the fire grew hotter, three Indians tried fleeing the burning building. Two men and a woman jumped out of the burning building but were shot down while trying to flee. The female was the wife of Captain Jacobs and one of the males with her was their son - the other was not positively identified in any of the records. Captain Jacobs tumbled out of a window and was instantly shot and killed.

"So this is it?" Zech asked bringing me back to the present day. "This the monument you were searching for?"

"No, I still have one more...the destruction of Kittanning isn't quite over...."

The Battle of Kittanning continues here: Part Two.

A note about two of the captives held at Kittannning: John Turner, who was living in Buffalo Valley was at Fort Granville during the attack, along with his wife and stepchildren, was brought here after surrendering Fort Granville. By the time the party arrived at Kittanning, John Turner's fate was sealed. He was immediately tied to a post and tortured. For three hours, he was tortured by the Indians. Not to be gruesome, but he suffered greatly. The pile of wood that surrounded him was set a fire and as it burned, his torture continued. Red hot gun barrels were forced through various parts of his body, his scalp was brutally ripped from his head, and burning splinters were stuck into his flesh. I cringe just imagining the pain and suffering he underwent at the hands of the Indians. After three hours of torture a young Indian boy was lifted up and allowed to end Turner's life by sinking a hatchet into his head.

According to some, the reason the Indians tortured John Turner was due to the death of Simon Girty, Senior. The elder Girty was killed in a drunken brawl with an Indian known as "The Fish." John Turner took up Girty's fight and killed "The Fish." This Indian was known by those living in Kittanning and upon seeing John Turner recognized him as the killer of their friend.

Another interesting note about John Turner is he was the stepfather of the infamous outlaw Simon Girty.

Another captive held here was Rachel Leininger and her story can be found here:Regina's Song. 

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