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Early American Pioneers Held Captive or Killed by Indians

VANBIBBER & Associated Families

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BRIGETTA VAN BIBBER The story of Brigetta Van Bibber, member of a pioneer family of West Virginia's earliest days, which has left numerous descendants in the state today and an honorable record, bears further testimony to the heroism of the pioneer women of the state. To live along the frontier was in itself an act of heroism. History of the Van Bibber family tells how "the men worked with rifles strung to their backs. The women stood guard and moulded bullets, blanched with fear, for the intrepid men as they stooped at the loops or met the enemy in the open." Rhoda, the attractive daughter of John Van Bibber, 19 years of age and possessed of an abundant suit of auburn hair, was killed by Indians in 1787 and her brother, Joseph, was taken prisoner. The girl was scalped and her scalp with its long red hair was taken to Detroit and the British commander of the fort there paid the Indians a bounty of $60 for it. Joseph said afterwards that he saw many barrels filled with scalps of women and children during the years of his captivity.

John and Peter Van Bibber settled in 1781 on the bank of the Ohio river, just below the mouth of the Great Kanawha. Their sister, Brigetta, who had married Isaac Robinson, lived on the north side of the Kanawha, near the mouth of Crooked creek, now in Point Pleasant. It was only a few weeks after the murder of Rhoda Van Bibber that Indians attacked the Robinsons at their home. Isaac Robinson, a man who was helping him with the farm work, and a baby boy some two years old, were slain. The house was burned, and Brigetta and two sons were taken prisoners. The older boy, Isaac, was about eight and John some four years old. The latter, unable to stand the strain of rapid travel, was slain by the Indians and his little body was left by the roadside where his father's brother, John Robinson, found it a few days later. Two days and two nights, without resting, the prisoners were forced to march and though he tried, Robinson could not overtake them. One night after a long day's march and before the Indians had reached their destination, somewhere in the vicinity of Detroit, Brigetta Robinson gave birth to a child. Carrying the little one in her arms, she was compelled to keep on the march the next and several other succeeding days. Then the Indians thought the babe to great a burden for the weakened woman, so the beat its head against a tree, threw the body at her feet and left it there as prey for the wild beast as they kept on their way. Mrs. Robinson was kept for five years in virtual slavery before a French trader bought her release and sent her back to her girlhood home in Botetourt county, Virginia. Meanwhile, Isaac had been carried away to some other habitation of the tribe, so she had to leave him behind, when she started for her old home. But, three years later, during a period of peace between the Indians and the whites, this woman of iron nerve started back to hunt her son. Two of her children had been brutally killed before her eyes, a third was held a captive by the Indians and her heart yearned for him. In one of the Indian villages where she sought him, smallpox was raging and taking its prey by thousands, and she was stricken. It was many months before she could go on, and she too had to make her temporary home among the Indians. After his eight years of life among the wild tribe of Indians, she found her son, Isaac, so weaned away from civilization that he refused to return to the white habitations and all the restrictions of conventional life. But, the heroic mother finally won him over after weeks of persuasion, she induced her son to return with her to Point Pleasant. There his health gave way and he lived but a few years, though his mother, Brigetta Van Bibber, born of heroic mold, lived until almost a hundred years of age, and delighted in telling the descendants of her brothers the stories of her early adventures. But Brigetta Van Bibber and Mary Draper Ingles were not the only mothers who were forced to see their infant children killed or deserted in the days of Indian cruelties. The ways of the Indian sometimes came home to his own people. From Logan county comes the tale of a heroic Indian mother forced by her own people to desert a baby boy, who was found and cared for by a kindhearted white couple, and who grew up to be the head of a distinguished West Virginia family. --

George Summers The West Virginia Heritage Encyclopedia, Volume Twenty-five, Supplemental Series, West Virginia Women. Edited and Published by Jim Comstock, Richwood, West Virginia, 1974. Pages #280 - 282.

 

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The Hair Buyer of Detroit

During the American Revolution, the very name of Detroit was enough to send a shudder through every American patriot. That was when the settlement's British governor, Henry Hamilton, was known as 'the Hair Buyer of Detroit.' Under his direction, whole armies of Indians, armed with red-handled scalping knives, were dispatched against frontier homes and communities. Among the State papers of Virginia, In Council, June 18, 1779, is the following: 'It appears that Governor Hamilton gave standing rewards for scalps, but offered none for prisoners, which induced the Indians, after making their captives carry their baggage into the neighborhood of the fort, there to put them to death and carry in their scalps to the Governor, who welcomed their return and success by a discharge of cannon.'

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Scalp Bounty

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Because of the bounties placed on scalps, the taking of people of all ages and sexes soon became something of a business on the frontier. In some cases the colonists - or, later on, the Americans - offered bounties on Indian scalps, but the greatest trafficking in scalps came as a result of the wide range of bounties placed on them by the British. Because different age and sex scalps brought different prices, the scalps had to be marked for proper payment to be given. Such bundles of scalps ordinarily were shipped in large lots of eight to twenty bundles, comprised of eighty-eight to one hundred scalps per bundle, or no less that seven hundred scalps per shipment. Scalps taken for British bounties were ordinarily shipped in these bundles to the governor of Canada in Quebec. Each scalp was stretched on a painted willow hoop and further painted on the inside of the skin. The colors and markings were used in a wide combination so that all of the necessary information about any particular scalp could be had at a glance. The basic hoop and scalp markings denoted the following:

Four-inch hoop painted black:Soldier

Four-inch hoop painted red:Man other than soldier

Four-inch hoop painted green: Old person

Four-inch hoop painted blue; Woman

Two-inch hoop painted green: Boy

Two-inch hoop painted yellow: Girl

Two-inch hoop painted white: Infant

Skin painted red: Officer Skin

painted brown: Farmer killed in house

Skin painted green: Farmer killed in field

Skin painted white: Infant

Skin painted yellow: Girl

Skin painted white with red tears: Small boy

Skin painted half white, half red: Older boy

Skin painted yellow with red tears: Mothers

Hair braided: Wives

Black spot in center of skin: Killed by bullet

Red hoe in center of skin: Farmer

Black ax in center of skin: Settler

Black tomahawk in center of skin: Killed by tomahawk

Black scalping knife in center of skin: Killed by knife

Black war club in center of skin: Beaten to death

Yellow flames in center of skin: Tortured to death

Black circle all around: Killed at night

White circle all around with yellow spot: Killed by day

Small red foot: Died fighting

The Wilderness War by Allan W. Eckert, page 450
Little, Brown & Company, Boston, 1978

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Siege of Detroit

It will not be proper to pass over in silence the fate of the unfortunate men taken prisoners in this affair. After night had set in, several Canadians came to the fort, bringing vague and awful reports of the scenes that had been enacted at the Indian camp. The soldiers gathered round them, and, frozen with horror, listened to the appalling narrative. A cloud of deep gloom sank down upon the garrison, and none could help reflecting how thin and frail a barrier protected them from a similar fate. On the following day, and for several succeeding days, they beheld frightful confirmation of the rumors they had heard. Naked corpses, gashed with knives and scorched with fire, floated down on the pure waters of the Detroit, whose fish came up to nibble at the clotted blood that clung to their ghastly faces.

"The Indians, fearing that the other barges might escape as the first had done, changed their plan of going to the camp. They landed their prisoners, tied them, and conducted them by land to the Ottawas village, and then crossed them to Pondiac's camp, where they were all butchered. As soon as the canoes reached the shore, the barbarians landed their prisoners, one after the other, on the beach. They made them strip themselves, and then sent arrows into different parts of their bodies. These unfortunate men wished sometimes to throw themselves on the ground to avoid the arrows; but they were beaten with sticks and forced to stand up until they fell dead; after which those who had not fired fell upon their bodies, cut them in pieces, cooked, and ate them. On others they exercised different modes of torment by cutting their flesh with flints, and piercing them with lances. They would then cut their feet and hands off, and leave them weltering in their blood till they were dead. Others were fastened to stakes, and children employed in burning them with a slow fire. No kind of torment was left untried by these Indians. Some of the bodies were left on shore; others were thrown into the river. Even the women assisted their husbands in torturing their victims. They slitted them with their knives, and mangled them in various ways. There were, however, a few whose lives were saved, being adopted to serve as slaves."

The Conspiracy of Pontiac by Francis Parkman, pages 544-545
Literary Classics of America, New York, 1991

 

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