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Battle of the West Canada Creek (1781)

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  • Battle of the West Canada Creek (1781)

    The actual location of Butler's Ford has been lost to history but is generally thought to be somewhere near the T/O Russia/Ohio line along the Creek.

    Here's the background:

    The day after the battle Col. Willett ordered Capt. Littel to send a "scout" (scouting party as then called) from Fort Johnstown to follow the enemy, discover its direction and to report the same. Captain Littel had been slightly wounded in the Hall battle but took with him William Laird and Jacob Shew and set out after the enemy. (Shew was on service in many of the neighborhood posts, Fort Plain included, and is responsible for much of the information Simms used regarding local events.)

    The enemy camped the first night near Bennett's Corners, four miles from the Hall, and the following day, striking the Garoga Valley, went up that stream and went into camp for the night (Oct. 26, 1781) half a mile beyond the outlet of Garoga Lakes. The next day Littel's scouting party came up and warmed themselves at Ross's deserted camp fires. After further observing the enemy's trail Littel became satisfied that they would go to Canada by way of Buck's Island. His party lodged in the woods, near Ross's last camp, and returned to Fort Johnstown next day, from whence Peter Yost was sent on horse, with messages to Col. Willett at Fort Dayton, to which post he had advanced.

    Ross's party meanwhile was heading for West Canada Creek The retreating Tories and Indians struck the most easterly of the Jerseyfield roads (leading to Mount's clearing), followed it several miles and encamped for the night on what has since been called Butler's Ridge in the town of Norway (Herkimer County), half a mile from Black Creek.

    Early the next morning (October 26, 1781) Willett started his pursuit. He halted at Stone Arabia, and sent forward a detachment of troops to make forced marches to Oneida Lake, where he was informed the enemy had left their boats, for the purpose of destroying them. In the meanwhile he pushed forward with the main force to German Flats, where he learned the advance party had returned without accomplishing their errand. From his scouts of the Johnstown Fort party, he also learned that the enemy had taken a northerly course to strike the West Canada Creek. With about 400 of his best men, he started in pursuit in the face of a driving snow storm.

    The route of the pursuing band of Americans was as follows: From Fort Dayton up West Canada Creek, crossing it about a mile above Fort Dayton, going up its eastern side to Middleville, from there up the Moltner Brook to the Jerseyfield Road leading to Little Falls; striking the Jerseyfield Road northeast of present Fairfield Village, following it up and camping at night a mile or two from the enemy's position.

    Willett's camp was in a thick woods on the Royal Grant. He sent out a scouting party under Jacob Sammons to discover the enemy. Sammons found them a mile or so above and, after reconnoitering their position, returned and reported to Col. Willett that the enemy were well armed with bayonets.

    The American officer gave up the plan of a night attack upon them and continued his pursuit early the next morning (October 30, 1781), but the enemy were as quick on foot as he. In the afternoon he came up with a lagging party of Indians, and a short but sharp skirmish ensued. Some of the Indians were killed, some taken prisoners and others escaped. Willett kept upon the enemy's trail along the creek, and toward evening came up with the main body at a place called Jerseyfield, on the northeastern side of West Canada Creek. A running fight ensued, the Indians became terrified and retreated across the stream at a ford, where Walter Butler, their leader, tried to rally them. In this action it is said 25 of the enemy were killed and a number wounded. A brisk fire was kept up across the creek by both parties for some time. Butler, who had dismounted, left cover and took some water out of the creek with a tin cup. He was in the act of drinking it when he was seen by two of the American pursuing party — Anthony, an Indian, and Daniel Olendorf, a man from the present town of Minden. They both fired at once at Butler, who fell wounded in the head. The savage then threw off his blanket, put his rifle on it and ran across the stream to where Butler lay in great pain, supporting his head on his hand. Seeing the Indian brandishing his tomahawk, the Tory raised his other hand saying, "Spare me — give me quarters!" "Me give you Sherry Valley quarters" replied the red man and struck Butler dead with his weapon, burying it in his head. Just as the Tory captain fell, Col. Willett came up on the opposite side of the creek. Olendorf told him where Butler lay and the American commander together with Andrew Gray of Stone Arabia and John Brower forded the stream and came upon the scene just as Anthony was about to take his dead victim's scalp. Col. Lewis, the Oneida chief with the American party here came up also and Anthony asked permission to scalp the fallen Tory. The red officer asked Willett if he should permit it. Col. Willett replied: "He belongs to your party, Col. Lewis," whereupon the chief gave a nod of assent and the reeking scalp was torn off the quivering body of the man who had incited his savages to inflict death and the same bloody mutilation on the bodies of scores of men, women and children.

    Anthony stripped Butler and returned across the creek to Olendorf. Here the savage put on the red regimentals and strutted about saying: "I be British ofser." "You a fool," remarked Olendorf and told the Indian that if he was seen in Butler's uniform he would be instantly shot by mistake. The savage thereupon hurriedly shed his victim's clothes.

    Butler's body was left where it fell, and the place was afterwards called Butler's Ford. The pursuit was kept up next day, when Willett, completely successful by entirely routing and dispersing the enemy, stopped and started on his return march.

    The sufferings of the retreating force of beaten Tories and Indians, on their way to Canada, must have been many and acute. The weather was cold and, in their hasty flight, many of then had cast away their blankets to make progress more speedy. The loss of the Americans in this pursuit was only one man; that of the enemy is not known. It must have been very heavy. Colonel Willett, in his dispatch to Governor Clinton observed, "The fields of Johnstown, the brooks and rivers, the hills and mountains, the deep and gloomy marshes through which they had to pass, they alone can tell; and perhaps the officers who detached them on the expedition."

  • #2
    Very interesting. Thanks


    • #3
      Spend a lot of time in that area. Thanks for sharing. Is this from a book?