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| Home | Reading Room The New McGuffey Fourth Reader

The New McGuffey Fourth Reader
by William H. McGuffey, Compiler

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By John R. Musick

There is no more beautiful and thrilling tale of early pioneer

days than the story of Helen Patterson. She was born in Kentucky;

but while she was still a child her parents removed to St. Louis

County, Missouri, and lived for a time in a settlement called

Cold Water, which is in St. Ferdinand township. About the year

1808 or 1809, her father took his family to the St. Charles

district, and settled only a few miles from the home of the

veteran backwoodsman, Daniel Boone.

At the time of this last removal, Helen was about eighteen years

of age. She was a very religious girl, and had been taught to

believe that whatever she prayed for would be granted.

Shortly after the family had settled in their new home, bands of

prowling savages began to roam about the neighborhood. The

Indians would plunder the cabins of the settlers during their

absence, and drive away their cattle, horses, and hogs.

One day business called all the Patterson family to the village,

except Helen. She was busily engaged in spinning, when the house

was surrounded by nine Indians. Resistance was useless. She did

not attempt to escape or even cry out for help; for one of the

savages who spoke English gave her to understand that she would

be killed if she did so.

She was told that she must follow the Indians. They took such

things as they could conveniently carry, and with their captive

set off on foot through the forest, in a northwestern direction.

The shrewd girl had brought a ball of yarn with her, and from

this she occasionally broke off a bit and dropped it at the side

of the path, as a guide to her father and friends, who she knew

would soon be in pursuit.

This came very near being fatal to Helen, for one of the Indians

observed what she was doing, and raised his hatchet to brain her.

The others interceded, but the ball of yarn was taken from her,

and she was closely watched lest she might resort to some other

device for marking a trail.

It was early in the morning when Helen was captured. Her parents

were expected to return to the cabin by noon, and she reasoned

that they would be in pursuit before the Indians had gone very

far. As the savages were on foot, and her father would no doubt

follow them on horseback, he might overtake them before dark. The

uneasiness expressed by her captors during the afternoon

encouraged her in the belief that her friends were in pursuit.

A little before sunset, two of the Indians went back to

reconnoiter, and the other seven, with the captive, continued on

in the forest. Shortly after sunset, the two Indians who had

fallen behind joined the others, and all held a short

consultation, which the white girl could not understand.

The conference lasted but a few moments, and then the savages

hastened forward with Helen to a creek, where the banks were

sloping, and the water shallow enough for them to wade the

stream. By the time they had crossed, it was quite dark. The

night was cloudy, and distant thunder could occasionally be heard.

The Indians hurried their captive to a place half a mile from the

ford, and there tied her with strips of deerskin to one of the

low branches of an elm. Her hands were extended above her head,

and her wrists were crossed and tied so tightly that she found it

impossible to release them. When they had secured her to their

own satisfaction, the Indians left her, assuring her that they

were going back to the ford to shoot her father and his

companions as they crossed it.

Helen was almost frantic with fear and grief. Added to the

uncertainty of her own fate was the knowledge that her father and

friends were marching right into an Indian ambuscade.

In the midst of her trouble, she did not forget her pious

teaching. She prayed God to send down his angels and release her.

But no angel came. In her distress, the rumbling thunders in the

distance were unheard, and she hardly noticed the shower until

she was drenched to the skin.

The rain thoroughly wet the strips of deerskin with which she was

tied, and as they stretched she almost unconsciously slipped her

hands from them. Her prayer had been answered by the rain. She

hastily untied her feet, and sped away toward the creek. Guided

by the lightning's friendly glare, she crossed the stream half a

mile above the ford, and hastened to meet her father and friends.

At every flash of lightning she strained her eyes, hoping to

catch sight of them. At last moving forms were seen in the

distance, but they were too far away for her to determine whether

they were white men or Indians. Crouching down at the root of a

tree by the path, she waited until they were within a few rods of

her, and then cried in a low voice,"Father! Father!"

"That is Helen," said Mr. Patterson.

She bounded to her feet, and in a moment was at his side, telling

him how she had escaped. The rescuing party was composed of her

father and two brothers, a neighbor named Shultz, and Nathan and

Daniel M. Boone, sons of the great pioneer, Daniel Boone.

She told them where the Indians were lying in ambush, and the

frontiersmen decided to surprise them. They crossed the creek on

a log, and stole down to the ford, but the Indians were gone. No

doubt the savages had discovered the escape of the prisoner, and,

knowing that their plan to surprise the white men had failed,

became frightened and fled.

Helen Patterson always believed it was her prayers that saved her

father, her brothers, and herself in that trying hour.

--From "Stories of Missouri."


Thrilling, exciting.

Veteran, long experienced.

Shrewd, artful, cunning.

Interceded, stepped in between, prevented.

Trail, pathway.



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