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."
Veteran, long experienced.
Shrewd, artful, cunning.
Interceded, stepped in between, prevented.
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