Part 1: Prologue
The Mohawk Valley - October 1779
Henry Doyle ran back toward the village at full speed, tree branches slashing his face and tugging at his gear, dreading what he might find.
For three months, Doyle and his Mohawk brothers had been fighting a hopeless retreating battle against General Sullivan’s invading American army of 3,000 Continental regulars and militia as the Rebels worked their way north from the Susquehanna, burning every Mohawk village they came to. The Mohawks, their crops destroyed and homes torched, fled toward safety in Canada. But in the panic to escape, a group of women and children had been left behind.
Henry slowed down and moved cautiously as he neared the crest of a small hill overlooking the village. Beside his knife and tomahawk, he was carrying the Kentucky long rifle he had taken from a dead Rebel, two pistols, and a large-caliber Hessian Jaeger carbine on his back. In the village, 50 yards away, a group of five Rebels, all militiamen, had gathered the twelve women and children into a clearing.
“All right! You know what to do,” the leader, a big, red-bearded man, shouted. “Cooper! Randall! Start firing these rat holes!” He pointed to the Mohawk homes, clustered neatly at the edge of the village’s corn and bean fields stretching along the river.
“The prisoners?” another Rebel asked.
“Kill ’em all!”
“Even the children?”
“The children especially,” the leader roared. “Kill ’em before they can breed. But keep this one alive for a while.” He grabbed a young girl, perhaps no more than 13, and ripped the front of her shirt open. “Look at those fine little titties, boys. This one will amuse us while we burn the village.”
Doyle primed his rifle, rested the barrel on a tree branch, took a breath, and shot the leader through his left eye − an easy shot at this range. Then, running forward through the trees, he yelled a Mohawk war cry. The startled Rebels glanced wildly around, looking for the source of the threat. Spotting the smoke, one fired his musket in the direction of Doyle’s first shot, another at the sound of his cry. By now, Doyle was thirty yards closer, still a barely-visible blur among the trees and foliage. He unslung the Jaeger musket. Not trusting its accuracy, he gut-shot another Rebel. The three remaining Rebels, now panicked, clustered in the center of the village and fired again at his new location. Grabbing his pistols and yelling war cries, Henry rushed them, bounding down the hillside.
One man continued, terrified, fumbling clumsily to reload; a second, armed with a bayonet on his musket, squared off against Henry. The third paused for a moment, then dropped his empty weapon and started running down the trail from which they’d come.
Doyle missed the reloading Rebel with his first pistol shot but hit him in the chest with his second as the man was franticly pulling his ramrod free. Dodging the third man’s poorly aimed bayonet thrust, he finished the Rebel off with two lightning-fast, blood-spattering tomahawk slashes to the face. Doyle continued to race after the one fleeing survivor, yelling to the women and children to start up the hunting trail to the west of the village.
Within fifty yards he had closed the distance to twenty feet, and without breaking stride, threw his tomahawk with enormous force. The tomahawk buried its blade in the man’s back and he dropped like a stone. Doyle paused for a moment over the man’s body, quieting his breathing, cupping one ear forward and tilting the other downward, like a deer, listening for sounds of approaching troops. The forest was still silent.
He yanked his tomahawk out of the man’s back, kicked him over, pulled his knife, and with three quick, practiced cuts, scalped him. He paused briefly to strip two of the Rebels of their muskets and ammunition, ran quickly through the village, gathering up some dried corn and pemmican, then, collecting his weapons, hurried up the trail after the women, pausing only to reload at the crest of the hill.
In under a mile, he caught up with the party and guided them to a deer trail leading to a waterfall they knew well, about a mile away. After he had armed them and set them on their way with the promise to rejoin them for the trek to the north, he carefully erased all signs of their leaving the main trail.
He ran up the trail to just before it bent to the left, took a shawl he had removed from one of the women and snagged it on a branch where his pursuers could easily see it. Several hundred yards further, he dropped one of the powder horns he’d taken from the Rebels, carved with the dead man’s initials. Then he left the trail, covering his tracks as he went, and headed for his rendezvous with the women and children by the waterfall.
Ft. Niagara, The Western Territories - November, 1779
Henry Doyle stood by the open gate in the pounding rain as the last of the Mohawks, almost all women and children with a few elders carried in litters, dejectedly struggled into the British log fort at Niagara. They had left a homeland in ruins, burned by the order of the man Washington whom the People would forever after call Caunotaucarius, “destroyer of villages.”
Doyle sloshed through the mud to the British officers’ quarters. The one sentry, huddling under the dripping eaves for shelter, considered challenging Doyle, took a look at the death written in his face and thought better of it. Doyle kicked open the door, and without ceremony or greeting to the red-coated British and Loyalist officers in the room, placed his rifle against the wall, threw off his drenched cloak, and walked to the fire to warm himself. He spoke to the Mohawk Chief Joseph Brant in a low voice, staring into the flames, the steam rising from his sodden buckskins.
“I have brought in all I could find, Thayendanega. The old ones who died on the march we buried as decently as possible.”
Joseph Brant strode to him and put a brother’s arm around his shoulders. “The People thank you, Okteondon. But know that this destruction will not go unavenged.”
“There is no more work for me, here, my brother.” Henry turned and looked Brant in the eye, the anger in his face replaced by a bleakness as cold as the chilling rain outside. “The council fire of the Onandagas at Kanadaseagea no longer burns. The people of the Six Nations fight each other, and Deganawida’s Great Peace is broken. It’s over.”
“Come with me, little brother,” Brant replied. “We must talk together.” He turned to the officers around the map-covered table in the room: “Gentlemen, please continue without me.” Then, to Doyle, “Can I give you something? Food? Something to drink?” Doyle just shook his head. They walked together to an inner room where the young warrior, in some ways still a teen-age boy, in others an old, old man, collapsed into a chair. He had held himself together for days, rarely sleeping, to keep those who depended on him strong. He felt now as if all the life had been sucked out of him.
“You must let me go, Thayendanega, Doyle said, his voice now so soft Brant had to strain to hear him. “You graciously made me one of you. I will never forget the People, or the pride I feel being Mohawk – a Haudenosaunee − or your friendship. But some large part of me burned to ashes in the fires we left behind us.”
“But where will you go? If the Rebels catch you they will surely hang you. And thanks to the incompetence, laziness, and stupidity of the generals the British have sent here to manage this war – I say this for your ears only– the colonies are lost, especially now that the damned French have entered the war on the Rebels’ side.
Doyle sat in quiet for a while, Brant respecting his silence. Finally Doyle spoke. “I know my father is Sir William Johnson. I may go to Ireland to find out where he came from. After that, I don’t know.”
“Then my brother, permit me to help you. Take a day or two to rest, then come to me. There are people in London – Lord Melbourne of the Admiralty and Sir Joseph Blaine come to mind – who would be pleased to meet you and could suggest a number of paths for you to follow. With the letters it would be my greatest honor to write, they will welcome you, and if desired, open doors for you. But know this. I have often thought that there was no more sorrow left in the world for me to know, but your departure will leave a wound in my heart that will never heal.”
“And mine,” said Doyle, looking up at his friend.
Doyle shut his eyes as the stored-up fatigue and sadness washed through him. Brant waited until Doyle was asleep, gently draped a cloak from the wall over him, blew out the candle on the table next to Doyle, and silently left the darkened room − leaving only the flickering light of the fire’s embers dancing along the walls and ceiling.