Story type: Literature
On the banks of the Ohio River, near the place where the city of Wheeling now stands, there was once a fort called Fort Henry. This fort was of the kind called a blockhouse, which is a house built of logs made to fit close together. The upper part of the house jutted out beyond the lower, in order that the men in the blockhouse might shoot downwards at the Indians if they should come near the house to set it on fire. Fort Henry was surrounded with a stockade; that is, a fence made by setting posts in the ground close together.
During the Revolutionary War the Indians in the neighborhood of this fort were fighting on the side of the English. A large number of them came to Fort Henry, and tried to take it. All the men that were sent outside of the fort to fight the Indians were either killed, or kept from going back. The women and the children of the village which stood near had all gone into the fort for safety.
When at last the fiercest attack of the Indians was made, there were only twelve men and boys left inside of the fort. These men and boys had made up their minds to do their best to save the lives of the women and children who were with them. Every man and every boy in the fort knew how to shoot a rifle. They had guns enough, but they had very little powder. So they fired only when they were sure of hitting one of the enemy.
The Indians kept shooting all the time. Some of them crept near to the blockhouse, and tried to shoot through the cracks, but the bullets of the men inside brought down these brave warriors.
After many hours of fighting, the Indians went off a little way to rest. The white men had now used nearly all their gunpowder. They began to wish for a keg of powder that had been left in one of the houses outside. They knew that whoever should go for this would be seen and fired at by the Indians. He would have to run to the house and back again. The colonel called his men together, and told them he did not wish to order any man to do so dangerous a thing as to get the powder, but he said he should like to have some one offer to go for it.
Three or four young men offered to go. The colonel told them he could not spare more than one of them. They must settle among themselves which one should go. But each one of the brave fellows wanted to go, and none of them was willing to give up to another. Then there stepped forward a young woman named Elizabeth Zane.
“Let me go for the powder,” she said.
The brave men were surprised. It would be a desperate thing for a man to go. Nobody had dreamed that a woman would venture to do such a thing, nor would any of them agree to let a young woman go into danger.
The colonel said, “No,” her friends begged her not to run the risk. They told her, besides, that any one of the young men could run faster than she could.
But Elizabeth said, “You cannot spare a single man. There are not enough men in the fort now. If I am killed, you will be as strong to fight as before. Let the young men stay where they are needed, and let me go for the powder.”
She had made up her mind, and nobody could persuade her not to go. So the gate of the fort was opened just wide enough for her to get out. Her friends gave her up to die.
Some of the Indians saw the gate open, and saw the young woman running to the house, but they did not shoot at her. They probably thought that they would not waste a bullet on a woman. They could make her a prisoner at any time.
She did not try to carry the powder keg, but she took the powder in a girl’s way. She filled her apron with it. When she came out of the house with her apron full of powder, and started to run back to the fort, the Indians fired at her. It happened that all of their bullets missed her. The gate was opened again, and she got safely into the fort. The men were glad that they had powder enough, and they all felt braver than ever, after they had seen what a girl could do.
The Indians had seen the gate opened to let her out and to let her in again. They thought they could force the gate open; but they could not go and push against it, because the men in the blockhouse would shoot them if they did. So they made a wooden cannon. They got a hollow log and stopped up one end of it. Then they went to the blacksmith’s shop in the little village and got some chains. They tied these chains round the log to hold it together. They had no cannon balls, so, after putting gunpowder into the log, they put in stones and bits of iron. After dark that evening they dragged this wooden cannon up near to the gate. When all was ready, they touched off their cannon. The log cannon burst into pieces, and killed some of the Indians, but did not hurt the fort.
The next day white men came from other places to help the men in the fort. They got into the fort, and after a few more attacks the Indians gave up the battle and went away.
Whenever the story of the brave fight at Fort Henry is told, people do not forget that the bravest one in it was the girl that brought her apron full of gunpowder to the men in the fort.