An Indian Captivity


The gorge has landmarks now—Penitentiary Rocks, Pope’s Nose, Lovers’ Leap, Hawk’s Nest, War Ridge, Castle Rock, Stretcher’s Neck. To the wretched women every one of these, whatever it might be called by a later generation, was an inimical, appalling barrier.

They fought against brush and vines that choked the canyon bottom; briars clawed through their blankets, and rocks shredded the rags wrapped around their feet. They scrabbled over boulders that had toppled down from the cliffs. They crept gingerly across talus slopes of avalanche debris. They wriggled under fallen trees and over slippery mudbanks. Often the riverbank would become a solid crag before them; the only way around was to wade out waist-deep into the blood-freezing cold of the river itself.

Somehow they made it through the gorge. They inched around the menacing butte of Flat Top Peak near the present town of Hinton to find that the going was easier, even though they were now impeded by the wide mouth of the Bluestone River. As they had done so often before, they turned upstream along the Bluestone until they could ford, and came back down it to the New again. The worst was over now, had they but known it. On this bank of the river it was a difficult way, but not an impossible one, to Draper’s Meadows. But if Mary had met and surmounted all that nature had thrown at her, she had yet to confront one of the most frightening dangers of all.

They were about opposite the mouth of the East River, not more than forty-five miles in a straight line from home. It was twilight. Suddenly, according to the Ingles family account, the hunger-maddened Mrs. Bingamin leapt on the tired and unsuspecting Mary. So near collapse were both women that even this feeble tussle could have resulted in the death of one or both of them.

Horrified, Mary fought back. The woman’s hands were around her as they grappled on the frozen ground. Mary finally wrenched free, and then fled—running, falling, running again—into a wilderness that was now less cruel than her erstwhile companion.

When she could run no more, Mary lay gasping in the shelter of a birch copse, praying that the gathering darkness would conceal her. “The Dutch woman” lurched past, fearfully close to Mary’s hiding place. But eventually the sounds of her pursuit faded away down the riverside.

Mary stayed where she was until the moon rose. She had no choice but to continue upriver in the direction Mrs. Bingamin must have taken; so she went cautiously, stopping often to listen. And Mary’s luck seemed to turn again: half hidden, half submerged under the riverbank lay an abandoned bark canoe.

She frenziedly bailed it out with cupped hands, unmindful as they turned blue and rigid with cold. The canoe was weatherbeaten and waterlogged, and Mary had never handled one. Nevertheless, with only a piece of driftwood for a paddle, she launched her leaky craft. Fortunately the water was low and her strength sufficient to reach the eastern bank.

Still, it seemed, good fortune was with her. Not far from her landing, Mary found a tumble-down log cabin, probably some trapper’s summer camp. Protected from the elements, she dropped gratefully to its earthen floor, and slept. In the cold, gray overcast of morning, she found a patch of ground that had once been a garden. Anxiously she searched every inch of it, and made her breakfast of two small, gnarled turnips.

Resuming her journey, she was startled to hear someone hailing her. It was Mrs. Bingamin, calling frantically from the opposite bank, begging her to come back and promising to behave. Disregarding the pleas for forgiveness and help, Mary maintained her pace. Even if she could trust the woman, she could not trust the canoe again, and there was no other way of getting across. Fortunately for Mary’s peace of mind, Mrs. Bingamin eventually had to detour inland around a riverside marsh, out of sight and hearing.

But Mary soon had other worries. The canoe had delivered her from one predicament into another. Except for the menace of Mrs. Bingamin, the lay of the land on the other side of the river made for much easier going. Here on Mary’s side, where the New River hugged the rugged base of Wolf Mountain, was the worst terrain she had yet encountered.

To traverse the mountainside she had to make her way through miles of rhododendron thickets called “laurel hells.” Then there was Wolf Creek, covered with skim ice, through which she made a hesitant passage. Beyond was another mountain to whose subsequent appellation, “Angel’s Rest,” Mary doubtless would have taken strong exception. After fording more ice-rimmed water at Stony Creek, she saw before her Salt Pond Mountain. Here, in the late November snow, she edged her way for two miles around the fringe of almost perpendicular cliffs that abut the riverside. Just before sunset several days later, having met seemingly interminable new barriers, each more formidable than the last, Mary came to what most would have considered a dead end. It was Anvil Rock.

In the last light of day the limestone of this aSo-foot cliff gleamed eerily and appeared to be devoid of footholds or ledges. As a final discouragement to a climber, it leans outward from the vertical, arching up to an overhanging crown.