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Through Buffalo Gap: A Novel

Through Buffalo Gap: A Novel

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Through Buffalo Gap: A Novel

384 pages
6 heures
Aug 9, 2004


Blue Spring, last of the Senedo Indian tribe, and Dylan Jones, the Wolf Killer, are caught in the struggle between European conquerors and Native Americans in the land of Eighteenth Century Virginia. A massacre brings these two people of different worlds together, and they vow to build a life that spans their differences.
Will the struggle for land and power between the Colonial leaders of early Augusta, and the opposition of the Native Americans who live on the land, leave room for the dreams of thousands of Indians and settlers?
Join this lone survivor of massacre, meet the ones she comes to love, and share her life's journey Through Buffalo Gap.
Aug 9, 2004

À propos de l'auteur

The author, a native born West Virginian and graduate of Marshall University, is a retired Army officer and lives with his wife, Carol, in the Shenandoah Valley near Staunton, Virginia. The book is dedicated to their children and spouses and to their grandchildren.

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Through Buffalo Gap - John Corns


All Rights Reserved © 2004 by John H. Corns

No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, graphic, electronic, or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, taping, or by any information storage retrieval system, without the written permission of the publisher.

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ISBN: 0-595-32449-5 (pbk)

ISBN: 0-595-66584-5 (cloth)

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The Tribes





























Dedicated to those who pass Through Buffalo Gap

The Tribes 

By the early Eighteenth Century, most Native American Tribes had been pushed back from the Atlantic seaboard. The Shenandoah Valley had long been a hunting ground shared by several tribes, large and small. The most distant of these were the tribes of the Iroquois Nation in the north, in the modern area of northwest Pennsylvania and New York states. Among the six tribes of the Iroquois were the Senecas in the west and the Mohawks in the east. The Tuscarora Tribe joined the Iroquois Nation in the third decade of the century, actually subservient to the Oneida Tribe for several years before gaining full membership. The Tuscaroras had lived until the early eighteenth century and their movement north, near the current North Carolina and Virginia border. The Delawares originally lived in the upper Chesapeake Bay area, but by the 1730’s had been pushed into central and what is now western Pennsylvania, an area just east of the Ohio River and claimed by both the Pennsylvania and Virginia governments in the time of this story. The Hurons and their splinter tribe, the Wyandottes were in the area of Lake Erie and today’s southeast Canada and western Pennsylvania. The Miamis lived in central and western Ohio, the Cherokees in today’s Tennessee and western North Carolina, and the Catawbas in north central North Carolina and today’s western Virginia.

The Shawnees had come into the Ohio region of the Miami Tribe at the invitation of the Miamis to assist in defense against the attacks of the Five Nations of the Iroquois before the Tuscaroras joined and made it a Six Nation Confederation. The Shawnees were for a time prominent in the river valleys of central Pennsylvania and the headwaters of the Potomac River. By the 1730’s they had largely moved back to the Ohio Country with small settlements east of the Ohio River. The Shawnees had a reputation as a migrant nation of fierce fighters. In the colony of Virginia’s quest for more land directly west of the Blue Ridge Mountains, the colonial leaders and the settiers enjoyed the buffer of the Shenandoah Valley, and the rivers to the west, the Pastures. But beyond those south and east-flowing rivers lay the south, but west-flowing Greenbrier River and the several parallel streams that flowed eventually into the Great Kanawha River and the Ohio. Early contacts by white explorers, hunters and traders with the Shawnees revealed a line in the reasoning of that tribe that ran north to south just east of the Greenbrier River Valley, birthplace of the Shawnee Chief Hokolesqua, or Cornstalk. Out of the upper Shenandoah Valley, a principle route of settlers to the Pastures Rivers and the Greenbrier was the natural passage through Buffalo Gap.



The Shenandoah Valley of Virginia lies west of the Piedmont Region of the Mid-Atlantic Coast. Bordered by mountains that exceed three thousand feet on the east and four thousand feet on the west, the valley runs south to north and offers a mild climate and a fertile plain. In the fall of 1698 braves of a hunting party of the Senedo Indian tribe wait in a pass in the mountains that lie on the west side of the valley. They crouch behind patches of green mountain laurel that hang from the rocky sides of the pass. The opening in the mountain is the route for man and animals out of the valley over a path that exceeds two thousand feet elevation before it gradually drops to the south and west. The Indians test their bows of hickory and strings of animal hide, and arrange arrows, side by side, on the ground. The shafts are straight and strong, the flint stones sharp, and the feathered guides straight and even. The Indians can see their prey—three buffalo in front—the large group of bison making their way slowly to the entrance to the narrow opening in the mountain. The pass, cut over thousands of years by the small stream that runs slowly to the east, has known these Indian visitors before and others like them. The water has run red with blood many times, the bones at the base of the cliffs on either side of the pass a testament to the carnage.

The numbers are less each year. The woods bison wander in groups of two and three, some herding together rarely in their migration in and out of the valley. The fall exodus of small herds from the valley to the western pastures brings a harvest of buffalo in the narrow pass. The braves hold their bows ready, letting the lead animals go by. A brave high on the mountain blows into a pointed horn, a short blast, and the hunters let go the arrows to fly down from the cliffs and strike the shaggy animals. Some buffalos fall to a single arrow; others run on with two and three shafts protruding from their sides. The wounded animals race wildly up the stream. They will run until they fall, claimed by the women and youth of the tribe who wait farther west in the pass. The water of the stream begins to color, reflecting the flow of life from the great animals. The other bison grow restless, and suddenly all begin to run west following their leaders. The chants of the hunting party, even as they continue to release the arrows on the stampeding buffalos, tell of thankfulness for the meat and the hides that will provide food, shelter, and warmth. They tell of the honor of the buffalo and of the bounty of the Shenandoah Valley, which has nurtured the herd. They tell of the swift and true arrows released by braves brought close to their prey by the narrow pass. They tell of—they rejoice—the run of the buffalo through Buffalo Gap.




The wolf lifted his head, and the water flowed off his chin and splashed lightly into the river. The great gray looked up and down the river toward Son of Buffalo that Swims. The wolf s nostrils flared and the gray eyes scanned from the riverbank into the stand of trees that shaded the side of the river. His head turned to the left again, upriver, and he held the position, his ears up and alert. Son of Buffalo thought the gray animal had not seen him, and the breeze that came down the river favored him, not the wolf. The small opening in the thick grass where he lay allowed him to watch the animal, as he had earlier watched the deer wade slowly across the river. He had pointed the end of the musket barrel at the deer’s chest and watched the animal come closer, but the wolf had been quicker, surging from the shadows of the trees and striking the buck at the throat. It had been swift. The tawny, slender animal had died as the wolf pulled it from the edge of the water and under the trees. The Indian lay quietly, turning his head to look at the wooded area behind him. He was no longer in a good place for a hunter. Another deer was not likely to come across the river now, and the wolf could turn on him, or other wolves might be traveling with the large animal, making it more dangerous for a single Indian brave, even with a musket. He had held his place as the wolf tore at the deer. The ribs cracked with a muffled sound like wet branches snapping underfoot. The wolf s teeth ripped at the rib cage, and then he chewed quietly for a while before attacking the carcass again.

Much time had passed before the wolf moved to drink from the river. The water reddened as it flowed around the animal’s front paws and long snout. Son of Buffalo that Swims looked at the animal’s markings. He had probably seen the wolf before, but he could not know with certainty. He was large, long, and scarred about the neck and chest from battles that gained and kept leadership over the pack. He was likely a pack leader, still young and strong. Tall Turkey would know the animal, but the brave was several miles away by now, moving toward Buffalo Mountain, the mountain near the middle of the long valley She-rando. They were to camp there tonight, at the mouth of a small stream on the side of the mountain and near its southern peak. Son of Buffalo knew he should cross the river and move north in that direction soon, but he had no kill. He had tracked an elk from midmorning until early afternoon and had lost the tracks farther downstream when the elk entered the river. Unable to find the tracks coming from the river on either bank, he had given up when he neared this crossing site, stopping before he reached it, careful not to put his scent on the ground where animals beat a path entering or leaving the river. It had been a good place, but the wolf had gotten the prey first.

The back of the wolf arched as the Indian heard the fire of muskets upriver. They were not far, and on his side. His people were downriver and on the other side, where the sun goes to sleep. More firing, a little farther upriver. The wolf stepped back, his head still turned to the south. He looked at the deer that lay a short run away, turned, and loped at an angle away from the river—toward Son of Buffalo. The Indian’s eyes followed the wolf to the left. The sound of the padded steps stopped and the Indian turned his head farther, his eyes locking on those of the wolf. The animal showed no alarm or interest in him. This was a good wolf, the Indian thought, one not likely to attack an Indian, and he did not want to kill the animal. He would not feel honor with the kill of a good wolf. The gray looked back toward the carcass of the deer, then swung his head down the valley and glided away with loping strides.

Son of Buffalo rose to one knee. He held one hand, palm down, just above his eyes and looked across the river into the late afternoon sun. He saw no one in the trees that lined the river. He pushed his body away from the ground and slung the musket across his back. He moved low on all fours away from the river and farther into the brush under the trees. He rose, swung his musket off his back, and carried it at the ready, left hand grasping the wooden stock forward of the trigger guard, muzzle toward the sky. He moved slowly upriver. He had heard strange sounds earlier, just after he lost the tracks of the elk in the river. He had thought they were voices, but when he stopped and listened, he had not heard them again. Now he did. No more than a stone’s throw up the river: a voice…and another. Two strange voices. He dropped to the ground, held the musket in his right hand, and on his left hand and feet crawled slowly toward the river—and the voices.

He smelled the men before he saw them. One man was standing at the edge of the water, another upstream on the near bank. They were not Indians. The smell of the nearest man was unlike Son of Buffalo’s people, or the Delawares of the north, or the Catawbas or Tuscaroras of the south. The men were not of the Cherokees. The smell was not pleasant, more like an animal than a man. He knew they were the men from the big river Potomac. He had seen few of those men before, but he had heard Tall Turkey and other braves describe them: their long, course, and oily hair, clothing the colors of blackberries and walnut juices, and the long muskets. The braves had talked much of the men who draped their bodies in the days of hot sun as if it were the time of ice and snow. These men wore such clothing, and both had breeches of leather, not the same as the leggings that many Indians wore.

The men were looking across the river toward an Indian on the far bank who waved, as if he might be telling them they were at a good place to cross the river, which Son of Buffalo knew they were. The Indian wore little clothing much the same as Son of Buffalo, in the manner the warm air of late summer told them to dress. The two men waded into the river. Their backs were wet with the sweat of their bodies. Strange for men to make themselves so hot and smelly. The Indian on the far bank went into the trees, and the two men waded carefully, the water well above their knees, and they staggered on the round rocks of the riverbed as they worked their way across. After a time they stepped from the water onto the far bank. They put down their muskets and caught some hopping bugs, put them on the end of two lines, unwound the lines, and threw the baited ends into the river.

He had to join his hunting party, but Son of Buffalo lay and watched. The bugs the men had caught were likely on bone hooks, like the Senedos used. The scent of the men remained stronger than that of the fish they soon pulled from the river, or that of the carcass of the closer deer. He looked at the face of the man farther downriver. Hair grew on his chin, below the nose, and ran up his cheeks to join the hair that covered his head. The hair was as dark as the coat of a buffalo, and the cover on his head bore no feathers of the eagle or the hawk, no white or purple beauty of the seashell or of dried fruit of the forest. The cap was black, as if cut from the skin of a bear, the hair cut short to the hide, and the brim had three rounded points between the three bends of the brim up against the crown of the hat. Both men kept their long muskets close by. The weapons shone like the musket of Bear Tooth, possessor of the newest musket in the Senedo tribe. There were many such muskets in the hands of the Delawares, the Tuscaroras, and the Catawbas. The Shawnees to the west, with many braves, had even more; far more than the Senedos, for there now were few Senedo braves, cut in numbers over the years by sickness and the raids of the more powerful tribes.

One of the men was removing his cloak. The top piece came off to his waist. His skin was not as white as the snow of winter, but it was near the color of a baby pig. His lower cloak of animal skin fit tightly, and below the knees, where they ended, narrow bands of cloth held them snugly. The fasteners on the top of his shoes looked like dull metal, like the lead of a musket ball. The man waded into the river and sat down. His friend laughed. Maybe he too thought his friend was white like a baby pig. The man still at work caught another fish. Son of Buffalo did not think the men would need the number of fish they were taking.

He gripped his musket more tightly as muskets fired. He smelled the sharp smoke of the powder. The guns were close and there were more voices. Son of Buffalo thought he should move away from the sounds. Had they seen him? Were they firing at him? He did not hear the crack of the lead balls of the muskets. Tall Turkey had told the young braves that when the musket balls came close, you could hear them crack in the air. Son of Buffalo had never heard such sounds, but Tall Turkey said they snapped like a rock crushing a nut. He leaned farther forward. More men were on his side of the river, farther upstream and partially hidden by the trees. He should move, carefully, away from the river. The valley had many large, open areas, broken by large stands of trees, and a fringe of green trees along the riverbanks. There were places for him to hide, but if he moved north, they might see him.

These men surely had not come up the valley from the river Potomac. Had they come over the mountain that rises with the morning sun? Had they come across from the land of the great lake that flows on forever? He had thought that he heard the sounds of guns firing the previous evening, high on the blue mountain that birthed the sunlight. Maybe it was these men. Why were they here? Would they stay? Did they have their women with them? Were they hunters? Tall Turkey had said these men looked for land to claim as their own. It was an ugly idea for the Senedo. There was much land, but in this valley, the great tribes of the north and south claimed it for hunting, not for towns and villages. This land was for everyone. The Catawbas had their land to the south, as did the Delawares and Iroquois in the north, and the Shawnees in the west, but all came to the valley to hunt or passed through in their travels. Tall Turkey said the Iroquois claimed much land where the sun goes to rest, land where the Shawnees lived. The Senedos had no land, no place to stay. They moved about the valley while the large tribes came in the months of warm skies and left before the snows, setting fire to many open fields in the valley, as all tribes had done for many, many moons. The Senedos stayed in the valley, but that had not always been so. They now had no place to go.

Were these men not interested in the land? Were they here only to kill the buffalo? Did they not know there were not so many buffalo now; that many tribes hunted here and killed or pushed the bison through the big gap in the mountain? The Senedos killed few buffalo now, only if families lost the cover for their shared longhouse to fire, or had to make a new robe for the tribal leader. Son of Buffalo’s tribe had once lived to the south and east and came to the valley to hunt the buffalo, deer, and elk on the rich, green grass. Would these men know that he and all his fathers that ever lived and his brothers and friends today were free to hunt here? He thought of the words of Tall Turkey, They came to the land beyond the Potomac to sit down on the land like a turkey hen on her eggs. Tall Turkey had seen such men in the flat lands beyond where the waters of the Sherando rush into the river Potomac. But these men had not come up the river. Surely, they had not. His hunting party would have already seen them in the four days they had been hunting along both sides of the Sherando. They had come from upriver or over the blue mountain.

Son of Buffalo swung the rifle across his back, turned, and moved on all fours through the tall weeds, only his hands and the tips of his deerskin-covered feet touching the ground. Soon he was far enough into the shadows to rise and move cautiously through the trees. He went back to ground and crawled under a long, arched growth of weeds and briers until he was looking back toward the river across an open field. The one man had gotten out of the river, put on his upper cloak, and had joined the other man again in catching more fish, and Son of Buffalo now could see why. There were many men here. He wished some of his hunting party were with him. These men had horses, many horses, and a few Indians were among them. He thought the number of all—Indian and white—was greater than all the toes and fingers of three Indians. He saw men that were likely guards, but they were joining in the laughing, their backs toward Son of Buffalo. They were looking to the edge of the trees where men were roasting the meat of turkey, deer, and a buffalo on spits over the fires.

Later the two anglers neared the fires and ran long sticks through several fish. They placed the ends of the sticks in the forks of limbs rising from the ground, and pushed the burning coals of the fires under the fish. The men ate the meat, drank, and fired off their muskets as if to celebrate. One of them wore clothing the colors of the blue and red birds of the sky. Was he a chief?

Several times they waited as each man filled his cup and then held it high as one or more men talked, and then they all drank before they fired the muskets into the sky.

He could stay no longer. He looked in the direction the wolf had taken. The great, gray warrior had left the slain deer to lesser hunters, those who lie around or sit on the limbs of the trees and wait for the bolder and braver to ready their feasts. It was growing late in the afternoon as he crawled under the briers, rose, and walked toward the fallen deer. He looked for the Indian across the river, but did not see him. He walked near the deer, avoiding the dark spirit eyes of the animal. It was not his kill; it was not his right to stare into the spirit eyes of the buck. But he wanted to count the tips of the rack of horns. Eight. That was good. But it was not the great deer that a first among warriors would slay. Where would the wolf stand in his own tribe? If he was a leader, did he take the deer with great spirit?

He walked again to the edge of the trees and looked across the clearing at the men. Their fires were still high; he would be in the light cast by them if he moved to cross the river nearby, and it was a long walk to another shallow crossing down the river. He waited. He smelled the meat of the buffalo. He was hungry. He had not eaten buffalo in many moons. The old braves told of days when the buffalo covered large parts of the valley floor as they roamed about and ate the grasses. The herds would come and go, seeking grass and making paths in the valley and through the openings in the mountains. The best buffalo killing ground had long been where the walls of the valley moved close to the stream that came from the land where the sun moves to sleep. It was well upriver from him, and there were no longer the great numbers of buffalo there, not even the numbers his father, Buffalo that Swims, had first seen before the birth of Son of Buffalo. He rubbed his hand over the dry, tender grass. Now there was more grass than the few buffalo could eat. The grass sprung from the valley floor each spring, green, tender, and sweet for the buffalo, elk, and deer.

Had these men not come with the rising sun? He had not seen their tracks down the river, on either side, and it was a large party—and loud. Tall Turkey said many more strange men lived beyond the river Potomac, far down the river. At the evening tribal fires the older warriors warned that one day more of these white men would come up the valley from the river Potomac. They said the white man also might cross the mountain of blue spirits, and they would want to take for their own the deer, the elk, and the buffalo of the valley. Then the tribe of Son of Buffalo that Swims would have to leave the valley and pass through the gap of the buffalo to a new green valley. The young men said little at the tribal fires, but on the trips to hunt the deer and elk they spoke of fighting the white men, of driving them like buffalo down the Sherando and across the Potomac. But these men had horses.and many guns.and other Indians helped them. Did the Catawba or Delaware tribe now join them? These were tribes with many warriors. The Senedos feared to ask the hunters of these tribes to walk around the chosen Senedo hunting grounds. The Senedos remained on the edges of the best hunting grounds when the Delawares or the Catawbas were in the valley. Tall Turkey said the Delawares were much the warrior and little the hunter. The Catawbas had hunted in peace in past years with the Tupelos, Senedos, and the Tuscaroras, but the Catawbas were quick to drop their animal kills and take the scalps of other tribes. They sent their warriors far beyond the Potomac to raid the Delawares in their homes. And the Delaware parties moved south through the valley, beyond the rocks that gave birth to the river Sherando, and they attacked the Catawbas in their villages. In the same way the greater tribes, the Cherokees of the south and the Iroquois of the north, raided the home country of one another, but then came later and hunted together in peace in the Sherando Valley. The smaller tribes like the Senedos gave way to the large tribes like young warriors once moved off the path of the buffalo on their wild runs across the valley. Tall Turkey said that a Mohawk, a tribe of the Iroquois nation, would not give up one scalp he had taken from an Indian or a white man for many tongues of the buffalo.

He dropped to the ground again as some of the men pointed their muskets toward the sky again and fired. It was as if they had arrived on the day of a great feast of one of their gods. In the openings in the trees, the men wearing the brightest robes drank long each time the others fired the muskets. An arrow thrown by a bow toward the stars comes back down, and it can open the head of a man, but the Indian heard no lead balls go up through the leaves—or pass through them on the way down. Their muskets threw only the fire of the black powder. These men laughed and drank and burned much powder. They smiled and laughed—like the women and children of his tribe at the feast of the corn.

They were not wise warriors. He had seen only two of them who might be watching for an enemy, and they had not seen him as he had moved closer. He heard the dogs and then he saw them, barking, yelping as one of the men kicked the dog nearest the largest fire. The dogs, three he could see, returned to lie near the fires and chew on the meat and bones thrown to them. The men that he judged were the eyes of the celebration had never looked his way, but always looked back at those who made the fire and laughter. Two other men came out and took their place. They walked like warriors floating on the drink of fermented berries. They would not see or hear the hunter that came to protest their time on the hunting grounds or to take their kill. The men dressed in the cloaks of bright colors sat near the middle of the open area and drank from cups that reflected the light of the fires. Three men with skin dark as walnut filled their cups. He had heard of them, these black men taken to work the fields like the warriors of the Tupelo and Saponi tribes many moons before. He looked at these strange men with the skin of the pig, hidden from the hottest sun; then at the dark men who were likely not warriors, but men taken as the Shawnee takes the Senedo to do his work. The walnut-skin men did not drink from the cups. They wore sparse clothing, less than Son of Buffalo that Swims. Their legs and upper bodies were black like their faces, and he wondered if they had the scent of the white men he had smelled earlier. Now he could only smell the musket smoke that stung inside his nose, and the scorched meat of the buffalo, and the ferment of their drink.

He wished that Tall Turkey were here. The brother of his father would want to hear the story of these white men in bright robes and their dark walnut men. Tonight Tall Turkey would hear these sounds from far away and think the Delawares and Catawbas were again in the valley. He would not come, but when Son of Buffalo told him this story, he would say that he wished his spirit had been behind the eyes of Son of Buffalo, so he could see these men.

After many drinks and much musket firing, most of the men left the opening and moved back under the trees. Two men in the field turned to watch the mountain and the river. The few men still awake broke the light thrown by the slowly dying fires as they moved about, tying animal skins around pieces of roasted meat and fish pulled from the spits. Those who worked were the men of the walnut skin. It was the time for the other men to sleep. He could see only the two guards now. Maybe there were more. Were they awake? And where was the Indian he had seen across the river? Where were the other Indians? Were they the eyes of these men who talked, drank, fired weapons, and slept? It was quiet. The light of the fires dimmed. He could move now to cross the river and walk to the camp of his hunting party. Still he did not leave. What more might he see? He moved to the creek nearby that flowed into the river and lay to drink. He moved back near the top of the creek bank, took a short block of deer meat from his pouch, and lay down to eat, his elbows against the damp ground. He could see little light from the fires. He chewed slowly and waited for morning

The light flowed over the mountain, and the cool, white fog nestled along the river as a blanket to cool the water for the gods. The sun came, first peeking over the mountain and then bouncing high as the round squash springs off the stretched blanket of children at play. There were no women to strike the covers of the sleeping men and send them to the river to wash off the fermented drink. The men slept and the sun moved high before the sounds of neighing horses broke the morning quiet. Son of Buffalo heard none of the laughter and cheers of the night before. No musket raised its voice to break the silence of the valley.

When one of the men called out, others began to talk in low voices with none of the merriment of the previous evening. The smell of burning wood passed down the river, and the smoke of the small fires drifted toward the blue mountain. He smelled their drink. Tea, Tall Turkey called it. Son of Buffalo had seen it, but had not tasted the brown liquid. The smell was strong, but the fermented smell of the drinks of the night was stronger. Horses whinnied; their hooves scuffed the ground, the pine needles softening the sound. Leather straps rubbed and groaned against the weight of the loads of meat and of the men that burdened the horses. Two men rode out of the trees and guided their horses toward the stream where Son of Buffalo had backed into the tall grass. They turned the horses up the stream, toward the narrow opening in the trees of the blue mountain. Beyond them, an Indian stepped from the trees and walked to meet the riders. They spoke, and he waved the two men up the narrow path. The riders wore animal skin wraps around their lower legs. They were the men who had drunk less the night before, and had taken turns as guards. They had been among those who had thrown the fire of their muskets into the sky. Two more followed, and then two more, all on horseback. Another Indian stepped from the trees nearer the site of last night’s fires. Son

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