Roger's Rangers by Francis S. Drake


The Famous New Hampshire Scouts of the Old French War

Rogersí Rangers were a famous partisan corps during the old French War. Besides the regular forces employed, there were irregular or partisan bodies, composed of Canadian French and their Indian allies on one side, and English frontiersmen on the other. They acted as scouts and rangers for either army, guarding trains, procuring intelligence, and intercepting supplies destined for the enemy. Both were composed of picked men, skilled in woodcraft, and excellent marksmen. One of Rogersí companies was composed entirely of Indians in their native costume.

 The Rangers were a body of hardy and resolute young men, principally from New Hampshire. They were accustomed to hunting and inured to hardships, and from frequent contact with the Indians they had become familiar with their language and customs. Every one of these rugged foresters was a dead shot, and could hit an object the size of a dollar at a hundred yards.

There was no idleness in the Rangersí camp. They were obliged to be constantly on the alert, and to keep a vigilant watch upon the enemy. They made long and fatiguing journeys into his country on snow-shoes in midwinter in pursuit of his marauding parties, often camping in the forest without a fire, to avoid discovery, and without other food than the game they had killed on the march. On more than one occasion they made prisoners of the French sentinels at the very gates of Crown Point and Ticonderoga, their strongholds. They were the most formidable body of men ever employed in Indian warfare, and were especially dreaded by their French and Indian foes.

 It was in this school that Israel Putnam, John Stark, and others were trained for future usefulness in the struggle for American Independence. Several British officers, attracted by this exciting and hazardous as well as novel method of campaigning, joined as volunteers in some of their expeditions. Among them was the young Lord Howe, who during this tour of duty formed a strong friendship for Stark and Putnam, both of whom were with him when he fell at Ticonderoga shortly afterwards.

Major Robert Rogers, who raised and commanded this celebrated corps, was a native of Dunbarton, New Hampshire. Tall and well proportioned, but rough in feature, he was noted for strength and activity, and was the leader in athletic sports, not only in his own neighborhood, but for miles around.

Rogersí lieutenant was John Stark, afterwards the hero of Bennington. When in his twenty-fourth year Stark, while out with a hunting-party, was captured by some St. Francis Indians and taken to their village. While here he had to run the gauntlet. For this cruel sport the young warriors of the tribe arranged themselves in two lines, each armed with a rod or club to strike the captive as he passed them, singing some provoking words taught him for the occasion, intended to stimulate their wrath against the unfortunate victim.

Eastman, one of Starkís companions when he was taken, was the first to run the gauntlet and was terribly mauled. Starkís turn came next. Making a sudden rush, he knocked down the nearest Indian, and wresting his club from him, struck out right and left, dealing such vigorous blows as he ran that he made it extremely lively for the Indians, without receiving much injury himself. This feat greatly pleased the old Indians who were looking on, and they laughed heartily at the discomfiture of the young men.

When the Indians directed him to hoe corn, Stark cut up the young corn and flung his hoe into the river, declaring that it was the business of squaws and not of warriors. Stark was at length ransomed by his friends on payment of £100 to his captors.

 During the Revolutionary war Starkís services were rendered at the most critical moments, and were of the highest value to his country. At Bunker Hill he commanded at the rail fence on the left of the redoubt, holding the post long enough to insure the safety of his overpowered and retreating countrymen. At the capture of the Hessians at Trenton he led the van of Sullivanís division, and at Bennington he struck the decisive blow that paralyzed Burgoyne and made his surrender inevitable.

Skilful and brave as were the Rangers, they were not always successful. The French partisans, under good leaders, with their wily and formidable Indian allies, well versed in forest strategy, on one occasion inflicted dire disaster upon them.

Near Fort Ticonderoga, in the winter of 1757, Rogers with 180 men attacked and dispersed a party of Indians, inflicting upon them a severe loss. This, however, was but a small part of the force which, under De la Durantaye and De Langry, French officers of reputation, were fully prepared to meet the Rangers, of whose movements they had been thoroughly informed beforehand. The party Rogers had dispersed was simply a decoy.

The Rangers had thrown down their packs, and were scattered in pursuit of the flying savages, when they suddenly found themselves confronted with the main body of the enemy, by whom they were largely outnumbered and of whose presence they were wholly unsuspicious. Nearly fifty of the Rangers fell at the first onslaught; the remainder retreated to a position in which they could make a stand. Here, under such cover as the trees and rocks afforded, they fought with their accustomed valor, and more than once drove back their numerous foes. Repeated attacks were made upon them both in front and on either flank, the enemy rallying after each repulse, and manifesting a courage and determination equal to those of the Rangers. So close was the conflict that the opposing parties were often intermingled, and in general were not more than twenty yards asunder. The fightwas a series of duels, each combatant singling out a particular foe—a common practice in Indian fighting.

This unequal contest had continued an hour and a half, and the Rangers had lost more than half their number. After doing all that brave men could do, the remainder retreated in the best manner possible, each for himself. Several who were wounded or fatigued were taken by the pursuing savages. A singular circumstance about this battle was that it was fought by both sides upon snow-shoes.

Rogers, closely pursued, made his escape by outwitting the Indians who pressed upon him—such at least is the tradition. The precipitous cliffs near the northern end of Lake George, since called Rogersí Rock, has on one side a sharp and steep descent hundreds of feet to the lake. Gaining this point, Rogers threw his rifle and other equipments down the rocks. Then, unbuckling the straps of his snow-shoes, and turning round, he replaced them, the toes still pointing towards the lake. This was the work of a moment. He then walked back in his tracks from the edge of the cliff into the woods and disappeared just as the Indians, sure of their prey, reached the spot. To their amazement, they saw two tracks towards the cliff, none from it, and concluded that two Englishmen had thrown themselves down the precipice, preferring to be dashed to pieces rather than be captured. Soon a rapidly receding figure on the ice below attracted their notice, and the baffled savages, seeing that the redoubtable Ranger had safely effected the perilous descent, gave up the chase, fully believing him to be under the protection of the Great Spirit.

By a wonderful exercise of his athletic powers, Rogers, availing himself of the projecting branches of the trees which lined the rocky ravines in his course, had succeeded in swinging himself from the top to the bottom of this precipitous cliff. It was a fortunate escape for him, for if captured he would surely have been burned alive.

In this unfortunate affair the Rangers had eight officers and one hundred men killed. Their losses, however, were soon repaired, and they continued to render efficient service until the close of the war.