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A Natural Curiosity :: Chief Joseph Brant does my ancestor a favor
Saturday, January 17, 2015

Chief Joseph Brant does my ancestor a favor

imageIn William Leete Stone’s 1865 biography Life of Joseph Brant (Thayendanegea) Including the Border Wars of the American Revolution, and Sketches of the Indian Campaigns of Generals Harmar, St. Clair, and Wayne, and Other Matters Connected with the Indian Relations of the United States and Great Britain, from the Peace of 1783 to the Indian Peace of 1795, the author describes the Mohawk chief‘s actions in the aftermath of an attack on the town of Minisink in 1799.

The account, he says, was given to General Morgan Lewis “in after-years by Brant himself, while on a visit to the city of New-York.” (I have broken up the single long paragraph for readability.)

Among those who were grievously wounded was Lieutenant-Colonel Gabriel Wisner, a gentleman of great respectability, a magistrate, serving among the Goshen volunteers. In surveying the battle-field, the situation of Wisner arrested the attention of the Indian commander, who examined his condition.

The chief saw that he was wounded past hope of recovery, but he was, nevertheless, in the full possession of his faculties, and was even able to converse. Believing his case to be altogether beyond the power of medical and surgical skill, and having no means of carrying him away, Brant reflected a moment upon his own course of duty.

He was disposed to save his life if he could, and yet felt that it was impossible. To leave him thus helpless and alone upon the field, in the possession of his senses to a degree enabling him to appreciate all the horrors of his situation, would be the height of cruelty. Added to which was the moral certainty, that the wolves abounding in the forest, guided by the scent of blood, would be gorging themselves alike upon the wounded and the dead. The thought, therefore, that Wisner might be torn in pieces while yet alive, seemed to him even more than savage cruelty. Under these distressing circumstances and considerations, the chief argued with himself that true humanity required a speedy termination of his sufferings. Having formed this conclusion, the next point was to compass his death without inflicting additional torture upon his feelings.

With this view he engaged Wisner in conversation, and while diverting his attention, struck him dead in an instant, and unperceived, with his hatchet. It was but a savage exhibition of humanity; but there was benevolence in the intention, however strangely reasoned; and the motive of the final blow is to be applauded, notwithstanding the shudder caused by its contemplation.

imageLouis Aubrey Wood’s 1920 biography The War Chief of the Six Nations: A Chronicle of Joseph Brant gives this version:

After the fight, as Brant traversed the blood-stained field, he bent over the wounded form of Gabriel Wisner, who was a magistrate of Orange county. The fallen man, though suffering excruciating pain, was still able to speak, but the chieftain saw that he was dying. There were wolves in the forest, and these would soon visit the scene of carnage. To bear Wisner from the field would avail nothing. For a moment the War Chief debated what he should do. Then, turning the attention of the wounded man in another direction, he poised his hatchet. In a flash it had smitten the skull of the dying magistrate and his misery was at an end. In this act as in others Brant showed that his contact with civilization had not freed him from the basic instincts of his savage nature. Few white men could have performed such a deed even on the field of battle with so much calmness.

Posted by geoff on 01/17 at 10:03 AM
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