West Canada Creek
It was now
Oct. 30, 1781, Major Ross' men have been on the march in the wilderness for five
days. Most of his provisions were left at Canasaraga Creek and the Tory soldiers
have been living on horse flesh. Most of the men to escape their pursuers had
thrown their packs away with what little provisions they had. Major Ross broke
camp and again started on their march. About 40 men lagged behind in camp under
a Lieutenant John Rykeman of the Indian Dept..
about eight in the morning when the advance of Colonel Willett's men came upon
the enemy encampment. A short skirmish took place. Most of the Indians fled,
some were killed or wounded and Lieutenant Rykeman was captured as were a few
others. Now Major Ross and his weary troops had crossed the West Canada Creek
and those who had escaped from Colonel Willett a short time before came straggling
in giving reports. Major Ross pushed on leaving Captain Walter Butler with
his Rangers with a few men from other detachments to slow down the Americans
until he found a suitable position to defend.
Butler deployed his men along the riverbank. Now Colonel Willett's men appeared
on the opposite bank. After several Volleys were exchanged, and with Butler
sagging to the ground, the rear guard fled leaving the wounded Butler to his
fate. The Americans quickly forded the icy water to the other bank. An Oneida
Indian by the name of Anthony was one of the first to reach the wounded Butler.
On seeing that Butler was still alive he sent his tomahawk crashing through
his skull. He now tore off his scalp and robbed the corpse of booty. The British
had lost five killed, three men wounded, and four men were taken prisoners.
The Americans had no casualties.
waited at a defensible position about a mile away, but as no attack came
he again started his march to Carleton's Island. Major Ross reached Carleton's
Island on November 6, 1781 without further loss. Colonel Willett and his men
returned to Fort Dayton and from there the men were either stationed at different
forts and outposts or dismissed.
several stories as to how and by whom Butler was killed. Here are some that
I have found, plus some from those men who were there and what Colonel Willett
put in his official report.
It is said that Butler, in fleeing from the Americans, swam his horse across the West Canada Creek, and then turned around to them on the opposite bank and defied them and was shot. An Indian then swam to the opposite bank and found Butler alive. Butler asked for mercy but the Indian replied "I'll give your Sherry Valley Mercy" and
he buried his tomahawk in Butler's skull.
version is that while standing behind a tree, he was wounded while watching
the battle. On his detachment retreating, the Indian then crossed the creek
and found Butler alive. He then raised his musket and shot him through the
version is that Butler had dismounted from his horse, and was in the act
of drinking water from a tin cup and was shot. The Mohawk Indian crossed the
creek and finding Butler alive sent his tomahawk crashing into his skull.
Moyer states that they arrived at the West Canada Creek where the enemy crossed,
shortly after on the opposite bank Captain Butler was shot by an Oneida Indian.
The Indian immediately forded the creek and came up to Butler and in spite
of his entreaties, dispatched him.
Eps states that he was with the party of Oneida Indians who pursued Walter
Butler to West Canada Creek, when said Walter Butler was shot and tomahawked
by one of the Oneidas.
Kilts states that they pursued Butler the Indian leader and his party of Indians
and Tories into the West Canada Creek where they crossed and Butler was shot
by one of the Oneida Indians.
Casler says that Walter Butler was killed by an Oneida Indian. He was there
and saw the Indian who killed Butler and who had Butler's coat and scalp. The
Indian shot Butler from across the creek.
Nicholas Smith was present when Butler was shot on the West Canada Creek by a Mohawk Indian called "Saucy Nic." He
saw Butler after he was dead and scalped.
The following is what Colonel Marinus Willett put in his report to Governor George Clinton. "Altho he was not dead when found by one of our Indians, who finished his business for him and got a considerable booty." The report was dated Fort Rensselaer 2nd November 1781. The report can be found in the PUBLIC PAPERS OF GEORGE CLINTON, Vol. VII, pp 472‑475.
to the firsthand accounts, Captain Walter Butler was shot by an Oneida Indian.
Also from the facts, Butler was alive when approached by the Oneida and was
tomahawked and scalped.
pages pertain to the skirmish at West Canada Creek on October 30, 1781 between
Americans led by Col. Marinus Willett and a rear guard of mostly rangers
led by Captain Walter Butler. The Americans suffered no casualties but Capt.
Butler, 1 sergeant and 3 privates of the Rangers were killed, 1 sergeant, 1
private of the Rangers and a private from he 84th regt. were wounded.
extract is from the Pennsylvania Gazette and Daily Advertiser, No. 2683,
Nov. 14 1781.
Extract of a letter from a gentleman in Albany, Nov.3 "We
have just now received an account, that Colonel Willett has had a second
engagement with Major Ross, in Tryon County, about 14 miles above Fort Dayton;
in which Captain Walter Butler, and 2 others were killed and scalped, and 2O
taken prisoners. Our loss, only one, out of Captain Moody's company. The Oneida
Indians behaved well in the action, and deserve much credit."
is an excerpt from he Narrative of Jane Young Ferguson printed in WEATHERING
THE STORM; WOMEN OF THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION by Elizabeth Evans, Charles Scribner's
Sons, 1975; page 281.
"I was in Schenectady until peace was declared. I remember well the day the news was brought that Colonel Butler was killed. The Wigs all had their houses illuminated. The Tories would not light their's until they were threatened to be mobbed; and when the peace was declared they made a large bonfire of pine knots on the hill above Schenectady with an effigy of Arnold on top of it."
Casler, Pension No. W6637, Oct. 10, 1832, age 65 years.
"When Willetts men came upon the enemy they were drying their cloaths by fires & were surprised at that place Walter Butler was killed by an Indian (he believes) an Oneida Indian ‑ He (Castler) was there & saw the Indian who killed Butler & who had Butlers coat and scalp ‑ The Indian Shot Butler from across the creek Butlers Sergeant was also killed at this place as Casler Believes ‑ He
saw Butler stripped naked __(illegible_)___(illegible)__this place, which
was named Butlers Ford;
Pension No. S11376, Oct. 10, 1832, age 73 years.
"Col. Willett selected out forty white men of which this deponant was one besides several Indians to pursue the Indians & tories under Walter Butler. That on the second night the Oneida Indians discovered the trail of Butlers Band, and in the morning they struck on in pursuit. They come up with them killed some and took some prisoners. That butler waded his horse across the West Canada Creek and immediately dismounted and attempted to skulk off through the trees. That he cried out to his pursuers to "Shoot and be damned" which he had no sooner done he was struck by a Ball from one Louis the Indian waded over and skalped him."
Valley Democrat (Fonda), in its issue of February 27, 1913, printed a statement
of Philip Graff, a Mohawk Valley soldier who took part in the West Canada
Creek skirmish and was present at the death of Walter Butler. This document
has been in the possession of the Sammons family for over a century. Graff's
account differs somewhat from Olendorf's, but both are probably true, the confusion
of the battle preventing both from seeing all its incidents individually. The
Graff statement follows in its original verbatim form:
"In October, 1781, I was inlisted in the state troops for four months and was then stationed at Fort Herkimer in a company of Capt. Peter Van Ranselaer and Lieut. John Spencer. Some time in November after Col. Willett had a battle with Major Ross at Johnstown he arrived at Fort Herkimer. Our company then was ordered to join with Col. Willett's men and with them we crossed the river from the south to the north side the next morning; we were marched to the north through the Royal Grants and encamped in the woods, made fire; some snow had fell that day. The next morning by daybreak we marched on to the enemy about one and came with the rear of the enemy, took some prisoners and Lieut. John Rykeman, several of their horses with blankets and provisions and packs on ‑‑ we
then pursued the enemy on to Jersey Field and in coming down a hill to the
creek, we received a very strong fire from the enemy who had (crossed) the
West Canada Creek, which was returned from Willett's men with spirit. The enemy
on the west side of the creek and Willett's men on the east side. One of the
Oneida Indians having got near the creek saw Major Butler look from behind
a tree to Willett's men at the east, took aim at him and shot him through his
hat and upper part of his head. Butler fell, the enemy run, the Indian run
through the rest of the Indians and (an) advance immediately followed when
Indian who shot Butler arrived first having noticed particular where Butler
fell; he was tottering up and down in great agony, partly setting, looking
the Indian in the face when the Indian shot him about through the eyebrow and
eye and immediately took his scalp off. The Oneida Indians then mostly got
up and give tremendous yell and war hoop, immediately striped Butler of all
his close, left him naked laying on his face. The Indian walked forward (the
rest followed) with the scalp in his hand; came to the guard called out, 'I
have Butler's scalp,' struck it against a tree, 'take the blood' (evidently
addressing) Lieut. Rykeman who was in the guard, (and) struck it at his face
(saying) 'Butler's scalp, you Bogen.' Rykeman drew his head back and avoided
the stroke. I saw two (of) his sergeants and little farther saw another of
the enemy shot through the body. Butler was killed about 11 o'clock. We pursued
the enemy until evening and returned the morning, past Butler again in the
position we left him the day before.
The next page is from LETTERS FROM A REVOLUTION 1775‑1783, ed. Raymond
Beecher, originals in the Bronck Family Papers, Greene County Historical
Leonard Gansevoort, Jr., of Albany; to Leonard Bronk at Coxsackie. The action described in the third paragraph was probably the last military engagement of the war on New York soil. "Young Butler" was
Captain Walter Butler, who with his father, Colonel John Butler, was one
of the most hated and feared Tory leaders of the Mohawk Valley. His scalp was
sold in Albany.
My dear Sir
I most heartily congratulate you on the great and glorious News of the surrender of Cornwallis Yesterday we testified our Joy with the firing of Cannon, Ringing of Bells & drinking
and eating plentifully Every thing was conducted with a regularity and order
which does Honour to the Citizens of this place (Albany) I hope your good
Whigs at Cooksackie will also celebrate the Day Nothing will excuse you for
not doing it Let every Heart be glad Let every Friend to his Country rejoice
and let those dastardly Villians the Torys with dejected Spirit and drooping
in Silence and Sorrow curse the Day that they became Enemies to their Country
I am overjoyed So are all good and true Whigs It gives me Pleasure to see
the Mortification of those Miscreants whose Souls are as Black as Hell and
whose Minds are as dark as the Midnight Shades I could write a whole Day but
Mr. Gay waits impatiently for my Letter
A little more News and then I shall leave off Yesterday Letters arrived from Col. Willet who is arrived at Fort Renselier He says he pursued the Enemy until his provisions was quite exhausted He has however had an Engagement with the Rear Guard of the Enemy and has killed Nine of them & taken
twenty Prisoners Among the killed is Young Butler They say the Oneyda Indians
have scalped him This is certain that he is killed and that Part of his Cloaths
and Ornaments have already been sold at Schenectady I think the Expedition
has been a pretty dear One to the Enemy
writes that the Enemy are not advancing further than Ticonderoga so that
we need fear nothing from there
Once more I give you Joy so I do your Father and Mother and all who stand connected with you Rejoice with an exceeding great Joy If you dont the Tories will think you are still afraid believe my your Friend
4th Novr. 81.
I inclose you a list of our killed, wounded and Missing in the late Encounters
we have had with the enemy. I likewise send a Copy of Orders I have distributed
in Consequence of those successes Intended as a Stimalis for an hereafter.
These orders will help to exhibit to your excellency the Conduct of the different
Classes of men we had upon this Occasion.
Just recd Your Excellencies favor of the 29th ult. And am really fearfull,
that for want of having our men Mustered, we shall never have it in our power
to draw pay.
I have the honor to be your Excellencies most obedient & Very humb.
His Excellency Govr. Clinton.
A Return of the killed, wounded and missing in the Action of the 25th Ultimo at Johnstown. York Levies killed, one Lieutenant, Six Rank and File; Wounded, four; Missing, One Captain, three Rank and File; Massachusits Levies, wounded One Major, One Captain, One Lieutenant, Five Rank and file; Militia killed, five rank and File; Wounded one Lieutenant Eleven R. (rank) & file;
Missing One Lieutenant.
the pursuit the 3Oth Ultimo, one Man belonging to the Artillery.
Total Killed, one lieutenant, twelve Rank and File; Wounded, One Major, One Captain, One Lieutenant, twenty Rank and File; ‑‑ Missing,
One Captain, One Lieutenant, three Rank and File. Besides the above their
were about a Dozen of the Inhabitants made Prisoners at their Places of Residence
in the Night before the Day of the Action at Johbnstown, some of whom afterwards
made their Escape.
have taken about 60 Prisoners; the number of the enemies Killed and lost in
the Wilderness we leave for them to Count; we are very sure they are Considerable.
2nd November 1781.
Tryon County Orders:
Willett presents his thanks to Major Rowly and the Officers and Soldiers under
his command for their Services since they have been upon this frontier, and
Especially to those few troops of this Corps who were with Major Rowley in
the Action of the 25th Ultimo at Johnstown, whose Bravery Demands Particular
of Captains Marsh, Clark and Hecocks are discharged, as the time for which
they were engaged is Expired.
Commanding those Companies will see that the men deliver their Ammunition
to the Commissary of Ordnance at Fort Rensselaer.
thanks are given to the Militia of this County for their Alertness in Turning
out to Oppose the Enemy in their late Incursion upon these frontiers. Colonel
Willett feels happy, whilst he is Compelled in the strongest terms to testify
his Approbation of the behaviour of those few brave men amongst them which
Composed a part of the left wing that so Nobly fought and Repulsed the Enemy
in the Action of the 25th Ultimo at Johnstown, it gives him Particular Pleasure
to Acknowledge his Obligations to those few Choice Souls who went out with
him into the Wilderness in pursuit of the Enemy. To the men of Colonel Bellinger's
Regt. Commanded by the Colonel himself, to the men of Colonel Clyde's Regt.
Commanded by Major Copeman, to the men of Colonel Clock's Regt. Commanded by
Captain Backbread, to the men of Colonel Visscher's Regt. Commanded by Lt.
Col. Veder, and to those few Militia from Schenectady Commanded by Captain
that has Attended this march must be a sufficient Compensation for their
Great Toil, and the Consequences very Beneficial to these frontiers. The Spirit
that has been Exhibited upon this Occasion must Convince the Enemy that these
are People not to be Trifled with, and will Undoubtedly damp that Dirty spirit
of Enterprize that can have nothing but the Destruction of Individuals for
attention great Diligence and manly Deportment of Andrew Finck, Esquire through
the whole of this Affair (who performed the service of Brigade Major) merits
everything that can be said in his praise. He is Requested to Accept of this
Sincere Acknowledgment of his Services.
and Fortitude that has Discovered itself in the officers and Soldiers of
the Levies throughout the whole of this fatigue does them great Honor. And
the few Artillelry men, under the Command of Capt. Moody with the Rest of his
Officers, who Voluntarily became Musqueteers that they might participate in
these Toils, merits Particular Applause.
Source: Public Papers of George Clinton, Vol. VII, pp 481‑484.
Captain Gilbert Tice's Journal from 5th October 1781
Friday 5th. I received orders from Colonel Johnson to embark on board the Caldwell with One Hundred Indians to joyn Major Ross was embarked about 12 o'Clock and sailed at two for Oswego.
6th. Was in sight of Great Asodus but a hard gale of wind from the North drove us over to Toronto.
7th. Little wind.
8th. A fair wind, we made for Oswego & arrived the 9th at 1O o'Clock in the morning, found Major Ross there with his Detachment from Carleton Island.
10th. In the evening received orders from Major Ross to march next day in the front with the Indians. The Rangers to march next to me.
11th. Marched at One o'Clock P.M. encamped at the Half Way Creek. In the evening Lt. Rykman came to me, being sent by Col. Johnson through the Castles to order the Indians to join me at Oswego, but no Indians with him, the Reason they gave for not coming was, because they had no Mockasons, or anything to go to War with these.
12th. Marched to Oswego Falls and encamped.
13th. Marched to the Three Rivers and encamped there, Nine Onandagas met me with a Scalp & a Prisoner taken at the Fall Hill which they delivered up to me according to custom.
14th. The Boats set off from the Three Rivers for Canasarago Creek & arrived at Fort Bruenton, in the evening encamped there ‑‑ The Indians & Rangers marched by Land.
15th. Set off from From Bruenton, arrived at Canasarago Creek at 10 in the morning & proceeded up the Creek about 10 miles, encamped and agreed to Leave our Boats.
16th. The People that went by land arrived in the morning.
17th. Captain David & 10 Indians set out to the German Flats for a Prisoner, we marched the same time & encamped four miles on this side Canajoharere.
18th. Marched & past old Oneida about two miles & encamped. That night Lt. Dachstedder (of the Rangers) was taken very ill, and died next day.
19th. Marched for Herkimer's Lake & encamped at a small Creek running South, Five Onandagas joined me with a Prisoner taken at Little Falls who told us Sir John was at Crown Point with a large army.
20th. P.M. Encamped at a Branch of the Unundella, Captn David joined me in the evening with a Prisoner taken at Fall Hill who told us the same news as the above Prisoner.
21st. Marched & passed Tunnachifts Place & struck for Croghan's Lake instead of Herkimer's encamped at a Creek running out of Young's Lake.
22nd. Marched passed Crohan's Lake and encamped at New Town Martin.
23rd. Marched & passed the Upper end of Cherry Valley, & encamped within four miles of Durlach.
24th. Mr. Hare, Ind'n Dept & 1O Indians went on a Scout to take a Prisoner & joined us.
He took 6 Prisoners but found he could not overtake returned to the Boats. We marched same day & passed Durlach & came to Corrys Town, in the evening marched down the road to the Mohock River, took a number of Prisoners who informed of Six Hundred Militia being on Schnectady and Four Hundred Continental Troops, & Willet atg Canajohary with Four Hundred more, & Five Hundred at Schohare. We continued our march down the River, crossed Schohare Creek above Fort Hunter at 3 o'Clock in the morning of the 25th. Halted within a mile of Warren's Bush till day break. Then I received orders from Major Ross to detach myself with the Indians & Officers of the Department & some Rangers to destroy the Settlement of Warren's Bush whilst the Troops marched along the main Road to support us in case of an attack from the Enemy. We finished about 1O o'clock in the morning & joined Major Ross within 12 miles of Schnectady. Then wheeled about, marched up the Mohock River, crossed at Fort Johnson and took the main road to Johnstown, went through the Town, passed the Hall & halted in the Fields above it, and began to collect Provisions, all this time without any Interruption, from the Enemy.
About 3 o'Clock P.M. I received orders from Major Ross to march with the Indians, the nearest & best way to Carleton Island. When I had got a mile in the woods, I received orders from Major Ross to halt with he Indians & immediately join the Rangers in the Rear that the Enemy was advancing on us very fast in a large Body, I immediately fulfilled his orders & just as I joined the Rangers, the attack began by a Volley from the Rangers, which was immediately followed by the Indian Department ‑‑ with their usual yells, & rushing on the Rebels which put them immediately to flight. The Enemy were closely pursued but our whole Body which soon drove them back to the Clear Field, where Colol Willet lay as a Reserve with his best Troops & two Field Pieces, but did not stop their Flight or our pursuit, we followed them across the Fields above half a mile, took one of their Field Pieces with all their Ammunition & killed a number of them, and took seven Prisoners, At this time Col Willet kept possession of the rising ground on our Right and galled us very much & obliged us to return and dislodge them. The dispute was very obstinate on both sides, which lasted till dark when we left the Field, and the Cannon which we took, but destroyed the Ammuniton. The Enemy did not pursue us. The Officers and Soldiers in general behaved with a great deal of spirit during the whole action.
We marched about Six miles on the Rout for Carleton Island and continued it the 26th.
27th. Received orders from Major Ross to send an Express to the Boats.
28th & 29th. Without being disturbed by the Enemy either Front or Rear.
29th. Major Ross told me that as the Six Nations wanted to go home through their own Country he would meet them at my fire place to thank them for their good Behaviour & shake hands with them, which was done.
30th. Major Ross marched for Carleton Island with all the Troops and I for Niagara with the Six Nation Department, about 2 o'Clock that afternoon four Onandagas of Oswegatchy & one Delaware over took me & said Major Ross was pursued by a large Body of Rebels, but as we heard no firing we could not know what to think of it. Continued our march to Fort Stanwix where we arived on the 2nd Novr. All well, found no Enemy, we went into old Oneida.
3rd Novr. Arrived at the place where we left our Boats, found everything gone, only Six Boats cut to pieces & sunk. That night about 12 o'Clock Six Rangers come up with us and said the Enemy had fallen in with their Rear, the 3Oth Oct, in the morning & pursued them to the Large Canada Creek, where they were attacked and Captain Butler killed. The 4th Novr. finding nothing there we returned to the Broken Boats, hauled one of them up out of the water found five large Holes cut in her, which we stopped with pieces of Boards & nails of the other Boats & went in her to Oswego where we arrived the 7th of Novr in the evening, found Captain Baker there with the Caldwell and all our Boats & people.
From the 25th October to the 7th Novr we had nothing but Horse meat to eat, & but little of that.
We sailed from Oswego 11th Novr and arrived at Niagara the 12th.
I had three Indians killed in the Engagement and four wounded. Sagueresa's Brother is one of the killed & two Onandagas & Christian the Oneida is one of the wounded.
(signed) Gilbt. Tice.
Endorsed: Capt Tice's Journal of the
Proceedings with the Indians on
the late Expedition in October 1781.
Source: Gilbert Tice, U.E., Ernest Green, Ontario Historical Society, Vol. XXI, pp 186‑197, 1924.
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