13 December 2011

The death of Col.William Crawford

The Moravians capture a Colonel Crawford and Dr. Knight in June of 1782. They strip Crawford naked and tie him to a stake surrounded by kindling about 5 yards out from the stake. He spends the night in this position with full knowledge that he is to be tortured the next day.

At the beginning of his ceremonious torture the chief speaks for over half an hour and is then followed by triumphant screaming upon the ending to his speech by the tribe. All the men and at least half the women crowd around the colonel with flintlock rifles loaded with extra-large loads of powder only. The closest were within a few feet when they shot at him in turn.

The grains of powder, saltpeter still burning, peppered his skin, some of it puncturing and continuing to burn just beneath the skin. Crawford screamed until he was hoarse and then only a kind of whimpering grunt issued from him. More than seventy powder charges had struck him everywhere from feet to neck, but the greater majority had been aimed at his groin, and when they were finished the end of his penis was black and shredded and still smoking.

The crowd thinned momentarily as the guns were returned to the wegiwas, but as soon as all the Indians had reassembled, Chief Pipe stepped up to Crawford and with two swift movements sliced off his ears. From where he sat watching in horror, fifty feet away, Dr. Knight could see blood flowing down both sides of Crawford’s head, bathing his shoulders, back and chest.

Now came squaws with flaming brands and they lighted the kindling all the way around the circle, igniting the material every foot or so until the entire circle was ablaze. The poles quickly caught fire on their tips and the heat became intense, causing the closest spectators to fall back. A peculiar, hair raising animal sound now erupted from Crawford. He ran around the post in a frenzy, finally falling to the ground and wrapping his body around the stake. After the better part of an hour the fire died down, leaving a fanned out ring of long poles, each with one end a glowing spike.

Crawford’s back buttocks and the skin on the back of his thighs had blistered and burst and then curled up into little charred crisps. The animal sounds were fainter now.

In groups of four the Indians now began taking turns at a new torture. Each of the four would select a pole and jab the glowing end onto Crawford’s skin where they thought it would give most pain. Dr. Knight thought Crawford near death by now, but was amazed to see the officer scramble to his feet and begin stumbling about the stake, attempting to avoid the glowing ends which hissed and smoked wherever they touched him. One of the points was thrust at his face and as he jerked to avoid it he ran into another which contacted his open eye, and a fearful shriek erupted from him.

When the poles had all been used and tossed on a pile to one side, some of the squaws came up with broad boards and scooped up piles of glowing embers to throw at him until soon he had nothing to walk upon but coals of fire and hot ashes.

“Girty! Girty! Where are you?” (Girty was a white man that Crawford had known who lived with the Indian tribe. He had initially asked Girty for help to get out of the torture. Although he tried there was nothing that Girty could do to help without risking his own life.) These were the first coherent words Crawford had spoken since before the guns were fired. “Girty, in the name of Christ, kill me! Shoot me. Oh my God, Girty, kill me!”

Chief Pipe, hearing Girty’s name, shot the renegade a stern glare and Girty neither moved nor replied to Crawford’s plea, knowing he was closer to the stake now himself than he had ever thought to be. Most of the Indians did not understand what Crawford was saying, but the beseeching tone of voice pleased them and they clapped their hands and shouted aloud in triumph at having forced the white chief into this outburst.

When there was no answer to his cries, Crawford began a shuffling walk round and round the stake as if in a trance, scarcely flinching as he stepped on the hot coals. Finally he stopped and slowly raised his head and his voice came out surprisingly loud and clear.

“Almighty God, be with me now. Have mercy upon me God. I pray you to end this suffering so that I might be with you where there is no pain and suffering. Oh God, dear God, help me!”

Once more he began the same shuffling walk until at last, two full hours after having been prodded with the glowing poles, he fell on his stomach and lay silent. At once Chief Pipe stepped over the ring of ashes and cut a deep circle on the top of Crawford’s head with his knife, wrapped the long dark hair around his hand and yanked hard. The pop as the scalp pulled off was clearly audible to Girty and Dr. Knight.

(The chief makes a spectacle by rubbing the scalp in Dr. Knight’s face until a murmur arises from the crowd behind him.)

A squaw had entered the circle of ashes with a board heaped full of brightly glowing coals, and these she scattered on Crawford’s back and held them with the board against the officer’s bare skull. The murmur that had arisen was occasioned by what seemed wholly unbelievable: Crawford groaned faintly and rolled over and then slowly, ever so slowly, drew up his knees and raised himself to a kneeling position. For perhaps two minutes he stayed like this and then he placed one foot on the ground and stood erect again, beginning anew that queer shuffling walk. A few squaws touched burning sticks to him but he seemed insensitive to them, no longer even attempting to pull away. It was the most appalling sight Dr. Knight had ever witnessed and unable to control himself any longer, he suddenly vomited and then screamed at his captors, cursing them and calling them murderers and fiends and devils, blaming Girty more than anyone else.

(The chief then orders the squaws to build another fire.)

When the fire reached its peak, two warriors cut the rawhide cord that bound the still shuffling Crawford and, one on each side, let him shuffle toward the fire. When the heat became too intense for them to advance closer, they thrust him from them and he sprawled onto the blaze. His legs jerked a few times and one arm flailed out but then, as skin and flesh blackened, living motion stopped and all that remained was a gradual drawing of arms and legs close to the body in the pugilistic posture characteristic in persons burned to death.

So ended the life of Colonel William Crawford.


DC said...


David Heintz said...

Colonel William Crawford was the half brother of my 5th great grandfather.