Game of Big Foot
By Dan Beard
The shaded part on the diagram (Fig. 370) is a pattern from the track of a real moccasin. Cut two pieces of packing-case board in the shape of the pattern, nail a broomstick to a block, and from the bottom of moccasin boards nail the block to boards, as shown in diagrams. To play the game, "It" takes the moccasin boards and makes tracks in the snow in such a way as to deceive, if possible, Adam Poe and his followers; the rest of the game is the same as a paper-chase, only Big Foot must have a reasonably good start to give time to make the trail.
This game is made from incidents and adventures which happened in the strenuous time in American history, when life was different from what it is now. Today, of course, no one would think of sallying forth with gun and bowie- knife in search of the enemy here at home. Least of all would the writer, for he believes with the Quakers and is against warfare. But every boy should know the story of the early settlers of his country. They are a part of its history. If these stories tell nothing else they show the progress that has been made in our own day.
A very careful and painstaking writer who has searched all the ancient papers and reports of the old frontier has discovered, so he claims, that Adam Poe never had a fight with Big Foot. Now this is really too bad, because we always believed in the absolute truth of this famous adventure.
We may, however, still believe in old Poe's story, because the error in the legend is not in the details of the fight--that has never been contradicted--but it seems that Adam Poe and his companions mistook the Half King's sons for Big Foot and his brothers. I will give the story in my own words, confining myself, however, to the details given by Poe himself, which have been handed down to us without any material variation.
Old Poe delighted in telling of his adventure to the awe-stricken youngsters gathered around the open fireplace in the log house, listening, with ears as sharp and attentive as those of rabbits, to the oft-repeated tale. Whenever the winter wind would shriek outside, the little folks thought sure that it was Big Foot's tribesmen coming to avenge the death of their friend, and the distant howl of the timber-wolf would make the circle of youngsters gather closer around the buck- skin-clad knees of the veteran hunter.
This was not because the children were cowards; they were brave youngsters; and had the Indians in reality charged upon the cabin, there was not a baby there over five that would not have fought like the little hero he was. The shudders and awe-inspired glances were compliments to the dramatic powers of the story-teller.
In 1782 there were six brothers, splendid, big, athletic men, of the Wyandotte Indians, who were the pride of their tribe, and who exerted great influence for good over the other Indians. Not only were these men big in stature, but they were big in character. They saved many white prisoners from burning at the stake, and by their influence greatly lessened the savagery of Indian warfare; nevertheless, they were famous warriors and greatly feared by the settlers of Virginia, in the neighborhood of Wheeling.
The chief of these Indians was over six feet tall, a Hercules in strength, and of commanding figure, but he had one noticeable defect to his physical beauty, his feet were so uncommonly large that he was known to both the whites and savages by the name of Big Foot.
Almost all of the settlers in the neighborhood of Wheeling feared Big Foot and his brothers. But there was one husky white fellow, Adam Poe by name, almost as big and strong as Big Foot himself, who was not only remarkable for physical strength, but also possessed considerable skill as a boxer and wrestler. Naturally, this young gladiator was anxious for an opportunity to "take a fall out of" Big Foot.
One hot day in July, 1782, word was passed that a small party of Indians were on the war-path ravaging the country a few miles below Wheeling. This coming to the ears of our hero, he enlisted his brother Andrew, also a man of great prowess, and with six other volunteers started in pursuit of the marauders.
The points in the game of foot-ball upon which Adam was about to enter were counted in scalps.
The Indians had not crossed the river at the usual place, so, after a brief consultation between Adam and his party, Adam sent his brother with the other men along the trail of the main party, while he himself followed that of the big moccasin tracks on the river bank. Creeping along as noiselessly as a cat, with every nerve and muscle tense, he reached a spot which he felt certain must be close to the foe.
Lying prone upon a jutting bank, afraid to move further before locating the enemy, whose dug-out log canoes he could see drawn up on the river's edge, he listened intently until he heard the guttural tones of some one conversing near by. Worming his way to the edge of the cliff and cautiously peeping over, he saw the gigantic form of Big Foot. The Indian was stretched out at full length, resting himself under the cool shade of a willow, and was talking to an ordinary-sized Indian who, by comparison with the big chief, seemed but a puny fellow.
Poe gazed at his long-sought foe. Cautiously cocking his flint-lock rifle, he took deliberate aim, and placed his finger upon the hair-trigger. The hammer came down with a click, the sparks flew from the flint, the powder in the pan flashed, but the gun missed fire!
Both Indians immediately sprang to their feet, and for a moment the red men and the white man silently glared at each other. The next instant Adam Poe, with a mighty leap, cleared the bush in front of him, sailed over the edge of the cliff, and struck with both feet full upon the "solar plexus" of Big Foot.
As Adam struck Big Foot with his heels he flung one arm around the smaller Indian's neck, and all three came to the ground together-first touch-down for Poe. The whip-like crack of several rifles told Adam that his brother and party were engaging the rest of the savages; and while this was a guarantee that Big Foot was to receive no re-enforcements, it also told Adam that he must himself fight the battle alone with his two powerful foes.
It required all of Poe's Herculean strength to keep the half-stunned Indian down. In the meantime Big Foot had wound both his long arms about Poe and gave him a grizzly-bear bug, which made Poe feel that every bone in his body cracked and caused him to release his hold upon the smaller Indian; the latter instantly ran for his tomahawk and advanced with the uplifted hatchet.
There was, apparently, no chance for the white man's escape; but no battle is ever won until the last gun is fired. just as the Indian was about to strike him, Poe managed to make a goal by kicking the Indian with such force as to send the tomahawk gyrating over to the water's edge and the Indian rolling after it.
Big Foot upbraided his companion in the most scathing words to be found in the Wyandotte tongue, and the smaller Indian, recovering the tomahawk and giving Adam Poe's feet a wide berth, again cautiously approached, making false moves with his hatchet in hopes of catching the young back-woodsman off his guard.
Adam Poe was, mentally, as cool as a cucumber, while Big Foot was holding him with a vise-like grip, but it would seem, under the circumstances, that it would have been an easy matter for the other Indian to tap the white man on the head with the tomahawk and end the fight. But Adam's arms were free, and the Indian had already learned that his legs were not only free but also extraordinarily active; so the red man danced around the squirming white man looking for a good opening.
Down came the keen-edged hatchet, but, as it fell, the skilful boxer warded off the blade, receiving a severe cut on his wrist. Big Foot then lost all patience, and the wary Poe took immediate advantage of his momentary confusion and, with a mighty effort, freed himself from the tackle of the red giant.
Up to this time there had been no opportunity for the use of fire-arms and the two Indians' rifles had remained undisturbed on the ground. Poe snatched up one of them and shot the smaller Indian.
There was still one loaded gun lying on the ground, but Big Foot, disdaining the weapon, suddenly grasped Poe by the collar and the hip and tossed him high in the air--first touch-down for Big Foot. Poe struck with a resounding whack on his back, but, like a cat, he was instantly again on his feet, and, furious with rage at being so easily handled, he sprang with such force and suddenness upon his big opponent that Big Foot had all he could do to defend himself. It was now a rough-and-tumble fight to the finish. Big Foot was suffering from the blow he had received from the heels of Adam's moccasined feet. Adam's wrist was badly wounded, and both men were badly winded.
Big Foot was no boxer and had little relish for the terrible punches and swinging blows which his white antagonist was now raining upon all the most tender points of his anatomy. So he closed in upon Adam for a wrestling match, and they both fell with a splash into the Ohio River, with Poe on top. The latter grasped Big Foot's scalp-lock and held the Indian's head under water until he thought he was surely drowned; but the Indian was only "playing possum," and while Adam was drawing his knife to secure the much-coveted scalp, his adversary again grappled him.
This time they both rolled into the deep water, and, with one accord, let go their bold and began to swim to the shore, in a race to reach the loaded rifle on the bank. Adam's wrist bothered him in swimming, and Big Foot led; seeing this, the white man turned and swam in the opposite direction, in the hope of being able to dive and dodge the bullet when it came.
Again the game appeared in the Indian's hands, but at this critical point Poe's brother Andrew and a companion made their appearance, and the latter, seeing Poe's head out in the stream, took him to be an Indian, and, bringing his rifle to his shoulder, fired, dangerously wounding the plucky Adam in his shoulder. But the only outcry our hero made was to shout, "Kill that big Indian on the shore."
Big Foot now made a fumble by seizing the unloaded gun on the bank. Andrew, unconscious that there was a loaded weapon near at hand, made all haste to load his own gun, which had been neglected in his hurry to mix in the fight. Big Foot was the first to pour the powder into his rifle, but he made another bad fumble when he attempted to draw the ramrod, which he did with such haste that it flew from his hand and fell to the edge of the river. The fraction of a minute that it took the Indian to recover the rod was fatal, and the bullet from Andrew's gun pierced Big Foot's mighty chest.
As the Indian fell Andrew threw away his gun and plunged into the water to save his brother.
Adam Poe was more anxious to secure a score (scalp) than he was to save his own life, and he shouted to Andrew to scalp Big Foot; the Indian, however, did not want to enter the happy hunting-ground with a bald head.
Game to the last, Big Foot, finding himself dying, deliberately rolled into the water, where he sank and was swept away with the rapid current, and although the Poe boys and their party exterminated Big Foot and his five brothers, Big Foot's scalp never decorated the belt of a white man.
It is to be presumed that the brave Big Foot was proudly welcomed by the good Indian spirits to the happy hunting ground, where no scalps are in danger.
As for our friend Adam Poe, being shot, pounded, thrown about, and half drowned were incidents to a frontiers-man's life and considered part of the game. Adam not only recovered from his rough usage, but lived many years and always loved to tell the youngsters the story of his fight with Big Foot, or, as it now appears, his battle with the Half King's mighty son.
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Last modified: August 20, 2012.