Joseph Brant and George Girty had led their Loyalist/Indian force to a spectacular tactical victory on the banks of the Ohio River on August 24, 1781. A perfectly executed ambush led to the slaughter of 37 Pennsylvania militiamen, including their commander, Col. Archibald Lochry, and the capture of the rest of the 107-strong American force. The ambushers took no casualties.
Lochry’s Defeat was satisfying solace for missing the chance to destroy General George Rogers Clark’s expeditionary force, which was aiming at the British fortress in Detroit — but that force was still on the river and headed to Fort Nelson (Louisville, Kentucky). When Simon Girty and Alexander McKee finally showed up with substantial reinforcements, Brant led a force of nearly 400 seasoned Frontier Partisans downriver in pursuit of Clark.
But after five days of running the forest trails along the river, it became plain that Clark had too much of a lead and would reach the safety of the riverside fort before the Indian/Loyalist force could overtake him. And, besides, Brant had captured American messengers who confirmed what the Mohawk captain had surmised: With the loss of Lochry’s force, Clark had already decided to abandon the campaign against Detroit.
With the strategic aim of preventing an assault on Detroit achieved, Brant decided to end his pursuit of Clark. The Indians and Loyalist Rangers went into camp and broke out the rum and whiskey to celebrate their victory.
Simon Girty had had enough.
Joseph Brant was undoubtedly a brave and capable war captain, a badass Frontier Partisan. But his drunken boasting was insufferable. You’d think he’d conceived and executed the ambush of Col. Lochry’s militia all by himself. Simon’s brother George Girty was just as instrumental in the great victory, and the goddamned arrogant Mohawk was trying to steal all the credit and the Girty brothers’ glory. So Simon Girty saw it, anyway…
The rum and whiskey were flowing, and so was Brant’s boastful bullshit. On fire himself with strong drink and burning with resentment, Simon reeled to his feet under the canvas tent, leaned toward the Mohawk captain and called him a damned liar and told him to shut his bragging mouth. The tent went suddenly silent and tense. Brant was clearly stung by Girty’s slashing words, but there was no explosion of rage. He simply sneered at the British agent, turned on his heel and walked out of the tent.
But you can’t insult and humiliate an arrogant alpha male warrior without consequence. Later that night, as Girty left the tent, Brant accosted him and smote him over the head with his sword, opening a deep gash in Girty’s skull. The frontiersman crumpled to the ground. One account says that onlookers could see his brain “beating” inside his head.
Brant made ready to flee the camp, but British agent Alexander McKee restrained him, telling him coldly that if Girty died, he intended to see Brant hang.
When the Mohawk captain sobered up, he was overcome by remorse. He found Girty where he lay in a lean-to, hovering between life and death, held his hand and tearfully begged forgiveness, blaming his actions on the drink.
Against all odds, Girty slowly recovered under the care of a Mingo (Western Seneca) medicine man. For months he suffered from blurred vision and crushing headaches from what we today would call a traumatic brain injury. Eventually, the frontiersman would return to action, though he bore a terrible scar that he covered with a red wildrag tied over his head.
In 1782, he participated in the Siege of Bryan’s Station in Kentucky, and the ambush of a force of Kentucky militia at Blue Licks in which 70 men — including Daniel Boone’s 21-year-old son Israel — were killed in a 15-minute firefight. He took a leadership role in the greatest native victory against an American military force in history at the Battle of A Thousand Slain in 1791. In old age, he would go blind, probably at least in part due to the long-term effects of his wound.
Joseph Brant would return to his native Iroquoia/Upper New York, where he would fight to the end of the American Revolution in the Loyalist cause. After the war, he moved to Canada and became an advocate for his Mohawk people living under the British Crown.
He apparently never spoke of his near-murder of Simon Girty.
He did, however, meet Girty again — in 1783, in Detroit — and amends were made. According to Girty family lore, Simon braced Brant in his quarters, put two pistols and two cutlasses on a table, and bade the Mohawk captain choose his weapon so they could settle their differences like men. Brant again made a tearful apology for his drunken assault, and Girty accepted the apology.
(For the record, I believe Brant’s remorse was genuine — for all of his pridefulness, he was a man of character. And, regardless of Girty’s sentiments, I also believe that Brant deserves the credit for the masterful tactical victory scored agains Lochry’s flotilla. Brant was a seasoned leader of raiding forces with an extensive record of victories; George Girty was not).
George Rogers Clark would never realize his dream of capturing Detroit. Though he would lead some successful expeditions against the Shawnee towns in the interior of Ohio, his career and his health declined through the 1780s. The dynamic, driven frontier commander became a bitter alcoholic. His younger brother, William Clark, would eclipse him in the annals of frontier history, co-commanding the Corps of Discovery in their trek across the continent.
The tribes of the Ohio country mostly outfought the Americans in the Revolutionary War. However, they were unable to dislodge the settlements in Kentucky, and that land was eventually lost to a flood of settlers. The British Crown essentially abandoned the interests of their Indian allies in the peace talks that ended the American Revolutionary War in 1783. Indian militants would carry on the fight for the Ohio country until 1794, when they were decisively defeated at the Battle of Fallen Timbers. It was only then that the Revolutionary War in the West was truly over.