Clarke and Benham

In the autumn of 1779, two keel boats, laden with military stores, bound from New Orleans to Pittsburgh, under the command of Colonel Rogers, were ascending the Ohio river; and when near the sand bar, above where the city of Cincinnati now stands, called four mile bar – they discovered a number of Indians on rafts and in canoes coming out of the mouth of the Little Miami river, which stream was then very high, and shot its waters, together with the Indian craft, nearly across the river.  Colonel Rogers immediately landed his boats, and the crew, to the number of seventy men, advanced secretly through the woods and willows that grew thickly on the sand bar which here joined the Kentucky shore, expecting to attack the Indians, when they should land, buy surprise.  Before, however, Rogers had succeeded in reaching the point where he presumed he would encounter the savages; he found himself surrounded by a force of more then treble his numbers.  The Indians instantly poured in a close discharge of rifles, and then throwing down their guns, fell upon the survivors with the tomahawk! The panic was complete, and the slaughter prodigious.  Major Rogers, together with forty-five of his men, were almost instantly destroyed. The survivors made an effort to regain their boats, but the five men who had been left in charge of them, had immediately put off from shore in the hindmost boat, and the enemy already had possession of the other.  Disappointed in the attempt, they turned furiously upon the enemy and aided by the approach of darkness, forced their way through the lines, and with the loss of several severely wounded, at length effected their escape to Harrodsburgh.

 Among the wounded was Capt. Robert Benham.  Shortly after breaking through the enemy’s lines, he was shot through both hips, and the bones being shattered, he instantly fell to ground.  Fortunately, a large tree had recently fallen hear the spot where he lay, and with great pain, he dragged himself into the top, and lay concealed among the branches.  The Indians, in eager pursuit of the others, passed him without notice, and by midnight all was quiet.  On the following day the Indians returned to the battle ground, in order to strip the dead and take care of the boats.  Benham, although in danger of famishing, permitted them to pass without making known his condition, very correctly supposing that his crippled legs would only induce them to tomahawk him on the spot, in order to avoid the trouble of carrying him to their town.

 He lay close, therefore, until the evening of the second day, when perceiving a raccoon descending a tree, near him, he shot it, hoping to devise some means of reaching it, when he could kindle a fire and make a meal.  Scarcely had his gun cracked, however, when he heard a human cry, apparently not more than fifty yards off.  Supposing it to be an Indian, he hastily reloaded his gun, and remained silent, expecting the approach of an enemy.  Presently the same voice was heard again, but much nearer.  Still, Benham made no reply, but cocked his gun, and sat ready to fire as soon as an object appeared.  A third halloo was quickly heard, followed by an exclamation of impatience and distress, which convinced Benham that the unknown must be a Kentuckian.  As soon, therefore, as he heard the expression, “whoever you are, for God’s sake answer me,” he replied with readiness, and the parties were soon together.

 Benham, as we have already observed, was shot through both legs.  The man, who now appeared, had escaped from the same battle, with both arms broken ! Thus each was enabled to supply what the other wanted.  Benham, having the perfect use of his arms, could load his gun and kill game with great readiness, while his friend, having the use of his legs, could kick the game to the spot where Benham sat, who was enabled to cook it.  When no wood was near them, his companion would rake up brush with his feet, and gradually roll it within reach of Benham’s hands, who constantly fed his companion, and dressed his wounds as well as his own – tearing up both their shirts for that purposed.  They found some difficulty in procuring water at first, but Benham at length took his own hat, and placed the rim between the teeth of his companion, directed him to wade into the Licking up to his neck, and dip the hat into the water by sinking his own head.  The man who could walk was thus enabled to bring water by means of his teeth, which Benham could afterwards dispose of as was necessary.

 In a few days they had killed all the squirrels and birds within reach, and the man with the broken arms was sent out to drive game within gunshot of the spot to which Benham was confined.  Fortunately, wild turkeys were abundant in those woods, and his companion would walk around, and drive them towards Benham, who seldom failed to kill two or three of each flock.  In this manner they supported themselves for several weeks until their wounds had healed so to enable them to travel.  They then shifted their quarters, and put up a small shed at the mouth of the Licking, where they encamped until late in November, anxiously expecting the arrival of some boat, which should carry them to the falls of the Ohio.

 On the 27th of November [1785], the observed a flatboat moving leisurely down the river.  Benham instantly hoisted his hat upon a stick, and hallooed loudly for help.  The crew, however, supposed them to be Indians, at least suspecting them of an intention to decoy them to ashore, paid no attention to their signals of distress, but instantly put over to the opposite side of the river, and manning every oar, endeavored to pass them as rapidly as possible.  Benham beheld them pass him with a sensation bordering on despair, for the place was much frequented by Indians, and the approach of winter threatened them with destruction, unless speedily relieved.  At length, after the boat had passed him nearly half a mile, he saw a canoe put off from its stern, and cautiously approach the Kentucky shore, evidently reconnoitering them with great suspicion.

 He called loudly upon them for assistance, mentioned his name, and made known his condition.  After a long parley, and many evidences of reluctance on the part of the crew, the canoe at length touched the shore, and Benham and his friend were taken on board.  Their appearance excited much suspicion.  They were almost entirely naked, and their faces were garnished with six weeks growth of beard.  The one was barely able to hobble on crutches, and the other could manage to feed himself with one of his hands.  They were taken to Louisville, where their clothes (which had been carried off in the boat which deserted them) were restored to them, and after a few weeks of confinement, both were perfectly recovered.

 Benham afterwards served in the north-west throughout the whole of the Indian war, accompanied the expeditions of Harmar and Wilkinson, shared in the disaster of St. Clair, [same guy who named Cincinnati, and was earlier court-martialed for losing Fort Ticonderoga? Yup.] and afterwards in the triumph of Wayne.  Upon the return of peace, he bought the land upon which Rogers had been defeated, and ended his days in tranquility, amid the scenes which had witnessed his sufferings.


From Lewis Collins’ Historical Sketches of Kentucky, 1847.