Colonel William Crawford captured by Indians burned at the stake
Colonel William Crawford (1722-1782) was born in Westmoreland County, Virginia, raised near Winchester, Virginia, and lived in western Pennsylvania. He was a farmer, surveyor, soldier and friend of George Washington. Colonel Crawford distinguished himself during the Revolutionary War and in the Indian wars along the frontier. As a partisan he was very active and successful. He took several Indian towns, and did great service in scouting, patrolling and defending the frontiers. He was captured and burned at the stake just north of Upper Sandusky, Ohio, on June 11, 1782.
He was a brother of Valentine Crawford, Jr. (1724-1777); the CRAWFORD brother some southern CRAWFORD families' claim links with. Both CRAWFORD brothers are the subjects of Allen W. Scholl's book, "The Brothers Crawford".
Most of the following material comes from "The Frontiersmen" by Allan W. Eckert published in 1970. Eckert used "hidden dialog" as a means of writing history. This technique has been termed "documentary fiction"; Alex Haley called it "faction" and he used it in "Roots". "The Frontiersmen" is comparable to "Son of the Morning Star" and to "Roots". A great balance between academic and popular writing. Really illustrates the dark side of humanity.
On June 10, 1782 Colonel William Crawford was captured with several of his command by hostile Indians and marched to a large village about eight miles above the Sandusky River. Soon the prisoners, all except Crawford and army surgeon Dr. Edward Knight, were murdered and scalped. Dr. Knight was held captive but Colonel Crawford was taken by the Indians, stripped of all clothing and led to a thick post projecting fifteen feet from the ground. Bound at the wrists he was tethered with a rawhide cord to the post. In this way he was able to walk around the pole, stand, sit, even lie down, but was unable to move more than four feet in any direction from the pole.
Soon a crowd of Indians rushed up with sticks and switches and beat Crawford unmercifully, withdrawing only when his body was badly welted and bloodstained and he appeared on the verge of unconsciousness. The Indians then raced over to where Dr. Knight was tied and subjected him to the same punishment.
Colonel Crawford was then informed that his captors planned to burn him. A foot-high circle of kindling was placed all the way around Crawford's stake, at a distance of about five yards. About a hundred dry hickory poles, each an inch or so thick and upwards of twenty feet in length, were placed so that they lay with one end atop the kindling and the other stretching outward, away from the circle.
Crawford was surrounded by a milling mass of Indian warriors and squaws, all of whom carried flintlock rifles. Into the barrels they poured extra-large quantities of gunpowder but no balls, and shot at Colonel Crawford pointblank. The grains of powder and saltpeter still burning peppered his body; and imbedded just beneath his skin. Crawford screamed until he was hoarse and whimpering. 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.
As Dr. Knight watched in horror one of the Indian leaders stepped up to Colonel Crawford and sliced off his ears. From where he sat watching Dr. Knight could see blood flowing down both sides of Crawford's head, bathing his shoulders, back and chest.
Now came the squaws with burning 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. Crawford made a peculiar cry and ran around the post in a frenzy trying to escape the flames, finally falling to the ground and wrapping his body around the stake. After the better part of an hour the fire died down, leaving behind 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 sounds he made were fainter. The torture continued as Indians selected poles and jabbed the glowing ends onto Colonel Crawford's skin where they thought it would give most pain. Dr. Knight thought Crawford near death by this time, but was amazed to see the colonel scramble to his feet and begin stumbling about the stake, attempting to avoid the glowing ends, that hissed and smoked whenever they touched him. One of the glowing points was thrust at his face and as he jerked to avoid it he ran into another which contacted his open eye, causing him to shriek loudly.
When the poles had all been used and tossed on a pile to one side, some of the squaws came up with wooden 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. As Colonel Crawford circled the stake he began to plead coherently for someone to shoot him, to kill him. Most of the Indians did not understand what Crawford was saying, but the beseeching tone of the colonel's 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 pleads; 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 loudly and clearly prayed for God to end his suffering.
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 an Indian chief stepped over the ring of ashes and cut a deep circle on the top of Colonel 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 Dr. Knight.
The chief now stepped clear of the circle and advanced on the captive doctor. He held the dripping scalp in front of Dr. Knight's eyes and taunted him. With rapid strokes he whipped the fleshy portion of the scalp back and forth across Knight's face, stopping only when there came a deep murmur from the crowd behind him.
A squaw had entered the circle of ashes with a board heaped full of 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; Colonel Crawford groaned faintly and rolled over and then 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 a shuffling walk around the stake. 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.
Squaws now heaped armloads of fresh kindling in a pile near the stake and lighted it. 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 into 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. Dr. Knight, who had witnessed Crawford's sufferings was later turned over by the Delaware to the Shawnees, from whom he later escaped. Dr. Knight eventually reached safety in a white settlement and gave a report of the events. Later he published his famous narrative, which described the sad end of Colonel Crawford.