Monday, May 20, 2013

draft two!

Notes from my Knapsack 5-23-13

Jeff Gill


First, you have to escape yourself



After the Cleveland captivity story came out in the news, I was surprised by how many people asked "why didn't those women just walk out?"


If pressed, folks would usually agree that it would have been hard at first, but later? Across a decade? They should have found an opening, an opportunity.


That attitude assumes that, like a POW, your every moment is consumed by the passion and the focus to escape. In fact, survival would quickly start to trump escape as a topic for intense reflection and anticipation, and the need to focus on what it takes to stay alive, to stay fed, would surely make escape a more distant consideration, and then over time it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.


"No one has come to rescue me" after about a year becomes "No one will rescue me" and resignation, acceptance, and adjustment to your fate. Urges to break out and flee are tamped down with small, occasional reminders of your captor's power over you, and before long . . .


In fact, we have a local example of this, if two centuries old. Billy Dragoo was somewhere between twelve and sixteen when he was captured on the other side of the Ohio River, up in the western Virginia mountain valleys, at the headwaters of the Monongahela.


As the American Revolution ended, the dispossession and dislocation of Native Americans increased, even as the instigations of the British at Fort Detroit, continued albeit on a lower-key level. So it was that some landless, desperate Shawnee youth went across the Ohio, hunting for unguarded cabins, stealing weapons and supplies, picking through gardens, and occasionally taking captives.


In a raid near present-day Barrackville, West Virginia, this group ran across two families, and in the unexpected encounter a flurry of gunfire ended with most of Billy's family dead, he and his mother taken captive, and halfway back to the security of the Ohio River, a fall crippled Mrs. Dragoo and she was killed and scalped in front of him.


As the group made their was diagonally across Ohio, Billy became the third European American to leave a record of having passed through Licking County as it would be a few decades later. Even as a captive, even as a youth, he saw what a beautiful place it was.


Traded, adopted, married into villages of Indian people, by the time Dragoo is thirty, he has become in all outward means an Indian himself. When he travels to Pittsburg to find a better gun around 1803, he's startled to run into his brother, who survived the attack unknown to Billy, and has little English.


There are many sources for "Indian Billy's" story, and they reward the re-reading. But the upshot of it is that he only slowly, and partially returns to Western ways. His first wife follows her tribe west with their two daughters, and with their two sons Billy Dragoo goes to Virginia, and re-marries, has many more children . . . and ends up living in Licking County for the last thirty years of his life, buried here in 1856 somewhere in his eighties.


People wondered why he didn't escape when he could, but Indian Billy struggled to explain in later years: he was hungry, he'd seen most of his family killed in front of him, he needed the help of his captors to survive, and then he finds himself with a wife and family who need him to help them survive, and the years rolled by.


Living in two worlds is harder than it looks, and it doesn't look easy.


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; tell him about the worlds you live in at or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.

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