The Torch, the Rifle, and the Scalping Knife, 1780-1781
THE WINTER weather of 1779-80 had a strong influence on those who lived on the western frontier.1 It was perhaps the most severe winter in the annals of the United States. In November, snow began to fill the mountain passes and the temperature dropped below zero. By January the harbor of New York City was frozen solid, permitting the British, who occupied the city, to drive heavily laden wagons over the ice to Staten Island. The snow continued to accumulate, and by February it was four to eight feet deep in the woods and the mountain passes, effectively blocking all supply trains from the East. The garrison at Fort Pitt suffered severely, needing both food and clothing. Because many soldiers lacked shoes, scouting expeditions were out of the question. Some of the Delawares who had visited the fort in the late fall stayed all winter, finding whiskey easier to obtain than bread.2
The severe winter had positive effects, too. War parties that normally ranged across the frontier in November and early December were absent. While the hunger and cold were most distressing, they were certainly preferable to the torch, the rifle, and the scalping knife.
But by March 12 attacks on the frontier began again with a vengeance. The first was at Raccoon Creek, not more than thirty miles below