This was not very easy, as the French had already had a good deal to do with the tribes in that region; but Washington persuaded the chief, whose name was Tanacharisson, to go with him to visit the French commander, who was stationed in a fort hundreds of miles away, near Lake Erie.
This march, like the other, was slow and full of hardships; but at last the fort was reached, and Washington delivered his message to the French officer. A day or two later the Frenchman gave him his answer, which was that the western country belonged to the French, and that they had no notion of giving it up.
All the trouble Washington had met in going north was nothing compared with what was before him in going back to Virginia again. The winter was now at its worst, and the weather was terrible. The rivers and creeks were full of floating ice, and the woods were banked high with snow. But Washington was not to be daunted by any kind of difficulty. He set out on his return march, and with the aid of canoes, in which his baggage was carried down a small stream that ran in that direction, he took his party as far as Venango, in the northwestern part of Pennsylvania.
There he found that he could go no farther on horseback. The ground was frozen on top, but soft beneath, and the poor horses broke through the hard crust at every step. There was a French fort at Venango, and Washington might have waited there very comfortably for better weather; but it was his duty to get back to Virginia as soon as possible with the French commander’s answer, and so he made up his mind to go on, even at the risk of his life.
Leaving the rest of the party to come when they could with the horses, Washington and a single companion named Gist set out on foot for the long winter march. As they had no pack-horses to carry tents and cooking-vessels and food, they had to leave everything behind except what they could carry on their backs; and as they were obliged to take their rifles, powder-horns, and bullet-pouches, their hunting-knives and hatchets, and a blanket apiece, they were pretty heavily loaded, and could not afford to burden themselves with much else.
Day by day the two brave fellows trudged on through the snow-drifts, sleeping at night as best they could, exposed to the biting cold of the winter, without shelter, except such as the woods afforded. There were other dangers besides cold and hunger. At one time a treacherous Indian, who had offered to act as guide, tried to lead the two white men into a trap. As they suspected his purpose, they refused to do as he wished, and a little later he suddenly turned about and shot at Washington, who was only a few paces distant. Missing his aim, he was quickly overpowered, and Gist wanted to kill him, not merely because he deserved to be put to death for his treachery, but also because, if allowed to go free, he was pretty sure to bring other hostile Indians to attack the lonely travellers during the night…
by: George Cary Eggleston (1839-1911)
The following short story is reprinted from Strange Stories from History for Young People. George Cary Eggleston. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1885.