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Exploring history: The Mighty Guyasuta

| Wednesday, June 25, 2014, 9:01 p.m.

The Mighty Guyasuta

In October 1770, George Washington and several associates were undertaking a survey mission down the Ohio River. He also intended to claim considerable acreage on his own behalf.

Upon reaching the mouth of the Muskingum River, he encountered Guyasuta, a leading Seneca chieftain within the Ohio River Valley. A couple days earlier, Guyasuta had heard the Virginian was in the vicinity. The two men had been acquainted for nearly two decades.

Guyasuta arrived at Washington's camp with a generous portion of meat from a bison shot earlier that day. Although they had an amiable meeting, Washington was well-aware that the Seneca chief had been a fierce enemy of the British during the French & Indian War. In fact, they probably had encountered each other in battle.

By all accounts, Guyasuta (Kiasutha) was born circa 1720 in western New York. As a youth, however, he migrated southward with his family down the Allegheny River into western Pennsylvania. Being a descendant of renowned Seneca warriors, in adulthood he was described as a tribal war chief by various European sojourners.

In 1753, Gov. Robert Dinwiddie had dispatched Maj. George Washington, then a young militia officer, on a western mission beyond the Allegheny Mountains.

He was carrying a message to the commandant of Fort Le Bouef, a French military outpost near Lake Erie. Accompanying him on this sojourn was Christopher Gist, the noted frontier scout.

They made a stopover at Logstown, a native American trading village, near Chartiers Creek's nexus with the Ohio River. At this point, Gist introduced Washington to various prominent local leaders, including Guyasuta.

In later years, Guyasuta usually referred to Washington as “Tall Hunter.”

Although initially reluctant, Guyasuta agreed to accompany Washington on his trip to Fort Le Bouef. After a couple days, though, he abruptly returned to Logstown.

Following Maj. Gen. Edward Braddock's bloody defeat, in July 1755, Guyasuta proclaimed his allegiance to France. Accordingly, he led a Seneca delegation to Montreal for a conclave with the Marquis de Vaudreuil, the Canadian governor.

Throughout the next three years, Guyasuta was active leading war parties on bloody forays against British frontier settlers. All of these raids originated at Fort Duquesne, the French bastion at the Ohio River's headwaters.

Meanwhile, in the summer of 1758, native American spies reported the progress of a formidable British force, under Brig. Gen. John Forbes, marching westward from Philadelphia to Fort Duquesne.

Moreover, Guyasuta led war bands against them, especially west at Fort Bedford. He probably took on Washington's Virginia troops during some of these engagements. But Guyasuta always claimed that he never saw “Tall Hunter” in any of those skirmishes.

At dawn, on Sept. 13, 1758, a British reconnaissance force, led by Maj. James Grant, reached the vicinity of Fort Duquesne. Despite Forbes' strict orders, moreover, they came within the sight of the French Garrison.

Consequently, a formidable aggregation of French soldiers and Indian warriors attacked them with deadly results. Several survivors identified Guyasuta as among the native American leaders.

Along with 270 dead troops many were taken prisoner, including Grant. Many years later, Guyasuta told Washington that Grant was quite drunk when captured.

Subsequently, Guyasuta was irate upon learning that the French were evacuating their fortress without a fight. But he remained to help destroy the fortifications.

He retreated down the Ohio on Nov. 24, several hours before the British reached Fort Duquesne's charred ruins. Furthermore, he remained inactive for the remainder of the French & Indian War. In 1860, he helped arrange the return of all white captives taken during the last five years.

Guyasuta also made several trading junkets to Fort Pitt. Accordingly, he became familiar with the relative strength of the fortifications. Although professing his basic good will. Guyasuta was furious that British settlers were entering the “Ohio Country” in great numbers.

He was delighted, therefore, when the Ottawa chieftain, Pontiac, advocated an intertribal alliance against the British “intruders.” In implementing this plan, Pontiac was assisted ably by Guyasuta. And the Seneca chief helped to capture several western British outposts within Ohio.

By July 1763, Guyasuta was with the native American force besieging Fort Pitt. After learning that a relief column, under Col. Henry Bouquet, was marching westward from Fort Bedford, Guyasuta took prompt action. He led a large force to ambush then en route at Bushy Run.

Following two days of hard fighting (Aug. 5 and 6) Bouquet's troops managed to repel the enemy. Amidst the Battle of Bushy Run, Bouquet and Guyasuta purportedly traded direct pistol shots. But neither of them purportedly hit the mark. Not surprisingly, Bouquet's victory eventually forced Pontiac's warriors to abandon the siege.

With the ending of “Pontiac's War,” Guyasuta lived quietly at various locales out in Ohio. And he periodically occupied a small dwelling up the Allegheny River above Pittsburgh in modern Fox Chapel. When the American Revolutionary War began in April 1775, Guyasuta initially was neutral. Widely regarded as the paramount leader of the Iroquois Confederation in the Ohio Valley, he met with the envoys from both sides. By 1778, he ultimately chose to ally with the British.

During the next several years, he reportedly led raids from Ohio, as well as New York, into western Pennsylvania. In August 1779, the Fort Pitt commandant Col. Daniel Brodhead led an expedition up the Allegheny to destroy enemy force. He encountered Guyasuta's war parties in the process. Meanwhile, on July 13, 1782, a large Seneca war party, with a contingent of Canadian rangers, attacked and burned down Hannastown, the seat for Westmoreland County.

Various defenders were certain that Guyasuta led these raiders. In any case, Guyasuta never denied that he was in charge at Hannastown. Some historians, though, later argued that Guyasuta really had not played such a key role in the Hannastown burning. Upon the American Revolutionary War's conclusion in 1783, the old warrior close to reside near Pittsburgh. But most of closest relatives had emigrated to western Ohio.

By 1790, Gen. James O'Hara, a prominent early Pittsburgh resident had purchased a large land tract along the Allegheny River, near the modern town of Etna.

And O'Hara permitted Guyasuta to reside within a modest wooden shack of the estate. In early April 1798, various observers noted that he had not been seen for several days. Consequently, O'Hara found him dead upon the cabin floor. His death certainly was due to natural causes.

Although never baptized, he was given a Christian burial in a grave nearby to the cabin. This grave was quite visible for much of the 19th Century. The Pennsylvania Railroad ultimately created a track line near Guyasuta's burial site. By 1900, the Pennsylvania railroad had created Guyasuta Station as a belated tribute to the venerable old Seneca warrior.

Exploring History appears in The Independent-Observer periodically. The author holds a doctorate in history from the University of South Carolina.

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