|The Survival Story of Jenny Wiley
Jenny Sellards was born in 1760 in the state of Pennsylvania. At the age of about 19 she and her family moved to Walkers Creek Virginia (now known as Bland County Va.) In 1779 Jenny met a young man named Thomas Wiley. They fell in love and shortly after got married at Walker’s Cabin.
The family of two settled down and Thomas built a cabin where they could start a family of their own. It was a log cabin with only two rooms in it. In this cabin the couple had four beautiful children, by the names of Hezikiah, Ruth Naomi and Tommy.
On October the first of 1789 she had no idea that her life would be changed forever. Her brother in law John Borders (who was married to Jenny’s sister) was out working that day.(Some say he was looking for lost sheep that went astray that night and others say he was working on his farm). All of a sudden he heard a hooting of an owl! He started thinking to himself that something couldn’t be right since it was day time, he shouldn’t be hearing owls. Then from all directions came the hooting, and that’s when he knew his instincts were right. It was a signal from a group of Shawnee Indians! His mind started racing! He was defenseless for all of the other men were out hunting, preparing meat for the winter. Then he thought of his sister in law and her being alone for her husband was at the trading post that day. He began to run as fast as he could across the hill to warn her about the Indians.
When he finally made it to the Wiley cabin Jenny was making clothing to prepare for the winter months. Terrified, he started to explain to Jenny how he had heard the hooting of an owl, and how it ended up being a group of Indians. He told her to gather up her belongings and take her children to his cabin because they would be safer there. Jenny agreed to come to his house that night, but she had to finish her weaving and do some chores around the house. John left her to go warn the others of the planned attack from the Indians.
Just as she finished her weaving and house work, she started to gather up her possessions. Then to her surprise the door burst open with a bang. There at the door was a huge group of Indians! They rushed into the house with raised tomahawks! They were hooting and shouting to one another, Jenny didn’t know what they were going to do. Then she heard them say something about Tice Harmon. Hoping it would save her life she said this is not the home of Tice Harmon. When this didn’t work (because they didn’t understand English) she ran back into the room holding her baby as tight as she could. She was forced to sit and watch her children and younger brother be scalped by the Indians, and she couldn’t do anything about it for fear of being killed herself. After they had got all the scalps latched to their side one of the savages came after her in an attempt to take her youngest baby from her which she was still holding close to her. After she refused to let go of her baby the chief Black Wolf called them off. After much arguing they finally left the house (after they had set it on fire) with Jenny and her baby being forcefully dragged behind. Jenny was pregnant at the time and it made it hard on her for the long journey she was about to face.
It finally turned to dark. Jenny was having a hard time keeping up as she was drenched from water soaked up in her skirt. The weight of the baby she was carrying and the one she was pregnant with wasn’t helping either. The baby was starting to get very sick. The chief, Cap John, was starting to get very angry with her and wanted to kill the baby, saying that this was slowing her down. Jenny pleaded with Black Wolf to keep her baby alive. He defended her against Cap John, and said if she keeps up she lives.
The next day they stopped for food and to rest. They offered Jenny some food but she refused to eat. The baby was still very ill. Black Wolf (also a medicine man) went into the forest to gather herbs. He came back and boiled the herbs from which he made tea to give to the baby. As time passed Jenny grew weaker and weaker. She did her best to keep up for fear of the Indians killing her or the baby. Some say one night as Jenny slept the Indians took her baby and killed him. Others might say that as they were waiting one of the Indians that was watching for people following them came down the hill warning them about Tice Harmon being right on their trail. The baby began to cry, the chief who was getting very impatient ripped the baby from her arms and dashed its head against a beech tree. This was horrifying to Jenny. They moved on a lot faster and walked way into the night. Soon they heard the sound of running water. After walking a few more steps they came to a river and Jenny was forced to swim across. Two Indians were on both sides of her to help her across. Jenny was on the verge of mental and physical exhaustion. Soon they finally stopped to rest and eat. This time when the Indians offered her food she took it and ate. Tice Harmon saw them crossing the river and decided to take a rest because he thought that maybe the Indians would rest since it was getting dark.
The Indians did not stop, they continued on. They finally came to another river that was even bigger. Again she was forced to swim across the river with two Indians at both sides helping her. It was very critical to the Indians to put the river between them and their enemy, Tice Harmon. They finally walked until they came to the Ohio river and they could see the Shawnee village. But the river was flooded and its banks were over flowing which made it impossible to cross at the time. At this time they had traved about 100 miles from the Wiley house.
Since they couldn’t cross the river Black Wolf and the other Indians decided to go back into the Kentucky hills to wait for the water to go down so they could cross later. They didn’t stop until they reached their destination in what is now known as Lawrence County, Kentucky. Here they made camp on Big Blaine Creek. It was a cold winter night and Jenny was placed in a rock house, which was a big cave. Some time later in the night she gave birth to her baby. They say she named her baby Robert Bruce.
Jenny was forced to do the hardest jobs around the camp site and after a while she even learned some of the Indian language by listening to them talk. One day she was doing her chores when a group of Indians came up to her and told her it was time for her baby to take the test of the waters. This would tell if her baby would become a warrior. They started breaking sticks from underbrush and made a raft to put the baby on. They placed the baby on a piece of bark and said if the baby cried he would be killed right then and there. But if he didn’t cry he would grow up to be a strong and brave warrior and would be raised in the ways of the Indians.
In an attempt to save her baby Jenny grabbed him up and ran into the forest hoping to escape from the Indians. She was eventually recaptured and the Indians took her baby and placed him back on the raft as they had done before. The baby was confused and let out a little cry. The Indians heard it and one of them grabbed him up by the heels and smashed his head up against a tree. Just as they had killed her other baby.
As the winter grew colder the Indians moved to a different camp site in present day Johnson County, Kentucky. Here they were visited by other bands of Indians who brought them news of Harmon and his men. At this point Jenny was able to understand a little of the Indian’s language. She heard what they were talking about and began to plan her escape. Sometime after the Indians had brought a young man into the camp and were going to burn him at the stake and torture him. Later she received news from one of the Indians the she too would be burned at the stake. She wouldn’t let them see her upset and give them satisfaction of seeing her break down.
Her bravery impressed one of the chiefs and he argued with Black Wolf to free her so he could have her as one of his wives and take her back to Tennessee. The chief took out is jewelry, trinkets and all his valuable things he gathered from raids and laid them in front of Black Wolf on a blanket. He finally granted permission for him to take her and the two of them went to celebrate while Jenny was still in shock of what she just heard.
Early the next morning they came to her and told her that they would be going on a hunting trip and would be a while before they got back. To be sure she wouldn’t try to run away they tied her to a tree and left her there. The day went by so slowly. Later that day it started raining and Jenny was very exhausted. The rain started soaking the hide they had tied her down with. She was slumped against the tree and this caused the hide to stretch. When she noticed this she began to work free of the restraint. Finally she got them off!
She quickly ran into the forest and began to use what the Indians had taught her. She jumped into the first stream she came to and started swimming so she wouldn’t leave signs of where she went.
The creek was very full of water from the rain in some parts it was very deep. Later the creek went into a larger body of water and she was forced to swim to reach land. This spot was where the Indians had killed her other baby. (Later this creek would be named after her). The creek split into two other streams. By luck or fate she turned in the right direction toward home.
Soon Jenny was very exhausted and couldn’t go on anymore. She crawled out of the creek and found a hollow log. Here she decided she would get inside the log and take a nap. There was relief and excitement running all through her body and she found it hard to fall asleep. Finally she fell asleep. She had a dream of the young boy that was burned at the steak the day before. In her dream she was lost and didn’t know which way to go! The Indians were trailing not far behind her! Then the boy came to her and told her to keep going down scream and take the path that has wood chips from a white man’s axe laying on the ground. Jenny woke from her dream. She was greeted by the sound of foot steps and human voices. The Indians had tracked her this far! She was terrified! They kept coming closer and closer. From what Jenny could hear, the Indians was standing right on top of the log in which she was laying! She looked at the mouth of the log and saw that while she had been sleeping a spider had woven its web closing her in. When the Indians saw this he didn’t see any bother in looking in the log. The Indians finally started moving on, but the dog that they had with them was falling behind cause he could smell something there. Jenny was praying the dog wouldn’t give her away to the Indians. The dog came and put his snout in the log sniffing! Jenny didn’t know what to do! She grabbed the dogs snout and held it shut so he couldn’t bark. She stayed like this for what seemed like forever. Finally she let go of the dog and discovered she had accidently killed the poor thing.
She crawled out of her hiding place in the log and began on down the road. She went the opposite way that the Indians had gone. With what little strength she had gotten from the nap she took, she was running with all she could, as fast as she could. Her legs were going numb! She kept running. She didn’t want to get caught by the indians. Finally after all that running she came to a fork in the path. Not knowing which way to go she remembered her dream. The young boy had told her to go on the path in which she saw wood chips. She went down both paths for a short distance and finally on one she saw the wood chips! She quickly picked up her pace and started toward home.
Still running as fast as she could for hours and very exhausted Jenny came to a rivers edge. Across the river she saw a cabin! An old man came out onto the porch. Jenny started yelling frantically! Then she recognized the man. It was Henry Skaggs! She was yelling even louder by this time “Help me! Save me from the Indians!” Henry heard her cry for help and as fast as he could he started making a raft. He was chopping wood and everything. Finally he got it made and pushed it into the water. He told her to wade out into the water and she did as she was told. He got beside her and pulled her up onto the raft. He paddled back to the other side as fast as he could possibly go. They didn’t get halfway back to the other side when the Indians came bursting out of the forest. When they saw Jenny with Henry they thought about going after her. They figured that when they got to about half way across the settlers would attack them so they didn’t take a chance. They were shouting and yelling, when Henry saw them he picked up his gun and fired it at them. The Indians gave a war whoop and vanished into the forest from the direction they came. The other men were out on a hunt at this time of the day, but when they heard the shot go off they rushed back to the station to help. When they got there the store keeper was pulling out some of his clothes for Jenny to put on and warm up.
Jenny was re-united with her husband Thomas Wiley. They built another cabin right where their other cabin had bee burned to the ground. Eventually they moved to Kentucky. They had 6 more beautiful children.
Jenny Wiley lived to be 71 years old. She died in 1831 her grave can be found on a hill in Johnson County, KY overlooking the Big Sandy River.