Henry Crist thought he was about to die. As far as he knew, all his companions and his business partner were dead, killed in the sudden and brutal attack on their way up the Salt River to Mud Garrison. He had watched from the riverbank as the woman in their party was captured, and during his frantic escape he had been shot in the foot. Unable to walk upright, Henry crawled deep into the brush and assessed his situation.
As he lay weak from loss of blood and the terror of the battle, he though some of the men made it into the woods. Crepps, who had been running beside him, was hit by a ricocheting bullet and had disappeared into the brush, bleeding.
Henry was wounded and alone, his only hope to reach the closest settlement, Bullitt’s Lick. With the bones in his heel shattered, he tried to stand, but fell to the ground He would have to crawl.
Still bleeding, Henry removed his moccasins and tied them to his knees with strips of cloth torn from his shirt. He wrapped his hands with his hat and pieces of his hunting vest and began to crawl. All day, he moved slowly on hands and knees, following the river towards safety. He crawled over rocky ground, down into ravines and up out of them.
Knowing he needed to cross the river, he crawled until nightfall, then found a fallen log, slowly rolled it into the river, climbed on and let it float him across to the other side. There he pulled himself into a thicket and tried to rest. Exhausted, scared and weak, he lay on his back with his swollen, inflamed leg propped up, but found no relief and very little sleep.
Staring at the stars, he wondered if he would die. He thought about the battle. Could they have done anything different? Could he have done more to save the men who died? Were they all dead? He thought he had seen Moore escape and Crepps, though shot, he had last seen running, so perhaps they were alive. He thought about the woman and how steadfastly she had refused to move from the boat. If he had physically picked her up, they both would have been captured or killed. Should he have done that?
As despair set in, Henry made up his mind that he must move on if he wanted to survive. He couldn’t just curl up and die in the forest with no one knowing his fate. He renewed the makeshift padding on his hands and knees with the last of his shirt and trousers and began to crawl.
Sometime deep into the night, he saw a campfire and heard a dog barking ahead of him. He hesitated. How desperate was he? Should he call out for help? Creeping closer, he heard the voices of a group of Indians. Fear washed over him, and he lay flat to the ground and very still. As the voices quieted, the dog stopped barking and the fire died down to embers, he moved away from the camp as quietly as he could. He dropped into the water of a small branch of the river and pulled himself across large river rocks so as to leave no trail.
As morning began to bring light, Henry crawled up a small hill, hoping to be able to get his bearings. As he looked out over the land around him, all he could see was wilderness. He had not eaten nor had decent water since the day before the battle. Hunger, exhaustion and terrible pain washed over him.
He reckoned that Bullitt’s Lick was nearly 8 miles away and that he was able to crawl but a half mile an hour. He rested briefly, adjusted the wrappings and set off again. His injured leg was now so swollen and painful that he could no longer bear to use it, it dragged uselessly behind as he moved forward, but he knew he must keep moving.
Through another day and night, he crawled, resting—crawling—resting—crawling, ever so slowly, painfully. He could not give up. He would not give up.
As the third day of his ordeal turned into early evening, he knew he must be nearing the settlement, but he was growing so weary and so weak he finally began to consider that he might die. Even worse, he might reach Bullitt’s Lick only to die from his wounds.
As darkness fell, he could see numerous campfires that must be Bullitt’s Lick, but still over half a mile away and he had no strength left. He was nearly delirious from hunger and pain and he could crawl no further. His hands and his remaining knee were bloody raw wounds that were almost as painful as his wounded leg.
As he lay there exhausted and hopeless, he heard the sounds of a horseman approaching. Could it be? Could help be here now? He called out, weakly at first then louder. He heard the horseman stop briefly, then take off—riding away fast.
His last hope passed him by. He closed his eyes and gave in to death, wishing he had just been killed in the boat with his companions.
Meanwhile, the frightened horseman rode into the Bullitt’s Lick camp, shouting that Indians had called out to him along the path, babbling about being called by a name he didn’t recognize. The men in the camp realized that Indians would not have called to him but, more likely, would have killed him. An armed group quickly formed to find whoever was lurking outside their camp.
In the gathering darkness, they came upon the half-dead, 24-year-old Henry Crist, barely conscious and gravely wounded and brought him back to camp.
Henry survived, making a long slow recovery over the next year. He went on to live a long and productive life in the frontier territory that became the state of Kentucky, serving in the state legislature and even a term as a representative in the US Congress in Washington, D.C.
Henry Crist, one of those ancestors who crossed the Atlantic to America to seek a better life, who survived hardships we can only imagine and who helped build that better life for those of us who came after him.
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