Bushy Run marks battle's 250th anniversary

Chief Pontiac's descendant among attendees

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Bushy Run Battlefield's 250th anniversary celebration was bittersweet for Jerry Ramsey, a direct descendent of Ottawa Chief Pontiac, whose rebellion against the British was responsible for the deadly encounter in 1763 at what is now the Penn Township site.

"I have a little bit of sadness for the ones who gave their lives here as Native Americans as well as the British who also courageously fought," Mr. Ramsey said Sunday during an anniversary celebration. "It wouldn't be right not to honor them both."

But at the same time, Pontiac's great-great-great-great-grandson said he believes Native Americans would have lived a lot better, especially without sickness and loss of life, if Bushy Run's outcome had been reversed.

"It turned out the way it turned out," said Mr. Ramsey who was among the dignitaries on hand for the anniversary celebration and unveiling of a new bronze monument honoring those who fought during the battle.

Officials and visitors to the three-day celebration reflected on the history of the battle, which historians say opened the west to settlement. With the outbreak of Pontiac's Rebellion in the spring of 1763, Native American warriors placed Fort Pitt under siege and began raiding British settlements to the east around Fort Bedford and Raystown, Pa.

Soon afterward, British Col. Henry Bouquet prepared a relief column for Fort Pitt. A veteran of the 1758 campaign that had captured Fort Duquesne, he was familiar with the territory around the Forks of the Ohio. Assembling his men around Lancaster, Col. Bouquet gathered a column numbering 460 men, including elements of the 60th Royal Americans and the 42nd and 77th Highlanders.

Moving west, the command departed Carlisle July 18. Reaching Fort Bedford, Col. Bouquet left a small force to reinforce the garrison before pressing on to Fort Ligonier.

Arriving at this next stop, he became concerned about the plight of Fort Pitt, and though he had no firm intelligence regarding the siege, he felt an urge to increase the speed of the advance. As a result, he left his ammunition and wagon trains at Fort Ligonier and pressed on with about 300 men and 340 horses loaded with provisions. Col. Bouquet's instincts proved correct as the Native Americans had already attempted to storm the fort.

Learning of the British advance, Native Americans broke off the siege and moved east to lay an ambush for Col. Bouquet's column near Bushy Run. The Native Americans comprised warriors from the Delaware, Miami, Shawnee, Mingo (Ohio Seneca), Ottawa and Wyandot (Huron) tribes.

On Aug. 4, 1763, the lead elements of Bouquet's force were attacked by Native American warriors. Believing the attack to be more than a small skirmish, Col. Bouquet ordered his command to assume a circular defensive position. Using flour bags to fortify their position, the British dug in for the night. In the morning, the Native Americans renewed their assault.

With the battle raging, Col. Bouquet planned a trap for the attackers. With the enemy pushing closer, he ordered two companies of light infantry to fall back from their position along the perimeter. Believing the British were retreating, the Native Americans charged into the gap. Here they quickly came under fire from two sides. Taking heavy losses, they were driven off by a British bayonet assault. Stunned, survivors fled, leaving Col. Bouquet in command of the field.

In the two days of fighting at Bushy Run, 115 British soldiers were killed, wounded or missing, while the Native American forces lost an estimated 60 warriors.

Recovering his wounded, Col. Bouquet resumed his advance and reached Fort Pitt five days later. The destruction of the Native American force at Bushy Run, along with the arrival of supplies and reinforcements, ensured that Fort Pitt remained in British hands for the remainder of the conflict.

The Battle of Bushy Run would forever be remembered by historians, while locals would often mark the event with elaborate anniversary celebrations. In 1918, the Bushy Run Memorial Association was formed and members collected 70,000 pennies to purchase the first 6 1/2 acres of the park's 218 acres.

The park, which features a museum, is operated by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission. But, it was through efforts by local volunteers that the park remains intact.

Prior to the unveiling of the new monument that was designed by artists Robert Griffing and John Buxton and sculpted by Wayne Hyde, re-enactors, who included Native Americans, dressed in period clothing and made a dramatic march from opposite hillsides. The re-enactors then formed a single line encircling the monument site.

In a brief ceremony Sunday, Blane Tallchief of the Seneca Nation of Indians -- the largest of six Native American nations whose ancestors fought at Bushy Run -- gave a blessing in the Seneca's native tongue.

He was followed by a prayer from Sgt. Major Malcolm McWilliams of the Muskets of the Crown.

Other guests included Dick Kane of the Iroquois Post 1587 and Lafayette Williams of the Seneca Nation and Thomas Johnston of White Oak, who was presented a plaque from the Norwin Historical Society honoring Johnston's great-great-great-grandfather, Adam Samm, who fought in the battle.

Mr. Samm was among the surviving British soldiers who went on to relieve Fort Pitt. Afterward, he became one of the earliest pioneers to settle in the North Huntingdon area, locating on a site in Circleville.

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Linda Metz, freelance writer: suburbanliving@post-gazette.com.


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