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Broken Promises, Broken Dreams: North America's Forgotten Conflict at Bushy Run Battlefield

By Jane Ockershausen
This article originally appeared in Pennsylvania Heritage Magazine
Volume XXII, Number 3 - Summer 1997

It was small enough—a piece of land in the Allegheny Mountain range, enfolded by dense woods of large oaks and chestnuts, rolling hills, swamps, and small creek beds. There, on Chestnut Ridge near an outpost called Bushy Run, Colonel Henry Bouquet, leading a relief expedition to the British stronghold at Fort Pitt, was attacked by Delaware, Mingoe, Shawnee, and Wyandot Indians on August 5, 1763. The following day he successfully drove them out.

Those are the simple facts of what took place twenty-five miles east of present-day Pittsburgh, on a fragment of Pennsylvania wilderness where Bouquet organized his troops—"a commodious Piece of ground, & just Spacious enough for our Purpose." But the true meaning of the Battle of Bushy Run is far more complex and historically significant. Robert Griffing's Depiction of the Battle Courtesy of Paramount Press

By the time the engagement ended, it was clear that colonial expansion would continue westward, that the British had control of North America, and that, no matter how Native Americans negotiated treaties with the colonists, their fate was sealed; their own eastern homelands and hunting grounds were lost to them, and they would continue to be pushed further west.

During the French and Indian War, a nine year period spanning from 1754 to 1763, the British sought to win the loyalty of the Delaware, Shawnees, and Western Senecas away from France. Through peace talks and proclamations, leaders of these tribes believed that in exchange for their neutrality in the war, colonial encroachment of land west of the Allegheny Mountains would cease after the fighting ended.

Within three months of the official conclusion of the French and Indian War, England 's promises were broken. Once the struggle with France ended, settlers moved in ever-increasing numbers to the frontier lands. Furthermore, the British continued construction of Fort Pitt, a brick and stone fortification larger than any they had built in North America. General Jeffery Amherst, who in late November 1758 was appointed commander-in-chief of the British forces in North America, told the Native Americans that Fort Pitt was to protect them, but had no answer when they asked from whom (see “Forts at the Forks: Frontier History Comes to Life at the Fort Pitt Museum” by Jane Ockershausen in the Spring 1996 edition of Pennsylvania Heritage).

One of the fort's primary functions was to protect and control trade with the Native Americans. In General Amherst's view, the Indians were subjects of the British crown, and it was, therefore, not necessary for the government to make special treaties with them or to continue the practice of making gifts to the various tribes. The British also limited the amount of guns, gunpowder, and shot that could be sold to Native Americans.

With the French no longer prominent contenders, British appeasement of the Indians ceased to be vital. For many, these former allies were now an impediment to progress, although the British remained eager to capitalize on the lucrative fur trade. When Native Americans realized the balance of power had shifted, voices were raised offering suggestions on how they should respond to the British. A Delaware prophet, Neoliane, preached a return to natural values and the lifestyle of their ancestors. He entreated his people to throw off the influences of European traders, to abandon their cooking kettles and their clothing, and return to the time-honored Native American ways. Neoliane proclaimed that if the Native Americans gave up European ways, the Great Spirit would return to their land.

Meanwhile, in 1761, in the western and central Great Lakes regions, Pontiac, the Ottawa war chief, was gaining power. Pontiac wanted the French to return to the western frontier, and the diverse tribes to band together to fight the British. He succeeded in enlisting the support of several tribes in his region, but not eastern tribes, including the Delaware, Shawnee, and Iroquois Six Nations. Although the eastern tribes regarded the British as troublesome, they were not yet ready to launch a major military offensive. Pontiac decided to attack, and with allied Great Lakes tribes he besieged Fort Detroit on May 8, 1763. While surrounding Fort Detroit and holding it under siege, Pontiac's Rebellion spread into Pennsylvania, although the Ottawa chief never left the Great Lakes region. It was the success of his efforts that prompted the Delaware, Shawnee, and Western Seneca to attack and destroy Pennsylvania's Fort LeBoeuf, Fort Venango, and Fort Presque Isle and to begin a siege at Fort Pitt in June 1763.

Col. Henry Bouquet, Courtesy of the PHMC/BAHThe siege of Fort Pitt disrupted communications, and General Amherst ordered Colonel Henry Bouquet and three regiments to march west to relieve and resupply the starving garrison. Colonel Bouquet was placed in command of company strength units from the 42nd Regiment (the Black Watch Regiment), remnants of the 77th Regiment, and the 60th Regiment.

Bouquet, a Swiss officer often characterized as a mercenary, had been commissioned by the British in 1756 to help organize and command the first Royal British Regiment recruited from the American colonies. He left Carlisle (the county seat of present-day Cumberland County) on July 18, 1763, with four hundred and fifty men and wagons loaded with barrels of flour for the besieged troops at Fort Pitt. By the time his forces reached Fort Bedford on July 25, he realized he was being tracked by Indians and commissioned a detachment of "woodsmen" from the British outpost in Cumberland, Maryland, as scouts.

With the new scouts leading the way, Bouquet left Fort Bedford the following day, but was forced to travel slowly because of the flour wagons. When he arrived at Fort Ligonier and discovered there was still no word from Fort Pitt, Bouquet decided to transfer the flour from barrels to sacks and carry them by pack horses. According to John F. Giblin III, historic site administrator of Bushy Run Battlefield, located near Harrison City in Westmoreland County, it's unlikely this was a spontaneous decision. Bouquet, he believes, probably prearranged this exchange since it is otherwise implausible for three hundred pack horses to be waiting. Bouquet anticipated an assault by Native Americans somewhere along the route. His best guess was that the attack would occur at the Turtle Creek defiles (near Pitcairn) and he wanted to pass through this narrow pass at night.

In order to avoid the deteriorated Forbes Road leading to Pittsburgh, Colonel Bouquet decided to turn off onto the newer South Fork heading towards the Bushy Run Post. This outpost, under the supervision of Andrew Byerly, was used by British troops traveling to and from Fort Pitt and Fort Ligonier to feed and water horses, store supplies, and as a stopover for couriers traveling between the forts. Four days before the Battle at Bushy Run, a party of Mingoes stopped at the supply post and warned everyone to "quit the place or they would all be killed in four days!" British families in the area had been burned out without any warning.

On the day before the Battle of Bushy Run, the siege at Fort Pitt ended abruptly and the Indians withdrew. It's believed that all or most of those taking part in the siege covered the twenty-five-mile distance to Bushy Run and were on hand for the battle that began about one o'clock in the afternoon on August 5, 1763. Colonel Bouquet was just making the turn on the South Fork when the Native Americans attacked from the brow of the wooded hill directly in front of them.

Bouquet ordered two light infantry companies to dislodge the Native Americans from the hilltop. Powder Horn from 42nd Royal Highland Regiment, Courtesy of the Trustees of Black Watch Regimental MuseumA pitched battle ensued with neither side achieving a decisive victory. By early morning, Bouquet's men were unable to advance so he withdrew them about half a mile from the top of Edge Hill. Possibly, a small clearing gave Bouquet the space to erect an enclosure of flour sacks as protection for the wounded. His supplies were moved to his left flank, and he surrounded the hilltop with approximately three hundred of his men.

Bouquet estimated that there were four hundred Indians at Bushy Run, although an account by the Delawares put the number at ninety-nine. Giblin believes the Indians could have mounted such an attack with fewer than four hundred warriors. The strategy Bouquet employed to contend with what he called the Native Americans' "running fight" is still being studied by historians because it marks one of the first instances that light infantry was used for the purpose it was intended. Bouquet tailored his actions to that of the attacking Indians, essentially using their own strategy against them. The Native Americans followed their customary practice of forming a loose horseshoe around the enemy, leaving the back open in order to force a retreat, which would make it easier to kill the fleeing soldiers. The Warriors looked for a weakness in the British line, then attacked that section. Whenever the soldiers moved to strengthen a weak spot, the warriors would withdraw and attack in a different area. This continual shifting left the British confused and uncertain of their enemy's position and numbers. When the British attempted to retreat, the Native Americans folded in their horseshoe and attacked in mass.

Bushy Run Battlefield Reenactors, Courtesy of A. Pierce BoundsComprehending his plight, Bouquet feigned a retreat, sending two companies of light infantry over the top of Edge Hill and around its base to the south east. The Native Americans, perceiving a weakness, attacked the thinned lines of troops at the front. The other companies to the south swung around from their hiding place on the leeward side of Edge Hill and attacked the Native Americans on their flank. The Indians probably lost thirty to fifty warriors, including some of the most prominent. When the Indians retreated, Bouquet ordered his light infantry to pursue them. Fifty of Bouquet's men died, and sixty were wounded at the Battle of Bushy Run.

Colonel Henry Bouquet did more than adapt his military tactics to the fighting style of the Native Americans. He and fellow British commanders also adopted some of their equipment. The tomahawk, for example, was added to the soldier's accoutrements because it was far more utilitarian than the sword. Also borrowed from the Indians was the tumpline, a strap used to carry heavy loads. Enlisted men found it helped them carry their blankets and spare clothing. Shot pouches, powder horns, and leggings were also taken up by the British. Some historians contend that American culture owes far more than is generally believed to the Indians in the areas of government, medicine, agriculture, and military.

The defeat at Bushy Run was the beginning of the end for the Native Americans in their war for independence. Giblin notes that since the Indians were supplying their warriors with munitions captured from British forts, they were not able to obtain additional gunpowder or shot and simply ran out of bullets once they stopped capturing forts, roughly ten weeks before Bushy Run. Moreover, they lost warriors in a smallpox epidemic.

Cognizant of the Native American susceptibility to smallpox, General Amherst had written to Bouquet in May 1763, "You will do well to try to inoculate the Indians, by means of Blankets, as well as to try every other method, that can serve to extirpate this execrable race." It wasn't Bouquet but Captain Simeon Ecuyer, in command of Fort Pitt, who tried this ploy. Ecuyer, trying to hold the fort, was short of supplies and over-taxed by six hundred settlers seeking the protection of its walls, in addition to his garrison of one hundred and twenty-five men.

Spring flood waters were only beginning to recede and the fort was surrounded by what Captain Ecuyer believed were one thousand Native Americans, who kept him cut off from supplies and communications. A desperate Ecuyer sent a hospital blanket and two handkerchiefs that had been exposed to smallpox in the fort's sick ward to the Native Americans. This tactic to reduce the indigenous population had no known immediate effect.

In November 1764, Bouquet held a meeting with Native Americans who then turned over two hundred prisoners, but still more from the French and Indian War and Pontiac's Rebellion remained captive. Bouquet took Native Americans as hostages until the Shawnees released another one hundred prisoners in May 1765. Some historians estimate as much as half of all returning captives tried to return to Indian tribes.

This behavior puzzled the army arranging the transfer—as well as the community to which the captives were being returned. It intrigues readers of history to this day. Several explanations for the captives' reluctance to be returned to European communities have been offered. Most were captured at a young age, and some, in fact, could not even recall their English names. The children and women became family and tribal members. Since many Native American cultures were matrilineal, a woman held the highest position in the tribe as the clan mother. She was responsible for everything but hunting and war; in some tribes the permission of the clan mother was vital for going to war. Young boys, too, had reason to find Indian life appealing. The sense of camaraderie, tribal rituals, traditions, and hunting were more alluring than the drudgery of farming on the frontier. Adult white men, however, as a rule wished to return to their former homes, since male captives were kept in a subservient role and were never or rarely assimilated.

For Native Americans, Pontiac's Rebellion represented a turning point. It was one of the most important conflicts in their history since it determined whether British colonization could be limited. This was also a war to see how far the Native Americans could be pushed west. Indian leaders, realizing they must deal with the Europeans, who were predominant, had tried their best to negotiate settlements. But their hopes were disappointed and betrayed.

Pontiac's Rebellion reflected his understanding that treaties were not going to be honored. The concept of Native American hunting grounds west of the Alleghenies was now abandoned, and the door open for the expansion of the frontier. Even more significant for Native Americans was the introduction of the containment concept, with decrees stipulating that Indian populations be kept west of the Alleghenies.

Today, the drama of this tumultuous period in history is brought to life at one of the very sites it occurred.

The pivotal event for Pennsylvania and the nations is chronicled through reenactments, meticulous interpretation, and newly installed exhibits at the Bushy Run Battlefield, administered by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission (PHMC). With its military significance, as well as its inherent history of two divergent cultures-one rising, one collapsing-the 1763 Battle of Bushy Run is emblematic of the intricate connection to America's early history of international events, relations between Native Americans and the colonists, and the migration westward.

Bushy Run Battlefield Reenactors, Photo Courtesy of A. Pierce BoundsThe entire panorama of the legacy of this vital confrontation is graphically presented at Bushy Run Battlefield's visitor center by exhibits featuring a combination of rare artifacts and painstakingly researched reproductions. Insightful narratives and revealing passages offer perspective of this event that irreversibly affected both state and nation.

Mannequins give a clear idea of what the men engaged in battle at Bushy Run looked like. Because their fighting tactics relied on mobility, Native American warriors, for example, clothed themselves in as little as possible. Often they wore only a loincloth and moccasins-probably the basis for eyewitness accounts of them as "naked." Indian warriors shaved their heads and painted their bodies with predominantly red and black streaks and swirls.

British soldiers who fought at Bushy Run were from regular British regiments—the 60th Royal Americans, the 42nd Royal Highlander Battalion, and the 77th Highland Unit. Those in the first unit were raised in the colonies of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Maryland, and Delaware. The other two regiments came from the Highlands of Scotland. These soldiers, as the exhibits explain, were bogged down with clothing and equipment, which sometimes weighed as much as fifty pounds. Even with this load to carry, they routinely marched for hundreds of miles and then slept—six together—crammed in small wedge tents.

Especially moving is a quotation by the Native American Teedyscung: "Tis plain that you white people are the Cause of this [French and Indian] War; why don't you and the French fight in the Old Country, and on the sea?" Equally poignant in its implications are the words spoken by the Delaware Shamokin Daniel, dramatizing the plight of Indians who saw the colonists break treaty after treaty: "[They] come here only to cheat the poor Indian(s), and take their land…."

No exhibit including artifacts from Native American culture would be complete without the tomahawk whose real name was pipe axe. It incorporated a fighting axe and smoking pipe in one object, symbolizing both war and peace. Bushy Run Battlefield Reenactors, Courtesy of A. Pierce BoundsAn original tomahawk is on display at the Bushy Run Battlefield's visitor center, as well as a musket, commonly called the "Brown Bess" that was issued to British and provincial troops in North America. The musket could create a shotgun effect with devastating consequences. Affixed with bayonet, it became a lethal weapon for close combat.

An artfully rendered drawing of a rigged horse and saddle shows a common American pack horse of the eighteenth century. Pack horses gave traders access to the frontier and were also used to move supplies over difficult terrain to maintain frontier outposts. Smaller and lighter than today's saddle horses, pack horses could carry only about twenty-five percent of their own weight, roughly one hundred and fifty pounds, causing British officers to complain bitterly.

Also on exhibit is a rare and fascinating example of a trade musket. Lighter and cheaper than the Brown Bess musket, it was manufactured for the Indian trade. By the early eighteenth century, many Native Americans were trading for rifles and muskets, making them dependent on gunpowder supplied by Europeans.

Maps were vital for gaining information about the geography of the frontier lands. An original surveyor's transit, needed to create maps, is on display.

The steep Allegheny Ridge of the Appalachian Mountains, acres of woods and broken ground, made travel by horseback and wagon a seemingly insurmountable obstacle for the British army attempting to cut a road across Pennsylvania. A large scale photograph of the Allegheny Mountains offers a compelling view of what this frontier looked like at the time of the Battle of Bushy Run, while a video program tells the saga of the battle, coordinated with a relief model and map of the battlefield.

Bushy Run Battlefield Reenactor, Photo Courtesy of A. Pierce BoundsThe museum traces the shift from battlefield to farm, then eventually to historic site. Just months after the battle, the battlefield was of interest to those in the region. By 1837, most of the battlefield was sold to Lewis W. Gongaware, one of the largest farm owners in the county, who worked the land until about 1880. The farm was then sold to John Wanamaker, and his descendants owned the land until the 1920s when it was purchased by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. More than one hundred-fifty years before the battlefield became a historic site, visitors were walking the land and even picnicking on the hilltop.

Today, special programs include archeological excavations, field study, history conferences, commemorative events, and military reenactments. By summer 1998, the historic site will feature an early frontier period cabin in which living history demonstrations will take place. An interpretive trail with fifteen points of information will lead to the cabin; the trail will concentrate on traveling by foot, pack horse, and wagon and how these methods of transport were used in the American fur trade.

Every August, during the weekend closest to the anniversary of the battle, a reenactment attracts thousands of visitors to the historic site. Authentically clad reenactors of both sides present an exciting depiction of the battle. Bushy Run Battlefield Reenactors, Photo Courtesy of A. Pierce Bounds Bushy Run Battlefield is open Wednesday through Sunday, from 9 A.M. to 5 P.M. Hours for the Visitor’s Center vary seasonally; please call ahead. There is a charge for admission. Individuals desiring more information should write: Bushy Run Battlefield, P.O. Box 468, Harrison City, PA 15636-0468; or telephone (724) 527-5584. Persons with disabilities who need special assistance or accommodation should telephone or write the historic site in advance of their visit to discuss their needs. Persons who are deaf, hard of hearing, or speech impaired who wish to contact a hearing person via Text Telephone may use the PA Relay Center at 1-800-654-5984.

Historic sites related to the Bushy Run Battlefield include Fort Pitt Museum, in center-city Pittsburgh, which is also administered by the PHMC. Fort Ligonier, located east of Bushy Run, has used archeological research to determine the placement of buildings within the fort, and thousands of artifacts recovered at the site have permitted restorers to fill the barracks, storehouse, officer's quarters and other areas with authentic articles. A museum provides additional details regarding the French and Indian War and Pontiac 's Rebellion. Visitors can complete a tour of frontier forts by traveling south Fort Necessity National Battlefield, near Farmington, Fayette County. This small fortification was built by George Washington, then a young lieutenant-colonel of Virginia provincial troops. In Westmoreland County, visitors will find the Westmoreland Museum of American Art, located in Greensburg. Opened in 1959, the museum showcases fine and decorative arts with an emphasis on American artists-among them such luminaries as Charles Willson Peale, Mary Cassatt, Thomas Eakins, George Inness, John Singer Sargent, Winslow Homer-and important pieces created by artists of southwestern Pennsylvania, including George Hetzel, William Coventry Wall, A. F. King, and Joseph Ryan Woodwell. Also located in the county seat, the Westmoreland County Historical Society, established in 1908, collects and presents the history of the county, which was formed in 1773.

Bushy Run Battlefield Reenactor, Photo Courtesy of A. Pierce BoundsThe historical society administers Hanna's Town, a re-creation of the first English court situated west of the Allegheny Mountains. Located three miles north of Greensburg, the settlement was destroyed in 1782 in one of the last battles of the American Revolution. West Overton Museums, Scottdale, preserves and interprets a nineteenth-century rural industrial village, which includes a grist mill, workers' housing, the restored Overholt Distillery, and the birthplace in 1849 of industrialist Henry Clay Frick. In 1922, Helen Clay Frick, Frick's only surviving daughter, began to purchase the buildings and structures in West Overton Village to serve as a living museum. The complex was entered in the National Register of Historic Places in 1985.

Additional information about attractions in the region is available by writing: Laurel Highlands Visitors Bureau, 120 East Main Street, Ligonier, PA 15658; or by telephoning (724) 238-5661 or toll-free 800-333-5661. The bureau also represents Somerset and Fayette Counties.


Jane Ockershausen of Oakmont is a best-selling author of popular travel books, including the recently published The Pennsylvania One-Day Trip Book. Her articles have appeared in National Geographic Traveler, Historic Preservation, Mid-Atlantic Country Magazine, in addition to numerous magazines and newspapers. This is her fourth contribution to Pennsylvania Heritage.

The editor wishes to thank John F. Giblin III, historic site administrator of Bushy Run Battlefield, for his review of this article prior to publication; his comments and perspectives were invaluable.

A new book, The French and Indian War in Pennsylvania, 1753–1763: Fortification and Struggle During the War for Empire, written by Louis M. Waddell and Bruce D. Bomberger, has recently been released by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission. The book examines the conflict that "was part of a global conflict whose legacy to North America, and especially to the theater of struggle in Pennsylvania, was profound." The French and Indian War is explored in its historical context and as represented in the built environment and archaeological sites. This book features extensive materials on frontier forts, including a complete inventory of period forts.

To order The French and Indian War in Pennsylvania, 1753–1763: Fortification and Struggle During the War for Empire, send check or money order for $11.95, plus $4 for shipping and handling, payable to "Pennsylvania Heritage Society," to: Publications Sales Program, Keystone Building, 400 North Street, Harrisburg, PA 17120-0053. To order by telephone or to charge purchases, telephone toll-free 800-747-7790. Pennsylvania residents please add six percent state sales tax. Allow two to four weeks for delivery.


For Further Reading

Anderson, Niles. The Battle of Bushy Run. Harrisburg: Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, 1991.

Buck, Solon J., and Elizabeth Buck. The Planting of Civilization in Western Pennsylvania. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1969.

Downes, Randolph C. Council Fires on the Upper Ohio: A Narrative of Indian Affairs in the Upper Ohio Valley Until 1795. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1969.

Kent, Donald H. The French Invasion of Western Pennsylvania. Harrisburg: Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, 1981.

Kent, Donald H., Louis M. Waddell, et al. The Papers of Henry Bouquet. Volumes 1-6. Harrisburg: Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, 1976-1994.

Parkman, Francis. The Conspiracy of Pontiac. New York: Collier Books, 1966.

Peckham, Howard H. Pontiac and the Indian Uprising. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1961.

Waddell, Louis M., and Bruce D. Bomberger. The French and Indian War in Pennsylvania, 1753-1763: Fortification and Struggle During the War for Empire. Harrisburg: Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, 1996.