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The Lore of Augusta County's Charles Lewis

Privacy Level: Open (White)
Date: About 1749
Location: Staunton, Augusta County, Colonial Virginiamap
Surname/tag: Lewis
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The Lore of Augusta County's Charles Lewis

Charles Lewis grew up learning survival skills from the best teachers in Colonial Virginia--his father, John Lewis, who had settled Staunton in 1732, and his older brothers, Andrew, William and Thomas. While still just a boy, this youngest member of the Lewis family could hunt, fish, and melt into the forest as well as any pioneer in the wilds of Augusta County.

But on a day in 1749 or 1750--we don't know the exact date--Lewis made an amateur's mistake. That for a time cost him his freedom and could have cost him his life. The boy, who was in his early teens, set out on a hunting excursion from the half-stone, half-log home two miles east of Staunton known as Fort Lewis. As he paddled through the forest intent on bringing down some game, he allowed his attention to wander from his immediate surroundings. He neither saw nor sensed the eyes that watched him from the shadows of the forest.

Suddenly, arms like bands of steel pinned his own arms behind him. Lewis's struggles were met with howls of laughter as a band of warriors materialized from the tears. Tears of mortification burned in the boy's eyes at having been shared so easily. An awareness of one's surroundings was a prime lesson learned in the wilderness, and Lewis had forgotten it.

As his hands were being bound with buffalo thongs, Lewis wondered what was in store for him. It was not uncommon for Indians to torture their captives before killing them, or to take them prisoner to use as slaves in their distant villages. Lewis, however, had little time to dwell on his future; the points of several knives jabbed him in the back, prodding him forward on a March into the great , yawning wilderness.

In single file, the group passed through the foothills and then into the mountains, heading ever westward. The cords binding Lewis's wrists cut him cruelly, and stones along the trail sliced into his bare feet. And all along the way, for days and then weeks, knives prodded him in the back and sides, prodding him ever forward.

But young Lewis was made of stern stuff. And for the entire length of the 200 miles he marched he worked the thongs at his wrists. One day, while the group was traveling along the bank of a 20-foot precipice, Lewis suddenly burst the cords at his wrists and leaped down the side of the precipice into the bed of a mountain torrent. Whooping, his captives set off after him.

Lewis used the initial moments of his escape in putting as much distance as he could between himself and the Indians. He was aided by low undergrowth, which hid his movements, and the torrent, which drowned the sound of his footsteps. Exhaustion soon overcame him, he leaped upon a fallen tree which lay across his course, and collapsed along some weeds which had grown up around it. As he lay panting and nearly unconscious, three of his captors sprang over the tree trunk within a few feet of where he lay. They disappeared into the dark recesses of the forest.

Lewis was on the edge of rising when he turned his head and came face to face with an enormous rattlesnake which had coiled near his head. The reptile's fangs were within a few inches of Lewis' nose. The boy remained completely motionless while the reptile rattled it's warning; several minutes later it slowly crawled over his body and disappeared into the tall grass.

Young Lewis sprang up and began the 200 mile journey home, nearly starving to death before he got there. But he made it, and his story went down in family and Augusta County lore.

Charles Culbertson Staunton News Leader - December 9, 2016 Link

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