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breathing grew more and more difficult, and on the 14th day of December the greatest of Americans passed away.
He had won for himself a fame which has never since dimmed. Now, as then, George Washington is regarded by all true Americans, as “First in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen."
ISRAEL PUTNAM, THE BOLD RANGER
At Salem, Massachusetts, on the 7th of January, 1718, was born Israel Putnam, one of the boldest and most daring men who ever stood on American soil. His whole life story is a record of brave deeds and daring escapes, too numerous for us to do more than mention here. The first and one of the most famous of these took place when he was living on a farm near Pomfret, Connecticut.
A wolf, the terror of the farmers, had killed many of his sheep, and he pursued it to the rock-den in which it had taken refuge. How to get at the savage animal was the question. Putnam settled it by crawling through the narrow opening into the cavern, torch in hand; a rope being fastened to his legs by which his comrades could draw him out.
On seeing the wolf crouched at the back of the cavern, he gave the signal agreed upon to his companions and they drew him out so hastily that his clothes were torn to rags and his body lacerated. He ventured in again, this time with a gun, on the report of which he was again drawn out. On his third entrance he emerged dragging the dead wolf by the ears.
Such was an early exploit of the man who was to win a high reputation for courage in future years. It gave him such a standing among his fellows that in 1755, when Connecticut sent a force of one thousand men to take part in the French and Indian War, Putnam was chosen as one of its captains. There was fear of a French invasion from Canada, and these men were sent to the region of Lake George to take part in the defence. Here Putnam began his military career as scout and ranger, and no American frontiersman ever had a more exciting series of adventures.
After the terrible Indian massacre at Fort William Henry, at the foot of Lake George, the American forces were gathered into Fort Edward, on the head-waters of the Hudson. Putnam, now a major, occupied with his corps of rangers an outpost station on a small island near the fort. Fearing an attack from the French, General Lyman, the officer in command, sent a body of laborers into the forest to cut timber to strengthen the fort, while Captain Little, with fifty British soldiers, were posted to protect them.
Here, one morning at daybreak, the laborers were fired upon by a party of Indians who had crept upon them through the forest, and when Captain Little came to the rescue he found himself hard pressed by superior forces. He sent a messenger to General Lyman for aid, but that cautious commander, thinking that the whole army of French and Indians were upon him, closed the gates in haste and left the party to its fate.
Fortunately, the sound of the firing reached Putnam's ears, and immediately afterwards his scouts brought him word of Captain Little's danger. “ Follow me!” he shouted to his men, as he dashed into the water and waded to the shore. His route led him past the walls of the fort, on which stood the alarmed general.
Come into the fort," he cried. “ The enemy are in overwhelming force. We can spare no more men.”
We are not sure that these were Lyman's exact
words, but whatever he said, Putnam went on with a muttered reply. Brave men were in danger, and where they were was the post of duty. He dashed on, followed by his men, to where the British soldiers were fighting the savages. They were on exposed ground, while the Indians were in ambush.
“This is no place for a stand,” cried Putnam. “ Forward! We must rout out the red devils."
With loud shouts the whole party plunged into the marsh in front and in a minute were face to face with the hidden savages. This sudden onslaught threw the Indians into a panic. They broke and fled, hotly pursued, the chase not ending until they had been followed through miles of forest and many of them had fallen.
When Putnam returned it was with an uneasy mind. He had disobeyed the orders of his superior. At the least he looked for a severe censure. He might even be courtmartialed. As it proved, he had no cause for fear. Lyman, ashamed of his panic, chose to forget Putnam's action and had only words of praise for the behavior of the party. Putnam, indeed, had saved him from a reprimand from his superiors.
One other event at Fort Edward showed the daring, energy, and decision of Putnam in a high light. The barracks within the fort took fire. Twelve feet away stood the magazines, stored with three hundred barrels of gunpowder. On seeing the smoke and flames, Putnam hastened from his island to the fort, where he found the garrison in a panic, the flames spreading and the magazine in imminent danger. There was not a minute to lose.
With prompt decision he organized a line of soldiers leading to the river, each bearing a bucket. Mounting a ladder, he poured the water as it came into the burning building. The heat was intense, the smoke suffocating. A pair of mittens he wore were burned from his hands. He called for another pair, dipped them into the water, and kept on.
An officer called him down from that post of imminent danger, but he would not budge. We must fight the enemy inch by inch,” he cried.
Despite his efforts the fire spread. Descending the ladder he took his station between the two buildings and continued his active service, his intrepidity giving courage to all.
The outer planks of the magazine caught fire, but he dashed the water upon them. And thus he continued for more than an hour, until the rafters of the barracks fell in, the heat decreased, and the magazine was saved.
As for himself, he was scorched and blistered from head to foot. When he pulled off the second pair of gloves the skin of his hands came with them. Several weeks passed before he recovered from the effects of his fight with fire. But no man could have been more tenderly nursed and cared for, since all felt that to him they owed the safety of the fort and the lives of many or all of the garrison.
There are other stories of thrilling adventures of this daring man. On one occasion he was surprised by a large party of Indians when in a boat with a few men at the head of the rapids of the Hudson. It was a situation of frightful peril. To land, or to stay where they were alike meant death from the Indians. To go down the rapids seemed a fatal expedient. What was to be done? Putnam did not hesitate. The boat was pushed from the shore and in a few minutes was shooting down the current. The Indians looked on in