The life decisions we make today pale in comparison to the life and death decisions made by our ancestors.
Mary Ingles managed to stay alive although Henry Lenard did not. She helped to care for Bettie’s broken arm and the Indians allowed her to bind it and apply a poultice to it.
From the Indians plunder of the homes in Draper’s Meadow she managed to salvage her sewing basket. By indicating to them through signs that she would mend garments for them they had returned the basket to her. It was this same skillful sewing that kept her alive when they reached the Ohio country. There were two French traders in the camp. From them she got cloth and she sewed the white man’s hunting shirts that the Indians favored.
While in captivity she continually contemplated escape. She knew that her older children were lost to her - but her husband remained. She did not want to become the wife of a Shawnee Indian. On hearing that she was to go with a party of Indians on a salt expedition she was excited. To be back on the Ohio River meant she was that much closer to home. But to her dismay the party turned westward going instead to the area we know today as Big Bone Lick. Here the ancient mastodons had become mired in the heavy salt bogs and only their bones remained. The Indians came to this area to boil the water to obtain the salt.
Accompanying the party was a young Indian woman. She cared for the Ingles’ baby while Mary cooked and worked. There was also another, older woman whom history remembers only as “The Old Dutchwoman.” Spending several weeks at the site the two who were responsible for cooking the meals managed quite a bit of freedom. Although there was a language barrier between them, as the only two white women they did manage to communicate.
Mary Ingles still had two great decisions to make. Taking her infant daughter on the journey she was contemplating was certain death to the infant. If she could survive the hardships, which would be doubtful there was still the chance of being recaptured. That too would be certain death to both of them. But if she left the baby behind she would be raised by the young woman who obviously cared greatly for her. This infant would never know any other life or any other family. It was a heart wrenching decision but probably the wisest choice she could make.
Some accounts fail to mention this third child, born along the trail. Some of the Ingles descendants say they had no proof of it. That the family never talked of another child. Others said that maybe it was simply easier never to talk about that child left behind for her own safety.
The other decision facing Mary Ingles concerned “The Old Dutchwoman”. Should she tell her of her plans? If the woman did not want to risk the escape, would she give her secret away. But although “The Old Dutchwoman” did not have as driving a need to return as did Mary, she longed for the German cooking, big meals and the familiar life she remembered. A lifetime with the Shawnees was not appealing to her.
So while out gathering wild grapes, walnuts and hickory nuts the two women risked their escape. They had managed to secure a tomahawk from one of the Frenchmen. After using it to crack nuts the day before, they had carefully hidden it for their journey along with a blanket.
At first the Indians merely thought they had gotten lost in the woods. The two women only had one plan - to follow the river. Whatever else they did, they must stay along the course of the river to reach home. The harrowing account of their journey has been chronicled in many writings. Follow the River by James Alexander Thom is the most notable although it is historical fiction. Trans-Allegheny Pioneers by John Hale includes narratives by Ingles’ descendants.
It is estimated that Mary Ingles and “The Old Dutchwoman” traveled over 1,000 miles to return home to Draper Meadows. By the end of their harrowing journey they were starved, nearly naked and half crazed. The final days included scaling the rock walls along the New River. Even for an experienced climber this is difficult. For a woman who had been traveling without hardly any provisions for weeks it seems next to impossible. But the force driving Mary Ingles was strong. Her will overcame her circumstances.