William Crawford & the Destruction of Salt-Lick Town

Jonathan Alder, a native of Virginia, is best remembered for his life as an Indian captive in Ohio during the 1780s and 1790s. He was taken prisoner and adopted into a Mingo family in 1782, towards the end of the American War for Independence. Adler would fight with other Ohio Indians against the Americans in the Northwest Indian War, but after the Greenville Peace Treaty of 1795, he left his Indian family and returned to the life, culture, and community of pioneer Americans, those who had just won their claims to the Scioto Valley.

When visiting with friends and their young children, Alder enjoyed relating stories of his youth, including an account of Crawford's Destruction of Salt-Lick Town in October 1774, which somehow has largely become lost to history. Alder relates that he heard first-hand accounts of Crawford's raid from the elders of his adopted Mingo family. Their telling of the story is a terrifying account of what today would be considered a monstrous war crime -- the killing of innocent civilians who ran in panic with their children and grandchildren as the Virginians shot indiscriminately at the villagers.

According to Alder's account, the younger men of fighting age were all absent from the village at the time, so only old men, women and children were there. "About noon the village was surprised by the sudden appearance of a body of armed white men who immediately commenced firing upon all they could see. Great consternation and panic ensued, and the inhabitants fled in every direction."

William Crawford would later write in a letter to George Washington: "we got fourteen prisoners, and killed six of the enemy, wounding several more. We got all of their baggage and horses, ten of their guns, and two white prisoners. The plunder sold for four hundred pounds sterling, besides what was returned to a Mohawk Indian who was there."

Mingo elders, it turns out, passed down further details about Crawford's raid, details that many pioneer American historians apparently thought best not to repeat. According to Alder, when the Virginians entered the village, "One Indian woman seized her child of five or six years of age, and rushed down the bank of the [Scioto] river and [swam] across to the wooded island opposite, when she was [then] shot down at the farther bank." The elders told Alder that "the child was unhurt amid the shower of balls, and escaped into the thicket and hid in a large hollow sycamore standing near the middle of the island, where the child was found alive two days afterward when the warriors of the tribe returned."

This massacre at the Forks of the Scioto, in modern-day, downtown Columbus, has largely been wiped off the map of our history books, omitted from our public monuments, and our official historical markers. But, here, not far from the floating monument to Christopher Columbus, is the site of a horrid chapter in American history. Crawford would have hell to pay (or karma would have its way) for these tragic deaths. His actions here, along with another more infamous massacre at Gnadenhütten, when Americans killed 96 peaceful men, women, and children, would contribute to his own horrific death in June of 1782. After having been captured by Indian warriors in northern Ohio, Crawford (who had not actually been at Gnadenhütten) would be burnt at the stake, his torture and death revenge for Salt-Lick Town and the more recent American atrocities at Gnadenhütten.


Jean Backs, "Jonathan Alder - A Man of Two Worlds" Ohio State Parks Magazine (Fall/Winter 2004).

C. W. Butterfield, ed., "Crawford to Washington, 14 November 1774," in The Washington-Crawford Letters, being the Correspondence Between George Washington and William Crawford, from 1767-1781, on Western Lands (Cincinnati: Robert Clarke & Co., 1877), 54-57.

Alfred E. Lee, History of the City of Columbus, Capital of Ohio (New York & Chicago: Munsell & Company, 1892).

Larry L. Nelson, ed. A History of Jonathan Alder: His Captivity and Life with the Indians (Akron: University of Akron Press, 2002).

William Henry Smith, ed., "Arthur St. Clair to Governor Penn, 4 December 1774," in The St. Clair Papers: The Life and Public Services of Arthur St. Clair (Cincinnati: Robert Clark & Co., 1882), 347-350.