On July 30 or 31, 1755 (the exact date is uncertain), a band of Shawnee Indians swooped down on a frontier settlement called Draper’s Meadow in what is now Blacksburg, Virginia, killing four people and capturing several more.
Among the hostages were 23-year-old Mary Draper Ingles and her two sons, 4-year-old Thomas and 2-year-old George. Mary’s husband, William, who had been in a field, harvesting wheat, avoided capture.
The Shawnee headed northwest, forcing their captives over the Appalachian Mountains.
According to one account, Mary was pregnant and soon gave birth to a daughter, who may have died on the trail. Other reports make no mention of a baby.
At any rate, the Shawnee led their captives to a village on the Ohio River. There Mary was separated from her sons.
She and another captive described as "the Old Dutch Woman" were taken farther north to Big Bone Lick, near present-day Cincinnati, where they were put to work making salt.
One October afternoon, the two white women slipped into the forest and set off on an 800-mile-long escape. Avoiding trails for fear of recapture, they backtracked over the mountains, scaling cliffs in places, living on walnuts and wild grapes as they fled. Winter arrived. They trudged through snow and slept in hollow logs. Half mad from exhaustion and hunger, the Old Dutch Woman tried to kill Mary, who managed to get away.
Six weeks after escaping the Indians, a skeletal, ragged Mary Draper Ingles staggered into a cornfield near her old home. She soon reunited with her husband, who had gone to Tennessee and Georgia looking for her. They resumed their pioneer lives and went on to have four more children. Mary lived until 1815, dying at age eighty-three.
Above from BILL BENNETT’S American Patriots Almanac:
When they reached the town, the two boys were taken from Mary and adopted into the tribe. . Mary was given the task of sewing shirts for the Indians. . Some weeks later she was taken to Big Bone Lick, more than 100 miles west, to help in salt making. Salt making was not easy work and certainly was not meant to make captives comfortable. . On around the 19th of October, Mary decided to escape from Big Bone Lick. John Ingles givesthe following reason for her decision.
According to McAfee, the area of Big Bone Lick covered about 10 acres, completely barren of timber and greenery. The land containing the lick had been worn away to a depth of about three or four feet by countless animal hooves and tongues. A creek ran through the site, fed by two streams of salt water. McAfee and his surveying party found a great number of mammoth bones in and around the lick. He noted that on July 5, 1773, Captain Thomas Bullitt surveyed "a tract of very good land on Big Bone Creek." He met some Delaware Indians who told him that the "big bones just as he saw them now, had been there ever since his remembrance, as well as that of his oldest people." Due to the salt found at Big Bone, pioneers constructed a crude fort at the site to protect those who came there to collect the precious commodity.
Big Bone Lick had a successful salt making operation. Its proximity to the Ohio River made it ideal for the salt trade. One bushel of salt took 500-600 gallons of saline water from the salt springs. The water was boiled down until only the salt remained. Entrepreneurs installed large, flat evaporating furnaces to create salt more quickly and efficiently. Nevertheless, by 1812, due to the discovery of other salt deposits in the Ohio Valley, the salt industry of Big Bone Lick came to a close.