The Searchers

The following incident was the inspiration behind the John Ford/John Wayne classic western, The Searchers, but the film bears little resemblance to the actual story.

On May 19, 1836, Comanche warriors (along with Kiowa and Kichai allies) attacked Fort Parker in Central Texas. They killed several inhabitants and seized five individuals, among them 9-year-old Cynthia Ann Parker, the 5th great grand-aunt of my nieces. Four of the captives were eventually released, once the typical ransom had been paid. For some reason, the Comanches chose to hold onto Cynthia.

For the next twenty five years, Cynthia lived among the Indians, forgetting the ways of the white man. On at least two occasions, she was offered the opportunity to return to her white family but she refused both times. 

By the mid to late 1840s, she had married a Comanche warrior named Peta Nocona and later gave birth to two sons, Quanah and Pecos, as well as a daughter, Topsannah. She had become a full-fledged member of the tribe.

In December of 1860, Texas Rangers attacked a Comanche hunting camp and during the raid, they captured three Indians. One of them was a non-English-speaking white woman with blue eyes and an infant daughter. She was later identified by her uncle, Col Isaac Parker, to be his niece, Cynthia Ann.

She made numerous attempts to “escape” back to her Indian family and she was never reconciled to the idea of living among white society.  She resided with her white brother and later her white sister but never stopped mourning the loss of her Indian husband and children, refusing even to speak English. After she died, her son Quanah, who had grown to be an influential leader during the reservation era, claimed her body and she was reinterred in the Oklahoma territory where she remains to this day, lying next to his body.  

Michael Ondrasik and Home Video Studio specialize in the preservation of family memories through the digitalization of film, videotapes, audio recordings, photos, negatives and slides. For more information, call 352-735-8550 or visit our website. And please take a look at our TEDxEustis talk and let us know what you think.

The Red-Headed Warrior

In the 1700s, one of my relatives became one of the most feared figures east of the Mississippi. An Indian warrior, he was described as having red hair, fair complexion, and a good command of the English language. He could, and in fact often did, pass as a white man. Robert Benge (aka Capt. Benge; aka The Bench) was the son of a Scots-Irish trader named John Benge who, while being married to Elizabeth Lewis, was at the same time married to and having children with a Cherokee woman named Wurtah (allegedly the mother of famed Cherokee linguist Sequoyah which would make them half-brothers). When the Lewis family found out about John’s Indian family, they had the marriage dissolved and Elizabeth was free to remarry. 

Capt. Benge lived amongst the Cherokee for most of his life and grew to become respected by his fellow tribesman for his leadership abilities, his courage, and his ferocity in battle. He had a great dislike for white settlers and vowed to remove them from his land by any means possible. His reputation grew to the point that white mothers would invoke his name to threaten their children, saying if they weren’t good “Capt. Benge will get them.”

He conducted many raids against white settlements whose residents often, when hearing that Capt. Benge was heading their way, would abandon their homes and farms never to return. In April of 1794, he raided a settlement in Southern Virginia and, on his way back to the Cherokee camp with his prisoners, he was intercepted, shot and killed by a militia of thirteen men who were in pursuit. The militia took his scalp and sent it to the governor of Virginia who had it forwarded to President George Washington. Vincent Hobbs, the man who fired the fatal shot, was awarded a rifle for services rendered.

Robert Benge was the nephew of my 2nd cousin, Susannah Lewis.

Michael Ondrasik and Home Video Studio specialize in the preservation of family memories through the digitalization of film, videotapes, audio recordings, photos, negatives and slides. For more information, call 352-735-8550 or visit our website. And please watch our TEDxEustis Talk on YouTube at

Harman’s Battle at Tug River

The following account was published in the Ironton Register on August 24, 1854. It has been edited due to space considerations.

It was about the year 1791 that Captain Henry Harman, together with his sons George and Matthias and a new son-in-law went over upon the Tug Fork of Big Sandy to hunt. In the afternoon the young men went out (as was the custom with the hunters) to see if the locality pleased them for hunting, before fixing upon their final camping ground. At night the young men returned bringing with them some moccasins, some of them new, which they had found at a camp some few miles distant.

Capt. Harman, experienced in frontier life, took a moccasin and scented it for the strong Indian smell, which it had, and says he: “Boys, you’ve done wrong, for the Indians will trail you here for their moccasins; we have no safety but to go home.” After getting a little distance from the camp they put their horses to full speed, the son-in-law leading and had gone but a short distance before he sung out, “Father, I see Indians.” The old man went ahead; they had gone but a little further before the Indians fired upon them from under the bank of the stream, but as good luck would have it not one of them was injured.

Harman and his boys immediately dismounted and “treed.” There were seven of the Indians under the bank, and soon the son-in-law disappeared; he found a hiding place under a log, leaving Captain Harman and his two boys to fight the battle with the Indians, three to seven. Here they stood it for hours, each party trying to get the advantage over the other. Finally, while Capt. Harman and his boys were yet all unharmed, such had been their adroitness, four of the Indians were killed or mortally wounded, leaving the contesting sides three to three.

The three remaining Indians then becoming desperate dropped their guns and rushed up the bank upon Capt. Harman with their bows and arrows. They shot one arrow into his breast and another into his arm. He fell and fainted. They were about to scalp him, when one of the boys with his rifle drove two of the Indians again down the bank, and the other boy rushed upon the third Indian. This young Harman was lame from a fever sore, and the Indian thinking that he was wounded drew his knife and grappled with him; but young Harman proving an overmatch took his knife from him, and stabbed him eleven times. The two Indians down the bank again came up, but seeing their companion had been killed, and that the young Harmans were ready for them, they ran off with nothing but their bows.

Application of water soon brought Captain Harman to himself again. The arrow sticking in his arm and breast had to be cut out as they were barbed, and having brass heads the wounds were very painful. Nevertheless he determined to “settle,” as he said, “on the spot with that skulking whelp–the scoundrel who deserted us in our time of need” and he loaded his gun to shoot the son-in-law, his mouth all of the time full of wrath and cursing. At the earnest entreaties of the sons, the old man was finally induced to spare him until they should get home. On arriving home Captain Harman compelled his son-in-law to leave for other parts.

Captain Henry Harman was the 6th great grandfather of my niece’s husband.

Michael Ondrasik and Home Video Studio specialize in the preservation of family memories through the digitalization of films, videotapes, audio recordings, photos, negatives, and slides. For more information, call 352-735-8550 or visit our website.

Girl, Interrupted

It becomes clear, as we read the stories of our family ancestors, that they lived lives that were very different from ours. But none that I’ve come across quite matches the life of Catherine Lorisch, my wife’s 5th great-grandmother who was born in Pennsylvania during the French and Indian wars.

When Catharine was about ten, she and her family were working out in their fields when an Indian crept up and snatched her baby sister who had been placed on the ground as the family worked. Seeing this, her mother rushed the Indian, struck him with her rake but was immediately killed with one blow from his tomahawk. Catharine, her father and her baby sister were taken captive and marched to Ohio. At one point, the Indians threatened to throw the baby into a stream to drown it due to her incessant crying. Catharine pleaded so passionately an old squaw took pity and allowed her to soothe and quiet the infant.

After a year, her father and sister were released. But the tribe had taken a liking to Catharine and so kept her with them, treating her as an adopted member of their extended family. She was eventually assigned to be a caregiver for an old warrior chief who could no longer hunt or travel with the other men. She prepared his foods and kept him comfortable.

For seven years she lived among her captors and with each year was given more and more freedom to travel beyond the camp as they came to view her as one of their own. One day, as she was in the woods gathering roots, herbs and firewood, she came upon some white men who were building a boat. They offered to take her with them. She agreed, apparently with the blessing of the old Indian chief that was still in her care. He tearfully presented her with gifts of thanks and remembrance to take with her, trinkets that she treasured until the end of her days. 

She lived for a time in the home of one of her rescuers who came to love her as a daughter; even providing her with a formal education. He desired for her to stay with him and his family but she instead chose to be reunited with her biological father whom she had managed to locate at their old family homestead. She eventually married, had children, and moved to Germantown Ohio where she lived until the age of seventy-three. It is said that, at the time of her death, her descendants numbered in the thousands and that there were at least 500 residents of Germantown who were directly related to her.

Michael Ondrasik and Home Video Studio specialize in the preservation of family memories through the digitalization of film, videotape, audio recordings, photos, negatives and slides. For more information, call 352-735-8550 or visit our website.