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Our Rich History: Mary Means meets Maiden Foot, a Native American, and kindnesses are exchanged

By Steve Preston
Special to NKyTribune

Mary Means was an eleven-year-old girl in 1763. Her parents were settlers on land about a mile south of Fort Ligonier in southwestern Pennsylvania.

She and her parents often visited the fort for supplies and news of relations between settlers and Native Americans, who were plentiful in that region. In times of peace, such as when this story is placed, the gates of the fort would be open, and settlers, soldiers, and Indians alike would be milling around the inside and outside of the garrison.

One of the more common tribes to the area was the Lenape or Delaware. The chance meeting that occurred between little Mary and one Delaware warrior would have repercussions across decades and distance.

Battle of Fallen Timbers monument, near Maumee, Ohio. Wikipedia

On this particular day, one of the warriors milling about was a Delaware named Maiden Foot. It is quite possible that Mary Means and Maiden Foot were familiar with each other. What is known is that Maiden Foot thought very highly of young Mary and upon leaving the garrison, gave her a string of beads commonly called “Wampum.” Mary was thrilled with her gift and often wore them or had them on her person in some way.

The early summer of 1763 saw the outbreak of Pontiac’s Rebellion.

Native American warriors were attacking British forts up and down the frontier. Fort Ligonier was no different. Mary and her mother made their way to the safety of the fort only to be intercepted by several warriors. The two of them were tied to sapling trees off the trail. From their captive position, they could hear a battle raging in the direction of Fort Ligonier.

Later in the day, a warrior appeared before Mary and her mother.

That warrior was Maiden Foot.

He immediately recognized them, set them free, and led them safely back to their farm. He then took Mary and her parents into a ravine. He told the family that the war party would be withdrawing soon and that they should wait a short while before returning home.

Before Maiden Foot left, Mary gave him a small handkerchief with her name embroidered on it. Later, after it was thought safe to leave, Mary and her family returned home without incident.

As the frontier moved west, so did Mary Means. By 1794, she was married to an officer in Wayne’s Legion garrisoned at Fort Washington in Cincinnati. Mary’s husband (Mr. Kearney) was a participant in the Battle of Fallen Timbers where the army broke the Native American resistance in Ohio.

While sweeping the field after the battle, Mary’s husband and several soldiers found an elderly warrior who had not fled. The soldiers would have just shot him from a distance, but her husband intervened.

The old warrior said he had fought his last battle and wished to live the rest of his days in peace. While searching their new captive, they found a white cloth in his bullet bag.

Upon closer inspection, it was found to be a handkerchief with the name “Mary Means” embroidered on it. Her husband recognized this from the story Mary often told of her experience.

Maiden Foot was made the personal captive of the officer.

Maiden Foot was escorted back to the Kearney home in Cincinnati, where a tearful reunion took place between Mary and Maiden Foot, 31 years after last seeing each other.

Maiden Foot told Mary that while back at Fort Ligonier, his little sister had died. She had been about the same age as Mary. His gift of wampum was his way of “adopting” Mary to replace his sister.

The elderly Maiden Foot was released from custody and lived out the rest of his life with his adopted family. Maiden Foot lived in peace for four years. He died of tuberculosis and was buried in a grave now lost in Cincinnati.

Steve Preston is the Education Director and a Curator of History at Heritage Village Museum. He received his MA in Public History from Northern Kentucky University.

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One Comment

  1. Susan Braun says:

    Fascinating history! thanks for sharing it!

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