It could have become a forgotten moment in the “forgotten war.”
Instead, a larger-than-life bronze monument will permanently recall a winter morning during the War of 1812 when the Tuscarora Indian Nation stepped between terrified families who were fleeing this riverfront village and the invading British-Canadian forces who were burning it down.
“Let’s face it, not too many people appreciate or understand the War of 1812, let alone this 15 minutes,” said Lee Simonson, director of the Tuscarora Heroes project of the Lewiston Historical Association.
As a belated thank-you to the western New York tribe, the association plans to dedicate the monument on the 200th anniversary of the burning of Lewiston, which will be re-enacted by modern-day residents and tribal members on Dec. 19, 2013.
The invasion was seen as revenge for the American troops’ Dec. 10 burning of the Canadian town of Newark, known today as Niagara-on-the-Lake, just across the Niagara River. The Americans had been hoping to deny British forces the shelter of the town.
Nine days later, British soldiers and allied Indians sailed to the American shore north of Buffalo, first capturing Fort Niagara before rushing into Lewiston with torches, guns and tomahawks.
“It was the 1813 version of shock and awe,” said Simonson.
As Lewiston villagers, some in bare feet and pajamas, fled through mud and snow, two dozen Tuscarora men ran from their nearby hillside village, firing muskets and screaming a war whoop. The British, not knowing how few Tuscaroras there really were and fearing an ambush, halted their pursuit. That bought time for many of the villagers to reach safety.
“By this time, the train of white people had gone quite a good ways in their flight,” Chief Elias Johnson wrote in an 1881 history of the Tuscaroras. “It is evident that the timely intervention of the Tuscarora Indians saved great slaughter of men, women and children among the white people.”
Two days later, British forces went on to destroy what is now Niagara Falls, and on Dec. 30, 1813, burned Buffalo to the ground, leaving western New York among the war’s most battle-scarred regions of the United States. The White House, uncompleted Capitol building and several other public buildings in Washington were burned the following August, before the signing of the Treaty of Ghent in December 1814 brought an end to the war.