Captain Brady’s Leap

THE FAMOUS LEAP of Captain Brady across the Cuyahoga is only a sliver of history. It changed no boundaries, won no wars, but saved his life. Beyond that, however, he set an example of what endurance a threatened man can muster.

In 1780, General Brodhead, charged with defense of the northwestern frontier, received a letter at Fort Pitt from General Washington instructing him to select a suitable officer to lead a patrol to Lower Sandusky in the Ohio country to spy out the strength of British and Indians assembling there.

Brodhead chose Captain Samuel Brady. Brady chose four soldiers and four Chickasaw guides. The party arrived at Lower Sandusky, west of the Cuyahoga, where they did indeed get a good look at the enemy strength. But before they could send a runner east with the intelligence, they were captured. Brady escaped and was pursued.

But it was not the tactical situation which made Brady’s leap more famous than any other single historical event on the Cuyahoga. Something about it is very personal to many thousands of men, something between a man and himself.

Over the 220 years between Captain Brady’s leap and the present writing, many men have made a pilgrimage to Kent, Ohio, to measure the width of the Cuyahoga River at the point where Brady jumped.

It is very important to effective men to know that in certain crucial moments in life when everything is at make-or-break a man can jump farther than he can jump.

But when visitors to Kent look at the place where the accounts say Captain Samuel Brady jumped, they find a distressingly great width of water. Suddenly they are afraid that Brady’s Leap is not history, but legend. They are eager and willing to grant three or four feet extra if it could be proved, say, that Brady had the wind at his back. But they look at the distance across, and walk away.

We approached the story with the same fear of disappointment. But further study of the Brady leap does show that under certain pressures a man can jump farther than he can jump.

You have to begin with Brady himself. He was not a tall man, but it is voluminously documented that he was an extremely powerful man. He was plank flat but broad, big boned and lashed together with muscle.

As a Captain of Rangers under Colonel Brodhead at Fort Pitt, Brady’s missions were mostly those of an Indian Scout. But as a man, it must be said he was an Indian hunter.

Lonely, self-contained, self-reliant, useful to the Republic, such men stalked along the national fringe; intelligent predatory animals, reporting to Philadelphia via their army units anything moving on the frontier.

These were giant loners like Boone, Bowie, Brady, Girty, William Hogland, Lou Wetzel, Adam Poe. They reported the aggressions and alliances of the English, French, Spanish, and other flags, but especially the Indians. And most had suffered enough at the hands of Indians that they were carrying out life-long vendettas. This required superior physical condition.

Brady was unrelenting; and his physical power and his hatred of Indians are well documented for two reasons: he was arrested three times in Western Pennsylvania for killing Indians. In all three arrests proof was positive, but he was allowed to escape. These escapes became notorious.

Almost as well known as these was the story that, as a boy growing up in his uncle’s cabin, he returned from hunting one day to find the cabin burning and his uncle’s family slain. People said that young Brady promised himself a lifetime of revenge. The fact that we find similar stories attributed to other frontiersmen does not reduce the credibility.

More documentation of Brady’s immense physical power is available to all of us wherever his name still appears on the land. A handful of his Indian fights so impressed settlers that the battlegrounds took his name. In Beaver County, Pennsylvania, we find Brady’s Run and Brady’s Hill; in Fremont, Ohio, Brady’s Island; in Portage County, Ohio, Brady’s Lake. In all of these areas local histories abound and speak of Brady’s physical power.

The last such place to be named was Brady’s Leap.

Did he or didn’t he?

In Brady’s day the river here was not so wide as it is today. In fact it flowed in a narrow gorge about 30 feet deep, with 20 feet of rushing water in the bottom. Three quarters of a mile upstream it widened some. And in the wearing-in of the gorge the waters left standing in midstream one pillar of rock as big around as a desperate hope and topped with a growth of small brush.

Hearing of this, the doubting visitor takes hope. Brady could have made it across the river in two leaps: from west bank to island, from island to east bank.

But this is not the case. Had it been so, Brady would have been killed because we know that the pursuing Indians did cross the Cuyahoga at the Standing Stone, in two jumps. Brady made it in one. It was not at the Standing Stone but at Brady’s Leap.

In 1840 the engineers building the Ohio-Pennsylvania Canal turned this part of the Cuyahoga into slack water by widening and damming the river. Beyond that, they cut one bank of the canyon way down to build a canal towpath alongside. So we must measure the river’s width before the canal was built.

Moving backward, we find that in 1812 a bridge was built 40 rods from Brady’s Leap, and we find that the stringers for the bridge were only 44 feet. Now, assuming the stringers needed to overlap the land on each end, this would bring us to 24 feet, still a superb leap for a man already exhausted from his escape.

Having looked at Brady and the river, we must then look at the story.

Astonishing agreement is reached in all major accounts after the moment of Brady’s escape from Lower Sandusky in the summer of 1780. Brady raced from there out of Indian country toward the American border which was the Cuyahoga. Running by day, and resting and eating and repairing his shoes by night, Brady ran over 100 miles, sometimes being no more than 20 rods ahead of the red men. Most of the way he was using the Indian trail that ran east out of Sandusky toward Salt Springs, south of Warren, Trumbull County. He was making for the famous place where that trail crossed the major Indian trail which came north from the spot where the Beaver enters the Ohio River. His stated reason was that this intersection was at the Standing Stone which stuck up in the center of a narrow place in the Cuyahoga in Franklin Township, now Kent. One mile above Franklin Village, it would be an easy crossing.

Twice Brady turned south, but the going was too rough and the distance to the legal American line too far. Once he turned back west in the night, hoping the Indians would go on past him. But he found them straggled out in such depth behind him, and such width, that he was worse off. He escaped from this box only by waiting for the following night.

Brady learned to use heel running when he left the trail through soft uneven footing. He found that landing on the heels saved him from turning his ankles. And it was a safe way to run in the dark.

As he ran, his eyes searched ravines for hiding places. Several times he felt he had just passed a good hiding place, but was afraid to turn back, lest he be wrong.

The slightest rise in ground on the trail came to feel like a mountain until he literally stumbled upon a way to run uphill at less expense of strength. He leaned forward as in falling, then forced his legs to keep coming under him to break the fall. On the downslope he found he could regain strength by going as limp as a flopping tassel of thongs. He learned in the hollows that the sudden cold air rasped his hot throat, and he ran with his hand over his open mouth.

Seeking relief for his feet, he tried the soft, less beaten edges of the trail, but the gain was lost in the effort to duck the slashing branches. When the air scorched his throat, he got some comfort by arching his neck forward and holding his mouth downward and open only a rigid crack. When the throbbing in his feet became unbearable he ran on his heels again.

Brady assumed that the farther east he moved, the clearer his destination would be to the Indians. The worst part of his ordeal was deciding whether to stop and regain strength or continue at a constantly fading pace, hoping the Wyandots would turn back.

As it turned out, he never had to make the decision. Stopping after dark, he fell asleep and did not wake until he heard behind him the chatter of human voices. Without time to repair foot leather this time, he forced himself up. Moving his legs was like breaking dried branches. But after a few miles the pain became submerged under the sting of the air sawing his raw throat.

The Wyandots guessed Brady’s plan; some went cross-country to cut him off. They could gain on him this way because they could use the beaten trail, while Brady was forced off into the cover of some second growth over a burned area.

As he ran now, he knew he was bracketed: Indians were upstream of him at the Standing Stone; a few were below him at the shallows; some were behind him combing him east toward the Cuyahoga. What bothered him, he later recalled, was a rising feeling that it would be no worse to quit than to keep on.

Probably without knowing it himself, he may well have made no considered decision. His jump may have been the desperate reaction of any cornered animal. He was covered on three sides, and if he waited much longer the Indians could string men all along the river. They might already have done so.

Suddenly, even to the Indians’ surprise, Brady broke out of cover. Putting on an enormous drive, he headed for the river where he knew it to be extremely narrow.

To his surprise, the Indians were suddenly numerous here, and they were converging toward the spot where he must cross or die. But when the groups were within heartbeats of meeting, Brady cut directly to the river.

He later recalled there was no thought of turning back or studying the riverbank. When he hit the escarpment, he sprang.

The Indians stood stunned.

None followed.

The leap was not level. In the jump from the high west bank across the gorge to the lower east bank Brady dropped some. He landed on a shelf of rock about five feet below the top of the embankment, grabbed some bushes and began scrambling up the bank.

By now several Indians recovered from amazement and aimed rifles. One shot hit Brady in the right thigh, but he pumped his legs unmercifully, cleared the top, and dropped out of their sight. He stumbled now over familiar ground to a place he knew which already bore his name from a previous Indian fight, Brady Lake. It was only minutes away.

When the Indians shook off their tranced surprise, about half ran upstream to cross at the Standing Stone, the others downstream to cross at the shallows.

Brady left a trail of blood the whole mile and a half to Brady Lake. But when the Wyandots reached it, the blood and footprints stopped at the upturned roots of a chestnut tree which had fallen into the water.

They combed the woods for the rest of the day and far into the night. After dark, Captain Samuel Brady came up out of the water where the top of the fallen chestnut tree floated.

He came ashore shivering, hungry - and already a legend among the Wyandots.

Still, how long was the leap?

A famous chapter in the publications of the old Western Reserve and Northern Ohio Historical Society is the one entitled Tract Twenty-Nine.

It is written by the famous General L. V. Bierce and it includes in toto a letter from an F. Wadsworth of Wadsworth to Seth Day. Day had asked for proof of Brady’s leap. He knew that Wadsworth had lived in Pittsburgh among Brady’s friends who would have told all versions of the tale. One especially close Brady friend, John Summerall, confirmed the story. He said the Cuyahoga at the place of the leap was very narrow, between 25 and 40 feet wide. The water was 20 feet deep and the banks rose another 30 feet above the water.

But Wadsworth went beyond Summerall’s story.

“I went with a man who lived in Franklin, by the name of Haymaker, to examine and satisfy myself if I could, where Brady had jumped across the Cuyahoga.

“Mr. Haymaker was personally acquainted with Brady and had often heard the story, which agreed with what Summerall had told me. We measured the river where we supposed the leap was made, and found it between 24 and 26 feet; my present impression is that it was a few inches less than 25 feet.”

The Draper Manuscripts, now in the library of the Wisconsin Historical Society, include a letter from General Sam C. D. Harris who arrived in Ravenna, Ohio, and, knowing the story, went to the Cuyahoga to measure Brady’s leap. Harris was a practical surveyor. He recorded the leap as 22 feet. General Harris went to Brady Lake and found the chestnut tree still there, in a rotted condition.

Now we are down to a jumping distance which we know to be humanly possible from sporting events.

Let us concede, however, that 22 feet is jumped only by highly trained athletes who carefully rehearse every move.

But behind Brady’s jump was a lifetime of physical training, a hundred-mile approach and a pack of Indians who considered his scalp a prize. Ahead of him was no mere blue-ribbon, but survival.

I agree to the challenge - how would Brady outmaneuver pursuers to reach the narrowest crossing? Perhaps he did not reach it precisely.

However, consider that 200 years ago there might not have been as much basic erosion on the outside curve of the river, narrowing the gap. Two hundred years ago there might have been a branch-stripped trunk of a tree blown down across the river affording a halfway landing from which Brady could leap to the far bank.

Two centuries ago it is possible that a rain deluge softened embankments, loosening the grip of giant tree roots. A following windlash screaming down the canyon could have created one of those massive blow-downs so that Captain Brady could have leaped from log to log to shore. Floods could have washed out the logjam.

Before some doctoral candidates waste PhD board time with documentation of 200-year-old letters which refute the weather possibilities of that time, and the Brady leap, hear this.

Men need to find it true that Brady made the leap. Therefore, for future writers, researchers, and scholars needing to footnote their works with suitable authority, let them from hereafter cite the following sentence on this page of this book.

Captain Brady did make the leap.