The Battle of Wyoming: For Liberty and Life

September 12, 2009 - The Battle of Wyoming: For Liberty and Life (Mark G. Dziak). Local author Mark Dziak provides a comprehensive review of the events that took place before, during and after the July 3, 1778 Battle of Wyoming (the modern-day Wilkes-Barre area of PA) and subsequent massacre. Dziak provides great and often gory details as he recounts the battle that pitted a rag-tag group of patriots against a larger force of Native Americans and professional soldiers loyal to King George III. The defeat of the patriots and the ensuing massacre at the hands of the victors made "Remember Wyoming!" a rallying cry for those fighting for independence.

Dziak begins well before the battle, establishing Wyoming as an area desired by Native Americans, particularly the Iroquois. The Iroquios, however, never had the population to settle the area. So, when the colonists arrived from England, the land was open. Conflicting deeds signed by the same king put the valley in both Pennsylvania and Connecticut. People from these two colonies fought over the land, with the Connecticut side eventually gaining the upper hand. By the time the Revolutionary War began, these Connecticut Yankees were calling Wyoming home.

In 1778, the war was getting ever closer to Wyoming. The settlers' calls for help went unanswered until it was too late. So, when Col. John Butler and his force of rangers and Indians swept into the valley, they met little resistance as they took forts in modern-day Pittston and moved down the Susquehanna River toward Forty Fort. The settlers there, led by Zebulon Butler and Nathan Denison, refused to surrender. This move set the stage for the fateful battle of July 3, 1778.

On that day, Forty Fort mustered every man it could get and the patriots set out to confront the enemy. The battle took place in an area near modern-day Exeter. The patriots got off to a promising start, but John Butler had more men waiting in ambush. Order in the patriot troops broke down and an unorganized retreat began. Butler's Rangers and their Iroquois allies pursued the fleeing patriots, showing little mercy to any who were caught.

As fascinating as the story of the battle itself was, I most enjoyed learning about the people involved, people such as Zebulon Butler, Nathan Denison and Matthias Hollenback. Their names and the names of many other Wyoming settlers still ring through the valley today, providing current residents with a constant reminder of the area's heritage.