Follow the River (1995)




Director:     Martin Davidson.

Starring:      Sheryl Lee (Mary Ingles),  Ellen Burstyn  (Gretel),  Eric Schweig (Wildcat),  Tim Guinee (Will),   Renιe O'Connor (Bettie Draper),  Tyler Noyes  (Tommy Ingles),  Andy Stahl  (Henry Lenard),  Gabriel Macht  (Johnny Draper),  Tony Amendola (LaPlante),  Sammy D. Miller  (Goulart),  Graeme Malcolm  (Buchanan),  Juddson Keith Linn  (Deer Following),  Jimmie F. Skaggs  (Snake Stick).

Made for TV movie.

two women escape from the Shawnee to make it back home in a journey of 500-600 miles; 1755


Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire film. 

Mr. Ingles is going out to the fields to fix his fences with his brother-in-law John.  With them lives Bettie Draper, Mary's sister-in-law.  A man comes walking over and talking about when his wife came over from the Old County.  He suddenly falls with an arrow in his back.  A shot is heard by Mary's husband Will.  Meanwhile the Indians bring in settler Henry Lenard.  Will runs home to find his wife a prisoner to the Shawnee.  Will knocks out one of the Indians and then has to run and hide.  The Indians bring her son Tommy in from the fields.  Then the whole group set out through the forest.  Will Ingles comes back just in time to see the last of the group entering the forest. 

The Indians stop for a drink of water.  Mary motions for one of the Shawnee to give her his big spoon so she can use it to dip it in the river for a drink of water.  She is given the spoon.  Bettie Draper was wounded from a shot in the arm.  Mary bandages the arm. 

Will and his brother-in-law John urge the men to go after the Shawnee in the morning, but the men are waiting for reinforcements. 

The Shawnee help with the bandages for Bettie's arm. 

Will and the others are now on the trail of the Shawnee. 

Mary gives birth to a little girl and picks herself up and moves on with the others. 

The Indians now travel by canoe.  They reach their village.  Mary comments:  "Now we are truly in their world."

There are two other white women in the village.  The older woman, Gretel, asks where they come from and Mary says Blue Ridge.  Gretel says she is from Fort Duquesne in today's Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  They make Henry Lenard run through the gauntlet.  He makes it through.  Then they have Gretel run through it.  Now they come for Bettie Draper.  Mary speaks up and says her sister cannot run through the gauntlet.  She is wounded and sick.  Mary offers to go through the gauntlet twice. 

They put Mary and her family in a lodge with an Indian woman that speaks English.  The Shawnee woman gives Mary fennel seed to eat which helps with lactation. 

A Frenchman gives Mary her mother's little sewing chest.  He explains to Mary that he and his wife lost their baby son a week ago.  He suggests that his wife has milk she can share with Mary's baby, but Mary is repulsed by the idea because the woman is Shawnee.  The husband says that it's amazing but Indians have babies too.  He keeps the sewing kit to himself.

At night Mary's baby cries for lack of food.  So now Mary comes to the Frenchman and apologizes to him.  She says she will be very grateful to his wife if she could help.  The Shawnee takes the baby willingly. 

The Frenchman says that Chief Wildcat thinks Mary is a very good person.  Wildcat put Mary in the house of his mother because he thinks so highly of the white woman.   

The Frenchmen work a deal with Mary.  She will sew them six shirts and will pay her one blanket for each group of shirts. 

Wildcat comes to see Mary.  He asks her if she is doing well.  Mary thanks Wildcat for all his help and assistance and for the help of his mother who has been very kind to Mary. 

Little Tommy asks his mother if they will ever see his pa again?  Mary promises him that he will see his father again. 

The posse gives up on the trail.  So Will asks the Indian guide to speak with a man he knows called Snake Skin.  The guide agrees to speak with him. 

Wildcat asks Mary to make him a special shirt and she agrees.  She takes his shirt measurements.  He then asks to marry her.  He wants to have children with her because he believes she is of good blood and he will be father to her Tommy too.  Mary tells Wildcat that her son already has a father.   Wildcat is angry.

Now Wildcat takes Tommy from Mary and she screams bloody murder.  Bettie is taken to be a wife to one of the braves. 

Mary speaks to Gretel about going back home to Virginia.  Gretel says it is a bad idea.  She says all her family is dead, so Mary asks her to come stay with her and Will.  She says all they have to do is follow the river.  Gretel tells Mary that she must leave the baby behind, but Mary doesn't want to do that.

One of the Frenchmen wants to have Mary.  He says that with time she will come to him.  

Mary gives over her baby to the Frenchman's squaw.   Gretel now says she will go with Mary.  Mary goes to the Frenchmen and gets one of their axes.  Then Mary says one last goodbye to her daughter and off they go.  When they are alone Mary cries over the separation from her baby.  Gretel holds her and comforts her. 

Will and John sleep at night by a camp fire.  John wonders why it is taking the Indian guide so long to get back to them. 

Mary and Gretel slowly cross over a river.  Gretel is really feeling the pain of walking and starts to regret coming with Mary. 

Mary and Gretel try to cross over the river on a tree bridge, but they fall into the water and are taken downstream.  Mary suddenly recognizes a place where she crossed with the Indians.  She is so happy and tells Gretel that they are half way home. 

The two women speak of their lives before they were taken captive by the Shawnee. 

The Indian guide brings the Shawnee Indian living with the Cherokee to talk to Will and John.  He tells them that the Shawnee will not easily give up their captives.  Will tells the fellow to just take his request to the Shawnee and ask for a woman named Mary, her son Tommy and a woman named Bettie Draper.  The Indian says he will tell them. 

Gretel starts eating bark and twigs.  Mary tells her she has to keep going because she is not stopping short of her goal.  She starts to leave and Gretel begs Mary not to leave her behind.  Gretel slaps Mary, but then quickly apologizes.  Gretel gets in trouble again and this times says maybe she will eat Mary.  Mary continues now on her own on one side of the river, while Gretel stays on her side.  When Mary sees Gretel again, Gretel waves goodbye to her. 

Mary continues on alone.  She keeps talking out loud to herself to keep herself going.  She keeps saying:  "I'm coming home Will."  Two hunters come across Mary by the river. One of the men even recognizes her as Mary Ingles. 

Mary is served food by her hosts.  They tell her that Will is not yet back yet from a foray into the forest with the Indians.  And wouldn't you know it.  Gretel is brought in to see Mary.  The two women cry at being re-united. 

Will and John return home and Will finds his Mary in bed.  They kiss each other.  Now Mary has to tell Will that Tommy was taken by a chief, but she doesn't know where he was taken.  Their little girl was born in the forest and she had to leave her behind with a wet nurse.  She says her baby would have perished if she had brought the child on the trip with her. 

One day Wildcat brings Tommy and the baby girl back to Will and Mary.  Mary tells him thank you.  Will asks Wildcat why he has done this and he says he does it for Will's wife who is a true warrior. 


Good movie, but it's more of a survival story than a history lesson.  We don't learn much of the ways of the Shawnee or of the cultural interaction between the two cultures.  Sheryl Lee (as Mary Ingles) and Ellen Burstyn  (as Gretel) both did terrific acting jobs.  Sheryl Lee definitely had to look of a brave woman who was a survivor. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.


Historical Background:


1729 – George and Elenor (Hardin) Draper immigrate to America from Donegal, Ireland.

1732 – Mary Draper born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

1748 – Draper family and others move to the western frontier, establishing Draper's Meadow, a pioneer settlement near modern day Blacksburg, Virginia.

1750 – Mary marries fellow settler William Ingles.

1751 – birth of son Thomas.

1753 – birth of son George.

1755 (July) – a band of Shawnee warriors (an Algonquian-speaking people native to North America who originally inhabited the areas of Ohio, Virginia, West Virginia, Western Maryland, Kentucky, Indiana, and Pennsylvania) raid Draper's Meadow, killing four settlers, one an infant, and taking five hostages, including Mary and her two sons, her sister-in-law Bette Draper, and a male neighbor.  The Indians and their captives travel for a month to a Shawnee village on the banks of the Scioto and Ohio Rivers. Mary is here separated from her sons, after which she is taken to Big Bone Lick, Kentucky. Mary’s job was to sew shirts and make salt for the Indians.

1755 (October) – Mary and another captive woman (referred to as the "old Dutch woman" in many sources) escape from their captors, make their way on foot through the wilderness and return home. Their route followed the Ohio, Kanawha, and New Rivers. They traveled as much as five to six hundred miles, and arrived home after more than 40 days of walking. Mary reunites with her husband.

1762  --  William and Mary establish Ingles Ferry across the New River.

Mary has four more children: Mary, Susan, Rhoda and John. George died in Indian captivity.

1768  --  Thomas is ransomed and returns to Virginia.  He undergoes several years of rehabilitation and education under Dr. Thomas Walker at Castle Hill, Virginia.

1815 — Mary dies in Ingles Ferry at age 83.



The New River is a tributary of the Kanawha River that flows about 320 mi (515 km) flowing through the states of North Carolina, Virginia, and West Virginia.

The Kanawha River is a tributary of the Ohio River, approximately 97 mi (156 km) long, in the state of West Virginia.

The Ohio River is the largest tributary, by volume, of the Mississippi River and therefore the main stream of the whole river system, including the Allegheny River further upstream. It is approximately 981 miles (1,580 km) long and located in the Eastern United States.




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