He fought for his country at a time when Native Americans still played a major role in New York’s military conflicts. He died when film could be taken of his funeral.
On May 13, 1905, the War of 1812 passed finally out of memory, for Hirum Cronk, the last surviving veteran of that still-misunderstood conflict, died in Ava, New York, aged 105.
The career shoemaker stood in defense of Sackets Harbor, New York, in 1814. At the time the U.S. Navy had a major shipyard in the community. Later it became Naval Headquarters for the entire Great Lakes as we sought to force our Canadian rivals off those fine, fresh waters. The British attacked the area by sea and by land and, as Donald R. Hickey tells us in his history The War of 1812: A Forgotten Conflict, kept it under close watch in order to disrupt American naval movements:
Captain Stephen Popham, who was on detached duty from the main British squadron, discovered [American commandant Melancthon] Woolsey’s presence. Convinced that the American flotilla was undefended, Popham led a flotilla of gunboats carrying 200 British soldiers, seamen, and marines into the creek to mount an attack. Although the Oneida Indians fled, Popham’s force was cut to shreds by the American artillery and riflemen. More than seventy British soldiers were killed or wounded before the rest surrendered. The American force sustained only two casualties. . .
With the British squadron nearby, Woolsey could not hazard moving his precious cargo back into the lake, so most of the guns and rope were transported to Sackets Harbor overland. But there was one cable intended for the Superior that was so large that it would not fit into any wagon. It was 300 feet long, seven inches in diameter, and weighed a staggering 9,600 pounds.
After some delay, Colonel Allen Clarke’s regiment of New York militiamen offered to carry the hope on their shoulders. Part of the rope was loaded into a wagon, while the rest was carried by the men, perhaps 100 in all. The men marched for a mile at a time and then rested. Many padded their shoulders with straw to cut down on the chafing. Although some men dropped out along the way, others appeared to take their places. Thirty hours after departing from Sandy Creek, the militia arrived at Sackets Harbor with the cable. As a reward, the men were given a barrel of whiskey and a bonus of $2 a day.
Enlisting with his father and two brothers, Hirum became part of a massive military buildup that in time left Sackets Harbor the third-largest city in the state after New York City and Albany. Once discharged, he worked as a shoemaker and received a federal military pension of $12 per month ($25 after 1903, plus a special pension from the state of New York).