Given his independent temperament, Robert Rogers was appropriately born in New Hampshire, in 1731. He later travelled along Lake Michigan and the Pacific coast as an explorer, brawler, trader, trapper, and frontiersman, exploring the Appalachians and inventing the name “Oregon” for the area he cleared. Thirty years later, Meriwether Lewis would return to map it.
Rogers spent his early adulthood as an Indian fighter for the British colonies, but was facing indictment for counterfeiting in 1755 when the French and Indian War broke out. The indictment was dropped on the condition Rogers join the war effort and he did so wholeheartedly, applying himself and the skills he’d learned as an outdoorsman with such vigor and effectiveness that modern-day U.S. Army Rangers trace their lineage directly to his eighteenth century example.
Rogers was given command of the Independent Company of Rangers, a rag-tag outfit of men like himself, which he fashioned into an early guerilla unit known for lightening-fast raids and nighttime operations. The Rangers dressed uniformly in green woolen trousers and shirts, designed by their commander to match their woodsy surroundings. They wore quiet Indian moccasins and Scottish berets, less noticeable than the regular tri-corner military caps, and from these descended the Army Rangers’ trademark beret.
The Independent Rangers learned, under Rogers, to fight savagely but cling to one another. They tracked enemies through dark woods, moved silently between trees, set invisible traps, and adhered strictly to “Rogers’ Rules,” their leader’s set of favorite idioms, among them: “Every man’s… judgment must be his guide, according to the particular situation and nature of things.” The men prized adaptability.
In 1759, Rogers led the Rangers over 150 miles of Canadian wilderness to attack a French outpost, inspiring the film “Northwest Passage” centuries later. Along the way, the men fended off disease, hunger, and Indian attacks, surviving for days on corn and leather. The attack itself was historic shock and awe: Rogers’ Rangers surprised the gathered French and Indian forces at night, slipping in and killing a sufficient number to demoralize French forces across North America. Their example was productive again years later, as American forces slipped and slid around British redcoats in the New England woods (although George Washington refused to hire Rogers as a consultant to the new American army).
Today, Robert Rogers is the subject of the new book by John Ross, War on The Run, available from Bantam and in bookstores now.