Wednesday, March 28, 2018

More Shawnee Attacks on Settlers- West Virginia History

In my previous article, The Clover Bottom Massacre, 1783, I touched on the terrifying account of when Mitchell Clay’s homestead was attacked by Shawnee Indians, ultimately leaving three of his children dead. What many don’t realize is that this was a regular occurrence during these times. People today seem to look at things from a one-sided perspective most of the time, and that is not right. They often go on and on about how the “White Man” was so evil and destructive, stealing the land away from the Native-Americans. What many don’t talk about is the fact that from the very beginning of Europeans stepping foot on this “new land”, the natives were far from friendly. If you were to go back even farther in history you would also see that the native people were not originally from North America, but migrated here over the Bering Strait anyways, so technically this land was not their land originally either. They came here and settled, just as later on the Europeans came here and settled.

It’s fair to say that both sides should take blame for much of the bloodshed equally, but did you know that many of the people who came to America did not want to, nor were they even aware that they would have to face, let alone fight or kill the natives? Many of them felt they were in the middle of something they didn’t want to be in. They had to face the dangers of living in the wilderness of a new land, yet they also had to obey the authority of the Governor who was greedy and didn’t really care about his own people or the natives. I will go into that subject later on in this article. 

Indian Massacre of 1622
First, I will briefly discuss several accounts of families being brutally attacked by the Shawnee Indians during a specific time period in West Virginia and Virginia territory.  These accounts need to spoken, because in the end you need to see that it wasn’t just the European settlers who brought death and danger, but the natives also struck fear in the settlers hearts and left a trail of blood and tears behind as well.

Long before the Clover Bottom Massacre, there had been numerous accounts of brutal attacks on settlers by the natives in this country.  One to mention of course was the Indian Massacre of 1622. Looking into the history of it, you would see that the Powhatan tribe of Indians came to the Colony of Virginia, bearing gifts of food but once in the colony they began a vicious attack, killing over 347 settlers. They then traveled up and down the river, burning the settlements and homes and killing settlers.  As I stated above, the people in charge of the colonies really didn’t have the best interest of their settlers or their safety at heart, thus putting them all in danger.

During my research into specific areas in West Virginia history, I found several accounts of brutal attacks on settlers who were not seeking out the native people, not torturing them, and certainly not attacking their villages or burning their homes like the native people did to the settlers. One account that took place, happened in 1777 ( six years before the Clover Bottom Massacre).  Colonel James Graham and his family had retired for the evening in their cabin when Graham heard a knock on the door. When he approached the door, he heard a voice in broken English muttering, “Open Door!”

When Graham refused to comply with the request, the Indians outside grew very angry and started shooting at the door. Grahams two children had fled to a detached cabin where the Indians managed to break into. They shot through the clapboards, injuring the boy with the gunshot, shattering his leg. They then proceeded to enter the dwelling, kidnapping both children. While traveling to their village the young boy’s condition grew worse and he was not able to walk, so the Indians bashed his head against a tree, smashing his brain. They kept the young girl, who was only 8 years old at the time. They held her captive for nearly 8 more years until her father was able to later ransom her and secure her freedom.
During 1777, the dangers of continuous attacks and murders of white settlers by the Indians during the Summer months, prompted many families to flee to forts for safety and remain there sometimes for the entire Summer. You see, the area in which these attacks continued to occur was what the Shawnee considered their "Summer Hunting Ground"- although their villages were all the way in Ohio.  So during the Summer months the threat of attack was far more severe than at any other time of the year.

In 1778, a massacre was averted thanks to the help of Captain McKee and his men. Over 200 Indians attacked Fort Randolph, but thanks to the garrison of  21 men defending the fort, they were able to thwart off the attack. When the Indians headed away in the direction of the Greenbrier settlements, McKee sent off two of his men who actually made it to the settlements first to warn them of the impending attack. Due to their quick thinking and diligence, they saved numerous amounts of lives and averted a massacre.

In the Spring of 1778, another brutal attack on a family homestead occurred on the mouth of Wolf Creek, on New River. The attack was on the McKensey family who lived in a house on the property near the creek. Mr. McKensey, his wife, children (sons: Isaac, Henley & daughters: Sallie, Elizabeth, Margaret, Mary Anne, a baby) lived on the property with a housemaid/hired servant, Ms. Estridge. It was said that the settlers did not have land that had boundaries or fences in which to allow their stock (cows, horses, etc.) to wander and graze so they would put bells on the animals and let them roam. Well, the horses wandered off into the woods. Mr. McKensey figured the horses meant to head back to the place from which they had initially travelled from, Walker’s Creek. So Mr. McKensey took his older son, Isaac with him to search for their horses to bring them back home. When Mr. McKensey and his son had made it all the way to the top of Big Hill, they heard the sounds of gunfire in the valley below.  His younger son, Henley had been on the hill looking for a spot to plant sweet potatoes when the attack ensued. 

Woodcut of Indians Raiding a Fort
The Shawnee had waited until McKensey and his older son had left the area when they began their attack on the household. They first shot Henley, killing him. Then they made their way to the house and tried to enter. Sallie and Mrs. McKensey had tried to barricade the door, but the Indians still managed to push their way through. The first one, squeezed his head and arms through the door, trying to wiggle his way in, while Sallie reached for an axe and attacked him, severely wounding him. While that was taking place, another managed to push the door open and attempted to take Sallie as their prisoner. She gave up a good fight with him and in the end he drove a knife through her chest, killing her as well as Mrs. McKensey.

The hired servant, Ms. Estridge took the little girl Mary Anne and tried to hide in the shed. However, upon the little girls crying and whimpering, Estridge became fearful that the little girl’s noises would give up their hiding place. Trying to save herself, Estridge let the little girl go, who ran off scared and the Indians grabbed her, bashing her head into a door frame and crushing her skull. The saddest part of this story is the fact the Indians took the nursing infant, who was barely crawling, and attempted to scalp it alive. The record doesn’t state if it was a girl or boy, but that upon finding the bodies of his family, McKensey found his infant child alive, scalped and trying to nurse on it’s mother’s bloody corpse.

Two of McKensey’s daughters were unaccounted for, being that they had been kidnapped. During this ordeal the Indians managed to kill Philip Kavanah whom they had ran into on their way out of the area,  and they also captured Francis Denny. They brought their captives back with him to their village where the two girls Elizabeth and Margaret remained for nearly 18 years. After being traded between tribes and forcibly raped by the Chief, who wanted her to marry him, Margaret refused and kept the hope of one day escaping her captors. At one point Margaret was able to get a horse and attempted an escape. Her foster sister in the tribe told her she would defend her with her life, when she was caught by the Chief. Not willing to let Margaret go, the Chief told her that if she didn’t marry him, he would kill her. Margaret fought with him over a knife, when her foster sister attempted to intervene and told Margaret to hide. The fight between the girl and the Indian was brutal, although no one died from the incident. The Chief later left with other Indians and was killed in Wayne’s Battle. Later Margaret and Elizabeth managed to get free and returned home, never forgetting the trials and tribulations they faced in their early life.

There are so many more stories just like these that happened too often back then. I haven’t even touched on the incident at the Davidson-Bailey fort yet, which I will go into further in my next blog. Not only did the settlers have to face attacks and murders of their own families, but the settlers had to deal with the fact the Shawnee often stole their horses and ran them up to Canada and sold them as well.

You may wonder why I am so interested in telling these stories. Well, I must be honest, I am a truth seeker. I don’t like half-truths. I don’t like society blaming the European settlers on all the bad that took place in our history’s past, because that isn’t accurate. I read a letter that was addressed to the authorities of the time by the settlers in regards to the conditions in which they were living in, in the late 1700s.

The letter showed that these settlers did not come to this country with the idea they would have to deal with or fight off Indians. They left their native country with the promise of peace and freedom of practicing their Christian faith without fear of any sort of persecution. It was obvious that the settlers were thrown in the middle of the Governor and his authority and the anger the Natives felt towards the new visitors. Most of the settlers wanted nothing to do with any sort of fighting and even mentioned that they adhered to “rational, constitutional principles, pacific (meaning peaceful), steady and uniform conduct.” They go on to mention that when they  “crossed the Atlantic and explored wilderness”, starting their new lives in a new land, it only led them to experience “savages.. insistently…committing depredations” on them since their first settling in the Country. “These fatigues and dangers were patiently encountered, supported by the pleasing hope of enjoying these rights and liberties which had been granted to Virginians, and denied us in our Native Country.” 

 Basically, they stated that they fled their previous homeland with the hopes and false promises of a peaceful new life in a new land,  that they were told they would be allowed to live on in peace. The settlers came here, tricked on false pretenses of being “free” in every sense of the word, but the Government who built the colonies didn’t have their people’s best interest at heart at all. Nor did they care about the natives either, but it wasn’t the settlers fault. They were just as naïve about what was happening as much as the natives who didn’t understand why or where these new people were coming from.

Honestly, I feel badly for the people who came to America looking for a new life because they have been blamed for most of the atrocities that their Government was actually at fault for. Then in turn, the atrocities the Indians committed on the people was directed at settlers instead of the ones running the Government which is unfortunate as well. In the end, it seemed that the settlers received blows from both ends and received a very bad rap.   

In my next blog I will go into further detail of the Incident at the Davidson-Bailey Fort.

(Copyright 1/9/2014- Republished 3/28/2018) J'aime Rubio,

American Archives, 4th Series, 1st Volume, Page 1166

A History of Middle New River Settlements and Contiguous Territory
By David Emmons Johnston

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