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Copyright 1999-2013,
 all rights reserved.

History of the
Settlement and Indian Wars
of Tazewell County, Virginia.

By Geo. W. L. Bickley, M. D. (1852)

  
 

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CHAPTER IV

THE EVANS FAMILY

John, and Jesse Evans, his son, emigrated from Amherst county, Virginia, near Lynchburg, and settled in Tazewell in 1773.  John settled at the bottom of the Locust bottom; Jesse, at the place now owned by Mr. Buze Harman, about a mile distant from his father's place, and eight miles from the present seat of justice. (NOTE: As I have traced the history of this family beyond the limits of Tazewell county, it may not be improper to state my reasons for doing so.  In the first place, every incident connected with their history is well worth the perusal, and hence, worthy the attention of the historian.  Secondly, one of the largest and most respectable families in this county have sprung from them, to whom it must be interesting to have recorded the deeds of such worthy ancestors.  The last, but not least, motive under which I act, is, that common justice to the memory of brave men requires me to give a sufficiency of their history to unfold their characters.)

In 1777 John Evans was taken prisoner, from the Locust bottom, by a band of Shawanoes, and marched off to the Indian towns in the west.  From there, he was taken to some of the Canadian towns, from whence he either escaped or was exchanged, and made his way to Philadelphia.  His son, hearing of his arrival at Philadelphia, went after him in the spring of '78, and brought him home.  He was much exposed, and represented his sufferings as immense.  This captivity, exposure, and anxiety of mind, planted the seeds of consumption, and he fell a victim to its ravages in 1801.

In the summer of 1779, Jesse Evans left his house with six or eight hired men, for the purpose of executing some work at a distance from home.  As they carried with them various farming implements, their guns were left at the house, where Mrs. Evans was engaged in weaving a piece of cloth.  Her oldest daughter was filling quills for her; while the remaining four children were either at play in the garden or gathering vegetables.

The garden was about sixty yards from the house, and as no sawmills were in existence at that day in this county, slab-boards were put up in a manner called "wattling" for palings.  These were some six feet long, and made what is called a close fence.  Eight or ten Indians, who lay concealed in a thicket near the garden, silently left their hiding places, and made their way, unobserved, to the back of the garden; there removing a few boards, they bounded through and commenced the horrid work of killing and scalping the children.  The first warning Mrs. Evans had was their screams and cries.  She ran to the door, and beheld the sickening scene, with such feelings as only a mother can feel.

Mrs. Evans was a stout, athletic woman, and being inured to the hardships of the times, with her to will was to do.  She saw plainly that on her exertions alone could one spark of hope be entertained for the life of her "firstborn." An unnatural strength seemed to nerve her arm, and she resolved to defend her surviving child to the last extremity.  Rushing into the house she closed the door, which being too small left a crevice, through which in a few seconds an Indian introduced his gun, aiming to pry open the door, and finish the bloody work which had been so fearfully begun.  Mrs. Evans had thrown herself against the door to prevent the entrance of the savages, but no sooner did she see the gun-barrel than she seized it and drew it so far in as to make it an available lever in prying to the door.  The Indians threw themselves against the door to force it open, but their efforts were unavailing.  The heroic woman stood to her post, well knowing that her life depended upon her own exertions.  The Indians now endeavored to wrest the gun from her; in this they likewise failed.  Hitherto she had worked in silence; but as she saw no prospect of the Indians relinquishing their object, she began to call loudly for her husband, as if he really were near.  It had the desired effect; they let go the gun, and hastily left the house, while Mrs. Evans sat quietly down to await a second attack; but the Indians, who had perhaps seen Mr. Evans and his workmen leave the house, feared he might be near, and made off with all speed.

While Mrs. Evans was thus sitting and brooding over the melancholy death of her children, anxious to go to those in the garden, but fearing to leave her surviving one in the house, exposed to a second attack, a man named Goldsby stepped up to the door.  Never did manna fall to the hungered Jew more opportunely; yet no sooner did he hear her woeful tale, than he turned his back upon her, and fled as if every tree and bush had been an Indian taking deadly aim at him.  Such were his exertions to get to a place of greater safety, that he brought on hemorrhage of the lungs, from which he with much difficulty recovered.

Seeing herself thus left to the mercy of the savages, Mrs. Evans took up the gun she had taken from them, and started with her remaining daughter, to Major John Taylor's, about two miles distant, where, tired and frenzied with grief, she arrived in safety.  She had not been gone a great while when Mr. Evans returned, and not suspecting anything wrong, he took down a book, and was engaged in its perusal for some time, till finally he became inpatient, and started to the garden, where he supposed Mrs. Evans was gathering vegetables.  What must have been his feelings when he reached the garden, to see four of his children murdered and scalped?  Seeing nothing of his wife and eldest daughter, he supposed they had been taken prisoners; he therefore returned quickly to the house, seized his gun, and started for Major Taylor's, to get assistance, and a company to follow on, and try, if possible, to retake them.  Frantic with grief, he rushed into the house to tell his tale of woe, when he was caught in the arms of his brave wife.  His joy, at finding them, was so great, that he could scarcely contain himself: he wept, then laughed, then thanked God it was no worse.  As is common in such cases, in a new country, the neighbors flocked in to know the best or worst, and to offer such aid as lay in their power.  They sympathized, as only frontiermen can sympathize, with the bereaved parents; but the thought of having to bury four children the next morning, was so shocking, and so dreadful to reflect on, that little peace was to be expected for them.  Slowly the reluctant hours of night passed away, and a faint gleam of light became visible in the eastern sky.  The joyous warblers were gayly flitting from branch to branch, and caroling their sweetest lays, while the sun beams on the sparkling dew-drops, which hung like so many diamonds from the green boughs of the mountain shrubbery, giving, altogether, an air of gorgeous beauty, which seemed to deny the truth of the evening's tale.  The light clouds, swimming in the eastern atmosphere, brilliantly tinted with the rising sun,

And the gentle murmur of the morning breeze,
Singing nature's anthem to the forest trees,

seemed to say such horrid work could not be done by beings wearing human form.  But alas! while nature teaches naught but love, men teach themselves lessons which call forth her sternest frowns.

A hasty breakfast was prepared, and the men set off to Mr. Evans's house to bury the murdered children.  With a heart too full for utterance, the father led the way, as if afraid to look at those little forms for whose happiness he had toiled, and braved the dangers of a frontier life.  But a day ago he had dandled them on his knee, and listened to their innocent prattle; they were now monuments of Indian barbarity.

Turning a hill, the fatal garden was instantly painted on the retina of the fond parent's eye, to be as quickly erased by the silent tears which overflowed their fountain, and came trickling down his weather-beaten face.

The party came up on the back of the house; on the front stood the milkhouse, over a spring of clear cold water, when lo! they beheld coming up, as it were, from the very depths of the grave, Mary, a little child only four years old, who had recovered from the stunning blow of the tomahawk, and had been in quest of water at the familiar old spring, around which, but a day before, she had sported in childish glee.  The scalp that had been torn from the skull, was hanging hideously over her pale face, which was much besmeared with blood.  She stretched out her little arms to meet her father, who rushed to her with all the wild joy of one whose heart beats warm with parental emotions!  She had wandered about in the dark, from the time she recovered, and it may be, that more than once tried to wake her little sisters, on whose heads the tomahawk had fallen with greater force.  This poor, half-murdered little child lived, married, and raised a large family.

After this unfortunate affair, Mr. Evans became dissatisfied, and resolved to emigrate to Tennessee, He did so, and settled in a neighborhood near a fort about fifteen miles from Nashville.  During the summer season, the frontiermen placed their families in forts, as well in Tennessee as in Virginia.  In the summer of 1775 or '76 Mr. Evans took his two sons, Robert, a lad of fourteen, and Daniel, an elder son, together with five hired men, and set out to work a piece of corn about two miles from the fort.  When they arrived at the field, they stacked their guns, and began their labors: they had not worked long, when they were fired upon by a party of about fifteen Indians.  Fortunately, no one was killed; a ball entered Daniel's thigh, which disabled him.  The white men started for their guns with all haste, but seeing that the Indians were likely to get to them as soon as themselves, all turned back but Mr. Evans and his son Robert, who pushed on to the stack.  As Mr. Evans was in the act of getting hold of a gun, he was seized by a large Indian, who threw him to the ground, and had already unsheathed his scalping-knife and raised it to give the fatal blow, when Robert seized a gun, and placing it against the Indian's side as he lay upon his father, fired.  The ball entered the Indian's heart; the knife fell harmless and from under his writhing body, Mr. Evans sprung to his feet, and commenced a rapid firing upon the advancing Indians; Robert followed his example, and the Indians were soon brought to a halt.  The men who had run off, seeing how affairs stood, turned back, and soon routed the Indians. Daniel was carried to the fort, where he lay for some time in consequence of the wound in his hip.

In the fall, about the time Daniel was getting well, flour became scarce in the fort, and as it could be purchased only at Nashville, a company of five were ordered to start after it.  Companies ordered on such excursions were usually chosen by lot, and this time Jesse Evans was allotted to form one of the number.  When the horses were ready, Daniel begged to take his father's place.  The old man objected, but Daniel succeeded in drawing off his father's attention long enough to mount his horse; putting spurs to him, he was soon out of the old man's reach.  About two hundred yards from the fort was a dense canebrake, through which led the Nashville trail.  Daniel's maneuvering with his father, had thrown him some thirty yards in the rear; looking ahead, he saw quite a number of guns on either side to the trail.  He hallooed to his companions to push through; they however turned about, and tried to gain the fort, but to no purpose, as they were killed to a man.  Daniel made his way through, and by a circuitous route reached the fort unhurt.  When he examined, he found three bullet-holes through his clothes, and two through his hat near his head.  The people in the fort hearing the firing, and the groans and screams of the dying, and yells of the Indians, rushing out, attacked the Indians.  Among those who left the fort, was the boy Robert Evans.  In a short time the Indians were scattered and concealed in different parts of the canebrake.  A drive, as it is called, was instituted: this was affected by stretching themselves across the canebrake and forming a line which would scour its entire body, so that nothing could escape detection which might be lodged in the brake.  In the course of the drive, Robert was separated from the main body, and got a considerable distance ahead.  In passing a fallen tree, an Indian sprung from behind it and attempted to shoot him: but before the Indian could get his rifle leveled, Robert had hold of it, and in a second wrenched it from the Indian's grasp.  The Indian rushed on Robert, who sprang back and snapped the gun at the Indian's breast.  On came the enraged savage, who had by this time drawn his scalping-knife, to engage in one of those close combats so common in Indian warfare; but Robert dropped the gun, and drawing his tomahawk, sent it's blade deep into the head of his savage antagonist; a spring in the air, a fall, a groan, and the Indian was dead.

Taking up the gun, scalping-knife and tomahawk, he soon joined the main body, who were sent to bring forth the dead Indian from the canebrake, as a trophy of Robert's valor.  This feat, and the death of the Indian whom he shot from his father, had made Robert a conspicuous character, and few expeditions were undertaken, in which he did not participate.

The appearance of about two hundred warriors in the settlement, caused Col. Crawford to raise a company to repel them.  He succeeded in raising about one hundred men as volunteers, among whom, were the two Evans boys, Daniel and Robert.  When they got to the Tennessee, they found the Indians camped on the opposite side.  The men refused to ford the river, which was deep and rapid, before the appearance of daylight.  But Col. Crawford saw the necessity of striking the enemy while asleep, accordingly he began to ask for volunteers to follow him over.  The first that stepped out was Robert then several others. among them Daniel, and finally fifty joined him.  So small was Robert, and so rapid the stream, that Crawford and another man took him between them to keep the current from washing him off.

When the fifty had crossed, Col Crawford organized, and made Daniel's fire the signal for the commencement of the battle.  They cautiously approached and found the Indians sound asleep.   When all were sufficiently near, Daniel leveled his gun at a very large Indian who had made a pillow of the root of a tree, and was wrapped in sweetest slumber, little dreaming, how near was his mortal end.  He fired; the Indian rolled over and expired.  In a second the camp was lighted up by the glare of the backwoods' rifle; the Indians sprung to their feet only to be shot down.  Those who escaped took to the woods, and were no more heard of.  Upward of fifty Indians were killed in much less time than it takes to tell the tale.

When Gen. Jackson commenced operations in the south, these boys, who were now able-bodied men, together with John, a younger brother, joined him, and were with him in all his battles.  At New Orleans they figured conspicuously.  Daniel and Robert had both married, previous to joining Jackson's army.  In 1817, Robert died (a poor man), leaving four children.  These General Jackson offered to educate, and insisted on the privilege, from the great intimacy which had existed between himself and Robert; but Daniel, who had married wealthy, thought that it would be allowing himself to be outdone by strangers, and accordingly took charge of them himself.  Daniel died in 1835.  At the last accounts, John, and old Mrs. Evans, their mother, were living.
 

 

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