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

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


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To tell a tale of Indian barbarity, it is all times painful.  Even where the hardy backwoodsman is the victim, our sympathies become aroused for those of our own race, and we ardently wish the tale could have been otherwise told.  But I have only learned the extent of my sympathy, when mothers and children have been the suffering party, in a tale told me by a hoary-headed old man, whose breast would heave as though some uncommon emotion was interfering with the natural pulsations of his heart.  To witness the pearly drops gathering in his eye, as memory called up the days of yore, and the trembling of his voice, as he recounted the many sufferings of the captive mother or daughter, have never failed to awaken the tenderest sympathies of my soul, and produce a desire to so tell the same tale, that others might be similarly affected.  This, though, cannot be done---the intonations of the voice cannot be written, nor would it be in proper taste to attempt to throw around a scene, intended for a historical collection, the enchanting colors of language.  Beside, there are a variety of tastes to please, and the writer who can give universal satisfaction has yet to write.  There is one distinguishing feature, however, which all admire, and I have made this the test by which I have tried my labors, viz: simple truth.  It is my place to record the fact, which may, in course of time, become material for him who delights to dwell on the ideal.

Andrew Davidson left his house, on business of importance, which would keep him from home several days.  His horse was ready saddled, and kissing his wife and children, bade them adieu for a season, promising to make all speed and return.  Long and anxiously did the kind-hearted mother look at his retiring form.  But as he passed from her sight, she turned again to her children, and silently wept over them, as if she felt the desolation of her situation.  The family consisted of the three children of Mrs. Davidson, two girls and a boy, all small, and a bound boy and  a girl, orphans, whose parents were Broomfields.

The bound children were between seven and ten, and, of course, were but little help to Mrs. Davidson.  At the period of which I write, 1890-'90, the women of western Virginia willingly shared in the more laborious part of the household toil, and when their husbands were absent, performed such labors as were before performed by their husbands.

Several days had elapsed since the departure of her husband, when Mrs. Davidson found her doors suddenly darkened by the swarthy forms of several Indians, who, speaking English, told her she must go with them to their towns in the west.

There remained no alternative to her, though her situation was such as almost to prevent the possibility of her performing such a trip.  She took up her youngest child, the Indians taking the others, and left the house to try the realities of Indian captivity, of which she had heard much said.  They had not proceeded far when they relieved her of her burden; one of the Indians taking her child, and, unexpectedly to her, carried it on in safety.

The exertions and anxiety of mind undergone by Mrs. Davidson, was the cause of an addition of numbers to the captives.  Two hours' relaxation from the march, was sufficient rest, in the estimation of the Indians, and again they pushed on, one of the Indians carrying the stranger, which after a day's time, was drowned, on account of apparent or real indisposition.

The Indians who captured Mrs. Davidson, were more humane than she expected.  They seemed to pity her, and showed every leniency that could be asked for, under the circumstances.

But, when they arrived at the Indian towns, quite a different fate awaited them.  The two girl children were tied to trees, and shot before her eyes.  The boy, her son, was given to an old squaw, who, in passing over a river upset her canoe, and he was drowned.  What became of the bound boy and girl was never known.

Mr. Davidson, two years after, it being a time of peace, went to the Shawanoe towns to look for his wife, who had been sold to a French gentleman.  Mr. Davidson made inquiries after her, but could learn nothing of her fate.  An old Indian, who no doubt pitied him, told him that if any Indian in the town knew of her whereabouts, he could not be told, as they would have to refund the price paid for her in case she had to be given up.  But, that if he (Mr. Davidson) would go home, that he would find out where his wife was, and inform him.  Mr. Davidson returned, little thinking that the Indian would keep his promise.

In a short time after Mr. Davidson returned, the old Indian conveyed the necessary intelligence to him, and he set out a second time, but now toward Canada, whither he had been informed she was.  When he had got into the Canada settlements, he stopped at the house of a wealthy French farmer, to get a meal's victuals, and to inquire the way to some place where he had heard she was.

He noticed a woman passing him, as he entered the house, but merely bowed to her and went in.  Asking for his dinner, he seated himself, and was, perhaps, running over in his mind, the chances of finding his wife, when again the woman entered.  She laid down her wood, and looked at the stranger steadily for a moment, when she turned to her mistress, and said: "I know that man."  Well, who is he?  said the French lady.  "It is my husband!  Andrew Davidson, I am your wife."  Mr. Davidson could scarcely believe his senses.  When he last saw her, she was a fine, healthy looking woman; her hair was black as coal; but now, her head was gray, and she looked many years older than she should have looked.  Yet it was her, though he declared nothing but her voice seemed to say she was Rebecca Davidson.

Soon the French gentleman returned, and being a humane man, gave up Rebecca to her husband, also a considerable sum of money, and next morning sent them on their way rejoicing.

The Henry Family Massacred

In May, 1776, John Henry and his family fell victims to savage barbarity.  Mr. Henry lived in Thompson's valley, on a plantation now owned by James S. Witten.  The circumstances attending this melancholy occurrence, are not sufficiently clear.  The simple fact of the massacre is beyond doubt.  But the old gentleman who furnished me with the circumstances, showed such marked evidences of a decaying state of the mind, that I fear the tale is not altogether as authentic as we might desire.  But impressions of this kind seem to be indelibly written upon memory's tablet, even when other incidents, of a different nature, are forgotten.  More than once have I seen this exemplified in conversing with the witnesses to the incidents which have been given.

Mr. Henry had retired to rest with the blessing of a good conscience --- the honest man's reward --- resting upon his head.  After passing a night of quiet rest, he arose and dressed himself to prepare for the labors of the coming day.  His wife had also arisen, and was preparing to commence some culinary operation.  The children --- seven in number --- were asleep, little dreaming how soon they were to be startled from the morning's slumber by the sharp crack of an Indian rifle.

The sun had already begun to cast the golden tints of a summer-morning upon the light clouds which floated in the western atmosphere; yet it was not light, and might best be illustrated by saying it was the gray of the morning, when Mr. Henry stepped to the door and unbolted it, with the intention, no doubt, of looking abroad, and yawning in the open air.  Stepping in the door, he stretched himself up to inhale the sweet odors of the morning breeze, when a party of Indians, who lay near, fired a gun, and he fell on his face in the yard.  He wore on the waistbands of his pantaloons, a large metal button, which must have served as a target to the Indian's gun, as the ball passed directly through it, and into Mr. Henry's body.

The savages rushed forward, no longer fearing the stout arm of Henry, and were soon among the sleeping babes, who had, as yet, scarcely waked from their slumbers.  While the Indians were in the house, engaged in their horrible work, Henry rose to his feet, and started for Mr. Martin's, his nearest neighbor.  He had seen the Indians pass him, and enter his house, and knowing his inability to assist his wife and children, he thought only of personal safety.  Though bleeding, and feeling that his end was nigh, he pressed on for Martin's house, hoping to save Martin's family, if nothing more.

Martin had likewise risen early, intending to start to what is now known as Smyth county, with his family.  He had started, and was on the road when he met Henry on his hands and knees, crawling on as if determined to warn others of the presence of the Indians.  But, poor man, he was now too weak to act the part of a messenger.  Martin learned the circumstance, and placing Henry on a horse, so altered his course as to avoid passing Henry's house, and hurried on to the Cove, about seven miles distant.  Here he left Henry, and proceeded to his destination.  In a few hours Henry breathed his last, and was buried on the present plantation of William Barnes, Esq.  A company was soon collected and preparations made to follow the Indians, whom it was supposed, had carried off the rest of the family.  But when they arrived at the fatal spot, the family, consisting of wife and six children, were found murdered, scalped, and piled up after the manner of a log heap, on a ridge a short distance from the house.  One child was not to be found, a little boy, whom it was supposed had been carried off.  A large hole was opened, which became a common grave for the mother and her unoffending children.

The identical spot on which Henry was buried, could not be marked for a number of years---a few years ago, a grave was opened near the supposed place, which accidentally proved to be the very spot on which Henry was buried, which was known from the presence of boards or puncheons, which had been substituted for a coffin, and the identical button through which the fatal ball passed.  The button is now in possession of some one in this county.


In the latter part of the summer of 1792, (NOTE: I say, that this circumstance took place in the latter part of the summer, not because I was so informed, but from circumstances equally conclusive.  The date furnished me was simply 1792, but it will be seen that the Indians were engaged in catching the young of otter (Lutre oulgeris), which do not bring forth their young, till late in the summer.---(See Goldsmith and America Zoologist.) Maj. Robert Crockett of Wythe, county, was informed that a considerable band of Indians had been seen in the settlement on the Clinch, He immediately raised a company of forty, and went in pursuit of them, thinking it likely that he should fall in with them as they were leaving the settlement with their booty.

He found their trail, over which they had but a short time passed, and having no doubt of the route which they would take, concluded that it would be an easy matter to come up with them that night.  Being short of provisions, he stopped and ordered the men to separate in pairs, and try to kill a few deer.  They were to hunt but two hours when the march was to be resumed.

Joseph Gilbert, and Samuel Lusk, acting as spies, were ordered to keep on and carefully note every sign, and in case they found the Indians, to return and give information.  These two men were noted spies, and had often served together.  They continued on the trail for about an hour, when they came upon a lick at which the Indians, who were also in need of provisions, lay concealed, waiting for the deer or elk which frequented it.

The Indians fired, missing Gilbert but wounding Lusk in the hand.  Gilbert turned to run, and had made off a few yards, when Lusk called to him to return and save him, if possible.  The affectionate tone in which this appeal was uttered, fired the manly heart of Gilbert, who turned about and shot the nearest Indian, who fell upon the spot.  The Indians closed in upon him as he stood over the body of Lusk, who had fainted from loss of blood, but dropping his gun, he drew his heavy hunting-knife. and fell to upon the naked bodies of his enemies with such spirit, that the Indians no longer dared to approach within reach of his arm.  Keeping out of his reach, they began to hurl their tomahawks at him with such force and accuracy, that he soon lay dead on the earth by the side of his now reviving companion.  The wounded hand of Lusk was immediately cared for by the Indians, who after scalping Gilbert, commenced a rapid march for the Ohio.  The firing was too far off to give Maj. Crockett any warning of what was going on; but when the two hours had expired, he took up the line of march and followed on after his spies.  When they arrived at the lick, they found the body of Gilbert, and pushed on with all possible speed, after burying him near the bank of the creek which now bears his name, but could not come up with the Indians.

The Indians told Lusk, whom they took prisoner, and who returned in a short time, that if Maj. Crockett had not stopped to hunt, he must have cut them in pieces, as they were, but a few moments before they came to the lick, engaging in catching young otters, their arms in the meantime lying on a little knoll several rods from them.


William Whitley lived in Baptist valley, and had been out on a bear hunt.  He came home, and finding that a choice dog was gone, started the following morning to look for him.  The day passed off and he did not return.  His family became uneasy, and a company started out to hunt for him.  They had not gone far, however, when they met a man named Scaggs, who had passed a murdered man at the mouth of Dick's Creek.  The company pushed on and identified the man to be Whitley.  He was dreadfully mutilated --- his bowels torn out and stretched upon the bushes, his heart in one place, and liver in another.  A hole was opened, and the fragments gathered up and interred.  This happened in 1786.


Capt. Moffit lived near Clinch river, on the plantation now owned by Kiah Harman.  Two of his children were attending to a sugar camp, when they were captured and taken off to the Indian towns in the west.  Whether the boys ever got back is unknown, as Captain Moffit soon afterward moved to Kentucky, where some of his descendants still reside.


James Roark lived at the gap of the dividing ridge, between the waters of the Clinch and Sandy rivers, through which passed by Dry Fork road, and which has since been known as Roark's Gap.  Early in 1789, a band of Shawanoe Indians left their homes in the west, and ascending the Dry fork, fell upon the defenseless family of Mr. Roark, and killed his wife and several children.  Two sons and Mr. Roark were from home, and, it may be, thus saved their own lives, as the Indians were rather numerous to have been beaten off by them, even if they had been at home.

This is the only instance that I have met with, of the Indians visiting the settlements of Tazewell before the winter had clearly broken.  There was a heavy snow upon the ground at this time.

From this time forward, the Roarks became the deadly enemies of the Indians, and sought them, even beyond the limits of the county.  Mr. Roark and one of his sons (John), were afterward killed in a battle, fought at what was then known as the Station bottom, within the present limits of Floyd county, Kentucky.


I have been unable to learn anything of the particulars of this occurrence, more than the bare fact, that Joseph Ray and his family were killed by the Indians, on Indian Creek, in 1788 or '9.  It is from this circumstance that Indian Creek has taken its name.


Daniel Harman left his house, on the head of Clinch, on a fine morning in the fall of 1791, for the purpose of killing a deer.  Where he went, for that purpose, is not known, but having done so, he started for home with the deer fastened to the cantle of his saddle.  Harman was a great hunter, and owned a choice rifle, remarkable for the beauty of its finish, and the superior structure of its triggers, which were, as usual, of the double kind.  So strong was the spring of these, that when sprung, the noise might be heard for a considerable distance.  He was riding a large horse, fleet, and spirited, and had got within a mile of home, and was passing through a bottom, near the present residence, and on the lands of Mr. William O. George, when suddenly a party of Indians sprang from behind a log, and fired on him.  He was unhurt, and putting spurs to his horse, away he went through the heavy timber, forgetting all other danger, in his precarious situation.  On he went, but his horse, passing too near a tree, struck the rider's knee, breaking his leg, and throwing him from his horse.  In a few minutes the savages were upon him, and with their tomahawks, soon put an end to his sufferings.  The horse continued his flight till he got to the house, at which were several of the neighbors, who immediately went to look after Harman.  Passing near the Indians, they heard the click of Harman's well-known trigger.  A panic struck the men, and running in zigzag lines, they made a rapid retreat, leaving the Indians to silently retrace their steps from the settlement.


On the 11th of April, 1786, Matthias Harman and Benjamin Thomas, returning from a spying expedition, stopped at John Peery's, where there lived a man, named Dials, who kept liquor for sale. The three (Harman, Thomas, and Dials) were soon under its influence, and the two who had just returned from the woods, being hungry, asked Mrs. Dials for dinner, which she promised to furnish if they would get some wood with which to cook it.  Dials and Thomas started for that purpose, leaving Harman at the house.  When they got to the mouth of the lane, which was about two hundred yards from the house, they were fired upon by a party of six or seven Indians.  Three of the balls entered Dial's body, who fled toward the house, and a warrior after him.  The Indian pressed him so close, that in catching at him, he succeeded in drawing Dial's shirt from his pantaloons.  The Indian, finding that there were men at the house, gave up the chase and joined his companions at the mouth of the lane.  Dials fell against the chimney corner and died in a few hours.

When the Indians fired, it seems that only one attempted to shoot Thomas, and he was so close that Thomas struck up his gun as he fired, and the ball entered an oak high above his head.  He was however, knocked down with a war-club, by another Indian, scalped, and left for dead.  Harman, who was getting boozy enough to feel brave, ran out, mounted his horse, and pursued the Indians a short distance, challenging them to stop the fight.  This they declined, and made off as rapidly as possible.

Thomas was left on the battle-ground till next morning, when William Wynn found him, and took him to his fort, where he survived seven days.  It seems a little strange that a wounded man should be left out all night; but he was supposed to be dead, and it was not necessary to disturb him till assistance could be got to bury him; and this could not be done sooner than the following day.  Within the sound of one's voice, several hundred might now be collected on the spot in a few hours, but this is the year of our Lord 1852.


In the spring of 1787, a small company of Shawanoe Indians entered Burk's Garden, through Wolf creek Gap, and attacked the family of Thomas English, who, at the time, resided upon the plantation now owned by John Thompson.  Mr. English being absent, the Indians easily succeeded in taking Mrs. English and her children prisoners.  Not long after the Indians had left the house, Mr. English returned, and, as he was passionately devoted to his family, made every possible exertion to get a company to go in pursuit of the Indians.  His movements were so rapid, that by sunset, the same day, he and his party were fairly in pursuit.  Night came on; but still the frantic husband and his brave companions pushed on.  They came up with the Indians at about eleven o'clock at night.  One of the men, named Thomas Maxwell, had on a white hunting-shirt, which English desired him to pull off; telling him that he would become a mark for the Indian rifles. He refused to do so, and declared his willingness to die.  As soon as the Indians found that the whites were in pursuit, they quickened their pace.  English, who had been a prisoner among them, and speaking their language, bantered them to stop and fight him; all to no purpose, however, for as soon as they entered Maxwell's Gap they charged the Indians, who fired in return, upon the whites, doing no injury, however, to any except to Maxwell, whose white hunting-shirt had furnished a target amid the surrounding darkness.  Hence the name of the gap in which this scene transpired.

The Indians, finding themselves pressed, killed one child, scalped another, and also Mrs. English.

Mrs. English and her mangled child were brought back to William Wynn's fort, where they received such attendance as was necessary.  The child died the next day, but Mrs. English recovered, and raised a small family afterward.


At what precise time this occurrence took place I have not been able to learn.  It is supposed to have occurred sometime in 1789-'90.  Mr. Davidson was on his way home from a trip to Rockingham county, whither he had been on business, and had got as far back as to where John D. Peery now lives when he was killed by a band of Indians.  The circumstances of his murder, were told to some prisoners who had been taken from this county, and who were then among the Indians.  it seems that Mr. Davidson had stopped at an old cabin to feed his horse and rest himself, when the Indians fired on him.  The Indians say, a white man was with them, and that they found in his saddlebags a considerable sum of specie.

A few days after his son, Col. Davidson, became uneasy on account of his absence, and raising a small company went in search of him.  Luckily, when they got to the cabin, they found a hatband, which, being of peculiar structure, was recognized as that worn by Mr. Davidson.  After considerable search, his body was found stripped of clothing, and somewhat disfigured by birds.

As the Indians had been too long gone to be overtaken, Mr. Davidson was taken home and buried.


The Indians, in visiting the frontier settlements, had several objects in view; among which horse-stealing was an important one.  It is true, that the Indians rarely failed to kill the whites when suitable opportunities were offered, but at the same time, it must be acknowledged that a fine horse was valued nearly as much as a scalp.  And it was not unusual that the Indians spared the life of a few persons to get a drove of horses for the Canada markets.  Companies starting on a horse-stealing expedition, were usually larger and better provided with provisions than the predatory bands which killed, or carried into captivity, the first settlers or their families.

Such a company made a descent upon the settlement of Bluestone, and on the head of Clinch in 1790, and after collecting about eighty horses, started for their towns in the west.  A hunter came upon their camp on the first night, which was but a short distance from the settlement, and hastened to give the alarm at the forts and stations.  A large company from Bluestone, and another from the head of Clinch, were ready to go in pursuit by twelve o'clock the next day.  They made forced marches, and came up with them about one o'clock at night, at what is called the Islands of Guyandotte.  Some of the whites were for attacking them immediately, and others wished to wait till morning, when they might see.  While thus in parley, the Indians in the meantime apparently preparing for some movement, a horse neighed; in a moment a fire was opened upon them, but to no effect.  The Indians raised a yell, and secured a few of the horses and fled, leaving a good breakfast, and several dozen pairs of moccasins to be taken home as trophies by the whites.  The breakfast of bears' meat and turkey, was consumed by the whites, whose appetites were too keen to suffer themselves to enter into speculation as to the probable nicety of their runaway cooks.



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