This story is the third of three installments on this blog. Each week the story will be continued for your enjoyment!
Meanwhile, Capt. Norris and the children lost their way in the darkness, and after wandering hopelessly in the woods until they were exhausted, they sat down to rest and soon fell asleep, notwithstanding the peril of their situation. When daylight came they got their bearings and found their way to the blockhouse in safety.
The attack of the Indians was over in a few hours and they withdrew, making their way to the northwest over the Vallonia Trail from whence they came. In all, the savages had slaughtered a total of twenty-four persons, three men, five women and sixteen children. Most of the able bodied men were away from the settlement at the time serving in the Militia or the Army, otherwise this story might have had quite a different ending.
The news of the disaster was brought to Charlestown by Jeremiah Payne. It was dusk when, mounted on his horse, he left the blockhouse in Vienna and dawn when he reached the county seat. The first person he sought was Major John McCoy, his brother-in-law, whose duty it was to lead the pursuit of the Indians.
Mounted messengers were immediately dispatched to the various settlements along the East Fork of the White River to guard the fords. The next day at the Sparksville Ford the savages were surprised in their crossing of the river. In the fight that took place several of the Indians were killed, but not a white man was even wounded. The Indians were taken at a disadvantage, the settlers firing upon them as they attempted to cross the river laden with plunder from the cabins of Pigeon Roost. The greater part of the Indians, however, made their escape from the ambuscade.
In a few hours after Jeremiah Payne’s arrival at Charlestown a large force of 150 mounted riflemen of the Clark County Militia, under the command of Major McCoy, gathered to pursue the Indians. They reached Pigeon Roost before daybreak the following day and followed the track of the Indians about twenty miles along the Vallonia Trail, until they reached the much-swollen Muscatatuck River, at which point they gave up the chase as they could not effect a crossing of the stream in the darkness. The next morning, they turned back to the scene of the tragedy.
A small scouting party of Rangers, from Washington County, under the command of Capt. Henry Dawalt, discovered and made an attack on the retreating Shawnees at Sand Creek. After killing one of the Rangers, John Zink, the Shawnees continued their flight through the woods and eluded the scouting party.
On the fifth of September the Clark County Militia under Col. Robert Robertson was reinforced by 60 mounted volunteers from Jefferson County under the command of Col. William McFarland, of Lexington (then in Jefferson County). On the sixth 350 volunteers from Kentucky, Under Col. Frederick Geiger, were ready to unite with the Indiana Militia for the purpose of making an attack on the Delaware Indians, some of whom were suspected of having engaged in the destruction of the Pigeon Roost settlement. It seems, however, that a spirit of rivalry which prevailed between some of the officers defeated the intentions of those who, at the time, proposed to destroy the towns of the friendly Delaware Indians, who then lived along the West Fork of the White River. Evidence of the innocence and even friendliness of those Indians was not wanting, so they were spared. The Militia gathered together the mangled remains of the victims of the massacre, many of whom were unidentifiable, and buried them all in a huge grave on the crest of a low hill above a spring which still flows today. The site was long marked by a heap of stones and an enormous sassafras tree.
As was mentioned in the Foreword, on the same night as the Pigeon Roost massacre occurred, September 3, 1812, the Indians attacked Fort Harrison, on the Wabash River near present-day Terre Haute, which was under the command of Captain Zachary Taylor. The next day they besieged Fort Wayne, on the Maumee River. Both these forts were successfully defended by the Americans.
On September 12, 1812, Gov. Gibson instructed Col. Robertson to use such Militia as could be so employed to guard the boundaries of Clark County. He added, “You will give particular orders to the officers commanding to employ their men continually in reconnoitering and scouting through the country on the frontier.”
Following the Pigeon Roost Massacre many of the settlers in the tier of counties along the Ohio river either crossed the river to the safety of Kentucky, or chose to remain in forts or blockhouses, where they lived in a continual state of fear and excitement until the close of the war in 1814. The courthouse at Charlestown was converted into a fort for the safety of those who remained and other forts were erected along the line of the frontier settlements. These forts were garrisoned by territorial Militia until the spring of 1813, when the Rangers were stationed in them. The strong two-story log house of John Kimberlin, Scott County’s first settler, was converted into a fort by being surrounded by a stockade, and Militia were stationed there until all danger was over. In 1831 the Indiana General Assembly passed an Act “for the financial relief of John Kimberlin, of Scott County, for damages caused his farm by Rangers being stationed there in his Block House.”
Zubulon Collings, who lived at the blockhouse, five miles south of the Pigeon Roost settlement, and about a mile east of present-day Henryville, in 1856 made this statement to John B. Dillon, who recorded it in his “History of Indiana”: “The manner in which I used to work, in those perilous times, was as follows: On all occasions I carried my rifle, tomahawk and butcher-knife, with a loaded pistol in my belt. When I went to plow, I laid my gun on the plowed ground, and stuck up a stick by it, for a mark, so that I could get it quick in case it was wanted. I had two good dogs. I took one into the house, leaving the other out. The one outside was expected to give the alarm, which would cause the one inside to bark, by which I would be awakened, having my arms always loaded. I kept my horses in a stable, close to the house, having a porthole so that I could shoot to the stable door. During two years I never went from home with any certainty of returning- not knowing the minute I might receive a ball from an unknown hand; but in the midst of all these dangers, that God who never sleeps not slumbers, has kept me.”
In 1904 the State of Indiana belatedly erected at the site of the common grave an imposing obelisk of Indiana limestone and dedicated the site as a State Memorial, thereby preserving for posterity the deeds and tragedies of the early pioneers of Scott County. Ironically enough, this memorial does not bear the names of any of the victims of the massacre, but it does perpetuate the names of the governor and other state and county officials, and even that of the contractor who erected it!