This story is follow-up installment to the three part series The Pigeon Roost Massacre of 22 Settlers.
Saturday, October 1st, 1904, passed into history as a great day for Scott County – being the day of dedication of the imposing monument erected by the State of Indiana to mark the burial place and to perpetuate the memory of the victims of the Pigeon Roost Massacre, which occurred on September 3rd, 1812.
Capt. James W. Fortune, of Jeffersonville, President of the Commission which had charge of the erection of the monument, was generally regarded as the father of the project as it was due largely to his untiring efforts that the appropriation with which the monument was erected was secured. After a half dozen Representatives in the Legislature were unable to bring the lawmakers to see the necessity of making such an appropriation, Capt. Fortune finally won. It was no easy task, however. The same fight had to be made through both houses of the legislature, but victory finally came. He stated that the reward was ample and the presence of the crowd at the dedication, and the satisfaction of the citizens of the community who felt that the historic spot had been at last fittingly marked, repaid him for all his efforts.
The day was an ideal one – clear and warm. Every energy had been directed toward making the arrangements for the great occasion as perfect as possible and everything was in readiness before the crack of dawn. Dedication day became a holiday for the entire section of the country. From far and near, the closely adjacent cities and the more remote villages and farms, the people came to the hallowed spot by train, in wagons and buggies, by horseback or on foot. They began arriving before nine o’clock in the morning and were still coming at two in the afternoon. The enormous crowd filled and overflowed the large park surrounding the monument and the speaker’s stand. The number assembled there was variously estimated at ten to twelve thousand. The Pennsylvania Railroad alone brought in fourteen hundred people. Most of the people spent the entire day at Pigeon Roost, having brought their dinners in well-filled baskets, which repasts were spread and eaten under the trees.
The Governor of Indiana, Winfield T. Durbin, and his party had arrived by train in Henryville before six that morning. There they attended a squirrel breakfast at the hotel as guests of Sec. W. H. Freeman of the State Forestry Board. From there they set out in wagons for the monument grounds. When the party neared the grounds about noon they were met by the Reception Committee, the members of which were as follows: Press – James F. Erwin, W. M. Foster and John E. Sierp; Bar – Samuel B. Wells and Mark Storen; Medicine – Drs. George Cline and Levi McClain; Clergy – Revs. L. B. Arvin and E. N. Cranford; Merchants – Epstein Garriott and Irvin McCaslin; Citizens – Melvin Hubbard, William Cravens and J. H. Friedley; Sons of Veterans – W. M. Whitson, J. F. Redman, J. L. Fisher and Harley Gillespie; Relief Corps – Mrs. Lola Calvert, Chairman. A procession was formed west of the railroad tracks headed by a drum corps and a mounted guard of honor escorting the Governor. With the Governor were Rev. D. R. Lucas, Department Commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, and Capt. William E. English, Commander in Chief of the United Spanish-American War Veterans. Next came the Monument Commissioners, Capt. Fortune, John W. Martin, of Scottsburg and Joseph Hodapp, of Seymour. The Dedicatory Committee from the George Ridlen Post of the G.A.R. at Scottsburg, consisting of Dr. Theophilus E. Biery, Joseph Hepworth, J. T. Wiley and Barney Miller, followed. Next came other notable state officers, the invited guests, Civil War and Spanish-American War veterans. A long line of citizens joined in the march, bringing up the rear.
On arrival at the grounds no time was lost in opening the ceremonies. The dedicatory address was made by Rev. Lucas. He paid able tribute to the early settlers of the state and spoke of the valued services which made possible the commonwealth of today. He dwelt particularly on the awfulness of the massacre which occurred on the historic spot. Because of the dense crowd and the natural noise and confusion only those who were very close could hear what was being said by the various speakers.
At the close of this portion of the exercises a bountiful dinner was served by the reception committee to all the distinguished guests. During this noon hour the entire assemblage resembled one great basket dinner. It was reported that the only thing to mar the pleasure of the occasion was the dust and the scarcity of good drinking water. As soon as possible the afternoon program of music and speeches was begun.
Following the invocation Samuel B. Wells, of Scottsburg, delivered a stirring address of welcome, to which Col. Charles L. Jewett, of New Albany, replied in an appropriate manner. Capt. Fortune then made the principal address of the day in presenting the monument to Gov. Durbin as the representative of the monument commission, which thus reported the completion of the work for which it was selected by the Legislature. Capt. Fortune, with his usual eloquence, said in part: “After almost one hundred years with nothing to mark the last resting place of heroic men and brave women, except a monument erected by Nature, and may we not say, dedicated by the Great Ruler of the Universe, we are assembled to dedicate a monument erected by human hands and dedicated by this assembly to the pioneer heroes who were massacred at what has come to be known as Pigeon Roost.
“Nature may mark the spot by the presence of yonder gnarled and weatherworn sassafras tree, and the frost and storms may dedicate it to the memory of the silent heroes who sleep beneath its hospitable branches, and the winds of the past century may have sung a sad requiem for the departed. Human hands and willing hearts may pay a last tribute to respect by the erection of yonder beautiful shaft, but the generations, past, present and future, can never repay those who repose on yonder hillside for the heritage they have left behind.
“The traveler has pointed out his spot as one place worthy of recognition, but the idea of erecting this monument by the people of the State of Indiana never took definite form until a bill was introduced by a son of this splendid county, Joseph H. Shea, in the General Assembly of 1896. Practically his measure, it became a law in 1903 and an appropriation was made by the Sixty-third General Assembly of two thousand dollars for the erection of this marker, which the people of this state present to coming generations to keep alive the patriotic sentiment for those who gave their lives for the welfare of the common country.”
Gov. Durbin replied at some length to the speech of Capt. Fortune, accepting the beautiful monument on behalf of the state. In beginning his speech he said: “The monument we dedicate today is not so much a memorial to the individuals whose lives were sacrificed upon this spot as it is a historical marker intended to commemorate the epoch of which the tragic incident of the Pigeon Roost Massacre formed a part. This monument speaks of the rude and harsh conditions under which our sturdy ancestors accomplished the conquest of this commonwealth of ours from savagery for civilization. It is a permanent reminder to future generations of the dangers and difficulties attendant upon the life of our forefathers a century ago, and therein it emphasizes the privileges, the blessings, the opportunities, which are our heritage in the Indiana of today.”
Capt. William E. English replied on behalf of the Scott County Commissioners in a very appropriate speech. Then Hon Joseph H. Shea, of Seymour, recalled in a short speech the history of the agitation for the erection of the monument. He mentioned that Daniel Blocher, of Blocher, wad due more credit than any other person for having kept alive the sentiment which finally resulted in the erection of the monument. He remembered from his earliest boyhood that “Uncle Dan: at Old Settlers Meetings and Fourth of July celebrations always referred to the Pigeon Roost Massacre in his speeches. He also brought out that in 1887, Hon. Charles W. Cruson, the first to ever do so, introduced a bill in the House of Representatives to appropriate five hundred dollars to mark the spot, which bill failed to pass.
Attorney General of Indiana, Charles W. Miller spoke on the early military history of Indiana, then Joseph Balsey, Adjutant of the G.A.R., delivered an address relating to the later military prowess of the state. Following this the exercises proper came to a close with an interesting recital of the history of the Pigeon Roost settlement and the massacre of September 3rd, 1812, by Miss Lizzie D. Coleman, who had also published an authoritative illustrated booklet in regard to the occurrence. Many prominent citizens were then called upon for speeches, and the ceremonies closed with music and the benediction.
Many people remained at the park until a late hour enjoying the outing, then they departed for their homes, having spent there the most memorable day of their lives.