This story is the first of three installments on this blog. Each week the story will be continued for your enjoyment!
Pigeon Roost was a pioneer settlement, then in northern Clark County, but now in southern Scott County, Indiana, situated along the little creek by the same name. It was in a fertile, but then heavily wooded region. It was so –called due to the fact that myriads of wild pigeons roosted thereabouts in choice spots, and their excretions fertilized the soil to an amazing degree of richness. These birds gathered in flocks so dense that they would eclipse the rays of the sun, and by the sheer weight of their roosting bodies broke large limbs from the trees. Their habit of banding together in great flocks was their undoing, however, for they are now entirely extinct due to their having been indiscriminately slaughtered.
The first settlement made in what is now Scott County was in 1805 by John Kimberlin of Virginia, and his sons, Daniel and Isaac, on a stream we now call Kimberlin Creek, in the southeastern part of the county, in Tract 264 of Clark’s Grant. The Pigeon Roost settlement was made in 1809 by a group of twelve families who came from Nelson County, Kentucky. The area had been purchased from the Indians by Governor Harrison by the Treaty of Grouseland on August 21, 1805 and opened up for settlement. Settlement in southern Indiana was not encouraged by the territorial authorities at the capital at Vincennes except in blockhouses, and then only at the settler’s own risk, because of the ever-present danger of attack by the Indians.
On August 12, 1812, Acting Governor, John Gibson had written to Col. William Hargrove, commanding the mounted Rangers, in part as follows: “The men under your command will still keep up the same vigilance. The Militia of this Territory will in a great measure leave for the north. Then our force of able-bodied men will be much reduced, and it will be necessary to carefully watch every point of our frontier.”
Pigeon Roost was not a village but was a scattered collection of cabins and small farms typical of the southern Indiana pioneer communities of that day. Each rough cabin was in a clearing in the woods where the settlers cultivated their crops and tended their livestock. The settlement occupied an area of several square miles south of the present-day village of Vienna. The famed “Cincinnati Trace,” laid out from Cincinnati to Vincennes by Captain Ephraim Kibbey from 1799 to 1805, traversed the northern edge of the community. Most of the earliest settlers of Scott County came in from the Ohio River at Madison over this historic trail; however, the Pigeon Roost settlers had come in by way of Louisville.
There was also a well-traveled Indian trail which led through the settlement. This trail led from present-day Vallonia, on the East Fork of the White River in Jackson County, through Washington and Scott Counties into Clark’s Grant, where it connected with the old Shawnee Indian village of Tullytown, on Pleasant Run a short distance from present-day Charlestown, and from there it continued on to the Falls of the Ohio. Tullytown, or as it was later called when it became a white man’s town, Springville, is no longer in existence. It was made the first county seat of Clark County in 1801. (In 1803 the county seat was moved to Jeffersonville, and in 1811 from there to Charlestown, and in 1878 back to Jeffersonville.)
The twelve families which composed the Pigeon Roost Settlement, six of whom were named Collings, were nearly all related. They having built their cabins near each other lived almost as one big family. One-fourth mile southeast form the site of the Pigeon Roost Monument lived the leader of the colony, William Elson Collings. (A veteran of the American Revolution, born in Virginia in 1758, he came to Nelson County, Kentucky with his father and mother, William and Ann Collings.) At home with him were his two youngest children, Lydia and John. (No written account of the massacre mentions Collings’ wife, Phoebe (Hougland) Collings, so it must be supposed that she was away at the time. We know that she was still living in 1827. If she is buried in the Pigeon Roost Cemetery, her grave is unmarked). A hundred yards east of his house was the cabin of his son, Henry Collings. Three-fourths of a mile east was the crude log house which sheltered his son, Richard Collings, his wife and seven children. To the west lived his two daughters, Jane (Collings) Biggs, whose husband, John, was away in service, and Sichy (Collings) Richey, wife of Dr. John Richey, Scott County’s first physician. Five miles to the south, near the present town of Henryville, was the blockhouse of his son, Zebulon Collings. To the north, toward Vienna, lived the brothers, Jeremiah and Elias Payne, Isaac Coffman and Daniel Johnson. The wives of Elias Payne, Coffman and Johnson were sisters, whose maiden names had been Bridgewater. The total number of residents of this pioneer colony was about thirty-five persons. Notwithstanding the troubled condition of the frontier, the settlers enjoyed comparative peace for some time.
At that time there were no permanent Indian villages in southern Indiana, but the Shawnees, Delaware’s and Potawatomi’s often came in to hunt and stay a while at a campsite west of the present town of Vienna, but these stragglers who came into the vicinity were not troublesome. Game was very plentiful, and this was a fine hunting ground. William E. Collings was a great hunter and fighter, and was a crack shot with the long “Kentucky Rifle” which was in use at that time. He had often engaged in friendly shooting contests with the Indians and had even taught them how to shoot. The Indians familiarly called him “The Long Knife,” as they were in a habit of calling any outstanding American, notably George R. Clark, also. Long acquainted with the members of the very band of Indians that took part in the massacre, the settlers, as too often the case, disregarded the rumors of an impending attack by the redskins.
The day before the massacre occurred Captain John Norris of Clark County, an officer in the Pennsylvania Militia, an old Indian fighter who had engaged in the Battle of Tippecanoe, where he was wounded, reached the settlement. He brought additional tidings of disaffection and uneasiness among the Indians and made plans for the erection of a fort and stockade for the protection of the settlement, which plans were never carried out, as will be related.
In all fairness it must be stated that the Indians possibly had some justification, at least in their own minds, for their action. It is said that they were sorely grieved because Dan Johnson stole a white elk belonging to them, and also that William Collings allegedly sold them whisky and then when they were drunk the settlers cheated them in trades for furs and took advantage of them in various ways. Whether these things were true or not, we’ll never know, but probably they had no connection with the massacre.
The band of Shawnees that committed the outrage left their village in what is now Lake County, Indiana, and made their way directly to Pigeon Roost Settlement. They were led by a chief by the name of Misselemetaw. They crossed the East Fork of the White River near the present site of Sparksville, in Jackson County, making the crossing three or four at a time so as not to attract too much attention. Then their path joined the Vallonia Trail and they crossed the Muscatatuck River and proceeded by way of present day Little York and Leota to the ill-fated settlement, which they reached early in the afternoon of September 3, 1812.