Davis Tragedy At The Kerr’s Creek Massacres (1759-1763) and Muddy Creek Massacre (1763)

The content below is captured from other oral history on shared at werelate.org and explains the details of these three Indian massacres on the Virginia frontier. Many of our kin were murdered but this gives the reader a great appreciation for what our ancestors lived through 250 years ago on the frontier.

With the influx of early settlers into Old Augusta County Virginia, tensions between the Shawnee Indians (who had lived there for many years) and those early settlers, reached a flashpoint in the mid-1700’s. The trouble began around the time of the French & Indian Wars (1756-1763), when the French began to use the Indians as a buffer against the unwanted British expansion. On the other side, the Scots-Irish settlers of early Augusta County were lured into the area with the promise of free land and unlimited possibilities. Both the Indians and the feisty Scotch-Irish settlers became unknowing pawns in a game of high-stakes chess between the French ambitions and British expansion. 

As the French & Indian War progressed through the frontier, the French (and their Indian allies) secured victories against the British at Fort Duquesne (now Pittsburgh), against a young George Washington who surrendered at Fort Necessity and also against British General Braddock, in the wilderness below Duquesne. Later, in 1757, the British turned the tide against the French and won key victories in several areas, eventually driving the French back to Montreal, which the British captured in February 1763, and resulted in the “Treaty of Paris”, which marked the conclusion of the French and Indian War and hostilities between the two, until the end of the American Revolutionary War.

The hostilities at Kerr’s Creek (called “Teas Creek” in earlier Augusta County records before abt. 1750) between the Shawnee Indians and the Scotch-Irish settlers of early Augusta County came during the height of this conflict. The stories of the conflicts at Kerr’s Creek have been passed down through generations and are still discussed by the current residents of modern-day Rockbridge County. As it was told, the Shawnee leader Cornstalk and many of his men viciously attacked, killed or kidnapped several early settlers in the Kerr’s Creek (also called “Teas Creek”) area on two occasions in 1759 and 1763.

Marker at Kerr's Creek, in Rockbridge County, Virginia
Marker at Kerr’s Creek, in Rockbridge County, Virginia

First Kerr’s Creek Massacre

In the fall of 1759, the two Telford boys walked home, possibly from school. Their walk turned into a run. Breathless, they told of a naked man they saw hiding behind a tree. No one thought twice about their tale until later. Several weeks passed. The trees topping North Mountain and House Mountain bled down the hillsides in red and gold, as a party of 60 Shawnee warriors followed their chief, Cornstalk, from the Ohio. Winding through the mountains, they split outside the Greenbrier settlements. Acting friendly, the larger band worked their way down the Greenbrier, gaining the settlers’ confidence before attacking and killing most of them. 

From what is now Millboro in Bath County, 27 of the warriors slipped over Mill Mountain about two miles north of the present Midland Trail near where Interstate 64 now cuts toward Clifton Forge. A pile of stones said to be placed there by Indian warriors through the years marked the mountaintop. The stones were dozed away with the building of 64. Workers hoping to find graves or artifacts under the rock pile were disappointed. Near the head of the creek atop a bluff, Robert Irvine scarcely breathed as he counted the war party on the trail.

At the first cabin along the creek at present day Denmark, Charles Daugherty (husband of Rebecca Cunningham (our 5th great aunt) and his family was killed (Note: other sources indicate that Charles Daugherty was killed in the 2nd Kerr’s Creek Massacre). Next was the Jacob Cunningham cabin (our 5th great uncle). With Cunningham away, his wife was killed, his 10-year old daughter knocked unconscious and scalped. She later came to and survived to face the Indians a second time on Kerr’s Creek. Next came the home of Thomas Gilmore, the elderly Gilmore and his wife were leaving to visit a neighbor when they were killed and scalped. The rest of the Gilmores escaped. Five of the ten members of the Robert Hamilton family next fell victim. By that time, the community was alerted to the danger, with residents scrambling for safety everywhere.

Site of 1st Kerr's Creek Massacre
Site of 1st Kerr’s Creek Massacre

Harry Swisher, who owns the old Laird homestead that previously was the McKee farm, says the old log cabin still exists under the clapboards of a renovated 1910 farmhouse. “The logs are huge,” Swisher says, spreading his arms to illustrate early log construction. When he and his family remodeled the old house, they discovered the central log portion. With two rooms up and down, a shallow fireplace and a ladder to a loft, the cabin appeared easily fortified. A small window between the floors allows a view of the hillside behind, and Swisher says from the round top of the hill, the entire valley, with Big Spring, is visible. “I remember my dad saying survivors scrambled up that hill where they could see where the Indians were going. They could hide there,” Swisher says. Since the house is up a hollow where U.S. 60 now comes from Lexington, Swisher believes the old house could be the McKee home spoken of in the raid stories. 

John and Jane or “Jennie” (Logan) McKee had six children whom they’d sent to Timber Ridge for safekeeping. When the alarm sounded through the neighborhood, the McKee’s fled their home (one account says up a wooded hillside in back, agreeing with Swisher’s father’s story). One account says their barking dog gave them away, another said a black servant sounded the alarm with her cries of fright. Mrs. McKee could not run quickly (one account says she expected a child) and John had left the house without his gun. As the Indian pursuit neared the McKee’s, Jenny begged John to run on. “Otherwise, our children will have no parents.” It’s said McKee paused, helping his wife to hide in a sink hole on the Hamilton farm. His parting words were “God bless you, Jinney.” It’s also said as he looked back from his race, he saw the tomahawk fell his wife. With Indians almost close enough to catch him, and encouraged by his wife’s sacrifice, he bounded on. When the Indians gave up chasing him, McKee hid until dark when he returned to find his wife. She lay in the sink hole, having survived long enough to wrap her kerchief around her head wound. He buried her where she lay and wrote her name in the family Bible. John McKee lived to rear his motherless children whose descendants were numerous along Kerrs Creek and in westward expansion. Another account, published in “The McKees of Virginia and Kentucky,” related John was at a neighbors tending to some sick children. When he returned home, he found his wife killed and scalped.

The settlers listed in the cemetery records as killed in the first raid on Oct. 10, 1759, and possibly interred in the McKee Cemetery near Big Spring are: Isaac Cunningham, Jacob Cunningham (son of James and Mattie), the Charles Dougherty family, four of the John Gilmore family, Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Gilmore (Note: Thomas Gilmore and his wife actually were killed in the second raid on Kerr’s Creek), Gray (no first name listed), five Robert Hamilton family members, James McKee (McGee), Alexander McMurty, Robert Ramsey (our 1st cousin & generations back (7xremoved), James Stephenson, Thomas Thompson, Samuel Wilson and John Winyard. Since most accounts stress that no captives were taken on Kerrs Creek during the first raid and many men were killed, perhaps many of the men took a stand while their families escaped.

Charles of the Cowpasture raised three companies of militia (about 150 men). Charles Lewis led one company, John Dickenson and William Christian headed the other two. These three companies of militia went after the Indian warriors. They overtook the tribesmen near the head of Back Creek in Highland County. The Captains decided to attack at three points. Two white scouts were sent ahead as an advance. They were ordered to shoot if the enemy realized the soldiers were nearby. The scouts came upon two braves, one leading a horse, the other holding a buck across the back of the horse. In an attempt to get the upper hand, the scouts fired and Christian’s company charged with a yell. The other companies were still miles behind the advance group. The Indians escaped with very little loss. The militia companies caught up with the Shawnee at Straight Fork, four miles below the present West Virginia line, their campfires revealed their location. About twenty Indians were killed. The booty they were carrying was retaken and sold for $1200.00. Thomas Young was the only white man killed, and Captain Dickenson was wounded. (Source: The Weekender, Lexington, Virginia (December 6, 1997), p. 1, pp. 4-5.)

Bloody Frontier Massacres In Early Frontier America
Site of 2nd Kerr's Creek Massacre

SSecond Kerr’s Creek Massacre

Scarcely had the treaty (Treaty of Paris) ink dried before a powerful Ottawa chief named Pontiac began uniting the tribes throughout the Ohio. Said to have been instrumental in Braddock’s defeat near the opening of the French and Indian War, Pontiac had become a brilliant strategist who realized that without a united front the Native Americans were doomed. In a short time, he’d recruited from all the tribes from Lake Superior to Mexico. Each tribe in the confederation was to choose its best warriors. In May, 1763, the warriors were to attack 14 British garrisons along the frontier. Of those 14, all but four were captured. One of the four was Detroit, Pontiac’s personal goal. That summer, war raged up and down the frontier. Once again, the Shawnee Chief Cornstalk was assigned the area he knew well, the eastern Alleghanies, the Cowpasture and Jackson rivers, Botetourt, Kerrs Creek, Augusta. Small forts dotted the frontier from the French and Indian War. A confident Cornstalk knew he could take them all. 

As the warriors gathered supplies and weaponry and set their faces south and east, the Kerrs Creek farmers broke ground for the ’63 season. They’d rebuilt the last cabins burned in 1759. Families stowed empty chairs in lofts or along walls, and realized the frontier belonged to the living. In the little cemetery overlooking the spring, mounded graves sank level with the thick grass. But in many cabins, visions of death and destruction still replayed in the dark, woke children, sent shivers through the stoutest settler. June greened the young crops. July scattered fireflies among the trees at the edges of farm clearings. Nights hummed with cicadas.

Atop North Mountain again, Cornstalk’s warriors lounged beside a spring and watched the comings and goings in the valley. Some historians believe they were waiting reinforcements. The final total of warriors is estimated between 40 and 60. Someone from the settlement saw moccasin tracks in a cornfield and told everyone what he found. Next, a hunter spied the Indian encampment from the top of a hill and rushed to spread the alarm. That’s when the warriors swooped toward Big Spring. 

Massacre at Muddy Creek, Prelude to 2nd Kerr’s Creek Massacre

Marker at the Location Of The First Greenbrier, WV Settelement

The massacre on Muddy Creek in 1763, which occurred just prior to the 2nd Kerr’s Creek Massacre, completely destroyed one of Greenbriers’ first settlements. A stone marker in a field on a hill marks the site of the massacre. Frederick See’s name, spelled “Sea” is listed. The graves of the victims may still be seen in what is known as the McKee burying ground. In 1772 a lone man, Samual McKinney, built his cabin near this tragic spot. Others soon followed and two years later there were enough settlers to warrant the building of Fort Arbuckle on Muddy Creek for their protection.

When the Shawnee Indians attacked Settlement of Archibald Clendenin , (who was killed along with two of his sons) and Muddy Creek Settlements they also killed John Williams and took his wife Mary, Nancy (age four) and David (age two) captive to their villages on Scioto River in Ohio. Thomas, Richard and John were not at home and escaped captivity or death. [Greenbrier County, West Virginia Heritage, S. Grose, pg. 183].

After the massacre at Muddy Creek they (the Indians under Chief Cornstalk) proceeded to the Big Levels, and on the next day, after having been as hospitably entertained as at Muddy Creek, they reenacted the revolting scenes of the previous day. Every white man in the settlement but Conrad Yoakum, who was some distance from his house, was slain, and every woman but Mrs. Glendinin. Yoakum, when alarmed by the outcries of the women, took in the situation and fled to Jackson’s River telling the story.

Valentine Yoakum had married and moved to Muddy Creek, Greenbriar Co., VA. Valentine was tomahawked by a Shawnee Indian and all the family killed, except young George who was too fast a foot and who killed three Indians with a ‘frying pan handle’. George was later in the Battle of Point Pleasant. He married at age 25 our first cousin (6xremoved) Martha “Patsy” VanBebber, daughter of Sarah Davis.

The people were unwilling to believe George until they were convinced by the approach of the Indians. All fled before them, and they pursued on to Carr’s Creek in Rockbridge, where many families were murdered and others captured.” [Source: Narrative of John Stuart 1798 in WMQ Vol 22 No 4 Apr 1914].

Many people were killed and taken captive during the Muddy Creek Massacre at the Greenbrier settlement. Family legend and records from the family Bible of our kin Richard and Edney Davis tell of Willaim Davis being captured by indians when he was a small boy. His parents were allegedly killed and he was taken by the indians to live in a Shawnee village on the Sandusky Plains. It is also recorded that he witnessed his uncle being tied to a tree and burned to death. Researcher Judy Hopkins believes that the incident could have been the “Massacre at Muddy Creek” in 1763 in the vicinity of what is now Monroe County, West Viginia. William was subsequently adopted by an indian woman who had lost a child about his own age. He reportedly lived with the Shawnee until his early twenties when he learned that he had a brother still living and went to find him in the “White Man’s Settlement”. His brother was not present when he arrived but the settlers, knowing the story of his capture, tricked him into staying by having another man impersonate his brother temporarily. The following day when his real brother arrived, William denounced all white men as liars and decievers and returned to the indians. But at a later date he reportedly returned to his brother’s cabin where he stayed. Family lore handed down over the years recounts numerous versions of how William’s indian step mother would often leave token gifts for him at the edge of the woods near his cabin – but would never venture up to his dwelling.

Other families were decimated like the Davis kin who were in Greenbrier.

The story of Frederick and Catherine See and their family is quite tragic. The following account of what has become known as “The Muddy Creek Massacre” has been gleaned from various accounts, primarily “A Chronicle of the See family and their Kindred”, written and compiled by Irene See Brasel (1892-1963).

On Saturday, July 16, 1763, a party of 80 or 90 Shawnees, led by Chief Cornstalk and assisted by the great War Chief Puksinwah, having crossed over the Ohio River, swept up the Kanawha on a murderous rampage. Simultaneously they hit the Frederick See family, and the Felty Yocum family (Felty was a cousin of Frederick Michael See) whose cabin was nearby. According to all accounts, the Indians suddenly appeared at the Frederick See cabin, with all of the appearance of friendship.

The Sees welcomed them, and as it was near to mealtime they offered to share their food with the Indians. The Shawnees agreed, no doubt building cooking fires out of doors in order to feed such a large number of people. The meal finished, the Indians lounged around for a bit and rested. Suddenly with a whoop the Indians fell upon their hosts, killing the father (Fredrick Michael) , his son-in-law (Littleberry Roach) and Felty Yocum , scalping them before the eyes of their families. It is not known why Frederick and Catherine’s son George wasn’t also killed as he was 22 years old at the time. Perhaps he offered no resistance. Other men and older boys were killed.

The women and children of these and other victims of this massacre were taken prisoners. Leaving the dead where they were slain, the Indians began marching their prisoners back to their camp. On the way to Oldstown, in Ohio, these women and children who were unable to keep up were killed. The first born child of Margaret (See) Roach, a boy, was killed in a most brutal fashion after being snatched from her breast.

Accounts related by James Olson, also told by a descendant, was that Frederick See’s children held up for two to three days. The smallest, John, was quite weak and Catherine feared for his life. Seeing a warrior riding their horse, Catherine indicated to him that she wanted it. When he refused, she picked up a club and attempted to knock him off the horse.

About to kill her, the amused Indians prevented the warrior from doing so, calling her a “fighting squaw.” Once they reached the Indian campgrounds in what is now Ross County, Ohio, it is said the Shawnee had a celebration. The women were forced to sing for them, and Catherine was called upon to run the gauntlet. Grabbing a stick she began making whirling moves swinging the stick which pleased all the warriors greatly. Captives now for several months, soon cold weather was upon them.

There was not enough room inside for all the prisoners, and was crowded by old Indian squaws they shared a tent with. A child of Catherine’s, a son, had to sleep outside with the dogs to keep warm. One day the warriors went off hunting leaving Catherine in charge of all the old Indian squaws sitting around the campfire. One had a fainting spell, falling into the fire. Catherine let her fall, thus making room for her children in the tent, a bravery which helped her family to survive, intact.

Catharine See and her children were taken to Old Town and kept there by the Shawnees until there was a treaty and an exchange of prisoners about a year later. A document written by Colonel Henry Bouquet to William Penn, Governor of Pennsylvania, on November 15, 1764, stated all Indian tribes led by Chief Cornstalk had at last agreed to release the prisoners, not only from the incident at the See home but a number of other similar incidents at other family homes on the South Branch.

Catherine and at least some of her children must have been separated during their captivity, because her youngest child, John, was adopted by an Indian family who had lost their son. The couple repeatedly told John that he would be burned alive if retaken by the whites. John became very fond of his new Indian parents, and the year with the Shawnees apparently did much to erase from his mind the memory of his natural family and his former life.

When the time arrived for the Indians to release their prisoners, all of the See family except the twin, nine-year-old Elizabeth, were freed. Cornstalk would not agree to let her go, but kept her for nine more years during which time his young son took her as his squaw and, according to family tradition, she had an Indian child by him. Later she escaped or was ransomed, because she eventually left the Indians, and married a white man named Peter Shoemaker.

After being released from the Indians the party traveled about nine miles before darkness overtook them, and made camp for the night. Young John made his bed between two of his sisters, but he did not sleep. He lay awaken until he was certain everyone else was asleep, then crept out of camp and hurried back to his adopted Indian family.

Here he stayed for some time. One version indicates one year, while another says four years. Eventually his uncle, Michael Adam See ( brother of Frederick Michael and husband of Barbara Rebecca Harness). ransomed his nephew John and took him back to Hampshire County, Virginia where the rest of the See family was then living.

NOTE: The return prisoner list included Catherine See and her children Michael, George, John, Mary, Margaret and Lois…along with Margaret, George, Elizabeth and Sally Yocum (Yoakum).

Frederick See’s widow is believed to have later remarried a man named John Hardy, a Hardy County pioneer.

After the massacre at Muddy Creek “they (the Indians under Cornstalk) proceeded to the Big Levels, and on the next day, after having been as hospitably entertained as at Muddy Creek, they reenacted the revolting scenes of the previous day. Every white man in the settlement but Conrad Yolkom, who was some distance from his house, was slain, and every woman but Mrs. Glendenin. Yolkom, when alarmed by the outcries of the women, took in the situation and fled to Jackson’s River telling the story. The people were unwilling to believe him, till convinced by the approach of the Indians.

All fled before them, and they pursued on to Carr’s Creek in [then Augusta, current] Rockbridge [County], where many families were murdered and others captured. [Source: History of Augusta County, Virginia, pg. 138]

Second Kerr’s Creek Massacre

July 17, a Sunday, marked special meetings at the Timber Ridge Presbyterian Church. Many of the settlers had traveled there. But other accounts say the special church meeting was at Jonathan Cunningham’s cabin (our 5th great uncle). Still others say the settlers had fled to Cunninghams and were saddling horses and organizing a flight to Timber Ridge where the men carried their guns to church. No one knows for sure, but other than the McKee cabin, which could have been attacked first, the Shawnees seemed intent on the Big Spring farm.

William Gilmore and another man turned toward the mountains to scout for Indians. Concealed nearby, the Indians shot the two men, and swooped upon the nearly 100 men, women and children milling around. Two or three younger men advanced toward the enemy, and lost their lives immediately. In one account, when the Shawnees sprang from cover, Mrs. Dale grabbed a stud colt that had never been ridden and swung onto its back. Managing to balance her baby and cling to the horse, she fled the pursuing Indians. Out running them, she dropped her baby in a rye field and hid herself in the brush, obviously sending the horse on. Later, she returned and found the baby unharmed in the rye.

She said the terror-stricken people ran in every direction, trying to hide. The Indians chased first one, then another, killing everyone in their path. Another account says even the cattle were shot, bristling with arrows. Mrs. Dale recounts that some people threw up their hands, entreating for mercy. The Shawnees killed most, spared some. Any man resisting was shot immediately. Some whites fled for the spring pond, hiding both in the water and in the weeds along the banks. The warriors found them, killed them and tossed the bodies in the pond.

Thomas Gilmore had died defending his family. His wife, Jenny, stood over his body, grappling with a tomahawk-wielding Indian. When a second ran up to kill her, the first threw up his hand, sparing her life for her bravery. She was led off, with her son James, and two daughters, into captivity. Although some reports claim that before torching the Cunningham cabin, the Shawnees killed Jonathan Cunningham and his wife, Jonathan’s will written in 1769, naming his wife Mary, clearly contradicts those reports. Cunningham had a distillery, and the Shawnees carried off all the whiskey they could find. Margaret Cunningham, (our 1st cousin 5x), (Jacob’s daughter) the 10-year old girl who survived scalping in the first raid, was captured along with James, Betsy and Henry Cunningham. One account says when she arrived at the Shawnee town, a warrior brought out a scalp and sat it on her head, communicating that it was her hair. My husband’s 4th Great Grandfather James Cunningham Sr. and Grandmother Margaret were also killed during this 2nd Kerr’s Creek Massacre.

Also taken were Archibald, Mary and Marian Hamilton. Another account, however, says Mary Hamilton was among the dead. When her fiancé John McCown discovered her body, he went into a depression and died two years later of a broken heart. His family buried him beside her on the little hillside in the McKee cemetery. Another account says Mary Hamilton had a baby in her arms when captured. She dropped it in the weeds, and later, when she was ransomed and returned home, she found its bones.

During the church service at Timber Ridge, rumor was given of trouble at Big Spring, but in an age of slow communications, rumors often were disregarded. When someone else rushed breathlessly into the service and told of the raid, the settlers rushed about gathering family and friends. Many fled into the Blue Ridge Mountains, since no one knew where the Shawnees might hit next.

One account says the Indians paused for the night at the spring near the head of Kerrs Creek where they had been camped. There the prisoners spent the night listening for rescuers. After drinking Cunningham’s whiskey, the war party would have offered little resistance to a rescue party, but the area had been thrown into so much confusion no militia was raised at that time. The next day, William Patton and others ventured to the Big Spring to bury the dead. They were attacked by Indians, but Mrs. Dale said one of the burial party rode up the valley, and a small party of Indians shot at him.

The Shawnees marched their captives toward the Ohio. Those later returned told of the march, during which one fretful infant was killed and thrown on the shoulders of a girl. She was killed the next day. Another infant was impaled on a spear and left as a threat to pursuers as the captives walked on. The afternoon of the massacre, the Indians returned to their camp on North Mountain. They sat around and drank the whiskey they had stolen from Cunningham’s still. They became so intoxicated they could have put up little resistance. There was little to fear, most of Rockbridge was in a panic. On the following day, two Indians went back, either to see if they were being followed, or to look for more whiskey. Mrs. Dale saw them shoot at a man as he rode up the valley. The man wheeled his horse and the Indians clapped their hands and shouted. 

At one of the encampments, some of the prisoners found some leaves of a New Testament, and being anxious to preserve them, were drying them at the fire, when one of the Indians snatched them up and threw them in the fire, no doubt thinking they were some communication which they wished to send home. However, a few days later, Jenny Gilmore was asked to sing a hymn. She chose Psalm 137, singing “On Babel’s stream we sat and wept, When Zion we though on, In midst therof we hanged our harps, The willow trees thereon; For then a song requested they, Who did us captive bring, Our spoilers called for mirth, and said A song of Zion sing.”

Cunningham Cemetery On Cunningham Land’s At Kerr Creek Where The Indian Massacre Killed Our Family

Numerous captives from the Cowpasture (Bath and High county areas) were brought as more returning Shawnees swelled their ranks with plunder. (Source: When Blood Flowed In Kerrs Creek, By Deborah Sensabaugh) The graves of the victims of this massacre may still be seen in what is known as the “McKee burying ground,” near Big Spring, about seven miles north of Lexington, Virginia. (Source: Cornstalk the Shawnee, Chronicles of Oklahoma, Volume 9, No. 1, March, 1931, By Dr. W. B. Morrison).

The picture above are the graves of our ancestors. Now that we know our history…………we will never forgot.

One thought on “Davis Tragedy At The Kerr’s Creek Massacres (1759-1763) and Muddy Creek Massacre (1763)

  1. I have an ancestor who survived the massacre and was raised by the Shawnee. William Way Davis. Born in the 1750’s was taken ad a prisoner when he was 4 years old and moved back to the “White settlement ” in 1777. Court records tell of him and a member of the Vanbibber family being arrested for treason. He is shown in the census as a land owner in Greenbriar county Virginia in the late 1700’s

    Liked by 1 person

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