The Danger Period -- Indian History

War of 1812

Pigeon Roost Massacre

Almost simultaneous with the Fort Harrison attack occurred the most diabolical event in our Indiana history - the "Pigeon Roost" massacre. What was known as the Pigeon Roost Settlement consisted of several families that made a little community in what is now Scott County. This settlement, founded in 1809, was separated from any other by several miles, and was confined to about a square mile of territory (Dillon, p.492). On the third of September 1812, this settlement was attacked by a band of about a dozen marauders, said to have been Shawnees, who, scouring the locality and going from cabin to cabin, murdered within a space of an hour, twenty-two persons, sixteen of them being children and five of them women. Prior to this general killing, two men, Jeremiah Payne and Isaac Coffman, were shot in the woods. Most of the cabin homes were burned down. The victims, besides Payne and Coffman, were Mrs. Jeremiah Payne and her eight children, Mrs. Richard Collings and seven children, Henry Collings and his wife, Mrs. John Morris, her only child, and her mother-in-law (Dillon, p 492. Dunn's account in "True Indian Stories" varies slightly from this).

[Cheryl Chandler notes an error in the above information as Jeremiah Payne and his wife Sarah ran to safety and are buried in Washington County with some of their children. She believes that Jeremiah's brother Elias, his wife Kesiah (Bridewater) and  their children, were the ones killed in the massacre. Jeremiah and Sarah (McCoy) Payne were her 4th great-grandparents and their later years are mentioned in a book about John McCoy (Sarah's brother in Clark County) which includes his diaries, they are in a number of the census counts for Washington County taken years after the massacre and they are mentioned in the history of the Silvercreek Baptist Church in Clark County where Sarah's father was minister for a time.]

A spirited fight at the house of William Collings, in which three Indians were killed, probably prevented a greater slaughter, as the check to the savages enabled the rest of the settlement to escape to blockhouses that stood within a few miles. Some of these escapes were attended with risks and horrors equal to any to be found in the Indian annals of Kentucky, The wife of John Biggs, fortunately for her, had gone into the woods to look for their cow, having with her their three children, one a babe in arms. On her way home she discovered the savages about the empty cabin and took flight toward one of the blockhouses, but the Indians, believing the missing family was in the vicinity, began searching the adjacent forest. At one time they passed so near Mrs. Biggs that their footsteps were audible. At this critical moment the baby began to cry and to check it she was obliged to press her shawl over its mouth. When the searchers had passed she made the dreadful discovery that the infant had been smothered to death. With the dead child in her arms and the two living ones clinging to her she spent the night in the wilderness, arriving at the blockhouse about daybreak. A. Dr. John Richie took his sick wife on his back, and together they spent the night in the woods, as did Mrs. Beal and her two children, who hid in a sinkhole until after dark, then made their way to one of the protecting strongholds which they reached at two o'clock next morning.

The news of the massacre was carried to Charlestown, Clark County, and by two o'clock in the afternoon of September 4 a body of two hundred armed men reached the scene of the tragedy, where only one house remained standing, and in and about the ruins of the charred cabins lay the mutilated remains of women and children. The trail of the savages was taken up and followed till dark, but they never were overtaken, and to the present day it is a matter of considerable doubt as to what Indians were guilty of the atrocity.

Two children were carried away as prisoners from this raid. One, a little girl three years of age, named Ginsey McCoy, was a niece of the Indian missionary, the Rev. McCoy. Years after Mr. McCoy himself found her west of the Mississippi River as the wife of an Indian chief and the mother of several children. She returned to Indiana for a visit to her relatives but soon went back to her Indian home. The other captive, a boy named Peter Huffman, was sold to some other Indians and carried to Canada. His whereabouts and identity were discovered after much pains and trouble, and he was returned to Indiana in 1824; but he too, was wedded to the Indian life and returned to it (Dunn's "True Indian Stories").

An immense sasafrass tree for many years marked the spot where the victims of the massacre were buried. In 1903 an appropriation of $2,000 for a monument was made by the Legislature, and a shaft of Bedford limestone, forty-four feet in height, was dedicated October 1, 1904, "mutely calling to memory the most fearful Indian tragedy that was ever known to the soil of Indiana."