Pioneer History of Indiana by William Monroe Cockrum 1907
Pages 177 through 180 of 638 pages
Data of the recapture of three Kentucky women from the Indians in what is now Pike County, Indiana, was furnished the author in 1855 by William Leathers, son-in-law of John Severns. The story is as follows:
In 1795 John Severns was on White river hunting, when he met two Indian trappers one of whom he had known intimately during his captivity among the Indians. They had been in the employ of the Hudson Bay Company, of Canada, for several years but had come south to do a little trapping on their own account and had a large number of traps with them, mostly for beaver. Severns told them of the many beaver and beaver dams along the Patoka river and its tributaries.*
After talking the matter over the Indians agreed that they would hunt bear for awhile and put in the late fall and winter trapping for beaver, all of which was carried out. From the start the three men bad all they could do to keep their traps set and care for their peltry. The intention of the trappers was to stay a few days in the neighborhood, catch all they could and then go on farther. In this way they thought they could go over the best trapping territory during the winter. The weather had become pretty cool and the trappers had made their camp against a bluff bank of the river where a thick vein of coal was cropping out. They built their fires against the coal and had a good one. This camp as the river runs was from 35 to 40 miles from Mr. Severns’ home. They had been there several days and had become pretty well acquainted with the surrounding country when one morning as they lay in their comfortable quarters a little before day they were startled by the firing of several guns not far away. They would have thought it was Indians shooting at a bear or a gang of wolves prowling around their camp had it not been for the loud hallooing and the screaming of a child or a woman, that continued for some time. The trappers hastily put out the fire and got into a position to defend themselves. In a short time daylight came and Severns and one of the Indians determined to reconnoiter near their camp. On going up the river some distance they heard talking and were satisfied that it was white people. The Indians slipped away and went back to camp while Severns went in the direction of the talking and soon saw several men and women sitting around a fire. One man, who was on the lookout, saw Severns and seeing that he was a white man, called to him and when he got to the party he saw seven of the hardiest type of Kentucky backwoodsmen and three women. One of the men was wounded by a ball through the top of the shoulder. The women’s clothing was badly torn and their feet almost bare. They looked weary and careworn and the stop had been made to make some covering for their feet so they could travel, but they were very short of suitable material. Severns told them that if they would wait until he could go to his camp, less than a mile away, he would provide them with all the material they needed. The proposition was gladly accepted and he soon returned with the saddle of a deer and a dressed buck skin. While he was at camp he advised the Indians to keep close as he did not know much about the people, only that they had recaptured three white women from the Indians and had killed several of the latter and that he might go a little way with them to find out what he could. The moccasins were soon mended and the party started on the long return trip. Severns went with them for a few miles and learned that they lived in central Kentucky and that nearly all of the men of their settlement had gone to a salt spring to make salt. While they were absent six Indians attacked two houses and captured the three women. A boy not far from one of the houses saw the Indians and ran to two men building a cabin and gave the alarm and then all the other families ran to the fort not far away. A runner was sent after the men at the salt spring but it was nearly two days before they could get back and start after the Indians. After that they followed them on the run as they knew the Indians would make haste to get back over the Ohio river. When the Kentuckians had crossed the river they had no trouble in following the trail because most of the way they were on a trace that crossed at the ford where Severns found them. “Last night about eleven o’clock,” one of the men told Severns “our out runner came back to the party just after we had retired for the night and told us that he had seen a little glimmer of fire about a half mile ahead. Two of our men went back with him and in about an hour one of them came back and said they had located the Indians and that they were all asleep except one who was guarding the prisoners and that as well as they could count them as they lay, there were six Indians and the three women, and that their camp was at the foot of a bluff. He left the other two on a hill about a hundred yards from the Indians. There was a small valley between them and they had a clear view of the camp. The rest of us went to the hill and after a whispered council decided to deploy out so as to reach the camp from the south and east sides and as soon as we could get near enough, to charge the Indians and kill them before they could defend themselves. The men who are husbands of two of the women were to look after them. In creeping up we found the little valley covered an inch or two deep with water from a gushing spring near the Indians’ camp which greatly delayed our attack and it was nearly five o’clock when we rushed on them, killing four before they could use their guns. The one left on guard shot one of our men in the shoulder and he and another one got away, the guard with a broken arm.”
After hearing his story, Mr. Severns wished them a safe journey and returned to camp. That afternoon the three trappers went to the battle ground and found four dead Indians which they placed in a large hole made by the uprooting of a tree that had blown down, piling brush, dirt and rocks on them. The Indians were greatly alarmed and Mr. Severns could not induce them to stay longer, so they went down the river to Severns’ home and then took their traps and went north.
The only certain location of this battle ground is the Patoka river and Severns’ home but the distance and outcropping of the coal makes it certain to my mind that it was Massey’s Bridge where the trappers’ camp was and that the Kentuckians crossed at Martin’s Ford about a mile up the river from the bridge and the place where the battle was fought and the women rescued was at Martin Springs. The hill the men laid on when planning to charge on the Indians, was I believe, where the Martin cemetery is now located.
Author’s Note. I have heard hunters say that there was no place in the western country where there had been more beaver than on the Patoka river and that many had been caught as late as 1835. To this day the signs of their industry are to be seen in many places.