Clendenin Massacre

West Virginia Historical Magazine

John Ewing and the Clendenin Massacre

The following is a condensation of a sketch read by Hon. A. T. Holcomb of Portsmouth, O., at the Ewing reunion at Ewington, O., in August, 1901. The sketch was originally written by George P. Mathews at the dictation of Gen. A. T. Holcomb (1803-1877), uncle of Hon. A. T. Holcomb, and grandson of John Ewing with whom he was personally and intimately acquainted. The sketch is furnished to the Magazine by A. E.. Ewing, of Grand Rapids, Mich., whose great grandfather, William Ewing, and John, were brothers.

John Ewing was born in Culpepper county, Virginia, December 25, 1747. The years of his boyhood were passed in quiet labor on his father's farm. At an early age he manifested a great love for books which never abated during his maturer years. Books at that time were a scarce article even among the rich, and to a poor farmer's boy they must have been a luxury indeed. He found a benefactor in. the parish clergyman, a Presbyterian minister, who, admiring the good taste of the youth, extended to him the use of his library. This golden opportunity was not lost, and so assiduous was he, and. so remarkable his memory that he used to repeat to his grandchildren many of the poems which he had committed to memory in his youth. He could repeat the whole of Milton's Paradise Lost. The history of England he knew as he knew his own life, and he could give in correct order the names and duration of reign of all the sovereigns of Great Britain.

His sister Nancy Ewing, married Archibald Clendenin, who lived on a farm about one mile from Lewisburg, Va., (now West Virginia). When he was sixteen years old, John Ewing went there on a visit, an event in itself trifling, but it proved to be the turning point of his life.

On the 27th day of June, 1763, John, in company with two negro slaves, was hoeing corn in a field on the mountain side, some distance from, and out of sight of Clendenin's house. About noon they heard a rifle shot in that direction. They were surprised but not really frightened, as Clendenin was a hunter and might be shooting wild turkeys or other game. However, they determined to goto the house. On arriving at the top of the hill they saw several Indians near the house. Even this did not alarm them, as it was common for friendly Indians to visit the settlements. One of the slaves refused to proceed, saying: "Dis chile don't like de looks ob dem ar yaller skins." He escaped capture to die a slave. The other negro was captured by the Indians to become free, for he became so charmed with the free, wild life of the savages, that he refused to return, even after the treaty of peace had released him from the Indian power.

John and this negro proceeded to the house fearing no danger. On their approach, two of the Indians met them in the most friendly manner, greeting them in broken English with "How de do?" and offering to shake hands. The boys found themselves in the clutches of a foe. Then they realized the horror of their situation. Mrs. Clendenin was bound to a shaving horse in the yard, her little boy and girl clinging to her in terror, while one of the Indians was swinging her helpless infant in the air. When she saw her brother she exclaimed: "Oh, John, they have killed Archie, why have you come, too!" Just at that moment one of the warriors came up with the reeking scalp of her husband and slapped it against the side of the burning dwelling.

Her story of the surprise was as follows: On the day of the capture, while she was getting dinner, a seemingly friendly Indian entered, and soon after him another, followed at intervals by still others, until the house was filled with nineteen Shawnee warriors. Then Clendenin saw their imminent danger, and determined to make his escape. Watching his chance, he darted through the open door and ran. But he was too late. Almost the same instant two Indians fired, both balls hitting him in the back, and he fell forward on his face dead. Then securing their plunder and their prisoners, they set fire to the cabin. In this situation John and the slave found them. Adding them to their already large train of hapless prisoners, the Indians pursued their way.

But Mrs. Clendenin escaped. She, with two of the captors, was in the rear. While passing over Sewell mountain, one of the pack horses fell down, and while her guards were assisting it to its feet she managed to allude them. She ran about half a mile, but knowing that safety was not in flight, she hid herself under the leaves in a ravine. The Indians searched in vain, and, as a last resource, one of them held up her infant by the legs, saying: "When the calf bawls the cow will come." But she heard it not, and the babe was offered a sacrifice to the mother's safety. John got leave to bury it, and took it up tender[l]y and buried it beside a mountain brook. Mrs. Clendenin took the backward trail and travelled all that night. Towards morning she fell into another sinkhole filled with leaves. Here she determined to remain all day. During the day she heard rapid footsteps approaching her hiding place. She feared it was an Indian, and, losing all hope of escape, she thought to deceive him by telling him that she was lost and was hunting for the band. So she suddenly jumped up, and instead of an Indian, she found herself face to face with a black bear. The surprise was mutual. Neither stopped to exchange greetings. The bear trotted off rapidly into the woods and she was safe again. After numerous hardships she at last reached her ruined home, seven days after the tragedy. Her husband lay unburied in the July sun, his faithful dog keeping watch and ward beside him. Just as the low mellow sunbeams were fading away in the red west, that heroic wife and mother, with her own hands buried her murdered husband. That night she slept in the wheat field, already yellow and ripe, waiting for the reaper. But the reaper, death had been there and now it was never to be harvested. The next day she started to the more inland settlements, and met a band of soldiers, aroused by the escaped negro, coming too late to their succor.

Another prisoner by the name of Wheat escaped, and in the following manner: One of the Indians who was on foot, shot and wounded a heifer grazing in a small field by the wayside. His companion on horseback, exasperated by his companion's lack of skill, sprang from his horse and fired, thus leaving both rifles empty. Wheat, an active, resolute man, quickly mounted the horse and fled from his chagrined guards.

Another prisoner by the name of Milligan also escaped. He was an expert at all kinds of card playing, and the Indians were fond of the game. One night while encamped at the falls of New River, having given all the Indians a turn, they had gradually fallen asleep, leaving him at almost daylight, playing with the last of their number, who, wearied, was also dozing. Milligan pretended to go to sleep, but with the stealthiness of a cat slipped away toward the river, carrying a small brass kettle to remove suspicion if discovered. At daylight the Indians were scouring the country for him, while he was concealed in a laurel thicket. His dog had followed him, and the Indians, knowing this, filled the air in every direction with their hideous whoops. Milligan sat there all day ho[l]ding his dog between his feet, with his knife drawn ready to cut his throat if he uttered the least whine. But the sagacious animal well knew his danger and made no noise. Milligan reached home in safety and found his wife making him a new shirt She said, "Milligan never got into a scrape yet, but what he came out all right."

The party continued to the mouth of the Kanawha, where they had sunk their birch canoes. Raising them, they crossed with their plunder opposite the mouth of George's Creek in Gallia county, Ohio, and again commenced the land journey. The general course, was up George's and Campaign creeks, crossing the dividing ridge near Porter, Ohio, then down Barren Creek to the mouth, then down Raccoon to Adamsville, where they crossed. They took the best route for the Salt Licks at Jackson (C. H.) Ohio, passing on the way near Ridgeway's and Centerville, then an unbroken wilderness. At the Licks they found a message from a party of Marauders who had been down in Kentucky and Tennessee, and who had gone on before them. It was written after the usual manner, in hieroglyphics on the barks of trees. By this they found that the number of prisoners and scalps which they had secured far exceeded that of the southern party, an event that gave rise to a grand display of muscle and strength of lungs in the way of a general jubilee. They remained at the Licks two or three weeks making salt and curing meat.

About the middle of August Ewing arrived at Picawillina his captive home, situated on the Scioto river, three miles below the present city of Circleville. Here, after the trying ord[e]al of running the gauntlet, during which he said the squaws applied the hickory but lightly, while the boys laid on with unspairing and unmerciful vigor, he became the adopted son of the mother of Wabawasena, or White Otter, the name of the warrior who had taken him prisoner. The mother, he said, was a confirmed old scold, while the son who was a young war chief, was highly intellectual, and one of the most upright, honorable men he ever knew.

Clendenin's little girl who had been Ewing's special care during the long, tiresome journey, was adopted by a family in Delaware Town. He often met her during their captivity, a source of great pleasure to both.

The little boy, John, a namesake of Ewing's and a great favorite withal, for he was a bright, intelligent little fellow, just old enough to win the love and admiration of those around him by his pretty boyish ways, was presented by his captor to two squaws, who had a kind of joint interest in him. On a quarrel arising between them as to who should have possession, the Indian, to settle the dispute, struck him dead with his tomahawk.

Having a retentive memory and an observing eye, Ewing soon became master of the Indian language and manners. On one of their predatory excursions among the white settlers of Tennessee, the Indians became the unwitting possessors of two articles, the nature and uses of which they did not quite comprehend - the Bible and the smallpox. The Bible was delivered to Thobqueb, (hole in the day), the great council chief of the Shawnees. His age which he reckoned by many hundreds of moons, was nearly one hundred years. He carried the honorable scars of many a border war, and had in his wigwam scalps and trophies innumerable. He commanded the Indians at the battle of Monongahela, and among his trophies from that field was a number of watches, shoe buckles, buttons and other ornaments taken from the ill fated officers of that disastrous day. Ewing represented him as a man remarkable for his sagacity in council, his constant zeal, his active spirit, and brilliant eloquence, all heightened by the impression of his personal appearance, which age made still more striking. But with all his cunning, the white man's book was to him a perplexing mystery. He summoned Ewing to his wigwam and commanded him to explain. John began at the first and translated it into the Indian tongue. All seemed satisfactory to the chief until he came to man's wonderful creation: "And the Lord God formed man out of the dust of the earth, and" - "Stop!" thundered the old chief. "You say the Great Spirit made man out of the dust of the ground, now was that man a white man or an Indian?" Ewing, in his natural simplicity, said he supposed it meant a white man, of course. The joke tickled Thobqaeb immensely, and he forgave the boy's presumption. Said he: "I pity your ignorance, but you ought at least to have sense enough to know that the Great Spirit never made the poor, ignorant, cowardly white man before he did the red man; but go on, I will listen to a little more of your nonsense, though I don't believe a word of it." All went well until he came to the description of the deluge. Here John was obliged to interpret the word ark by the Indian word canoe, and thus arose another stumbling block to the chief's understanding of the Scriptures. After reading the dimensions of the "great canoe" and the number of persons and animals put on board, the old chief exclaimed: "Now, you know that is a lie; there never was a tree on the Scioto Bottoms big enough to make such a canoe as that."

When the smallpox broke among them their fear knew no bounds. The most skillful medicine men among them, with roots and wondrous power, were unable to stay the sweeping pestilence. It carried them off by hundreds. The warrior whose heart was never wont to quake with fear, now threw himself into the river, preferring a speedy death, rather than fall at the hands of the ghastly foe. Ewing's adopted mother and sister were among the victims. When he felt the disease fastening itself upon him, he repaired to a field of growing corn and squashes which he had on the river bank a short distance below the village. Here beside a spring of sparkling water, he cut down a large dead shell bark hickory and set it on fire. With buffalo robe and blanket for a bed and roast squashes and cold water for a diet, with neither nursing nor medicine, he passed through the ordeal in safety, with scarcely a mark to mar his features. He said he never found a better remedy for smallpox

He remained with the Indians about three years, perhaps four years, as near as he could recollect, but during that time he lost all account of the days of the week and month. He was employed. principally in farming and hunting, but he had a great deal of leasure time. At last by a provision of one of the many treaties of peace he was released, and started on his return to home and friends. The first white settlement he reached was Pittsburg. Here he was furnished with a shirt, pants and shoes. When he reached home, he found there his mother and sister. He asked for some dinner, which they prepared before he made himself known. His sister first recognized him. Their mutual joy at so unexpected a meeting after so long a separation, may be better imagined than described.

John married Ann Smith in Greenbrier county, and after raising a large family, removed to Gallia county, Ohio, in 1801, pursuing nearly the same course over which the Indians took him nearly forty years before. After his wife's death he lived with his son Andrew Ewing, and his daughter Sarah, wife of General Samuel R. Holcomb, where he died December 23, 1824. He was buried near Vinton, Ohio.

Exploration, Settlement and Conflict (1600-1799)