Fort Seybert Massacre

Charleston Daily Mail
January 1, 1939

Pendleton Indian Massacre One Of History's Worst

Fort Seybert Attack Scene

Escaped Captives Narrate Horror

By George W. Summers

Back in the days before the Revolution, when the fires of remonstrance against British tyranny and oppression long had been smouldering in the American colonies, the section known then as western Virginia, which now is West Virginia, was the scene of many Indian depredations, crimes and murders.

Whether the Indians were directly employed by the British to make war on the settlers in the more remote sections of the colony, or whether their murderous attacks were merely condoned by British officials, as making the colonists the more dependent on the British government and therefore more subservient to it, has been a matter of speculation and discussion for more than a century and a half, with able arguments advanced on either side.

The Virginia settlers had their own lives and those of their families to protect against marauding bands of Indians. And whenever a number of families settled in the same vicinity they joined in the erection of a fort of some kind, where they might gather to repel redskin attacks.

One of Early Forts Was In Pendleton County, Va.

One of the early West Virginia forts was erected perhaps 200 years ago. It was built for the protection of the early settlers in the present West Virginia, near the Virginia line, in Pendleton county. It was some 12 miles northeast of Franklin, the county seat.

It was known as Fort Sybert - sometimes spelled Seybert. It was built as a place of security and protection from the Indians. Yet it became the scene of one of the most brutal and bloody massacres of which the Indians in all this part of the whole country were ever guilty. The fort, filled with refugees from all the country around, was attacked by Indians in 1758, although a newspaper printed about 100 years afterward, and quoted below, gave the date as "about 1760."

Those behind its protecting walls defended it vigorously. But they were outnumbered and overpowered by the Indians who set fire to the fort and burned it completely after every person who had taken refuge in it had been either killed or carried away captive. The destruction of Sybert's fort, with the slaughter of all its inmates who were not carried into captivity, was one of the most atrocious and bloody Indian crimes ever committed in what today is West Virginia.

First Hand Tale of Noted Massacre Printed in News

This first-hand tale of one of the blookiest Indian massacres on record in this state was printed in Charleston in the Kanawha Republican of Oct. 13, 1857, having been copied from the Rockingham Register of a few days before. And it was first-page news in the Kanawha Republican, even though the destruction of the fort and the massacre of those within it had been done about 100 years before. And it is news today, because it probably is the only authentic story of the horrible event in existence and has not been printed since the issue of the Kanawha Republican which printed it more than 81 years ago, on Oct. 13, 1857.

The account of the massacre, and headlines over it, printed in the Kanawha Republican were as follows:

The Taking of Sybert's Fort In Pendleton County, Va. About the Year 1760. (Correct Date 1758)

From the Rockingham Register

A very brief and incorrect account of this may be found in the Border Warfare, pages 65 and 66. I recently conversed with a very worthy gentleman, who has had the very best opportunity of being correctly informed on the subject. From him I have obtained the following account of the occurrence referred to, which, if you think proper, you may lay before your readers.

On the South Fork of what is called the South Branch of the Potomac, in what is called the "Upper Tract" in Pendleton county, was situated Sybert's Fort. This fort derived its name from the first settlers in that part of the country. It was built in consequence of the frequent incursions of the Indians from west of the Ohio river on what were then the frontier settlements of the whites. The settlers were of course watchful and whenever there were indications of the approach of Indians, the alarm was given and spread rapidly through the settlements, when the settlers would come hastily into the fort, bringing with them most of their household furniture, such as beds &c., and also provisions to sustain them for several weeks.

About the year 1758 or 1760, Kill Buck, a chief of the Shawnee tribe, at the head of about 50 warriors, made a visit to this settlement. The settlers had indications of his approach in time to reach the fort, and to bring with them such provisions as were necessary.

Indians Gain Entry With Trickery Rather Than Force

When the Indians found that the settlers had betaken themselves to this refuge, they did not come up before it in solid phalanx, to take it by storm. The preservation of dear self was, on such occasions, usually considered by each individual a matter of too much importance for that. Their plan was to hold parleys with the inmates of the fort, themselves keeping out of the reach of a rifle, to induce a surrender, or a few of them to approach the fort separately in a clandestine manner, and enter it when the gate was open, or catch any one who might temporarily leave it.

The settlers had not been long in the fort on the occasion referred to, until such approaches were made. The fort itself was situated on the tail race of a mill, and the mill itself perhaps was within the enclosure. One Indian was seen coming up the tail race, occasionally dodging from side to side as he came, and concealing himself behind such objects as he could find. This occasioned great alarm to the whites generally, and to one old man in particular.

Nicholas Sybert, a youth so small as to be unable to load a gun, was anxious to shoot him. From this measure, however, the timid old man tried to dissuade him, under the apprehension that it would exasperate the Indians and make them the more fierce.

The youth thought otherwise, and having succeeded in getting another to load a gun, and supposing the approaching savage to be an officer, from the fact that his head was adorned with a bunch of feathers, he was the more anxious to kill him. His head being the only part exposed, he took deliberate aim at that end [sic] fired. A moment later he saw the bunch of feathers floating down the water. From this he inferred that the shot had been fatal. He then secured the re-loading of his gun.

Soon after he saw another Indian approach within reach of a rifle and sit down behind a stump, with his hips exposed. At this point he took aim and fired. On the crack of the gun the Indian fell back and struggled. After this the fort was approached with more caution. Some, however, had come very near without being discovered.

Old Man Who Tried to Get Away Caused Massacre

In the meantime the timid old man had become so alarmed that he opened the gate of the fort and started to run. Captain Sybert, seeing this, sprang out, that he might seize aim and force him back. The result was that both of them fell into the hands of the Indians who were near and became their prisoners.

A long parley was then held, with the prisoners to prevail on them to surrender the fort. During the parley the lad Nicholas was asked for his advice. It was agreed at last that the fort should be surrendered, provided that all the inmates should be taken to the homes of the Indians, but that none of them should be put to death.

Immediately after, an Indian went into an unfinished building which was near at hand, and gave a loud yell. The entire group of warriors then gathered around the fort. First the beds were opened and emptied, so they could get the cloth. Next they took everything in the way of cooking utensils, and everything which they could carry and which would be valuable to them.

The prisoners were then arranged in two rows, about ten feet apart. Two selected from the warriors each took a tomahawk and, passing along both lines, killed all the old people and such as they thought could not travel. The lad Nicholas, as soon as this work began, went to Kill Buck and reminded him of the terms of the treaty. Kill Buck, with an air of imprecation, said that he, Nicholas, ought to be thankful, as his life would be spared. The parents of this youth were among the slain. For the sake of Nicholas, to say nothing of themselves, they deserved a better fate.

Soon after the work of death was complete, they set fire to the fort and all the buildings and departed for home. A small party remained for some purpose the prisoners could not understand.

Indians Barbariously Slay Baby Because it Wails

The first occurrence on the journey worthy of notice was an act of great barbarity. One of the prisoners was the mother of a young infant. This child, after several days of exposure became ill and very fretful. The mother, of course, did what she could to keep it quiet, but could not always succeed. During a fit of crying, an Indian appeared with his tomahawk raised, evidently intending its death. The mother, on seeing this, made more than usual efforts, and the crying was stopped. The fatal blow was not then inflicted. The next day the baby began crying again, the Indian returned, began wrestling after the child and the mother, cut it on the head with his tomahawk, dashed out its brains against a tree, threw it down and passed on.

As they passed over the mountains they killed an elk, and being very hungry they made hasty preparations to eat. This was done in the simplest manner imaginable. Having opened the animal, they next opened its paunch and took out the tripe. This they shook slightly, but without even rising it in water put it into one or two pots and made broth, of which they partook heartily.

Some of the female prisoners were then directed to cook of the flesh also. This was done in a pot or oven and when it was done the cook inquired of Kill Buck, who was sitting on the ground close by, where she should spread it. He at once opened his legs, and pointing to the space between them, he said "put it there and we will sit down and eat like gentlemen."

Boy Tells How He Shot Two of Attacking Indians

The party passed on after this without any incidents worthy of notice until they reached the Monongahela river. This they crossed in bark canoes which were hastily constructed. It so happened that in the act of crossing Nicholas Sybert and Kill Buck were in the same canoe. Nicholas raised his eye to look at some wild ducks that were flying over. noticing this, inquired of him, "Is your eyesight good?"

"About as good as comman [sic]," was the prompt answer.

"Where did you aim when you shot two of our men from the fort?" was the next question of the chief.

Nicholas, being greatly shocked at finding these deeds were known did not reply at once.

"Speak," said Kill Buck, with a stern countenance and a somewhat angry voice, at the same time applying an opprobrious epithet to him. The youth, finding that the worst would be death, answered "as I saw the head only of the man in the tail race, I aimed at that, and as I saw the hip only of the man behind the stump I aimed at that."

"Well, tell me next," said the chief, what evidence you had that you hit your marks."

The lad answered: "I saw the feathers from the head of the first man floating down the water, and I saw the other man fall over and struggle."

"Well," said Kill Buck, "the bullet passed through the head of the first man and killed him at once. It passed through the hips of the other and he suffered much. Some of the men stayed behind to bring him with them. They took a rack from a stable and carried him on that. After they had come several miles and just as they were passing over a mountain he died. They laid him between two rocks and covered him with stones. They next put the rack on which they had carried him beneath a rock and passed on and have overtaken us. You did right in shooting as you did, as you were shooting your enemies."

Simpleton Causes Blast Which Blinds Young Boy

How long Nicholas Sybert remained with the Indians is not known. He was at length sold to the French on the borders of Lake Erie, and by some means, of which the writer is not informed, got back to his friends in Pendleton. There he lived until he was an old man, greatly respected. He was never married. The remains of himself and his brother are in the same graveyard, near each other.

It was from these gentlemen that my informant obtained the facts here detailed. With each of them he was well acquainted.

Kill Buck, though a stern, active and vindictive warrior, has a vein of humor which he sometimes indulged. He was extremely ugly, of which fact he was well aware. On one occasion, while sitting at the fire with several prisoners and other Indians, and puffing away from a long pipe, pointing to one of the Miss Syberts, "tell me," said he to her, "which is the ugliest individual in this company."

She, fearing to tell the truth, said at the suggestion of her sister, who was sitting beside her, that her sister was the ugliest. He then with an opprobrious epithet and keen rebuke, said instantly "you lie!" She then summoned up courage and said "you, sir, are the man." At this his merriment was moved not a little...

The account written something like two centuries ago continues at considerable length to tell of the years the Syberts spent in captivity. The two sisters and George Sybert remained with the Indians and were taken on one occasion to Fort Pitt, where Pittsburgh is now. While there they escaped and made their way back to Pendleton county. And the Indians seemed willing to let them go, and did not undertake to get them back.

Settlement in West Virginia