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Massacre at Kincheloe Station

Written by David Hall and published in the Kentucky Standard, July 3, 1985

The tribal origins of those Indians who surrounded Kincheloe Station August 31, 1782, are a mystery. Likewise, what part, if any, they had played in the Blue Licks battle is unknown. It is possible the strong war party was a late diversionary force acting in concert with the larger, main force which had already won a stunning victory and retreated north of the Ohio 10 days earlier.

But another strong possibility is that this attack was to avenge recent losses suffered because of Col. John Floyd’s militia, crossing the Ohio River and surprising Indian encampments on grounds they considered theirs by treaty. The painted braves may have been Wyandot- Mingo- Miami- Delaware or a mixture of these tribal groups. They probably were not Shawnee. Little difference did it make to the settlers since, in the words of Col. John Floyd, describing conditions near the Falls in 1781, Not a week passes and (sometimes) scarcely a day without some … distressed inhabitants feeling the fatal effects of the infernal rage and fury of those Execrable Hell Hounds. For obvious reasons, no distinction was made by pioneers since they felt the only good Indian was a dead one. Some even preferred a quick death to the terrible possibility of capture by the Indians. (But many captives survived and endured, finally returning to family and friends years later.)

The date was September 1, 1782, as dawn approached the sleeping inhabitants of Kincheloe’s Station. Cornelius Davis had been standing watch and was in the act of retiring for some sleep. He had probably been relieved by one of the slaves, described as a large Negro man.

Almost undressed, only his shirt remained on when he heard the savage yells as the Indians sprang from hiding and scaled the station palisade. Grabbing his rifle, he stepped out of the cabin door and fired at an Indian atop the stockade. Instantly, several savages fired in return. They were so close his shirt was set afire by powder flash from the muzzles. Wounded, bleeding and his shirt dancing with a light flame, he stepped back into the cabin to warn his family and say goodbye. His young son, Isaac Davis, less than 10 years old, never forgot that apparition. Col. Davis went out to meet a certain fate. He rejoined the black man who had held off the attack for an instant. But surely in less than it takes to tell it, the screaming savages were everywhere. Davis fell within a few paces and was tomahawked. The fate of the brave and true black man who had fought with him is not known but almost certainly he fell with Davis in the opening seconds of the attack.

The Indians now had the station. Not knowing in advance how strong the defense might be, they must have been stunned at the ease with which their surprise attack had succeeded. Only two defenders had offered initial resistance. Now the savages made short work of the others who awoke in the midst of a living nightmare. Their worst fears had become a hideous reality.

The remaining family units were barricaded inside the crude log cabins, which proved poor refuge against so many Indians. One savage shot through a crack between logs and killed Mrs. Thompson Randolph as she lay in her bed. Her husband fought the braves after they broke into the cabin, grabbed up one of his infant children in his arms and somehow managed to break free, carrying the child in one arm and fighting with the other. He may have gone out through the roof, since it was composed of split boards held down only with weight poles. This would explain how he managed to avoid the numerous warriors now commanding the compound. Many of the cabins were actually part of the stockade wall. If his was one such, jumping off the cabin put him outside the stockade. It is a likely surmise to explain his miraculous escape in the murderous scene unfolding. His other small child suffered the fate of his wife. (Collins History relates Randolph fought two Indians after dropping off the roof, and then broke free to safety.)

William Harrison realized the chances for his wife and a relative to escape were slim. Their cabin had a hole for storage beneath the puncheon floor. He hid the ladies in this space, replaced the wide board covering and made his way out through the roof. One account indicates the Harrison cabin was located in the center of the compound, making escape that much more difficult. The same source relates how the two ladies rolled out a keg of spirits they found in the excavation. This distracted the Indians and their hiding place was overlooked. Harrison somehow got out of the station safely and the ladies survived the cabin being burned above their heads. When the cabin began collapsing they decided any longer wait would prove as fatal as the painted warriors. They crept out, almost nude, to discover all in burning ruins, now abandoned by the war party who had killed, plundered and destroyed the pioneer outpost in a matter of minutes.

The Indians had rounded up their prisoners, while looting was being completed.

It took some time for the pioneers to organize pursuit. Such a large party of Indians had to be respected. Blue Licks had taught the price of under estimating the cunning foe. On Sept. 3, 1782, John Floyd wrote to General George Rogers Clark My spies have this moment returned and brought intelligence of the savages who took Kincheloe Station … yesterday about 2 o’clock p.m. (they) crossed on the ridge beyond Brashear’s Creek (near present day Taylorsville) … Mr. Pomery, one of the spies, thinks their whole number does not exceed 150 … if you think we can defeat them let no time be lost … I am also convinced the enemies have delayed some to give us an opportunity to attack them and it is truly mortifying to think they should miss of it … I have not heard a word from Col. Cox which really surprises me … I still think that he (Cox) will send a message today … I now wait for your advice. Please hurry the express message back … your servant John Floyd.

Poor communications and faulty intelligence hampered the backwoods officers. Col. Cox was probably trying to be certain the strong force had, in fact, retreated before leaving his station and the others nearby almost defenseless, as Kincheloe had been. When pursuit was finally organized, it was too late. The Indians were gone and years would pass before some of the captives were returned to Kentucky. At least 13 settlers died as a result of the attack, perhaps more. The Burnt Station was never rebuilt. A year after the massacre a visitor noted only a few huts marking the site.

(Author’s note … Since the original articles on Kincheloe Station were written ten years past an amazing narrative has been discovered in the University of Chicago-Durrett Collection. Late in his life, William Polk, son of Capt. Charles Polk, related the trials and dangers of Indian captivity, telling verbatim what happened after the capture of the fort to his mother, sisters and other captives. He was 7 years old, Sept. 1, 1782. The following account is a direct quote of his personal memory. DHH)

About thirty in number were taken prisoners and the fort burned. It was known for many years afterwards as the Burnt Station. On the evening of the day of the calamity, Col. Floyd was advised of the melancholy occurrence: a council was immediately assembled to consult what course would be proper to pursue, and the general opinion was in favor of an immediate pursuit; to this Capt. Polk strongly objected; urging that a pursuit would tend to the massacre of all the prisoners, as the Indians would keep scouts in their rear, on their retreat, so that a surprise could not be calculated upon and that as it was, it might be possible for him, some time, to recover his family. Known as he was for his determined bravery, perseverance and patience and from his amiable and conciliatory course, being universally beloved, a pursuit was not attempted.

The Indians after taking whatever of the property of the inhabitants they could travel with set the houses on fire and consumed the remained and about daylight retired to their camps. Soon after sunrise they commenced their retreat with their prisoners, in all about thirty, including Mrs. Polk and her four children, the eldest a boy of about seven years of age, the others, daughters, the youngest two years old, and herself in that situation that but faint hopes could be entertained that she could bear the fatigue of a forced march through the wilderness, which the reader will understand when informed that her second son was born at Detroit, on the 27th of the ensuing October, 1782. On the first day of their captivity, circumstances occurred, which, though of minor importance, it is believed, from what was afterwards learned from the Indians, influenced their treatment of Mrs. Polk and her children, and probably was the means of preserving her life, which will be detailed in a manner that may appear tedious and unnecessary; the apology is that it is given as an illustration of the Indian character, to show that even among the untutored savages there are traits of benevolence and humanity that are worthy to be preserved.

At the first assault on the fort, Mrs. Polk having her two youngest children in the same bed with her, immediately arose and taking a child under each arm attempted to wake up her two eldest children; but before she succeeded the Indians broke into the house, seized her two children, hurried her out, and shortly after to their camp, within about half a mile from the fort.

After daylight, in looking over the encampment, she discovered all the prisoners taken except her own two children, from which she inferred that they had not been discovered in the darkness within the house, and been left to be consumed, as she saw them set the house on fire before they left the fort, which added much to her affliction, that she had not been able to wake them up out of their sleep.

Kincheloe Station

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