Cherokee County, Texas
THE KILLOUGH MASSACRE
by Jack Moore
On Christmas Eve, 1837, seven related families from Talladega Co., Alabama, settled seven miles northwest of present Jacksonville.
The group included the families of Isaac Killough Sr., and those of his four sons and his two daughters. The sons were Isaac Jr., Allen, Nathaniel, and Samuel. The daughters were Polly, who married Owen Williams, and Jane, the wife of George Wood. Elbert and Barakias Williams, two young, single men, lived with their brother, Owen. Barakias and Elizabeth Killough, the youngest daughter of Isaac Sr., were engaged to be married. The entire group of men, women, and children numbered about 30. They settled on land located in the territory given to the Indians by Sam Houston’s treaty, which was nullified by the Republic of Texas Congress. The Killoughs had paid for the land with gold.
The families built their homes, cleared the land, and in the spring they planted their crops. Everything went well until August when their corn crops were almost matured. At that time they got word of a Mexican Indian uprising near Nacogdoches. This was known as the Cordova Rebellion headed by a prominent Mexican, Vincent Cordova, who had been Alcalde (mayor) of Nacogdoches. He and other Mexicans had been forced out of office when the Republic of Texas was established. Cordova, with the co-operation of some Mexican officials on the Rio Grande River, developed a plan to retake Texas by inciting the Indians to attack the Texans while a Mexican army invaded the country. Together they would conquer and restore Texas to Mexico.
Before the plan materialized, the Cordova forces composed of wild Indians, Mexicans, and a few whites were discovered hiding on an island in the Angelina River east of present Wells. They soon fled from their hide-out and went north to Cherokee Chief Bowles’ village. Bowles refused to join them and warned them to leave the country. They went toward the Neches Saline as Gen. Thomas J. Rusk pursued them with a small army. When Gen. Rusk returned, he was confident the rebels had left the country, but later evens seem to prove that quite a number of them remained hidden out on the creeks in the vicinity of present Frankston.
During the troubles, the Killough families fled to Nacogdoches for safety. About six weeks passed before they felt it was safe to return and harvest their crops. One report was that the Indians had agreed to let them remain until the “first great white frost.” It was reported also that a friendly Indian warned them that the country was still full of hostile Indians.
They arrived back home without any difficulty and soon began to harvest their crops. For several days they carried their guns when they went to the fields, but on the afternoon of Oct. 5, 1838, when the harvest was almost completed, they made the mistake of leaving their guns at home after their noon meal.
As they were going to the fields, the larger group was passing through a swamp near the creek when they were attacked suddenly. All in that group were either killer or carried away and were never heard from again. The shooting alarmed the other members of the settlement, and the raiders spread quickly among them. Nathaniel Killough was watering his horses when he heard the shots. He quickly mounted one of the animals and rushed to his home. He attempted to pick up his wife and baby daughter, but the raiders were so close they were forced to flee into the cane. That night they made their way to the house of a friendly Indian who gave them a horse, and they made their way southward to Lacy’s Fort.
Owen Williams lived on the outer edge of the settlement, which gave Elbert time to saddle three horses. Polly and her daughter, Elizabeth, were on their way to visit Isaac Sr., when the raid began. Elizabeth chose to join the family of Allen Killough as they were running for their lives. None of them was ever heard of again. Polly reached home in time to join Elbert, Owen, and her three other children before they sped away through a hail of bullets amid the shouts of the murderers.
All members of the George Wood family were missing when the massacre ended.
Isaac Killough Sr. was killed in his yard with 18 bullet wounds in his body. The renegades refused to shoot Urcey, his wife, after she asked them to do so. They cursed her in broken English and order her to go into the house.
When the shooting seemed to be over, Urcey and Jane, the wife of Isaac Jr., and Narcissus, Samuel’s wife, with her one-year-old baby, Billy, came together. They were joined by Barakias Williams, who took the baby into his arms. Soon, the raiders were seen coming their way. Urcey persuaded Barakias to flee, because one of the murderers had said the women would not be harmed. Barakias was killed as he fled into the woods.
While the three women were holding a conference, an unarmed Indian, Dog Shoot, approached and said that Chief Samuel Benge had sent orders for them to come to his house. Benge was either a white or half-white chief who lived among the Cherokees. In defiance, Narcissus refused to obey the order even though the Indian said he would kill her, if he had his gun. Benge was slain later because of his friendship for the whites.
The women decided to make their way to Lacy’s Fort, 40 miles away. They covered the body of Isaac Sr. with quilts and weighted them down with poles, and then hid out until night. After dark they began their journey. Their plans were to travel at night and to hide out in daytime. On the third morning they decided to travel in daylight, because they had nothing to eat. It was not long before they were stopped by an Indian with a gun. Then women screamed, and then he showed them the gun was not loaded. He ordered them to take a path to a log cabin. A black woman came to the cabin, but she answered questions evasively. An interpreter was sent for, and the escapees were told that if they had a gone a short distance farther they would have been killed by the hostile Indians living the next village. The women were given food, and the Indian slept in the doorway throughout the night. When morning came, they were given horses to complete the journey to Lacy’s Fort. The three women and baby were the last of the refugees to reach safety. The massacre was the larges and bloodiest depredation in East Texas. Eighteen people, including men, women, and children, were either killer or captured.
Word of the massacre spread rapidly throughout East Texas and created an enormous amount of excitement. Gen. Rusk sent out an urgent call for volunteers to gather at Lacy’s Fort. Several hundred men were ready to march within a few days. Gen. Rusk took his men and secretly crossed the Neches River at night. When he reached Fort Houston, in the suburbs of present Palestine, he received word that the enemy was hidden out near the old Kickapoo Village two miles south of present Frankston. The army marched to that area and pitched camp for the night on a horseshoe bend of the creek. The next morning was foggy and misty. At daybreak the enemy attacked them fiercely from behind trees and out of the fog. After some time, Gen. Rusk ordered his forces to charge and they swept the enemy from the field. They left 11 dead, including one Cherokee named Tail. Chief Bowles told Gen. Rusk later that Tail was an outlaw Indian, and the tribe could not control him. Gen. Hugh McLeod wrote that the rebels were a motley crew of Caddos, Coushatta, black, Mexicans, and possibly Keechis. Some people believe that two or three renegade white men were in the group. The Killough women reported that they saw a white man disguised as an Indian taking part in the massacre and thought they recognized him as a former neighbor in Alabama.
After the Indians were removed from East Texas, Nathaniel Killough and his wife and child and Jane and Narcissus and the baby, Billy, returned to their land. Nathaniel became a prominent leader in Cherokee County. Billy, known as “The Child of the Massacre,” became a highly respected citizen.
The descendants and relatives of the Killough families hold their annual reunion each June in Jacksonville.
Information from The Cherokee County Historical Commission. Cherokee County History, published by The Cherokee County Historical Commission in 1986, second printing 2001. (Books are available at the Courthouse in Rusk, TX or at Post Office Box 1128 Jacksonville, TX 75766.)
Special thanks to Karol Hughes.