Killing of Samuel Cowan at Houstonís Fort

By Emory L. Hamilton

From the unpublished manuscript, Indian Atrocities Along the Clinch, Powell and Holston Rivers, pages 24-26.

On April 3, 1774, a survey in Fincastle County, Virginia, was made for Samuel Cowan, of 284 acres of land, lying on both sides of McKinneyís Run in Castlewood. This same tract was surveyed in Washington County, (VA) on the 15th of March, 1783, for John Cowan, who was the oldest son of the slain Samuel Cowan. The son, John, apparently moved to Tennessee for Russell County Deed Book 1, page 43, refers to John Cowan of Greene Co., NC (later TN), and same reference page 44, refers to him as being in Greene County on the 10th of November, 1788, and also page 298, reads as follows: "Between John Cowan of Knox County, Southwest Territory, of the one part and James McKinney of Russell...dated September 24, 1799." In his pension statement filed in Russell County, VA, on the 8th of September, 1836, Charles Bickley, who was then stationed at Blackmoreís Fort on the Clinch, says: Information reached the fort through Captain Daniel Smith that the Indians were upon the waters of Moccasin Creek, whereupon Captain (John) Montgomery with his company, joined Captain Smith, and his company, and marched in pursuit of the Indians, and pursued their trail within a short distance of Houstonís Fort upon Moccasin Creek, where from their apparently having separated, were unable to prosecute the pursuit further in that way, and marched on the last named fort. Upon arrival at the fort, they found that no assault had, as yet, been made upon it by the Indians and found there a man from Cassellís Woods of the name of Samuel Cowan, riding as this declarant now remembers a Stud Horse belonging to one Deskin Tibbs.

Cowan proposed to leave the fort and return to his family, but was admonished of the danger of an attempt to do so, as the Indians were in the immediate neighborhood, but he persisted in his determination and set out, but proceeded a short distance when the firing of guns was heard in the fort and the forces sallied out to attack. When soon they came upon the body of Cowan, shot from his horse and scalped, and although still alive, was taken to the fort and died the same evening.

Mrs. Samuel Scott of Jessamine County, Kentucky, tells of the killing of Samuel Cowan when interviewed by the Rev. John D. Shane, (1) who, along with her father, John McCorkle, was at Houstonís Fort during this raid. In this interview she mistakenly calls him "Matthew" Cowan, with a question mark in the original manuscript after the name "Matthew" as though she were uncertain of its correctness after the elapse of many years. She states:

Matthew (?) Cowan brought the express (news) from Mooreís Fort to Houstonís Fort that 300 Indians were coming to attack Houstonís Station. (2) The next morning he would start to go back and thought he could get through, but was shot. His horse got in safe (to Castlewood). His wife (3) fainted when she saw the horse - a stud horse, all in a power of sweat. He, (Samuel Cowan) was brought in wounded and died. There my father, John McCorkle, was at the time. There were 300 Indians to 21 families (in the fort). I think the men didnít exceed thirty. The Indians stayed there about 8 days killing the cattle. They were Cherokees. None of the people in the fort were killed. Relief came in from the Holston and then they left. (4)

Samuel Cowan was slain in either June or July, of 1776. William Cowan, who was perhaps his brother, was appointed Administrator of the estate of Samuel Cowan on August 19, 1778, with John Walker, (perhaps Samuelís brother-in-law) and Andrew Colvill as securities. The estate was appraised by William Trimble, James Wharton, (later killed by Indians), Joseph Moore, Frederick Fraley and Edmund Smith, all residents of Castlewood and neighbors to the slain Samuel.

(1) Draper Mss 11 CC 224
(2) Houstonís Fort was the home of William Houston
(3) Samuel Cowanís widow was later taken prisoner by the Indians. See Capture of Ann Cowan.
(4) "Relief from Holston" was Captain John Montgomeryís Company who joined Capt. Daniel Smithís Company to the rescue. Those troops were gathering at Blackmoreís Fort to go on the Cherokee Campaign.



This file contributed by: Rhonda Robertson


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