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Richard Pembertonís Fight With the Indians

By Emory L. Hamilton

From the unpublished manuscript, Indian Atrocities Along the Clinch, Powell and Holston Rivers, pages 129-130.

On May 26, 1785, Major Crockett wrote to Governor Henry of Virginia (1), the following:

The Indians killed one man on the North Fork of the Holston River, the 6th of April last, and wounded a man ten days after, (April 16) on the head of Clinch, with arrows. There has not been one year since the year Ď74, but the Indians has done more or less damage in this county, which covers nearly 80 miles of the frontier of this state.

Who the man was that was killed on the North Fork of Holston, on April 6, 1785, is unknown. The man whom Colonel Crockett says was wounded "with arrows" on the head of Clinch, was in all probability Richard Pemberton. Bickley tells of the details of the wounding, (2) but has an incorrect date for the event, if Crockett was referring to Pemberton. Bickley says:

Richard Pemberton, the hero of this battle, lived in the Baptist Valley, about five miles from Jeffersonville (now Tazewell). In addition to a small farm around his cabin, he cultivated a field, now (1856) owned by William O. George, about one and a half miles from his dwelling.

On a Sabbath morning late in August, 1788, he started to his field accompanied by his wife and two children, to see that his fences were not down, and to repair any breach that might have been made. According to the custom of the times, Mr. Pemberton had taken with him his gun, which was his constant companion. After satisfying himself that his crops were safe, the little party started back. They had gone but a few hundred yards, however, when two Indians armed with bows and arrows, knives and tomahawks, came yelling toward them at full speed. In an instant the pioneerís gun was leveled and the trigger pulled; it missed fire, and in his hurry to spring the lock again, he broke it, and of course could not fire. Seeing him raise his gun to shoot, caused the Indians to halt, and commence firing arrows at him. Keeping himself between his wife and children and the Indians, he ordered them to get on as fast as possible and try to reach a house at which a Mr. Johnson lived, and where several men were living. This house was some half mile distant, but he hoped to reach it, and save those whom he held dearest - his wife and children. The Indians made every possible attempt to separate him from his family, all of which proved vain. They would retreat to a respectful distance, and then come bounding back like so many furies from the regions of indescribable woe. When they came too near, he would raise his gun as if he really were reserving his fire, which would cause them to halt and surround him. But at every attack they shot their arrows into his breast, causing great pain.

For nearly an hour this running fight was kept up; still the blood thirsty savages pressed on; at last, he was sufficiently near to Johnsonís house to be heard, and he raised his powerful voice for succor; he was heard, but no sooner did the men of the house hear the cry of "Indians", than they took to their heels in an opposite direction. At last he arrived at the house, closely pursued by the Indians, and entering after his family, barred the door, and began to make preparations for acting upon the offensive, when the Indians made a rapid retreat. Pemberton reached his own house the following day, where he resided many years, an eyesore to those who had so ingloriously fled from his assistance. Many arrow points which entered his breast, were never removed, and were carried to the end of his life as the best certificate of his bravery, and devotion to his family.

(1) Virginia State Papers, Vol. IV, page 31.
(2) Bickley, History of Tazewell County, 1856.

This file contributed by: Rhonda Robertson

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