The David Musick Tragedy

By Emory L. Hamilton

From the unpublished manuscript, Indian Atrocities Along the Clinch, Powell and Holston Rivers, pages 219-225.

The following narrative was prepared by the late Judge Elihu J. Sutherland of Clintwood, VA, for delivery at the dedication of the David Musick monument near Honaker, VA, August 19, 1956.

Judge Sutherland said: I am indebted to my long-time friend, Rev. Grover C. Musick, for this story of David Musick. Grover Musick is a great-great-grandson of the martyred David Musick. He secured this story from his great Aunt, great-granddaughter of David Musick.

The story as told by Mrs. Fletcher is as follows:

My grandfather, David Musick, married Annie McKinney, of Russell County, Virginia, and at the time of his death in 1792, his family consisted of his wife, their children, Elijah, Electious, Abraham and Phoebe. They lived on a farm near the present town of Honaker.

Two of the boys, Abraham and Elijah, went early one morning for firewood with which to prepare breakfast. They were surprised by a party of Indians (not known how many), but were able to reach their home. The doors were barred, and the defense of the house began. David Musick had a flint-lock rifle. He found it would not fire, due to the fact his house had been burned previous to this, injuring the gun. Mrs. Musick touched fire to the gun, hoping to ignite the powder, but to no avail. Mr. Musick was shot through the thigh by an arrow from the bow of the Indians, and fainted from the loss of blood. The Indians broke into the home, killing and scalping him and making prisoners of his wife and children. They then plundered the house and ate what they found of prepared food, their hands gory with blood.

While the Indians were attacking the house, a neighbor, who had come to the Musick home to borrow a plow, on seeing the Indians became so excited he ran with all speed possible. On reaching the yard of his home he fell dead. He must have had a weak heart.

The evening previous to the massacre of Mr. Musick the same band of Indians scalped a girl named Brumley, who lived in the same community. They came upon her late in the evening, while churning at a springhouse some distance from her house. Strange to say they scalped her alive, leaving her to die. The girl crawled some distance to an old stable and hid in some flax, which was stored in the building. She was found alive, and recovered.

But to resume my story of the Musick family and the Indians.

Telling Mrs. Musick and the children to get ready, they started on the long journey back to the Ohio Valley. Before leaving the settlement as they went through a field, they killed a steer. After skinning it they encased part of it in the hide for a supply of meat. Then they found a young mare, and after securing her, they placed the meat on her and had young Abraham, the eldest son, mount her. This boy, Abraham, had red hair, and the Indians were fond of him and treated him very well. Not so, however, with Electious, the youngest son, who refused to eat the raw meat along the way, and cried a great deal. As a punishment they rubbed his face against an oak tree, cutting the flesh deeply. He carried the scars with him to his grave.

The course the Indians and their captives followed led over Big A Mountain into the present county of Buchanan, down a ridge which bears the name of Indian Ridge in memory of this event, following Indian Creek, which also takes its name from this event. They came to Russell Fork River, down which they went through the Sand Lick section of Dickenson County to the junction of Russell Fork River with Russell Prater Creek, where the present town of Haysi is now located.

Night coming on they decided to camp there. Crossing a knoll a few yards above where Russell Prater enters Russell Fork, they forded the river to what was at that time a small island. An Indian brave, who could speak a little English, said as they were crossing: ‘White man no come here.’ Little did they know about their peril, for close upon them was a possee of white settlers, who a little later in the night sighting their camp-fire, moved into hiding behind a knoll and anxiously awaited the coming of dawn to attack and release Mrs. Musick and her children. All the Indians undoubtably would have been killed had the orders of the Captain of the possee been obeyed. One of the possee became so excited he fired before the order to fire was given.

When Mrs. Musick heard the firing, she and the children rushed towards the whites, she carrying the baby, Phoebe, in her arms. One of the Indians threw his tomahawk at her, but missed, sticking it in an oak tree. Another Indian threw pieces of burning firewood at her. An overruling of Providence surely must have saved the family.

The result of the attack: One Indian killed, another seriously wounded, but who was able to escape with his companions with much pain, as was indicted by his screams. Some years ago a human skeleton was found under a cliff, near Haysi, supposedly that of the wounded Indian. Then began the long thirty mile trip back to the settlements of the Clinch Valley in Russell County.

The possee being very much worn out by the long and arduous trip, when they reached the foot of Sandy Ridge decided to camp for the night at a large spring. But Mrs. Musick insisted they cross the mountain to Clinch River side before camping. Later discovery proved her fear correct, for the party of Indians had turned back after the fight and pursued the whites, following them to the big spring and camping on the proposed camp site of the whites. They gave up the chase here and returned to the Ohio.

Not knowing that a possee had gone out from the New Garden section in pursuit of the Indians, Captain Andrew Lewis, who was then in charge of the militia on the frontier and stationed at Rye Cove in Scott County, got word of the event and went himself in pursuit of the same party, not knowing that the prisoners had already been recaptured. He tells of his pursuit in a letter to the Governor written from Ft. Lee on the 24th of August, 1792, (1) in the following words:

On Monday night last I returned from pursuit of the Indians that did the mischief in New Garden on the 12th instant. I had started with 34 men to Kentucky to rout some Indians that I was informed was camped there, and supposed to be the ones that visited this county. I had not marched more than 7 or 8 miles, when an express came to me of the mischief done in the Garden, in the following words: ‘that 4 persons were killed, 12 or 14 prisoners taken; the number of Indians not known, but not less than 40'. I immediately changed my route, and I suppose such a chain of mountains was never crossed by any set of men before and 15 days provisions on our backs. The distance I had to march before I would strike their trail was 150 miles, unless I had fell in too far behind them. My intention was, if possible, to strike Sandy River low down, so as to be before them or shortly after. On the 17th in the evening, I struck the river, about four miles below the Station evacuated by our people last spring. We found there only the sign of some coming into the settlements, which we supposed to be the same. There was no person with me that had ever been to the Station. (2) and I expected if I could find it to see more sign, but unluckily took the wrong side of the river and thick cane brakes, and was at a loss to find it. I halted and sent two of the Scouts in search of it. They had not been gone but a few minutes before they returned and said from the noise and fire and smoke that the houses were then fired, but could not cross the river to be certain. I then found myself in a disagreeable situation, as I fully expected they were there, and I knew nothing of the recovery of the prisoners. As we had made considerable sign on both sides of the river, and were then on the contrary side from them, I knew delay would not do. I expected if the Station was afire that they were about to move off, and would of course, fall on our sign on which they would immediately murder the prisoners. To prevent this, as I had chosen men and my anxiety to save the prisoners, I divided my men, determined to risk a battle with half their number, as I had then no reason to believe their number to be under 40. I sent one half down the river to cross, and marched the other party up and crossed a small distance above them, so had they left the place we would meet. As soon as I got over we found the houses were not fired, but had encamped in the yard by the direction of the smoke, for the weeds, cane, and hemp was so tall that we could not tell their number, nor even see them until we were within fifteen steps of them, and just as we got sight of them, and our guns presented, they discovered us and run. Several guns were fired at them, but as they were in a few steps out of sight, cannot be certain that any were killed, except one.

We got every kind of arms and accoutrements they had and nine horses they had stolen from the Garden, which I restored to the owners. As they are gone naked and without either arms or ammunition. I doubt their ever seeing their own country. It may be thought this murder might have been prevented; the Garden was considered safe, for since the first settling of it there has been but one person killed, and that five or six years past...

Just to show how events in retelling can balloon out of proportion the following news item appeared in the Knoxville Gazette of August 25, 1792. Knoxville, August 25. On Saturday the 11th instant, a party of Indians attacked a house at New Garden, in Russell County, (Virginia) killed sixteen persons, and took a woman and four children prisoners. They were followed by a company of horse, who soon came up with them, and re-took the prisoners. (Page 23, The Gazette, part II, August 1792, American Museum).

R. M. Addington, History of Scott County, Virginia, page 335, in his biography of Charles Cromwell Addington, relates the story of the Musick family, thusly:

...When Charles Addington first came to Russell County, that section was often visited by hostile Indians. His home was located near a fort to which the family often had occasion to flee for safety. He frequently related, in substance, the following story as having occured near his home:

In the year 1790 (should be 1792) the Indians made several raids in the neighborhood of Hayter’s Gap. On one of these raids the house of a neighbor, named Musick, was attacked just at the break of day. Stealthily approaching the house, the Indians shot and killed Musick through a crack in the wall. They then forced an entrance and took his wife and nine children prisoners. It was three or four hours before the depredation became known in the neighborhood. Musick’s dead body was accidentally discovered by someone who called at his house on an errand. As soon as the murder became known, the riflemen of the neighborhood gathered at the Musick homestead, and women and children were rushed to the fort for protection. The trail of the Indians was soon found, and the riflemen went in hasty pursuit. But the enemy, by this time, were about nine hours travel ahead of their pursuers. Late the third evening the scouts came in sight of the Indians as they were kindling their first campfire. A council of war was held to determine the best manner of attack to rout the enemy and save the lives of the prisoners. It was decided an attack should not be made until dawn the next morning. The plan of attack was: All were to charge the camp at full speed, one third of the company were to discharge their guns into the air over the camp to make the Indians believe they were being shot at, the remaining two-thirds were to hold their fire in reserve, and shoot to kill if necessary. It was hoped in this way to so frighten the Indians that they would break camp and run without killing any of the captives. The plan succeeded admirably; the Indians fled headlong, leaving the prisoners unharmed, and much valuable plunder behind. Thus Mrs. Musick and her children were restored to their friends. (Note: children were put into the care of Mike Oxer, see pension record of James Oxer.)

(1) Virginia State Papers, Vol. VI, page 40.
(2) This was Harman’s Station in Kentucky, which had been abandoned the previous spring because of Indian danger. This is the same Station to which Jenny Wiley found her way when she escaped from the Indians in the winter of 1790.



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