Native Americans (Early Indian Life in Austin)

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Native American Culture (Austin Indiana)

Please scroll down for a history of the early Native American culture in Austin and Scott County Indiana. 

Land in South Austin is location of Historic Native American Indian Campsites

September 4, 2011
By Mike Barrett
Retired Indiana Conservation Officer Lyman Goben[1] has known for a long time; a sacred history within the city limits of Austin that dates back ten to fifteen thousand years ago. Acreage that is now farmland in South Austin, and located on the immediate south-side of York Road was once home to the many diverse tribes of the American Indians. Goben’s research and that of other archaeological and historical experts, has concluded that land just north of Stucker Creek[2] in South Austin was occupied by Indians for thousands of years. Archaeological evidence suggests the first Indians; of the Paleoindian Culture to occupy the area occurred more than 12,000 years ago. The latest Indian inhabitance in South Austin was likely in the late 1700s by three probable tribes; the Shawnee, the Delaware and the Potawatomi Indians, but those tribes came thousands of years after the first Native Americans occupied South Austin along the shores of the Old Lake.    

The 2011 photo above was taken from Stucker Creek on the south end of Austin looking north. According to archaeologists the high points of the soy bean field was one area of shoreline for Old Lake, which existed for thousands of years and was home to Austin’s first settlers; Native American Indians thousands of years before the white-man ever set foot in America. The homes in the background are from the streets of York Road, South High and South First Streets.   

Why South Austin?

 According to a 1988[3] publication by Goben entitled “Ancient Man and the Scottsburg Lowlands”; Scott County Indiana was once the site of an enormous lake created by the retreat of the ice-age.

“When this first advance of glacial ice began to retreat, immense quantities of water were released. As a result the Ohio River swelled; its valley bottomed as well as those of its tributaries were built up by deposits of sand and gravel transported by the glacial outwash. Such deposition resulted in the formation of the broad-bottomed, alluviated[4] valleys characteristic of the Muscatatuck River[5]. It is likely that this river was ponded by glacial alluviations and that severe flooding took place.”

“This valley was filled and choked at its narrow part near Millport[6] (Indiana) with drift from the leading and near edge of the glacier, and only a small part has been cleared out to this day. There is an obstruction present in the river bed just downstream from the bridge at Millport. This consists of a ledge of shale running across the river in a northern direction, and a considerable amount of clay, sand and gravel. This has been cut down to its present level by erosion. Before this however, the Muscatatuck was ponded into a shallow lake that stretched from Millport eastward to about State Road 203 five miles east of Scottsburg. The elevation of this lake was between 550 and 525 feet above sea level.”

“An observant person can see evidence of the shoreline both to the east, north and west of Scottsburg, which is the largest city located on the lake shore. The area encompassed by the lake is approximately 17 miles long and varies from a mean average of three and one half miles to sixteen miles wide taking into account the length of its longest arm, which runs north from Scottsburg, past Austin, Crothersville, Retreat and five miles farther on. It is approximately 13,500 acres in size, with an average depth of 12-feet.”

“From the obstruction or bottleneck at Millport to the north shore it’s less than one fourth of a mile. This distance was obviously much less at the time the lake was ponded. Over the last 18,000 to 20,000 years, erosion has taken its toll, by gradually cutting into the mass of drift at Millport and the shale bed, thus lowering the lake, until early in the 1900s it had become a swamp that still flooded at time of heavy rainfall. White man settled into the area in the early 1800s and his appetite for more fertile farmland, lead to his draining of this swamp by dredging[7], leaving it as we see now.” 

(Goben, 1988. P11-12.)

During the period of the Old Lake described by Goben, the south side of Austin and the land just north of Stucker Creek on the grounds off York Road, offered an ideal campsite for Indians of the period. The land had and still does have a natural rise just a hundred plus yards off of Stucker Creek. The farmland that now leads up to the rise was once covered in water and was part of the Old Lake. The rise served as a shore-line to the north-side of this fork of the lake, and was high enough for efficient campsite life. The water to the south of the Indians served several purposes; fishing was plentiful, drinking water was always nearby, washing of garments and tools were accomplished easier by the closeness of the lake and it served as a fort for any threat from the south, man or beast.  

During the years of 1953 -1987 Goben located hundreds of small Indian artifacts from the area near the rise just south of York Road off of South First Street. Goben reports that others interested in Indian Artifacts from across the country have scurried the area at some point too, and says the land is a fabulous piece of history. “There were several Indian campsites[8] located all over that area and a lot of outstanding artifacts have been found there. “It’s a thrilling experience to find something that old and know you are the first white person to ever touch it,” Goben exclaimed in a 2011 interview.

What is an Indian Campsite?

During the period of Indian life along the Old Lake there were three different types of campsites. There were the larger campsites located in choice places along the Old Lake, which were considered permanent and allowed the Indians greater awareness of their surroundings. A second type of campsite was a smaller campsite along the shore, and while the Indians lived there for extended periods they were not considered permanent. The third campsite would have been a kill-campsite or butcher-campsite, used by the Indians passing through for seasonal hunting and fishing.

Goben explained in 2011, that Indians from thousands of years ago lived much differently than the Indians who last occupied the Austin campsites in the late part of the 1700s. “They were hard on an area; they lived on it until it became so filthy conditions became unlivable. Then they would move to another campsite along the shore. When conditions are right you can still see dark spots on the land, which would have been close to the shores for the Old Lake. Those dark spots are from the residue of the great fires left behind by the Indians from many years ago,” explained Goben. 

Paleoindians: Austin’s First Settlers

Goben’s 1988 publication claims the first people to live in South Austin along the shores of Old Lake were the Paleoindians. Statewide archaeological evidence supports early Indian life throughout Indiana some 12,000 to 15,000 years ago, which was near the end of the glacial period or at least during the early stages of the climate change. Archaeologists believe the Paleoindians migrated from Asia to North America. The Paleoindians era lasted until about 10,000 years ago.

The Paleoindians lived along the shorelines of Old Lake in small groups, normally a clan consisted of related individuals. The traits of the Paleoindians suggests they moved around a lot, probably depending on the movement of the prey they depended on for food, but the Paleo’s always stayed close to water. Archaeologists have determined when evidence of cooking stones or heating stones exists on a campsite; this normally indicates the site was more permanent. However, because the Paleoindians frequently moved around their lifestyles have been difficult to trace and study. Researches have determined that some of the campsites in Scott and Washington Counties were permanent in nature.

Experts promote the Paleoindians as accomplished tool makers, using them for hunting; their spear-points and knives have been found close to skeletal remains of ice-age mammals in different sites throughout Indiana. A characteristic of a Paleoindian hunting tool is its shape known as the “Clovis”. “Clovis points are very distinctive in style, as they are all fluted with a single or multiple ones.” (Goben, P.16)
Below is a photo taken just off York Road looking southwest towards Interstate-65. The view offers a look at the lowland which was once part of the Old Lake.  



The Archaic Indians

The Archaic Indians lived in Indiana and Scott County some 6-700 years. They were a versatile people who flourished during adverse conditions. The Archaics were able to survive for so long due to their acceptance of change. The Archaic’s discovered new wild seeds as a source for food and new types of animals to pursue, such as deer, elk and bear. It was during the Archaic period when the spear-thrower was believed to be first used. 

One other note of change experienced during the Archaic period was the ritual of mortuary activities. Early studies of the Archaic Indians reveals no burial ceremonies or mortuary activities, but late in the period burial mounds begin to appear as did red pigment colorings near burial sites, which indicates religious beliefs or belief in the after life.

Dr. Robert Pace a researcher from Indiana State University noted during the digging of an Archaic site near Terre Haute (Indiana), a high rate of infant and pre-puberty mortality. (Goben, P. 20) The results are not surprising and somewhat expected, due to the difficult lives lived by the Archaic Indians. 

The Woodland Indians: Austin and Scott County’s largest Indian Populations

The Woodland’s existence in Scott County probably occurred nearly 2-3,000 years ago, and most local artifacts discovered in Scott County are believed to be from this era. The Woodland’s like the tribes before them thrived near Old Lake, and the property in South Austin was a flourishing settlement, populated with heavy campsites along the shoreline. 

Each campsite consisted of continuous campfires, used for cooking, warmth and protection. It is believed that some fires were kept burning during summer days, but a more likely scenario would be that the fires were re-started at night. But, no matter what the circumstances, life along the Old Lake was certainly adventurous and heavily populated. The Woodland Indians unlike past inhabitants were willing to explore more of Indiana than their immediate areas, which was a result of the seasonal hunting seasons the Woodlands participated in.  Also unlike the Paleo’s and Archaics, the Woodland’s viewed life along the shores of Old Lake as a permanent residence, even during population expansions. 

The Indiana Division of Historic Preservation and Archaeology states that the Woodland Indians increased horticulture, and began the period of thick and heavy pottery. The Woodland’s also are responsible for the culture of elaborate mortuary rituals, including long tombs beneath burial mounds.

The Woodland’s were trader of exotic goods like copper, mica, marine shells, drilled wolf and bear teeth, often traveling throughout the region to trade with other Indians. It was the Woodland’s that introduced different branches of their people as population growth continued , which eventually led to what we know as tribes. 

In Goben’s 1988 publication of the story of the Old Lake, he divides the Woodland period into different eras, with the most dramatic period of change coming during the latter period. Goben indites[9] that on “Old Lake”, 36 of the 120 known campsites along Old Lake shows evidence of all three Woodland cultures. Most of this evidence is from surface found artifacts, found by Goben and other collectors of the area. 

The Woodlands are credited with the first appearances of agriculture in raising crops like corn, beans and squash. The Indians also enjoyed fishing year round on Old Lake and evidence supports their taste for frogs and turtles. 

While the Woodland cultures are responsible for many firsts among Native Americans, it is their use of the Bow and Arrow that has had the most dramatic effects on artifact collectors in Indiana. Before the Bow and Arrow era the most common tool of choice among Indiana Indians was the spearhead era. 

Mississippian Period

When the Woodland period came to an end the next Indian Culture was known as the Mississippian period. This period lasted in some cases into the arrival of early European explorers, probably until about 1650.

The Indian settlements started becoming larger, and during this period Indians began to build mounds for their villages and thus the era is referred to as the era of the “Mound Builders.” While there are no known mounds built by Indians in Scott County, there is a natural earth mound near Oard Springs in the Northeast section of rural Austin, which was used by different Indian tribes during pass through hunting trips. There is an actual Indian made mound in Jackson County along the White River, and the Indiana Division of Historic Preservation and Archaeology recognizes the “Angel Mounds” site near Evansville Indiana as an Indian mound builders site from the Mississippian period.   Angel Mounds is now recognized as a state historical site and for over 60-years has been open to visitors. The mound was believed to have been established in the middle Mississippian era; some time around 1100 to 1450 A.D.. The mound is credited by the Indiana Department of Natural Resources as being the largest Indian town of its time in Indiana. However, no knows for certain why the Indians of the Mississippian culture deserted the mound at Evansville, but years later the mound was occupied by Shawnee and Miami Indian tribes. (Indiana Department of Natural Resources, 2011.) 

Indian Life in the Late 1700s and Early 1800s in Austin, Scott County and Indiana   

When Indiana first became a territory in 1800, the original inhabitants of the land now known as Indiana included the Native American Indian Tribes of: The Illini in Western Indiana, the Miami Indians in Northern Indiana and the Shawnee Indians in Southern Indiana. 

As the years passed and more tribes were forced west out of the Northeast sections of America, different tribes began to make Indiana as their homeland. Other tribes that relocated to Indiana were the Potawatomi, Kickapoo, Miami, Plankeshaw, Delaware and Shawnee. 

Goben states evidence reveals that as late as the mid to late 1700s, campsites along the shores of “Old Lake” in Scott County; were occupied by three main tribes of Indians, the Delawares, Shawnee and Potawatomi. The Delawares came to Indiana in the mid 1700s, after they were forced out of the Northeastern United States. Some of the Delawares arrived in the area now known as Austin just a few years later, but by the early 1800s the Delaware’s lived on reservations hundreds of miles away in Indiana. But during certain times of the year they occupied campsites in Austin and other nearby locations. When white settlers first came to Austin around 1839, there is documentation of friendly encounters with the Delaware Indians that were passing through on hunting and fishing trips. Another tribe the Potawatomi’s, was also known to occupy campsites in Scott County for short periods, in the early 1800s.  

The Shawnee Indians were known to have permanent homes in the early 1800s in nearby counties of Jackson, Jennings, Jefferson, Switzerland, Ripley and Bartholomew, but their presence in Scott County is well documented in the laurels of history. Historians believe the massacre of the Pigeon Roost Settlement in Southern Scott County was the result of an angered Shawnee Indian party. According to a 1962 publication by Austin historian Dr. Carl R. Bogardus, the attack at Pigeon Roost was committed by a band of Shawnee Indians from Lake County[10], Indiana. “The band of Shawnees that committed the outrage left their village in what is now Lake County, Indiana, and made their way directly to the Pigeon Roost Settlement. They were led by a chief by the name of Misselemetaw.” (Bogardus, 1962. P. 7)

 In 1905, the U.S. Department of Agriculture provided a soil survey of Scott County, Indiana which included comments about Indian life in Scott County in its opening remarks.

“Few events of any importance in the history of Scott County transpired before the war of 1812. Several attempts had been made prior to that time to establish settlements in this part of Indiana, but they were generally unsuccessful on account of trouble with the hostile Indians. The Pigeon Roost settlement, which was established in the southern part of the area in 1809, was probably the first settlement of any importance in the county, but this was attacked in 1812 by Indians, most of its inhabitants massacred, and the village completely destroyed. The Indians, however were soon defeated and driven from this part of the State, and settlement then progressed more rapidly.” (Magnum, & Neill, 1905).

Albert Thormyer: Lifelong Austin Resident has First Hand Experience Collecting Indian Artifacts in South Austin 

At right is a photo of Austin resident Albert Thormyer, with a few of the hundreds of Indian Artifacts he has found over the years, many of them found along the shoreline of Old Lake in South Austin. Thormyer first searched for arrowheads on the Historic South Austin Campsite back in the early 1950s, while doing farm work on the property of Lenny Weir.

Albert Thormyer was born in 1936, in a farmhouse on land that is now known as Paulana Avenue in Austin (Indiana). The son of Clarence and Kathryn (Trulock) Thormyer, Albert was born on land that was part of a huge farm owned by his grandparents; Albert and Margaret Thormyer in the north-end of Austin. The land is now full of homes, but the Thormyer’s owned farmland from Paulana Avenue all the way to Booe Road; long before there were any homes or even streets in the area. The Thormyer’s purchased the farm in 1928 and owned it until 1941.

For young Albert Thormyer life on his grandfather’s farm is where his deep love for nature and the outdoors began. When Albert was about eight-years old in 1944, he went blackberry picking with his mother on farmland in Austin (just east of Jack Morgan Road and south of Booe Road) and discovered an amazing stone; even as an eight-year old he realized the stone was special. Albert still has the stone some 67 years later and it has been the determined the stone is half-of an Indian Tomahawk and is approximately 700 to 1,000 years old.   

From that time on Thormyer has searched for Indian Artifacts on land in several locations in Scott County. First as a curious young boy, then as an interested teenager and later with his wife Gayle (Snowden) as an adult and serious collector, and now occasionally even as he reached his mid 70s he will slip away and scan over some land still looking for a special find; like the one he discovered 67 years ago in Austin.

During his high school days Thormyer found work outside of his family’s farm, and went to work for a man named Herman Schneck, who farmed land in various locations in Scott County. One piece of property that Schneck farmed was owned by Lenny Weir, and is the property in South Austin that was once the shoreline off a fork for Old Lake. It is working for Schneck when Thormyer realized the property in South Austin was sacred ground. “We used to cultivate the field with a mule team, and after a fresh plowing you could find hundreds of arrowheads in the freshly turned ground. I have collected hundreds of artifacts from that property; it is a fascinating piece of land and Austin history.” Thormyer says he found most of his arrowheads at the South Austin campsites along the rise of the land, just north of Stucker Creek. “Back then you could stand and look at the land and recognize the best places to look, which were usually around a break or high point in the land.”

After graduating from Austin High School in 1954, where he was a star basketball player Albert attended Purdue University. In 1959 he married Gayle Snowden and started his family[11] in Austin. He like most others from Austin at the time, worked at Morgan Packing Company, but his work was outside the gigantic cannery supervising farm crews where the work was a natural, for the man who grew up on a farm. Albert worked for Morgan’s until 1969, when he began a career in the banking business that lasted for 30 years; the last 27 as the Branch Manager of the Home Federal Bank in Austin.

Thormyer has found other important Indian artifacts in other Austin (rural) locations. In the early 1950s he discovered an impressive Celt; used by Indians as a tool. A “Falls of the Ohio Museum” archaeologist concluded the Celt was close to 2,000 years old. In the 1960’s he found a Tomahawk on land in north rural Austin, close to Crothersville Road, but well within the limits of northern Scott County. He found a Spearhead, which is just one of the many fascinating pieces he owns outside of the hundreds of arrowheads. Many of the pieces Albert owns were actually on display during Austin’s Centennial Celebration in 1953, when he was just 17-years old.

Thormyer alludes it is becoming harder to find relics today, because farming is so different. “Land that used to be plowed and tilled is no longer cultivated that way,” he says. Thormyer is referring to the technique now known as “No Tilling”, and is aimed at reducing erosion and improving soil quality. With the land not being turned over less artifacts are coming to surface and fewer pieces are found. Thormyer believes the days of finding the bigger pieces are over in the Austin and Scott County areas, but still believes a lot of history is buried deep along the shorelines of Old Lake in South Austin. Thormyer also states that from his experiences with the “No Tilling” practice, the best time to look in fields is after a soy-bean harvest. “After a corn season the ground is covered with so much chafe you can’t see the ground that well, but there’s less spoilage after beans, and that’s the time to go,” says Thormyer and he should know, he’s been searching for Indian artifacts for 67 years.

Indiana (Land of the Indians)

Indiana became the 19th state on November 7th 1816, but before that Indiana was part of an official territory designated by Congress in 1800 as the Indiana Territory. Originally the Indiana Territory had been part of the Northwest Territory, which had been organized in 1787. When the original Northwest Territory was formed in 1787 the U.S. Census Bureau reports there were about 5,000 Europeans living in the territory, and nearly fifty-thousand Native Americans, which consisted of several different Indian tribes. 

On July 4th 1800, Congress established Indiana as its own territory and designated Vincennes (Indiana) as the capital of the new territory. The name Indiana meant “Land of the Indians”, which was due to the fact that most of the area north of the Ohio River was still home to Native Americans. At the time the Indiana Territory was created it included all of present day Indiana, Illinois and Wisconsin, and parts of three other present day states; Minnesota east of the Mississippi River, the Upper Peninsula of present-day Michigan and a small portion of Ohio. When the Indiana Territory was established there were only three American Settlements located in the territory; Kaskaskia (Illinois) and Vincennes and Clarks Grant, which are two present day communities of Indiana (Clark’s Grant is the Clarksville Jeffersonville area.) Congress appointed

William Henry Harrison as the first Governor of the Indiana Territory, and Harrison County (Indiana) is named in his honor. Harrison later became the ninth President of the United States. 

By the time Indiana became a state in 1816, the Indiana territory had been reduced with Illinois, Wisconsin, Michigan, Minnesota and Ohio being recognized as their own territories or state. The state’s official capital was in Corydon located in Harrison County Indiana, and remained there until 1825 when Indianapolis became the capital. 

As noted earlier in this document Indiana means “Land of the Indians”. The name apparently originated from Americans settled in Kentucky. The Kentuckians often referred to the land north of the Ohio River or North Bank as the land of the Indians. In 1768, several colonies purchased the Iroquois claim to the northwest and established the Indiana Land Company, which is the first recorded use of the name of Indiana. The name seemed both logical and appropriate by Congress, and the new territory was named the Indiana Territory in 1800, and a few years later the 19th state of the Union was officially named Indiana in 1816. 

Indians in Indiana Today

As of this writing (August 28th, 2011) there are no federally recognized Indian tribes based in Indiana today. (Indiana Tribes and Languages, 2011.) Most Native Americans were forced to leave Indiana during the Indian Removals of the 1800s. The tribes are not extinct, they have survived in other states such as Kansas and Oklahoma, but many of the tribes are small in numbers, and their futures are uncertain.   


Bogardus, C.R. M.D., (1962). The Pigeon Roost Massacre. The Muscatatuck Press. Austin, Scott County, Indiana. September 3rd, 1962. (P. 7).

Division of Historic Preservation and Archaeology. (2011). Indianapolis Indiana. Retrieved August 1st, 2011 from;

 Goben, L. (1988 and 1996). Ancient Man and the Scottsburg Lowlands. The story of Old Lake from past to present and the people who inhabited its shores on 120 campsites.

Indiana Department of Natural Resources. (2011.) Angel Mounds State Historic Site. Retrieved August, 24th, 2011 from

Indiana Tribes and Languages. (2011). Retrieved July 4th, 2011 from

 Magnum, A.W. and Neill, N.P.. (1905) U.S. Department of Agriculture. Soil Survey of Scott County Indiana.  Retrieved August 10th, 2011 from:


[1] Lyman Goben was an Indiana Conservation Officer from 1953-1987

[2] Stucker Creek also known as Stucker Ditch was named after early Scott County Indiana settlers, brothers John and Jacob Stucker who settled in Lexington Township in 1807.

[3] A second updated printing was released in 1996.

[4] Alluviation: The phenomenon of sediment or gravel accumulating

[5] Muscatatuck River is derived from the Munsee language used by the Lenape/Delaware Indians and means; Land of slow moving waters. First recorded use by white-man was in 1812 by a man named Tipton who recorded the spelling as “Muscackituck.”

[6] Millport Indiana is located Washington County Indiana; 30 miles west of Austin.

[7] Dredging: To clean out the bed of a harbor, river or other area of water by scooping out mud, weeds and rubbish with a dredge.

[8] Goben believes there were as many as a dozen Indian campsites in South Austin, with as many as 120 total throughout various locations along the Old Lake in Scott, Washington and Jackson Counties.

[9] Indites: To give literary or formal expression

[10] Lake County is approximately 215 miles from Scott County; a great distance in 1812 when traveling by horse.

[11] Albert and Gayle are the parents of two children: Dana Thormyer Stephens and Jill Thormyer Hough

Four Historic Indian Artifacts of the Albert Thormyer Collection Found in Austin Area

September 4, 2011

From Top to Bottom

Half Tomahawk: Found in 1944 on farmland just east of Jack Morgan Road and just south off Booe Road in Austin Indiana.

Spearhead: Exact location of discovery unknown, but believed to be found on land east of the Lee Morgan property off of Coffee Pot Road in Austin Indiana.

Celt: Found in early 1950s on land in Austin just west of Boatman Road; and on the north side of Stucker Creek. Area is often flood land today and was once part of the Old Lake. An archaeologist at the “Falls of the Ohio Museum” believes the Celt is between 1,500 and 2,000 years old.

Full Tomahawk: Found in the 1960s on land in north rural Austin, close to Crothersville Road, but well within the limits of northern Scott County.


2011 Photo of Stucker Creek in South Austin

September 4, 2011

Names of water creeks in Scott County named after Indians who lived in area

September 18, 2011

Quick Creek (Northeastern Scott County)

When Hardy Lake was established in 1970 as a water source for Austin and other communities in Scott County, the original name was Quick Creek Reservoir. The name Quick Creek was used, because it was the damming of waters from a stream named Quick Creek which supplied the reservoir.

In 1816 one of the first settlers to the Austin area (was not called Austin at the time) was a man named William Harrod, who arrived from Gallatin County, Kentucky. Harrod settled on a farm in northern Jennings Township, and often hunted and fished the nearby streams and lakes in the northeast area of the county, and what is now known as Johnson Township and near Hardy Lake. Also living in the area were some Delaware Indians, which Harrod befriended and eventually learned their names. One fall, and just a few years after the Pigeon Roost Massacre of 1812, in southern Scott County where a white settlement was attacked by Shawnee Indians; Harrod convinced two of the Indians they should take their families and move out of the area, due to ill feelings towards the Shawnee Indians. While the raid was an act of the Shawnees, Harrod sensed it would not matter to revengeful white settlers. One of the Indians was named Quick, and in his honor Harrod and other white settlers named the creek; Quick Creek. The fast exit of the small band of Delaware Indians into counties north of Scott County is believed to be, the last Indians that resided in the northern Austin and Scott County areas.  

Ox Creek

Ox Creek in the Scottsburg area just south of Highway 56 was named in honor of a Delaware Chief named Old Ox.

Muscatatuck River

Named by Delaware Indians and means “Land of Slow Moving Water” or “Clear Water”.


Bogardus, C.R. (MD), (1957). Pioneer Life in Scott County. (P. 13-14). The Muscatatuck Press, Austin, Scott County, Indiana. 

Bogardus, C.R. (MD), (1970). The Early History of Scott County, Indiana 1820-1870. Published by the Scott County Historical Society. Publication 2.


The Pigeon Roost Massacre by Dr. Carl Bogardus

October 22, 2011

Written in 1962 by Austin Historian Dr. Carl Bogardus (1906-1992), the story of the Pigeon Roost Massacre is the account of the violent and murderous attack on a white pioneer settlement in 1812, carried out by Shawnee Indians. The massacre occurred in what is now called Underwood, Indiana, just 12 miles south of Austin on U.S. Highway 31. Underwood is located in southern Scott County but was part of Clark County at time of the massacre. When the attack was over 24 people, including men, women and children had been murdered.

 The Pigeon Roost Massacre


Carl R. Bogardus, Sr., M.D. (1962)

Works-Reinterred by Brenda Trabue (2011)

Above right is a painting attached to the Pigeon Roost Monument in Underwood, Indiana, which was erected in honor of the pioneers who lost their lives. The painting illustrates the attack of the fateful day on September 3rd, 1812.  


The events leading up to the Pigeon Roost Massacre

The War with our mother country, commonly known as the American Revolution, which began with the Battle of Lexington, Massachusetts, on April 19, 1775, did not actually end with the signing of the Treaty of Paris on September 3, 1783, but continued on through the long and bitter years of the so-called Indian Wars of 1791 to 1794, during which time the savages were openly encouraged and aided by the British to attack the Americans on the unguarded frontiers. This fierce struggle, a bloody episode in the longer period of trouble and undeclared war with the British, ended August 3, 1795, with the signing of the Treaty of Greene Ville, Ohio, between Gen Anthony Wayne and the allied Indian tribes, he having decisively defeated them at the Battle of Fallen Timbers in Northwestern Ohio on August 20, 1794. Following this a period of comparative peace prevailed while settlers began peopling the rick, but practically empty country west of the Allegheny Mountains. That portion north of the Ohio River, known as the Northwest Territory, had been wrested by force of arms from the British in 1778 and 1779 by that great American leader, Gen. George Rogers Clark, and his brave little army of Virginia troops. For this reason alone the country occupied by all of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin and part of Minnesota, is not a part of Canada today. In 1784 the State of Virginia formally ceded this “Territory Northwest of the River Ohio” to the United States.

However, the Treaty of Greene Ville did not by any means end all Indian trouble in the west. They continued their scattered raids on the while settlements, surreptitiously aided, abetted and incited by their British allies. The wily Shawnee chieftain, Tecumseh, who was a very capable organizer and leader, and his one-eyed brother, the treacherous Prophet, sought to weld all the Indiana tribes in the Midwest into a powerful confederation in a last desperate attempt to drive out, for all time to come, the white invaders of their lands.

It is to the eternal credit of Little Turtle, the great chief of the Delawares, that they would not join with the Shawnees, Miamis and Potawatomis and their other allies. During the Indian Wars Little Turtle had been a fierce and implacable enemy of the Americans, but after the treaty he became their staunchest friend. He had intelligence enough to read the handwriting on the wall and foresaw that the white man was bound to win out in the end.

As a consequence of these alarming developments, relations with the Indians grew increasingly worse. Early in 1811, while Tecumseh was in the south attempting to rally the Creeks, Choctaws, Chickasaws, and other tribes to his banner, the Prophet was left in charge of the Shawnees, Potawatomis, Winnbagoes and Chippewas and their lesser allies. But, he had strict orders to do nothing drastic until Techumseh returned from the south. In the meantime, Gen. William Henry Harrison, cognizant of the impending trouble, with his little army marched out of Fort Know, at Vincennes, capital of Indiana Territory, and headed for the Indian country to the northeast. He finally encamped on the Tippecanoe River near Prophetstown (the present-day town of Battle Ground, a few miles north of LaFayette). The Prophet, under a flag of truce, requested a conference to be held the next day, November 7, 1811. Then before daybreak his warriors attacked the unsuspecting and unprepared Americans. A bloody battle ensued, which might have resulted disastrously but for the superb generalship of Harrison and the reckless bravery of his officers and men. With the coming of daylight the Indians were driven off in defeat, and thus ended the great dream of Tecumseh and the Prophet. The Miamis, through the influence of Little Turtle, and the diplomacy of Harrison, took no part in the battle. The decisive Battle of Tippecanoe may be regarded as a “curtain raiser” for the War of 1812, which was declared less than eight months later, June 18, 1812.

When Tecumseh eventually returned from the south in the spring of 1812 he gave his impetuous brother a terrible beating and would have nothing more to do with him. Then after the outbreak of hostilities he went to Canada, joined the British and was made a Brigadier-General in the British Army in charge of all Indian forces in the west. He was killed at the Battle of the Thames (Canada) on October 5, 1813, supposedly by Col. Richard M. Johnson, of Kentucky.

The American authorities were well aware of the unrest of the Indians with its potential dangers and advised the pioneer settlers of southern Indiana to seek refuge in forts or blockhouses. This warning went unheeded in some instances, such as at Pigeon roost. As a consequence, the first of many colorful and tragic events to occur on Indiana soil was the pitiful Pigeon Roost Massacre of September 3, 1812.

The following day an army of over 600 Indians attacked Fort Harrison (Terre Haute), but were finally repulsed after fierce fighting by the garrison of fifty solders under the command of Capt. Zachary Taylor, who was then twenty-seven years of age, and who much later was to become President of the United States.

All of these wars within a war, which lasted from 1775 until 1814 were integral parts of what, for want of a better name, can be called our “War of Independence from Great Britain.” Following the signing of the Treaty of Ghent, Belgium, we had no further trouble with the British. It would seem that we had finally convinces them, the hard way, that we were at last grown up and that we were perfectly capable of governing ourselves!



Pigeon Roost was a pioneer settlement, then in northern Clark County, but now in southern Scott County, Indiana, situated along the little creek by the same name. It was in a fertile, but then heavily wooded region. It was so –called due to the fact that myriads of wild pigeons roosted thereabouts in choice spots, and their excretions fertilized the soil to an amazing degree of richness. These birds gathered in flocks so dense that they would eclipse the rays of the sun, and by the sheer weight of their roosting bodies broke large limbs from the trees. Their habit of banding together in great flocks was their undoing, however, for they are now entirely extinct due to their having been indiscriminately slaughtered. The last known survivor died in the Cincinnati Zoo in 1914.

The first settlement made in what is now Scott County was in 1805 by John Kimberlin of Virginia, and his sons, Daniel and Isaac, on a stream we now call Kimberlin Creek, in the southeastern part of the county, in Tract 264 of Clark’s Grant. The Pigeon Roost settlement was made I 1809 by a group of twelve families who came from Nelson County, Kentucky. The area had been purchased from the Indians by Governor Harrison by the Treaty of Grouseland on August 21, 1805, and opened up for settlement. Settlement in southern Indiana was not encouraged by the territorial authorities at the capital at Vincennes except in blockhouses, and then only at the settler’s own risk, because of the ever-present danger of attack by the Indians.

On August 12, 1812, Acting Governor, John Gibson had written to Col. William Hargrove, commanding the mounted Rangers, in part as follows: “The men under your command will still keep up the same vigilance. The Militia of this Territory will in a great measure leave for the north. Then our force of able bodied men will be much reduced and it will be necessary to carefully watch every point of our frontier.”

Pigeon Roost was not a village, but was a scattered collection of cabins and small farms typical of the southern Indiana pioneer communities of that day. Each rough cabin was in a clearing in the woods where the settlers cultivated their crops and tended their livestock. The settlement occupied an area of several square miles south of the present day village of Vienna. The famed “Cincinnati Trace,” laid out from Cincinnati to Vincennes by Captain Ephraim Kibbey from 1799 to 1805, traversed the northern edge of the community. Most of the earliest settlers of Scott County came in from the Ohio River at Madison over this historic trail; however, the Pigeon Roost settlers had come in by way of Louisville.

There was also a well-traveled Indian trail which led through the settlement. This trail led from present-day Vallonia, on the East Fork of the White River in Jackson County, through Washington and Scott Counties into Clark’s Grant, where it connected with the old Shawnee Indian village of Tullytown, on Pleasant Run a shortdistance from present-day Charlestown, and from there it continued on to the Falls of the Ohio. Tullytown, or as it was later called when it became a white man’s town, Springville, is no longer in existence. It was made the first county seat of Clark County in 1801. (In 1803 the county seat was moved to Jeffersonville, and in 1811 from there to Charlestown, and in 1878 back to Jeffersonville.)

The twelve families which composed the Pigeon Roost Settlement, six of whom were named Collings, were nearly all related. They having built their cabins near each other lived almost as one big family. One-fourth mile southeast form the site of the Pigeon Roost Monument lived the leader of the colony, William Elson Collings. (A veteran of the American Revolution, born in Virginia in 1758, he came to Nelson County, Kentucky with his father and mother, William and Ann Collings.) At home with him were his two youngest children, Lydia and John. (No written account of the massacre mentions Collings’ wife, Phoebe (Hougland) Collings, so it must be supposed that she was away at the time. We know that she was still living in 1827. If she is buried in the Pigeon Roost Cemetery, her grave is unmarked). A hundred years east of his house was the cabin of his son, Henry Collings. Three-fourths of a mile east was the crude log house which sheltered his son, Richard Collings, his wife and seven children. To the west lived his two daughters, Jane (Collings) Biggs, whose husband, John, was away in service, and Sichy (Collings) Richey, wife of Dr. John Richey, Scott County’s first physician. Five miles to the south, near the present town of Henryville, was the blockhouse of his son, Zebulon Collings. To the north, toward Vienna, lived the brothers, Jeremiah and Elias Payne, Isaac Coffman and Daniel Johnson. The wives of Elias Payne, Coffman and Johnson were sisters, whose maiden names had been Bridgewater. The total number of residents of this pioneer colony was about thirty-five persons. Notwithstanding the troubled condition of the frontier, the settlers enjoyed comparative peace for some time.

At that time there were no permanent Indian villages in southern Indiana, but the Shawnees, Delawares and Potawatomis often came in to hunt and stay a while at a campsite west of the present town of Vienna, but these stragglers who came into the vicinity were not troublesome. Game was very plentiful and this was a fine hunting ground. William E. Collings was a great hunter and fighter, and was a crack shot with the long “Kentucky Rifle” which was in use at that time. He had often engaged in friendly shooting contests with the Indians and had even taught them how to shoot. The Indians familiarly called him “The Long Knife,” as they were in a habit of calling any outstanding American, notably George R. Clark, also. Long acquainted with the members of the very band of Indians that took part in the massacre, the settlers, as too often the case, disregarded the rumors of an impending attack by the redskins.

The day before the massacre occurred Captain John Norris of Clark County, an officer in the Pennsylvania Militia, an old Indian fighter who had engaged in the Battle of Tippecanoe, where he was wounded, reached the settlement. He brought additional tidings of disaffection and uneasiness among the Indians and made plans for the erection of a fort and stockade for the protection of the settlement, which plans were never carried out, as will be related.

In all fairness it must be stated that the Indians possibly had some justification, at least in their own minds, for their action. It is said that they were sorely grieved because Dan Johnson stole a white elk belonging to them, and also that William Collings allegedly sold them whisky and then when they were drunk the settlers cheated them in trades for furs and took advantage of them in various ways. Whether these things were true or not, we’ll never know, but probably they had no connection with the massacre.

The band of Shawnees that committed the outrage left their village in what is now Lake County, Indiana, and made their way directly to Pigeon Roost Settlement. They were led by a chief by the name of Misselemetaw. They crossed the East Fork of the White River near the present site of Sparksville, in Jackson County, making the crossing three or four at a time so as not to attract too much attention. Then their path joined the Vallonia Trail and they crossed the Muscatatuck River and proceeded by way of present day Little York and Leota to the ill-fated settlement, which they reached early in the afternoon of September 3, 1812.

The first warning the settlers had of an attack by the Indians was when cattle belonging to Jeremiah Payne ran bellowing toward his house, their sides full of arrows and spears. He at once took his wife, Sarah (McCoy), and little son, Lewis, to the fort at Vienna. Then he started through the woods toward the house of his brother, Elias Payne, five miles away. He later stated that he ran in what he called a “turkey trot” all the way, but he arrived there too late. The red fiends had been there before him and had already done their deadly work. Elias’s wife, Rachel, and seven children had been killed and scalped and their mangled and mutilated remains cremated in the burning house.

Elias Payne and his neighbor, Isaac Coffman, were in the woods a few miles from their homes robbing a bee tree when they were suddenly fired upon by the Indians. Isaac was killed instantly, and was scalped. It was not until several years afterward that his bleached bones were found. Elias Payne was shot and fatally wounded, but managed to escape from the savages and made his way several miles through the forest. His faithful dog, apparently realizing his master’s helpless condition, returned to the Vienna blockhouse the next day and led Jeremiah Payne to the place where his brother lay unconscious and dying, but before help could be brought to him the wounded man was dead. Jeremiah buried him on the spot lest any prowling Indiana find and mutilate the body.

The Indians visited several of the houses simultaneously in an effort to strike a telling blow and make their escape before an organized resistance could be made against them. Mrs. Richard Collings and her seven children were caught by the Indians as she was trying to make her way to the home of her father-in-law. Her husband was away from home in government Ranger Service at the time. A foot log across Pigeon Roost Creek marked the spot where they died.

Mrs. Rachel (Huffman) Collings, wife of Henry Collings, was also caught by the redskins as she was returning to her home from a visit to the cabin of Elias Payne. She was mangled in a most revolting manner, her unborn baby being scalped and laid in her arms after the Indians had worked their will with her. The incentive to such a diabolical deed was the five dollar British reward offered for each American scalp!

However, at the cabin of William E. Collings the savages received a severe setback, losing a half-dozen of their band. At the time he was entertaining his old friend, Captain Norris. They were sitting in front of the cabin eating watermelon when they spotted the savages in war paint skulking through the bushes and immediately knew that they were on the war path.

William Collings was famed throughout the country west of the Alleghenies as a dead shot with the old flint-lock rifle. Well knowing his deadly aim the savages sought to surprise him and his family, but were foiled in this by his keen eyesight. Before the attackers could either reach the cabin or get out of range two were killed. Another standing in the doorway of Henry Collings’ cabin was made a “good Indian” by one of the elder Collings’ bullets. A fourth redskin pursuing thirteen-year old John Collings, who had been sent to drive up the cows, with upraised tomahawk and almost within reach of the lad was shot through the heart by the old rifleman. John dashed safely into the shelter of the cabin.

Henry Collings was shot through the head while working in a flax field. He was found in a corner of the rail fence two days later with barely enough life in him to tell the name of the Indian who shot him. “I started to jump the fence, but Little Kill Buck shot me!” were his last words, showing that he knew his mind, and proving that the attackers were known to the settlers.

John Morris, another of the settlers was away serving in the Militia at the time of the attack. His mother, wife and children were all killed by the Indians as they were trying to make their way to the home of William Collings. What a shock he must have received on his eventual return home!

One of the most tragic events of the massacre was the death of the baby of Mrs. Jane (Collings) Biggs. Late in the afternoon Mrs. Biggs with the baby and two other children, went to look for their cow. Pausing at the edge of the clearing as she was returning she was horrified to see her cabin surrounded by a howling and dancing band of painted savages, who had set fire to the structure. She started back through the woods toward the fort of her brother, Zebulon Collings, about five miles away, but on the way was overtaken by the redskins. She crouched in the bushes alongside the path, while the Indians passed by within a few feet of her. Just as they had passed her place of concealment the baby began to cry, and the Indians halted. Mrs. Biggs, to stifle the baby’s cries, thrust the corner of her shawl into its mouth. The child struggled to free its face in an effort to breather and made a slight sound. Mrs. Biggs, in her fierce anxiety to still the sound held the shawl even closer to the little face until the Indians finally passed out of sight. As soon as they were gone she withdrew her hand only to find that in her fear she had suffocated her child. She reached her brother’s blockhouse at daybreak the following morning after wandering all night in the woods carrying the corpse of her baby.

Dr. John Richey, who lived about five miles southwest of his father-in-law, William Collings, was at work in the field when he espied the enemy. He hastened home and told his wife, Sichy, what he had seen. Taking her upon his back he went through the cornfield to the woods, where quietly and cautiously they waited for the dawn. When they dared risk traveling they left their hiding place and sought refuge at her brother’s fort. On October 12, 1812, about five weeks after the massacre their first child, Richard, was born. It is said that Dr. John Richey and SichyCollings were the first couple to be married in Scott County.

Mrs. Betsy Johnson, wife of Dan, and sister of Mrs. Elias Payne, also reached the fort without being molested. During the afternoon she had heard the shooting and the screams of children and justly realizing the cause left her home and started to the blockhouse at once. While on the way to the fort she looked back and saw her cabin being consumed by flames. She was thankful she had not tarried there.

Ben Yount, who also lived in the community, hearing the shooting of guns and comprehending the danger, put his wife on his horse behind him. They took their children in their arms and made their way to the fort on Silver Creek, eight miles southeast of Vienna. That very night they became the proud, but anxious parents of another daughter, whom they named Rachel.

A Mrs. Beal, who lived in the settlement and whose husband was with Captain Buckner Pittman at Vincennes at the time, head the frenzied Indians. Taking her two little ones she went to a sinkhole for protection. There she remained until eight or nine o’clock that night. Then under cover of darkness she made her way to the fort on Silver Creek, arriving there at about two o’clock the following morning. These people, with the four who were at the successfully-defended cabin of William E. Collings, were all that were left of the Pigeon Roost Settlement.


At the cabin of William E. Collings the Indians realized they had serious opposition to contend with. One of them tried the stratagem of putting on the dress and shawl of Mrs. Henry Collings, and approaching in that disguise. But the keen eye of Collings detected the deception and his deadly rifle ended the life of one more redskin. After that the enemy kept carefully under cover, and apparently divided their forces, part going west in search of easier prey and part remaining to watch the Collings house. But the occupants of the house were alert and vigilant, and gave no opportunity for attack while daylight lasted. The defense of the Collings house, though the active part of it lasted hardly more than an hour, served as a check that probably saved many lives, for evening was approaching, and the sound of the firing served as a warning to the scattered settlers.

After dark Collings and Norris realized that the situation was more dangerous, as the Indians might succeed in setting fire to the cabin, and they decided to slip away from it and get to the blockhouse of Zebulon Collings. John, Lydia and Capt. Norris went ahead, taking one of the guns, and Collings guarded the rear. The first three gained the adjoining cornfield without molestation, but as Collings passed the corncrib, an Indian who was concealed behind it fired at him, but without hitting him. He raised his rifle, but found that the Indian’s bullet had broken the loc, and the gun could not be fired. He called to Capt. Norris to bring back the other gun, but Norris either did not hear or did not heed. As the Indians did not attempt to come to close quarters, he made his way into the corn, where he became entirely separated from the others, and the Indians followed him. He passed through the corn and went through the woods until he came to the cabin of his son-in-law, Dr. John Richey, where he hid behind a large log. He heard the Indians looking for him, but they did not find his hiding place. At daybreak he started for Zebulon’s fort, which he reached without further trouble.

Meanwhile, Capt. Norris and the children lost their way in the darkness, and after wandering hopelessly in the woods until they were exhausted, they sat down to rest and soon fell asleep, notwithstanding the peril of their situation. When daylight came they got their bearings and found their way to the blockhouse in safety.

The attack of the Indians was over in a few hours and they withdrew, making their way to the northwest over the Vallonia Trail from whence they came. In all, the savages had slaughtered a total of twenty-four persons, three men, five women and sixteen children. Most of the able bodied men were away from the settlement at the time serving in the Militia or the Army, otherwise this story might have had quite a different ending.

The news of the disaster was brought to Charlestown by Jeremiah Payne. It was dusk when, mounted on his horse, he left the blockhouse in Vienna and dawn when he reached the county seat. The first person he sought was Major John McCoy, his brother-in-law, whose duty it was to lead the pursuit of the Indians.

Mounted messengers were immediately dispatched to the various settlements along the East Fork of the White River to guard the fords. The next day at the Sparksville Ford the savages were surprised in their crossing of the river. In the fight that took place several of the Indians were killed, but not a white man was even wounded. The Indians were taken at a disadvantage, the settlers firing upon them as they attempted to cross the river laden with plunder from the cabins of Pigeon Roost. The greater part of the Indians, however, made their escape from the ambuscade.

In a few hours after Jeremiah Payne’s arrival at Charlestown a large force of 150 mounted riflemen of the Clark County Militia, under the command of Major McCoy, gathered to pursue the Indians. They reached Pigeon Roost before daybreak the following day and followed the track of the Indians about twenty miles along the Vallonia Trail, until they reached the much-swollen Muscatatuck River, at which point they gave up the chase as they could not effect a crossing of the stream in the darkness. The next morning they turned back to the scene of the tragedy.

A small scouting party of Rangers, from Washington County, under the command of Capt. Henry Dawalt, discovered and made an attack on the retreating Shawnees at Sand Creek. After killing one of the Rangers, John Zink, the Shawnees continued their flight through the woods and eluded the scouting party.

On the fifth of September the Clark County Militia under Col. Robert Robertson was reinforced by 60 mounted volunteers from Jefferson County under the command of Col. William McFarland, of Lexington (then in Jefferson County). On the sixth 350 volunteers from Kentucky, Under Col. Frederick Geiger, were ready to unite with the Indiana Militia for the purpose of making an attack on the Delaware Indians, some of whom were suspected of having engaged in the destruction of the Pigeon Roost settlement. It seems, however, that a spirit of rivalry which prevailed between some of the officers defeated the intentions of those who, at the time, proposed to destroy the towns of the friendly Delaware Indians, who then lived along the West Fork of the White River. Evidence of the innocence and even friendliness of those Indians was not wanting, so they were spared. The Militia gathered together the mangled remains of the victims of the massacre, many of whom were unidentifiable, and buried them all in a huge grave on the crest of a low hill above a spring which still flows today. The site was long marked by a heap of stones and an enormous sassafras tree.

As was mentioned in the Foreword, on the same night as the Pigeon Roost massacre occurred, September 3, 1812, the Indians attacked Fort Harrison, on the Wabash River near present-day Terre Haute, which was under the command of Captain Zachary Taylor. The next day they besieged Fort Wayne, on the Maumee River. Both these forts were successfully defended by the Americans.

On September 12, 1812, Gov. Gibson instructed Col. Robertson to use such Militia as could be so employed to guard the boundaries of Clark County. He added, “You will give particular orders to the officers commanding to employ their men continually in reconnoitering and scouting through the country on the frontier.”

Following the Pigeon Roost Massacre many of the settlers in the tier of counties along the Ohio river either crossed the river to the safety of Kentucky, or chose to remain in forts or blockhouses, where they lived in a continual state of fear and excitement until the close of the war in 1814. The courthouse at Charlestown was converted into a fort for the safety of those who remained and other forts were erected along the line of the frontier settlements. These forts were garrisoned by territorial Militia until the spring of 1813, when the Rangers were stationed in them. The strong two-story log house of John Kimberlin, Scott County’s first settler, was converted into a fort by being surrounded by a stockade, and Militia were stationed there until all danger was over. In 1831 the Indiana General Assembly passed an Act “for the financial relief of John Kimberlin, of Scott County, for damages caused his farm by Rangers being stationed there in his Block House.”

ZubulonCollings, who lived at the blockhouse, five miles south of the Pigeon Roost settlement, and abouta mile east of present-day Henryville, in 1856 made this statement to John B. Dillon, who recorded it in his “History of Indiana”: “The manner in which I used to work, in those perilous times, was as follows: On all occasions I carried my rifle, tomahawk and butcher-knife, with a loaded pistol in my belt. When I went to plow, I laid my gun on the plowed ground, and stuck up a stick by it, for a mark, so that I could get it quick in case it was wanted. I had two good dogs. I took one into the house, leaving the other out. The one outside was expected to give the alarm, which would cause the one inside to bark, by which I would be awakened, having my arms always loaded. I kept my horses in a stable, close to the house, having a porthole so that I could shoot to the stable door. During two years I never went from home with any certainty of returning- not knowing the minute I might receive a ball from an unknown hand; but in the midst of all these dangers, that God who never sleeps not slumbers, has kept me.”

In 1904 the State of Indiana belatedly erected at the site of the common grave an imposing obelisk of Indiana limestone and dedicated the site as a State Memorial, thereby preserving for posterity the deeds and tragedies of the early pioneers of Scott County. Ironically enough, this memorial does not bear the names of any of the victims of the massacre, but it does perpetuate the names of the governor and other state and county officials, and even that of the contractor who erected it!


Saturday, October 1st, 1904, passed into history as a great day for Scott County – being the day of dedication of the imposing monument erected by the State of Indiana to mark the burial place and to perpetuate the memory of the victims of the Pigeon Roost Massacre, which occurred on September 3rd, 1812.

Capt. James W. Fortune, of Jeffersonville, President of the Commission which had charge of the erection of the monument, was generally regarded as the father of the project as it was due largely to his untiring efforts that the appropriation with which the monument was erected was secured. After a half dozen Representatives in the Legislature were unable to bring the lawmakers to see the necessity of making such an appropriation, Capt. Fortune finally won. It was no easy task, however. The same fight had to be made through both houses of the legislature, but victory finally came. He stated that the reward was ample and the presence of the crowd at the dedication, and the satisfaction of the citizens of the community who felt that the historic spot had been at last fittingly marked, repaid him for all his efforts.

The day was an ideal one – clear and warm. Every energy had been directed toward making the arrangements for the great occasion as perfect as possible and everything was in readiness before the crack of dawn. Dedication day became a holiday for the entire section of the country. From far and near, the closely adjacent cities and the more remote villages and farms, the people came to the hallowed spot by train, in wagons and buggies, by horseback or on foot. They began arriving before nine o’clock in the morning and were still coming at two in the afternoon. The enormous crowd filled and overflowed the large park surrounding the monument and the speaker’s stand. The number assembled there was variously estimated at ten to twelve thousand. The Pennsylvania Railroad alone brought in fourteen hundred people. Most of the people spent the entire day at Pigeon Roost, having brought their dinners in well-filled baskets, which repasts were spread and eaten under the trees.

The Governor of Indiana, Winfield T. Durbin, and his party had arrived by train in Henryville before six that morning. There they attended a squirrel breakfast at the hotel as guests of Sec. W. H. Freeman of the State Forestry Board. From there they set out in wagons for the monument grounds. When the party neared the grounds about noon they were met by the Reception Committee, the members of which were as follows: Press – James F. Erwin, W. M. Foster and John E. Sierp; Bar – Samuel B. Wells and Mark Storen; Medicine – Drs. George Cline and Levi McClain; Clergy – Revs. L. B. Arvin and E. N. Cranford; Merchants – Epstein Garriott and Irvin McCaslin; Citizens – Melvin Hubbard, William Cravens and J. H. Friedley; Sons of Veterans – W. M. Whitson, J. F. Redman, J. L. Fisher and Harley Gillespie; Relief Corps – Mrs. Lola Calvert, Chairman. A procession was formed west of the railroad tracks headed by a drum corps and a mounted guard of honor escorting the Governor. With the Governor were Rev. D. R. Lucas, Department Commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, and Capt. William E. English, Commander in Chief of the United Spanish-American War Veterans. Next came the Monument Commissioners, Capt. Fortune, John W. Martin, of Scottsburg and Joseph Hodapp, of Seymour. The Dedicatory Committee from the George Ridlen Post of the G.A.R. at Scottsburg, consisting of Dr. Theophilus E. Biery, Joseph Hepworth, J. T. Wiley and Barney Miller, followed. Next came other notable state officers, the invited guests, Civil War and Spanish-American War veterans. A long line of citizens joined in the march, bringing up the rear.

On arrival at the grounds no time was lost in opening the ceremonies. The dedicatory address was made by Rev. Lucas. He paid able tribute to the early settlers of the state and spoke of the valued services which made possible the commonwealth of today. He dwelt particularly on the awfulness of the massacre which occurred on the historic spot.   Because of the dense crowd and the natural noise and confusion only those who were very close could hear what was being said by the various speakers.

At the close of this portion of the exercises a bountiful dinner was served by the reception committee to all the distinguished guests. During this noon hour the entire assemblage resembled one great basket dinner. It was reported that the only thing to mar the pleasure of the occasion was the dust and the scarcity of good drinking water. As soon as possible the afternoon program of music and speeches was begun.

Following the invocation Samuel B. Wells, of Scottsburg, delivered a stirring address of welcome, to which Col. Charles L. Jewett, of New Albany, replied in an appropriate manner. Capt. Fortune then made the principal address of the day in presenting the monument to Gov. Durbin as the representative of the monument commission, which thus reported the completion of the work for which it was selected by the Legislature. Capt. Fortune, with his usual eloquence, said in part: “After almost one hundred years with nothing to mark the last resting place of heroic men and brave women, except a monument erected by Nature, and may we not say, dedicated by the Great Ruler of the Universe, we are assembled to dedicate a monument erected by human hands and dedicated by this assembly to the pioneer heroes who were massacred at what has come to be known as Pigeon Roost.

“Nature may mark the spot by the presence of yonder gnarled and weatherworn sassafras tree, and the frost and storms may dedicate it to the memory of the silent heroes who sleep beneath its hospitable branches, and the winds of the past century may have sung a sad requiem for the departed. Human hands and willing hearts may pay a last tribute to respect by the erection of yonder beautiful shaft, but the generations, past, present and future, can never repay those who repose on yonder hillside for the heritage they have left behind.

“The traveler has pointed out his spot as one place worthy of recognition, but the idea of erecting this monument by the people of the State of Indiana never took definite form until a bill was introduced by a son of this splendid county, Joseph H. Shea, in the General Assembly of 1896. Practically his measure, it became a law in 1903 and an appropriation was made by the Sixty-third General Assembly of two thousand dollars for the erection of this marker, which the people of this state present to coming generations to keep alive the patriotic sentiment for those who gave their lives for the welfare of the common country.”

Gov. Durbin replied at some length to the speech of Capt. Fortune, accepting the beautiful monument on behalf of the state. In beginning his speech he said: “The monument we dedicate today is not so much a memorial to the individuals whose lives were sacrificed upon this spot as it is a historical marker intended to commemorate the epoch of which the tragic incident of the Pigeon Roost Massacre formed a part. This monument speaks of the rude and harsh conditions under which our sturdy ancestors accomplished the conquest of this commonwealth of ours from savagery for civilization. It is a permanent reminder to future generations of the dangers and difficulties attendant upon the life of our forefathers a century ago, and therein it emphasizes the privileges, the blessings, the opportunities, which are our heritage in the Indiana of today.”

Capt. William E. English replied on behalf of the Scott County Commissioners in a very appropriate speech. Then Hon Joseph H. Shea, of Seymour, recalled in a short speech the history of the agitation for the erection of the monument. He mentioned that Daniel Blocher, of Blocher, wad due more credit than any other person for having kept alive the sentiment which finally resulted in the erection of the monument. He remembered from his earliest boyhood that “Uncle Dan: at Old Settlers Meetings and Fourth of July celebrations always referred to the Pigeon Roost Massacre in his speeches. He also brought out that in 1887, Hon. Charles W. Cruson, the first to ever do so, introduced a bill in the House of Representatives to appropriate five hundred dollars to mark the spot, which bill failed to pass.

Attorney General of Indiana, Charles W. Miller spoke on the early military history of Indiana, then Joseph Balsey, Adjutant of the G.A.R., delivered an address relating to the later military prowess of the state. Following this the exercises proper came to a close with an interesting recital of the history of the Pigeon Roost settlement and the massacre of September 3rd, 1812, by Miss Lizzie D. Coleman, who had also published an authoritative illustrated booklet in regard to the occurrence. Many prominent citizens were then called upon for speeches, and the ceremonies closed with music and the benediction.

Many people remained at the park until a late hour enjoying the outing, then they departed for their homes, having spent there the most memorable day of their lives.

Indiana Indian Tribes

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Please Click on the Indiana Flag: Link to the Conner Prairie History of Indians in Indiana Website

Wea tribe of Indiana

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American Indian Center of Indiana

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Native American Culture: Please Click on Indiana Flag at left