The Tragedy of Wallen’s Creek

The Tragedy of Wallen’s Creek

By Emory L. Hamilton

From the unpublished manuscript, Indian Atrocities Along the Clinch, Powell and Holston Rivers, pages 136-148.

Archibald Scott settled near the head of Wallen’s Creek, in now Lee Co., VA, on a 400 acre tract of land in the year 1776. (1) Here he built a strong log house on the Kentucky Trace, across from Kane’s Gap of Clinch Mountain, known as Scott’s Fort, which became a famous stop-over for people traveling to and from Kentucky. Scott’s Fort was not a palisaded fort, but simply a strongly built log hose which on the frontier was known as a fort-house. Just where Scott lived prior to his settlement on Wallen’s Creek is not definite. It is probable that he was living someplace in Russell Co. between Castlewood and Big Cedar Creek, for on August 29, 1774 he was serving int he militia at Glade Hollow Fort, (2) which would suggest that he lived in the radius of militia coverage for protecting this fort. He had a brother James Scott who settled on Big Cedar Creek in 1774, and one Alexander Scott who settled on the same creek and in the same year, as did James Scott, may also have been a brother.

Archibald Scott had married Frances "Fanny" Dickenson, daughter of Henry Dickenson, Sr., and his wife Agness Jennings, of Prince Edward Co., VA. She had brothers, Humphrey Dickenson, killed by Indians in 1778; Archelaus Dickenson, who lived at Abingdon; Henry Dickenson, first Clerk of Russell Co., Va; James Dickenson, and William Dickenson, the latter supposedly remaining in Prince Edward Co., VA, and at least one sister, Elizabeth Dickenson, who first married John Hawkins, Sr., and secondly George Linder.

After the destruction of Scott and his family by Indians, the old Scott Fort and land on Wallen’s Creek was acquired by Robert Duff, who had married a niece of Fanny Scott. The Duff family continued to reside there for many years after the Scott massacre, and some of the descendants still live on Wallen’s Creek.

Mr. William W. Hoskins of Bluefield, WV, a descendant of the Ball family, has done considerable research on this tragedy and sent me the following article:

On the night of June 29, 1785, in that part of Washington County which was erected into Russell County in 1786, and later in 1792 formed into Lee County, Archibald Scott, his four children and another young man were killed and the wife, Mrs. Scott, was taken prisoner. Wide publicity was given to this incident. After prolonged search I find that there seems to be four versions of this occurrence, one of a brief nature and three of a more extended type. These versions vary in date and details, but all agree in many particulars.

The earliest version is that of Arthur Campbell under date of July 5, 1785, just six days after the tragedy. Campbell had been living in Southwest Virginia about fifteen years and was familiar with that region.

The second version is that which was published in the Freeman’s Journal in Philadelphia under date of December 15, 1785. This account was evidently written by some person from a personal recital made by Mrs. Scott after her escape and return to the settlements. I have photostatic copies of this report made for me by the New York Historical Society, 170 Central Park West, New York City; The Library of Congress and the Philadelphia Free Library, Ridgeway Branch, Philadelphia, PA, each of which has a copy of this issue of the Freeman’s Journal. The report that was published as indicated here was reprinted in the New Haven Gazette under date of December 29, 1785, and also reprinted in the New London Connecticut Gazette under date of January 13, 1786. I have a photostatic copy of the version reprinted in the New Haven Gazette made for me by the Connecticut Historical Society, Hartford, CT. The version published in the New Haven Gazette was reprinted with some minor variations in Joseph Martin’s Gazateer of Virginia, published in Charlottesville, VA, 1835. From the letter written me by Mr. Vail quoted in full below it will be seen that this report as originally printed in the Freeman’s Journal was given wide publicity.

The next version in order of time was written down by John Kobler, a Methodist Minister, and published in Francis Asbury’s Journal 1821. John Kobler performed the funeral rites of Mrs. Johnson when she was buried on May 9, 1796. In 1843, James P. Carrell prepared a version of this story and transmitted it to David Campbell, who in turn sent it to Lyman C. Draper of the Wisconsin Historical Society, Madison, Wisconsin. Carrell copied the report from Asbury’s Journal and added some of his own comments. The version in Asbury’s Journal was reprinted in full in Bennett’s Memorials of Methodism in Virginia from 1772 to 1829, Richmond, 1871.

All three of the above accounts are contemporary documents of the highest value and may be relied upon for accuracy. The latest version in point of time is that prepared by Charles B. Coale, for thirty-three years editor of the Abingdon Virginian and published as a chapter in Wilburn Waters, Richmond, 1878. It should be noted that the report of Coale was prepared about eighty or ninety years after the murder of Scott and his children. This version has some elements that other versions do not have and some glaring errors.

Each of these three versions and the letter of Mr. Vail are cited in full and may speak for themselves.

Under the date of July 5, 1785, Col. Arthur Campbell wrote Governor Patrick Henry:

"By some gentlemen from Kentucky I am informed that in the night of the 29th of June last, Mr. Archibald Scott (who lived on the road leading to Kentucky, in Powell’s Valley) and all his children, four in number, together with another young man, were murdered by the Indians, and his wife supposed to be taken prisoner."

Calendar of Virginia State Papers, Vol. IV,
page 40

A Narrative of the Captivity and Escape of Mrs. Frances Scott, an inhabitant of Washington Co., VA:

On Wednesday the 29th of June 1785, late in the evening, a large company of armed men passed the house, on their way to Kentucky, some part of whom encamped within two miles. Mrs. Scott, living on a frontier part, generally made the family watchful; but on this calamitious day, after so large a body of men had passed shortly after night, he lay down in his bed, and imprudently left one of the doors of his house open; the children were also in bed, and asleep. Mrs. Scott was nearly undressed, when, to her unutterable astonishment and horror, she saw rushing in through the door that was left open, painted savages with presented arms; raising a hideous shriek - Mrs. Scott being awake, instantly jumped out of his bed, but was immediately fired at; he forced his way through the middle of the enemy and got out of the door, but fell a few paces from thence. An Indian seized Mrs. Scott, and ordered her to a particular spot, and not to move; others stabbed and cut the throats of the three youngest children in their bed, and afterwards lifted them up and dashed them down on the floor, near the mother; the eldest, a beautiful girl of eight years old, awoke and escaped out of bed, and ran to her parent, and with the most plaintive accents, cried, ‘O Mama! Mama! Save me’ - the mother, in deepest anguish of spirit, and with a flood of tears, entreated the savages to spare her child; but, with a brutal fierceness, they tomahawked and stabbed her in the mother’s arms. Adjacent to Mrs. Scott’s dwelling house another family lived, of the name of Ball. The Indians also attacked them at the same instant they did Mr. Scott’s; but the door being shut, the enemy fired into the house through an opening between two logs, and killed a young lad, and then essayed to force the door open; but a surviving brother fired through the door, and the enemy desisted, and went off; the remaining part of the family ran out of the house and escaped. In Mr. Scott’s house were four good rifles well loaded, and a good deal of clothing, and furniture, part of which belonged to people that had left it on their way to Kentucky. The Indians loaded themselves with plunder, being 13 in number, then speedily made off, and continued traveling all night; next morning their chief allotted to each man his share an detached nine of a party to steal horses from the inhabitants of Clinch.

The eleventh day after Mrs. Scott’s captivity, the four Indians that had her in charge, stopped at a place fixed upon for a rendezvous, and to hunt, being now in great want of provisions. Three went out, and the chief, being an old man, was left to take care of the prisoner, who, by this time, expressed a willingness to proceed to the Indian Towns, which seemed to have the desired effect of lessening her keeper’s vigilance. In the day time, as the old man was graining a deer skin, the captive pondering on her situation, and anxiously looking for an opportunity to make her escape, took the resolution and went to the Indian carelessly, asked liberty to go a small distance to a stream of water, to wash the blood off her apron, that had remained besmeared since the fatal night of the murder of her little daughter. He told her in the English tongue "go along"; she then passed by him, his face being in a contrary direction from that she was going, and he very busy. She, after getting to the water, proceeded on without delay, made to a high barren mountain, and traveled until late in the evening, when she came down into the valley, in search of the track she had been taken along; hoping thereby to find the way back, without the risk of being lost, and perishing with hunger in uninhabitated parts. On coming across the valley to the riverside, supposed to be the easterly branch of Kentucky River, she observed in the sand tracks of two men, that had gone up the river, and just returned. She concluded these to have been her pursuers which excited emotions of gratitude and thankfulness to divine providence for so timeous a deliverance. Being without any provisions, having no kind of weapon or tool to assist her in getting any, and being almost destitute of any clothing, also knowing that a vast track of rugged high mountain intervened, between where she was and the inhabitants eastwardly, and the distance of the Kentucky settlements unknown, and she almost as ignorant as a child of the method of steering through the woods, excited painful sensations. But certain death, either by hunger or wild beasts, seemed preferable rather than to be in the power of beings, who had excited in her mind such horror. She addressed heaven for protection, and taking courage, proceeded onward.

After traveling three days, she had nearly met with the Indians, as she supposed, that had been sent to Clinch to steal horses, but providentially hearing their approach, concealed herself among the cane, until the enemy had passed. This giving a fresh alarm, and her mind being filled with consternation, she got lost, proceeding backwards and forwards for several days; at length, she came to a river, that seemed to come from the east; concluding it was Sandy River, she accordingly resolved to trace it to its source, which is adjacent to the Clinch settlement. After proceeding up the same several days, she came to where the river runs through the great Laurel mountain, (3) where is a prodigious waterfall, and numerous high craggy clifts along the water edge; that may seem impassable, the mountain steep and difficult. However, our mournful traveller concluded that the latter way was the best. She therefore ascended for some time, but coming to a range of inaccessible rocks, she turned her course towards the foot of the mountain and the river side; after getting into a deep gulley, and passing over several high steep rocks, she reached the river side, where, to her inexpressible affliction, she found that a perpendicular rock, or rather one that hung over of 15 or 20 feet high, formed the bank. Here a solemn pause took place; she essayed to return, but the height of the steeps and rocks she had descended over, prevented her. She then returned to the edge of the precipice, and viewed the bottom of it, as the certain spot to end all her troubles, or remain away to pine away with hunger, or be devoured by wild beasts. After serious meditation, and devout exercises, she determined on leaping from the height, and accordingly jumped off. Although the place where she had to alight was covered with uneven rocks, not a bone was broken; but, being exceedingly stunned with the fall, she remained unable to proceed for some space of time. The dry season caused the river to be shallow - she traveled in it, and where she could, by its edge, until she got through the mountain, which she concluded was several miles. After this, as she was travelling along the bank of the river, a venomous snake bit her on the ankle; she had strength to kill it, and knowing its kind, concluded that death must soon overtake her. By this time, Mrs. Scott was reduced to a mere skeleton with fatigue, hunger and grief; probably this state of her body was the means of preserving her from the effects of the poison; be that as it may, so it was that very little pain succeeded the bite, and what little swelling there was, it fell into her feet. Our wanderer now left the river, and, after proceeding a good distance, she came to where the valley parted into two, each leading a different course. Here a painful suspense took place; a forlorn creature almost exhausted, and certain, if she was far led out of the way, she would never see a human creature. During this soliloquy, a beautiful bird (1) passed close by her, fluttering along the ground, and went out of sight up one of the valleys. This drew her attention, and, whilst considering what it might mean, another bird of the same appearance in like manner fluttered past her, and took the same valley the other had done. This determined her choice of the way; in two days, which was the 11th day of August, she reached the settlement on Clinch, called new Garden; whereas (she is since informed by woodmen) had she taken the other valley, it would have led her back towards the Ohio. Mrs. Scott relates that the Indians told her that the party was composed of four different nations, two of whom she thinks they named Delawares and Mingoes.

She further relates that, during her wandering, from the tenth of July to the eleventh of August, she had no other subsistence but chewing and swallowing the juice of young cane stalks, sassafras leaves, and some other plants she did not know the names of; that, on her journey, she saw Buffaloes, Elks, Deer, and frequently Bears and Wolves; not one of which although some passed very near her, offered to do her the least harm. One day a Bear came near her, with a young fawn in his mouth, and on discovering her, he dropped his prey and ran off. Hunger prompted her to go and take the flesh and eat it; but, on reflection, she desisted, thinking that the Bear might return and devour her; besides she had an aversion to taste raw flesh. Mrs. Scott continues in a law state of health, and remains inconsolable for the loss of her family, particularly bewailing the cruel death of her little daughter.

The Alderman Library has a small booklet, 3 ˝" x 3" of 14 pages with title, "A Remarkable Narrative of the Captivity and Escape of Mrs. Frances Scott, an Inhabitant of Washington County, Virginia," printed at Newburyport about 1800 that seems to be a reprint of the account that appeared in the Freeman’s Journal under date of December 14, 1785. This is one of the many reprints listed by Mr. Vail.

Rev. Francis Asbury’s Journal, Vol. II, pages 251-253:

Monday, May 9, 1796. I hobbled over the ridge, through the capital part of Russell County, sixteen miles to B-----’s; (Bickleys) these people have lived in peace ever since the death of Ben(ge), the half-blooded Indian warrior, who was shot through the head while carrying off two women. He was a dreadful wicked wretch, who by report may have been the agent of death to nearly one hundred people in the wilderness, and in Russell. Here I preached to a few insensible people; and had time to read, write, and sleep in quiet. Yesterday our prayers were requested on behalf of F. D------- (Fanny Dickenson). This day in the evening brother K-----(Kobler) was called upon to perform her funeral solemities. Perhaps she had been as great a female sufferer as I have heard of. The following account, in substance, was taken from her own mouth, some time ago, by J. Kobler, who performed her funeral rites.

Her maiden name was Dickenson. She was married to a Mr. Scott, and lived in Powell’s Valley; at which time the Indians were very troublesome, often killing and plundering the inhabitants. On a certain evening, her husband and children being in bed, eight or nine Indians rushed into the house; her husband being alarmed, started up, when all that had guns, fired at him. Although he was badly wounded, he broke through them all, and got out of the house; several of them closely pursued him, and put an end to his life; they then murdered and scalped all her children before her eyes, plundered her house, and took her prisoner. The remainder of the night they spent around a fire in the woods, drinking, shouting, and dancing. The next day they divided the plunder, with great equality; amongst the rest of the goods was one of Mr. Wesley’s hymn books; she asked them for it, and they gave it to her, but when they saw her reading often therein, they were displeased, called her a conjurer, and took it from her. After this they travelled several days’ journey toward the Indian towns; but, said she, my grief was so great, I could hardly believe my situation was a reality, but thought I dreamed. To aggravate my grief, one of the Indians hung my husband’s and children’s scalps to his back, and would walk the next before me. In walking up and down the hills and mountains, I was worn out with fatigue and sorrow, they would often laugh when they saw me almost spent, and mimic my panting for breath. There was one Indian who was more humane than the rest; he would get me water, and make the others stop when I wanted to rest; thus they carried me on eleven days’ journey, until they were all greatly distressed with hunger; then they committed me to the care of an old Indian at the cap, while they went off a hunting.

Whilst the old man was busily employed in dressing a deer skin, I walked backward and forward through the woods, until I observed he took no notice of me; I then slipped off, and ran a considerable distance and came to a canebrake, where I hid myself very securely. Through most of the night I heard the Indians searching for me, and answering each other with a voice like that of an owl. Thus was I left alone in the savage wilderness, far from any inhabitants, without a morsel of food, or any friend to help, but the common Saviour and friend of all; to Him I poured out my complaint in fervent prayer that he would not forsake me in this distressing circumstance. I then set out the course I thought Kentucky lay, though with very little expectation of seeing a human face again, except that of the savages; whom I looked upon so as many friends from the bottomless pit; and my greatest dread was that of meeting some of them whilst wandering in the wilderness.

One day as I was travelling, I heard a loud human voice, and, a prodigious noise, like horses running; I ran into a safe place and hid myself, and saw a company of Indians pass by, furiously driving a gang of horses which they had stolen from the white people. I had nothing to subsist upon but roots, young grave-vines, sweet cane, and such like produce of the woods. I accidentally came where a bear was eating a deer, and drew near in hopes of getting some, but he growled and looked angry; so I left him, and quickly passed on. At night when I lay down to rest, I never slept, but I dreamed of eating. In my lonesome travels, I came to a very large shelving rock, under which was a fine bed of leaves; I crept in among them, and determined there to end my days of sorrow. I lay there several hours until my bones ached in so distressing a manner that I was obliged to stir again. I then thought of, and wished for home; and travelled on several days, till I came where Cumberland River breaks through the mountain.

I went down the cliffs a considerable distance, until I was affrighted, and made an attempt to go back, but found the place down which I had gone so steep that I could not return. I then saw but one way that I could go, which was a considerable perpendicular distance down to the bank of the river. I took hold of the top of a little bush, and for a half an hour prayed fervently to God for assistance; I then let myself down by the little bush until it broke, and I went with great violence down to the bottom. This was early in the morning, and I lay there a considerable time with a determination to go no farther. About ten o’clock I grew so thirsty that I concluded to crawl to the water and drink, after which I found I could walk. The place I came through, as I have been since informed, is only two miles, and I was four days in getting through it. I travelled on until I came to a little path, one end of which led to the inhabitants, and the other to the wilderness; I knew not which end of the path to take - after standing and praying to the Lord for direction, I turned to take the end that led to the wilderness; immediately there came a little bird of a dove color near to my feet, and fluttered along the path that led to the inhabitants. I did not observe this much at first, until it did it a second or third time; I then understood this as a direction of Providence, and took the path which led to the inhabitants. Immediately after her safe arrival, she embraced religion, and lived and died an humble follower of Christ.

The Alderman Library of the University of Virginia has two sets of the Journal of Francis Asbury, one set of three volumes and another set in six volumes, both being identical in content. The account of Mrs. Scott appears on pages 251-253 of the second volume and of the three volume edition and on pages 251-253 of volume four of the six volume edition.

To the four versions mentioned in the foregoing might be added a fifth version - that of Lt. Col. William Martin, by a letter written to Dr. Lyman C. Draper on July 7, 1842. (5) William Martin was a son of Col. Joseph Martin, builder of Martin’s Station in Powell Valley, and at the time of the slaying of the Scotts he was a young man around 25 years of age and was living at his father’s station in Powell Valley. In this letter Martin states:

"...Among the families settled as above were those of Archibald Scott, a man of more than ordinary considerations in those regions, and _____ Ball, (6) who had settled together about midway between Clinch and the Station (Martin’s). With these families, especially Scott’s, I became intimate in traveling back and forthward. At length, I had been to Clinch on business, returning in company with William Hord, my mate, a term then used among us for intimates. We called at Scott’s and got refreshments. This was in the month of June, 1785. Some four or five days after this the Indians killed Scott, and all his family, except his wife. Her they took prisoner. She finally escaped and returned. I saw her soon after, and she gave me the following narrative, viz: ‘One night, just after dark, her husband and children having gone to bed, she, being up, and the door open, the Indians jumped into the house, the first notice they had, and shot and killed her husband as he arose from his bed, and then dispatched the children. In the meantime, one fellow laid hold on her and protected her against the violence of the others. They then rifled the house of such things they thought proper to take, and among others, her saddle.

The other family, Balls, defended themselves and were not injured..."

None of the past writers mention the name of the Ball boy who was slain at the time of this tragedy.

Some years after the death of Archibald Scott, his widow, Fanny, was married to Thomas Johnston, the same for whom that county in Tennessee was named, and reared a family, names and number not known to this writer.

(1) Washington Co., VA Survey Entry Book
(2) Draper Mss 5 XX 2
(3) The Breaks of the Cumberland, now the Breaks Interstate Park, on the Virginia-Kentucky State line.
(4) I have found this "fluttering bird" bit of folklore has crept into several of the Indian escape stores, and it is amusing that a human desires to endow a creature of less intelligence with a greater knowledge than they themselves possess.
(5) Draper MSS 3 XX 41-2.
(6) This was perhaps the John Ball family, as John settled in Lee Co., and both he, and his son, John, Jr., bought items at the sale of the effects of Scott during the settlement of his estate. (Washington Co., VA Court Records)

This file contributed by: Rhonda Robertson

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