Ensign Moses Cockrell Attacked and Two of His Men Killed

Ensign Moses Cockrell Attacked and Two of His Men Killed

By Emory L. Hamilton

From the unpublished manuscript, Indian Atrocities Along the Clinch, Powell and Holston Rivers, pages 235-238.

On April 9, 1793, Andrew Lewis writing from Ft. Lee (Rye Cove), to the Governor of Virginia, (1) states:

On Sunday week (March 31, 1793) Ensign Moses Cockrell and two men were passing from this (Clinch Valley) into Powell's Valley with several horses loaded. On top of Powell Mountain, (perhaps Maple Gap) about twelve miles from the Rye Cove they were fired on by 12 Indians. The two men were shot dead on the spot - himself pursued to the foot of the mountain, two of the horses killed, and all the loads lost. The enemy being in the rear of him, obliged him to run to the valley. No person from there (Powell Valley), had no information here for several days. Captain Neal raised some men and is in pursuit of them. I am in hopes that if my Ensign gets the intelligence in time, as he is stationed in the lower end of the valley, will meet with them on their return.

Some day last week 14 persons were killed on the Kentucky Road near the Hazel Patch (KY). A few days past on the head of Clinch, or rather Bluestone, six horses were stolen and one man killed; (2) this I cannot assert, as I have just received the information. It is with difficulty I could prevail on the people not to break up. Now I fear without more troops - go they will.

When I came out Captain (Simon) Cockrell (3) had discharged the scouts under him. The New Garden settlement was about to break up - some had moved. To prevent it, I appointed 2 scouts to be continued until more men came into service; that with assurance that you would allow them men, they agreed to live at home. No companies allowed to the (Powell) valley, I was compelled to send an Ensign's command there - a Sergeant and 12 men to Dumps Creek; a Sergeant and 7 to Rye Cove; some at St. Mary's (4) with the French, which leaves not more than 20 men at Ft. Lee, which I think too few. If Indians came in I cannot take out more than 15 men and have any to keep the garrison.

I was under necessity to appoint 2 scouts to the valley (Powell), 2 to the Rye Cove, (5) and 2 at Ft. Lee, 2 at Dumps Creek, which is 4 more than I was authorized to appoint... Ensign Moses Cockrell was a son of Simon and Magdaline Vardiman Cockrell. Moses Cockrell was married to Mary Chadwell of the Lee County Chadwell family. They had two children, David and Elizabeth Cockrell.

Tradition states that Moses Cockrell lived someplace on the North Fork of Holston in the vicinity of Saltville, and that he met his death by falling in a salt well and drowning. Charles B. Coale, in his book, "Wilburn Waters", tells the following story of Moses Cockrell.

One of these Rangers of the Holston was a man named Cottrel. He was famous for his size, activity and handsome person. Benge and himself were rivals in manhood and woodcraft, each jealous of the others prowess and courage, and both anxious to meet in single combat. Not many months before Benge's last incursion, they met on the top of Powell's Mountain, in what is now Lee County, each with a band of followers. The Indians were in ambush, having observed the approach of the whites, who were not aware of their proximity and Benge instructed his companions not to kill Cottrell, so he himself might run him down and capture him. At the crack of the Indian's rifles the two or three of Cottrell's companions fell, seeing which, and at once comprehending the folly of a combat with a dozen savages, he sprang away down the mountainside like an antelope, with Benge in close pursuit. Two miles away in the valley on Wallen's Creek was the cabin of a pioneer, (6) in reaching which Cottrell knew was his only chance of escape. Having two hundred dollars in specie in a belt around him, he found he was carrying too much weight for a closely contested race, and that Benge was gaining on him. Making a desperate effort, however, he increased his speed a little, and as he leaped the fence that surrounded the cabin, Benge's tomahawk was buried in the top rail before Cottrell reached the ground. Benge seeing that he had missed his aim, and not knowing how many men and rifles might be in the cabin, fled back to his companions sadly disappointed.

A few years after this Cottrell died on the North Fork in this county, and during the wake, while his body lay in the cabin, an old comrade, who had been in many a hard pinch with him, thus gave utterance to his thoughts and feelings as he paced the puncheon floor in great sorrow: 'Poor Cotterell, he is gone! He was a noble fellow after Injuns and varmints, and I hope he has gone to where there is as much game and as desperate good range as he had on Holston.'

Coale's story was evidently gathered from local tradition, but it varies little from that told in Captain Andrew Lewis' letter to the Governor.

Of the thirteen children of Simon and Magdalene Cockrell, all moved to Kentucky, as well as their father, except Moses, who remained in Virginia, although no one of the name resides in the area today.

(1) Virginia State Papers, Vol. VI, page 329.
(2) The man killed was perhaps John Davidson
(3) Captain Simon Cockrell was a Baptist minister and was serving Russell Co. in the Legislature and offered and guided through that body the Bill to form Tazewell County. He was the father of Ensign Moses Cockrell and left the area around 1805 for Kentucky.
(4) St. Mary's was St. Marie on the Clinch on Sugar Hill at the present site of St. Paul, VA. It was a French settlement established by Baron Francois Pierre DeTuBeuf in 1791. This settlement was broken up in 1795 when the French Baron was murdered by some renegade whites, presumably robbery being the motive, as it was known the State of VA, had loaned him 600 pounds sterling for the improvement of his settlement.
(5) NOTE: It seems that Captain Lewis draws a distinction between Rye Cove and Ft. Lee. Lee was in Rye Cove, and perhaps when he refers to Rye Cove separately from Ft. Lee he may be inferring that the 2 scouts were stationed at Carter's Fort which was further west in the Rye Cove than was Fort Lee.
(6) This was undoubtably the home of Robert Duff, which was known on the frontier as Scott Fort, the same house in which Scott, and his four children were murdered and his wife Fanny taken captive in 1785 by Indians.

This file contributed by: Rhonda Robertson

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