ATTACK ON THE EVANS FAMILY, 1779
By Luther F. Addington
John Evans and his son, Jesse, came to the upper Clinch River
Valley from Amherst County in 1773 and settled some eight miles
northeast of the present town of Tazewell. Jesse Evans and his
little family were happy in their cabin home. Fearing that Indians
might attack and thinking that a fence built around the house
with slabs from a sawmill might prove of some protection, Jesse
had made such a fence. The slabs, or wattlings, as they were called,
were close together, forming a wall which was six feet high. Just
beyond this fence at the rear of the house was a vegetable garden.
One day in the midsummer of 1779, four of the children asked Mrs.
Evans to be allowed to go out and play; and she told them they
might but to watch out for Indians.
Mrs. Evans and her eldest daughter got busy weaving cloth; as
Mrs. Evans wove, her daughter filled quills.
Suddenly Mrs. Evans heard a child scream; then another and another.
"Oh, Mamma!" came a plaintive cry into the house.
Mrs. Evans jumped up from her weaving and started to run outside
when she saw eight or ten Indians knocking slabs off the fence
and pouring through. They had guns, scalping knives and tomahawks
in their hands. They made the valley roar with a war whoop.
When she got to the door, she saw her children being tomahawked
and scalped. She instantly believed that the four children outside
were now dead and there was nothing she could do for them. But
she might save herself and her eldest child.
She slammed the door and dropped the long bar in place. But the
door was too small for the opening, and she knew the Indians could
poke a gun through it and fire at her. She told her daughter to
get in a corner away from the door and sit down. The girl did
as told and sat crying.
Presently, a gun barrel was thrust through the crack at the side
of the door and an Indian outside was using it as a lever to pry
the door open. Seeing what the attackers were trying to do, Mrs.
Evans came up beside the wall to the edge of the door and grabbed
to the gun barrel. She, like most frontier women, had worked in
the fields and was strong.
With both hands she jerked at the gun barrel and brought it through
as far as it would come. She now had slight advantage because
she was in possession of more of the gun then the savage.
A tug-of-war ensued. She jerked, and the Indian outside jerked.
She could hear shouting and laughing. But she held on to the gun
barrel, straining her every muscle to keep the Indians from getting
the door open.
Soon the gun relaxed. Now, Mrs. Evans wondered what would be tried
next. A moment of silence came; during the time she stood trembling.
She wished that Jesse might happen in from the fields with the
workmen. They surely would chase the Indians away.
But her wishes went to naught. Whatever was done she herself must
do, she, one woman against nearly a dozen Indians. Soon the Indians
threw themselves against the door, hoping, she knew, to burst
it off its hinges.
They pounded and pounded. They yelled and yelled. Meantime, Mrs.
Evans clung to the gun barrel. She thought of turning loose and
making a try at shooting her husband's gun which hung to deer
antlers over the fireplace. But if she let loose the Indians would
have the gun to which she held. Then, they'd surely pry open the
door with it.
Another tug-of-war ensued. The Indians jerked the gun toward them.
Bu the trigger guard had caught on the door facing; and it would
not go out unless turned, which they didn't seem to think to do.
Now, just what else could she do? She couldn't get the gun over
the fireplace. And even though she could they'd get in and tomahawk
her and her only surviving child.
Then it occurred to her to try an old ruse.
"Oh, Jesse!" she yelled. "Come on to the house
quick. But watch the Indians. Hurry!"
She knew that the Indians couldn't well see over the fence, and
she thought they might believe that her husband was approaching
the house somewhere beyond it.
This yelling did work. The Indians outside let go the gun, and
she thought they were retreating. For a moment she still stood
holding to the gun barrel. But soon learning that no one held
to the other end, she pulled the weapon through. Then, she looked
out a small, high window and saw the savages hurrying away across
For a moment she relaxed, sat down on a homemade stool and felt
her strength wane. Then, her little girl came and stood holding
to her, weeping and trembling.
And, while she sat grieving for her dead children, she head something
outside again. She sprang alert, grabbed the Indian's gun and
was ready to defend herself the best she could. Then, a familiar
voice called, "Oh, Jesse!"
Now she opened the door. Standing outside was a Mr. Goldsby who
lived a little way up the valley.
"Oh, Mr. Goldsby!" the woman wailed. "Indians have
been here. They've killed my children. Four of them. And Jesse
is out working. Him and other men."
Mr. Goldsby's eyes popped out; and without a word he turned and
ran through the slab gate, which now stood ajar, and hurried up
the trail and out of sight. After his departure, Mrs. Evans closed
the door and latched it again.
"I know he'll go find the men working in the fields,"
she said to her daughter. "They'll come. They'll save us,
if the Indians come back."
She waited and waited. But her husband didn't come. Neither did
Mr. Goldsby or anyone else. The Indians had killed all of them.
If so, the attackers would be back at the house soon. She'd better
leave and hurry to Major Taylor's about two miles distant. She
picked up the gun which she had wrested from the Indians and with
her surviving daughter set out toward the home of Major John Taylor.
She reached her destination in safety and was herself the first
to arouse help.
But before men arrived at the Evans cabin, Jesse himself returned
to his home from work, entered by the open gate on the side of
the house opposite the place where the children lay dead and suspected
nothing wrong. He was tired from his labors in the field and sat
down to rest.
While he sat, he picked up a book and began to read, just to pass
time. But, soon he began to wonder where his wife and children
could be. Perhaps they had gone to the spring for water, or they
were down in the vegetable garden back of the house.
When they did not return in what he thought was reasonable time,
he started out to look for them. He circled the cabin, and there
at the back found three of his children killed and scalped.
Dashing back into the house, he took down his gun and started
for Major Taylor's to get help. He believed that his wife and
two children had been captured and he must summon a company of
men to go no pursuit of them.
When he arrived at the Major's his grief became tinged with joy
for here was his wife and eldest daughter, alive. He wept. Then,
he laughed nervously and thanked God that not all of his family
had been killed.
It was already dark, but men came and offered to go after the
Indians. A council was held, and it was considered futile to start
out in the dark in pursuit of Indians whose direction of retreat
they didn't even know.
"They were all killed, weren't they, Jesse?" Mrs. Evans
asked her husband. "Our other children?"
"I saw three bodies," Jesse said.
"Then, they've got the other one. They've taken her away.
Before daybreak next morning the men who had gathered at Major
Taylor's started out for Jesse's cabin. Upon arriving they buried
three little bodies. Just three. Believing, like Mrs. Evans, that
the other one had been carried away, they were on the verge of
starting out to hunt the trail of retreat, when they heard a child
crying beyond the vegetable garden.
Jesse, hearing the cry, ran toward the sound. And down there near
the springhouse was Mary, her face covered with dried blood. Sweeping
her into his arms, Jesse kissed her. She said, "I waked up.
I want a drink. I went to the spring."
"And you got a drink, didn't you?" Jesse said consolingly.
"I got a drink. I was thirsty."
Jesse trembled in sympathy for the child as he looked at her scalp
hanging hideously over her forehead. Mumbling consoling words
and hugging the child to him, he went to the house; there he had
one of the neighbors get a horse ready. Soon he was in the saddle,
holding the little girl in his arms. He rode to the nearest frontier
doctor who sewed her scalp back in place.
The girl recovered, grew to womanhood, married and reared a large
family of her own.
Later it was learned the Goldsby managed to get home, but the
excitement and exertion he experienced brought on a hemorrhage
of the lungs; as a result he had to stay in bed for a long time
afterwards. But he slowly recovered.
Sources: Pendleton, History of Tazewell County, p. 437; Bickley
Publication 3 Page 48 to 53