Historical Society of Southwest Virginia


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By Luther F. Addington



In Baptist Valley, on the headwaters of Clinch River, Richard Pemberton, April 16, 1785, took his long- barrel rifle down from its antler rack and carefully examined it.  "Are you going hunting?" his oldest son asked him. "No, just to examine my fence. I'm afraid my cattle might be out and go astray." "Then, why are you taking the rifle?" 

"Son, I most always take it when I go out. There could be Indians about. Understand?"  "Then, if Indians should come while you're out, what would me and Mother and Brother do?"  Richard stood looking at his son. "Well, maybe you'd better come along. All of you. You'd be safer outside that in here if Indians do come. And they're bothering the settlers a lot these days."

So, with Richard went his wife and two children. They walked over the hill a distance of about two miles to a tract of land he had rented from William O. George and had planted to corn. He found that the fences were standing and no cattle had broken out.

The sky was clear and blue. Against it a few hawks circled, looking down as though watching for chickens. And, nearby, in a woodland other eyes were looking; eyes of Indians.

The Pembertons started back home when they heard feet padding the ground behind them. Turning, Richard saw two Indians bearing down on him and his family with bows and arrows set  ready to shoot. "Run, children!" Richard yelled. "Mother, take them and go to Mr. Johnson's." Mr. Johnson lived only about a half mile away and at the time he had several men working for him.

Mrs. Pemberton took the hands of her children and ran, but every few steps she'd look back. Richard continued to yell at her, telling her to hurry.

Richard had made up his mind to lag behind so his wife and children could get away. He gripped his gun in his hands, the muzzle pointed toward the attackers.

The Indians would shy away, hoping, it seemed, to lure Richard with them. But, he continued to keep himself between them and his fleeing family who were not heading toward Mr. Johnson's.

Making short steps, Richard continued to move toward Johnson's himself, hoping to hold the Indians off long enough for him to get there.

One of the Indians drew his bowstring and let an arrow fly. Then, a spike thunked into Richard's chest. He flinched but still held his gun in a threatening position. He took aim from his shoulder and pulled the trigger. There came only a dull click. No fire.

He retreated a few steps and began thumbing back the hammer, hoping the next try would bring fire. But, on the next try to the gun lock broke; and he knew the gun then was useless insofar as shooting was concerned.

But, the idea of pretending it would shoot entered his mind. Then, as he walked backward, he'd raise his gun and take aim. At each aim the Indians would dance about, knowing it was harder to hit a moving target. But, now and then an arrow would fly and another arrowhead would plunk into Richard's chest.

With two arrows in him, he still backed slowly away, now and then glancing over a shoulder to see if his wife and children were nearing the Johnson house.

Step by step, backward and sidewise, Richard moved on. As soon as he could see that the members of his family were save inside the house, he began to move faster, pretending all the time that he was saving a bullet for just the right time.

Once he was close enough to the house to yell for help, he did so. But, no one came out with a gun. Yet, he knew that someone was in that house.

But, in a few minutes he saw some men running across the field from the house. They must have gone out a back door, seeking to save themselves first.

But, soon Richard reached the house. His wife opened the door, and he went in. Quickly, he barred the door. Then, he looked out a small window and aw that the two Indians were leaving. They thought, no doubt, that others were in the house and that guns were more powerful than bows and arrows.

SOURCES: Bickley and Major Crockett's letter to Gov. Henry, dated May 26, 1785, Virginia State Papers, Vol. 4, p. 31.






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