George S. M'Kiernan's Letter
Louisville, January 13, 1843.
About the year 1782, the inhabitants of Fish-creek settlement, then in Ohio county, Virginia, erected a stockade work on the eastern bank of the Ohio river, at what is now called the head of Cresap's bottom. This post, which was known by the name of Baker's station, covered a space of about a quarter of an acre, and consisted of several block-houses connected by lines of stout pickets. Erected by the joint labors of the neighboring settlers, as a place of common refuge and security, whenever the.Indians gave token of hostile designs, it was never regarded by the government as a place of sufficient importance to justify the maintenance there of a regular garrison; and when the presence of the enemy in the vicinity, caused the station to be the abiding place of the people, its garrison was composed of all persons within the enclosure; among whom might justly be included the wives and daughters of the frontier's-men, as they often stepped forward in the hour of danger, and rendered services of the most meritorious character.
A short time since, it was my good fortune to spend a few hours with an aged couple whose residence in the valley of the Ohio, commenced as far back as the "Indian war of the Revolution." From them I received the following narrative of an interesting event in border history, which I do not remember to have seen recorded in any of the chronicles of Indian warfare. The precise period at which it occurred has escaped their memory; but from their reference to contemporary events, which are yet fresh in their recollection, it probably took place in the year 1791.
Sometime in the spring of the year, rumors of a meditated attack upon the settlement, caused the people to concentrate, for safety, at Baker's station. A party of experienced scouts, consisting of John M'Donald, (or M'Dannel) Isaac M'Keon, - Shopto and - Miller, crossed the river at the mouth of Captina creek, about a mile above the station, with the view of procuring some intelligence of the enemy's movements. They proceeded a short distance up the left bank of the creek, when a heavy fire was opened upon them bysome Indians, who were concealed in a neighboring copse of undergrowth. Miller was killed on the spot, and M'Donald, receiving a severe wound in the shoulder, soon became so much weakened by the loss of blood, that he was taken prisoner. M'Keon and Shopto ran for their canoe at the mouth of the creek; but being closely pursued by the enemy, they continued their retreat down the bank of the river, with the hope of being able to distance the Indians. The latter, however, gained so much upon the fugitives, that they shot down M'Keon on the beach immediately opposite the station; and Shopto, as a final resort, threw himself into the water, and was fortunate enough to swim to the station unharmed by the shower of balls that fell around him.
As soon as Shopto related his story, lieutenant Abraham Enochs, (a militia officer from a distant part of the county, who happened then to be on a visit to Baker's station,) proposed raising a party to inarch in pursuit of the Indians, and avenge the death of their three fellow- citizens. All the able-bodied men at the post - sixteen in number - promptly volunteered for the service; and, without loss of time, marched up the bank, and crossed over opposite the mouth of Captina. Shopto, together with three infirm old men, and the women and children, remained in the stockade, with instructions to keep themselves within the enclosure, until the return of the expedition.
Enochs' party, after proceeding ahout-a mile up the creek, diverged from the course of the stream, crossed a heavily timbered ridge, and fell upon a small spring branch, about three quarters of a mile above its mouth. At this point, they were suddenly fired upon by the savages, who had formed an ambuscade in a bunch of dog-wood trees, covered with grape vines, that grew at a little distance from the run. The men were thrown into confusion at this unexpected attack; but Enochs, who is represented to have acted with admirable coolness, succeeded in restoring them to something like order; and, judging that the Indians might be dislodged from their position by making a prompt charge into the thicket, gave an order to that effect, but before the movement could be effected, that gallant officer received a shot in his heart, and fell lifeless to the ground. The enemy, encouraged at this circumstance, poured out a volley upon the whites, and then unmasking themselves, rushed out with a loud yell, brandishing their tomahawks above their heads. At the same instant, a second party of Indians, stationed about forty paces down the river, under cover of a thicket, opened a fire, which killed John Baker and a man named Hoffman, besides wounding three others. The men being now without a leader, and seized with consternation at discovering the infinite superiority of the foe, gave one fire, and then made a precipitate and disorderly retreat. Some went down the river, while others made the best of their way to the flats of Grave creek, and not one of them returned to Baker's station until the following day.
In the course of the night, the families that occupied the station, apprehending that lieutenant Enochs' party had been cut to pieces by the savages, deserted the stockade, and retreated for better security to the hills at the head of the bottom, where they concealed' themselves until next day, when most of the fugitives from the battle, together with a strong party of men from Grave creek, arrived at the post. In the afternoon they crossed over to the scene of action, and recovered the bodies of Enochs, Baker and Hoffman, together with the three who had been killed before the battle. The remains of these unfortunate men were interred in a beautiful little grove near the station, and their graves are to be seen even at the present day.
Of the individuals engaged in the rencounter at Captina, besides Enochs, Baker and Hoffman, my informant can recollect only the names of George M'Colloch, Daniel Bean, John Sutherland and Dobbins.
The Indians, agreeably to their custom, had scalped the men who perished in the combat, and stripped their bodies of every thing that seemed valuable. Whatever loss they sustained themselves, could only be estimated by conjecture. From the appearance of blood upon the leaves, and various indications of death-struggles on the ground occupied by the Indians, it was thought their loss amounted to seven or eight; notwithstanding the whites gave but a single fire, and even that at the moment of their greatest confusion.
The above recital is not of much importance, but it narrates an event that history has overlooked. The manuscript is badly written, as is this letter; but I am writing in a room without fire, and my fingers are benumbed with cold. Respectfully, your obedient servant,
George S. M'Kiernan
Settlement in West Virginia