The Death of Samuel McCulloch

Notes on the Settlement and Indian Wars
by Joseph Doddridge

Sketch Of Major Samuel McColloch.
By Narcissa Doddridge.

Among the earliest settlers of North Western Virginia were the McCollochs, who emigrated from the south branch of the Potomac in 1770, and located on the borders of Short creek, a stream which empties into the Ohio river, nine miles north of Wheeling creek. The family consisted of four brothers, Abraham, George, Samuel and John, and several sisters, one of whom was the wife of Col. Ebenezer Zane, who, with his brothers, Jonathan and Silas, was from the same neighborhood, and about the same period .settled at the mouth of Wheeling creek.

The name which graces the head of this article is not unknown to readers of border history, in which some of his daring exploits are recorded. At present, however, we propose noticing only a few particulars, more immediately connected with the final scene of his eventful career, which were communicated to the writer by the widow of his brother, the late Major John M'Colloch, of Ohio county, Virginia, and, in substance, corroborated by Col. M. Moorehead, of Zanesville, and the Hon. T. Scott, of Chillicothe, Ohio.

Between the two younger brothers of the M'Colloch family, Samuel and John, of whom alone we shall speak, there existed a more than fraternal intimacy, arising not only from congeniality of disposition, but from community of interests and pursuits; consequently, they were much together, and their history is in some degree blended. Both were early distinguished for intrepidity and successful prowess in Indian warfare. Possessing in an eminent degree firmness and decision of character, they were wont, in cases of exigency, which in those days of peril were of frequent occurrence, to determine quickly and execute promptly. These qualities, combined with untiring energy and perseverance, in circumventing the various stratagems of the Indians, and indomitable courage in opposing them in open combat, soon placed the brothers in the van of the frontier bands required by the peculiarly exposed condition of the country to be ever on the alert and ready for conflict with the wily enemy, whose frequent irruptions into the infant settlements, for purposes of rapine and murder kept the inhabitants in a state of continual dread and apprehension. To many of the savages they were personally known, and objects of fear and intense hate. Numerous artifices were employed to capture them; their enemies anticipating, in such an event, the privilege of satiating their vindictive and fiendish malice by the infliction of a lingering and cruel death. Of this design, on the part of the Indians, the brothers were aware; and in their almost miraculous preservation, in various contests with them, gratefully acknowledged the interposition of an invisible Power in their behalf.

Major Samuel M'Colloch commanded at Fort Van Meter, in 1777, styled the Court House Fort, from the circumstance of the first civil court in North Western Virginia being held in it immediately after the organization and separation of Ohio county from West Augusta. This fort was one of the first erected in this part of Virginia, and stood on the north side of Short creek, about five miles from its confluence with the Ohio river. During many consecutive summers the inhabitants of the adjacent neighborhood sought security from the tomahawk and scalping knife of the merciless aborigines within its palisades; agricultural labor being performed by companies, each member of which, like the Jews of old, when rebuilding the walls of -the Holy City after their return from the Babylonish captivity, wrought with one hand while the other grasped a weapon of defense.

On the 30th July, 1782, arrangements were made by the inmates of the fort for the performance of field labor. To the commander and his brother John was assigned the dangerous duty of reconnoitering the paths leading from the river, to ascertain, if possible, whether there were any Indians lurking in the vicinity. Leaving early in the morning in the discharge of their mission, after proceeding some distance the former, impelled perhaps by a sudden premonition of the tragic fate which befell him, returned; and depositing with the wife of his brother John his watch and several other articles, gave directions as to their disposition, in the event of his not returning, and leaving a kindly message for his youthful bride, soon rejoined his wondering companion.

They traversed the path lying along the south bank of the creek till within a short distance of its junction with the Ohio, where they crossed and followed the direction of the river to the Beach bottom, a distance of three miles; when, perceiving no indications of an enemy, they retraced their steps to the mouth of the creek, a short distance above which, they ascended a steep and rugged eminence, well known in the neighborhood by the significant cognomen of Girty's Point. The notorious renegade, Simon Girty, having on several occasions, when conducting parties of Indians into the settlement, with difficulty escaped capture by the infuriated whites, by a rapid flight over the craggy and precipitous path.

Congratulating themselves on the absence of immediate danger, the brothers pursued their course in the direction of the fort, on the summit of the elevated ridge rising abruptly from the northern bank of the creek, and had arrived at the termination of a deep ravine which made up from the stream - John, being - somewhat in advance of his brother, and riding round the top of a large tree, which had fallen across the way - when a low, half-suppressed growl, from a well trained hunting-dog which accompanied them, arrested their attention. No time, however, intervened for scrutinizing the cause; a volley of bullets from an invisible foe revealed it. On reaching the path John turned to look for his companion, whose bleeding form, with feelings of unutterable anguish, he beheld falling from his horse, and, ere it reached the earth, a stalwart savage sprang from his covert, tomahawk and scalping-knife in hand. with which to complete the bloody tragedy, and secure a trophy of victory. While the exulting victor was in the act of scalping, the younger brother, with frenzied resolution, suddenly wheeled his horse, and, amid a shower of balls, elevating his rifle, quickly sent the swift messenger of death to the heart of the murderer, whom he had the exquisite gratification of seeing spring into the air, and then fall to rise no more. Having performed this feat he rapidly as possible, his enraged enemies in full pursuit, their balls perforating his hat and hunting-shirt, made his way down the ravine and soon reached the fort in safety; his brother's horse closely following him.

The next morning a party from the fort proceeded to the spot where the sanguinary deed had been perpetrated and found the mutilated remains of their beloved commander. The Indians, influenced no doubt by that species of hero-worship inherent in their nature, causing an unbounded admiration of personal valor, had abstracted the heart of their victim; which, it was afterward learned from one belonging to the party, had been eaten by them; a practice in which they occasionally indulged. Parkman, who was well acquainted with their habits, says: "The Indians, though not habitual cannibals, sometimes eat portions of the bodies of their enemies, superstitiously believing that their own courage and hardihood will be increased thereby."

This fatal rencounter was, doubtless, instrumental in the salvation of the lives of all in the fort; it being subsequently ascertained that the party committing the murderous act consisted of upwards of one hundred warriors en route to attack it. After the escape of the surviving brother, aware that notice of their propinquity would be given, and immediate pursuit made, they hastily retreated to their towns west of the. Ohio.

The remains of Major Samuel M'Colloch were interred in Fort Van Meter; but not unwept nor unhonored. There were present very many who knew and appreciated the sterling worth of the forest soldier, and by whom the memory of his noble qualities and tragic fate was long cherished; and to this day, in the vicinity where the circumstances transpired, the name and fate of the hero are as familiar as household words.

Exploration, Settlement and Conflict (1600-1799)