WOOD RIVER MASSACRE.
The most startling and cruel atrocity ever committed by the Indians within the limits of Madison county was the Wood River massacre, on the tenth of July, 1814, by which seven persons, one woman and six children, lost their lives. This tragedy took place in the forks of Wood river, between two and three miles east of the present Upper Alton. The victims were the wife and two children of Reason Reagan, two children of Abel Moore, and two children of William Moore.
At the beginning of the war of 1812-14, the citizens of the county, who lived at exposed locations on the frontier, sought refuge in the forts and block-houses; but, as no Indians made their appearance and the Rangers were constantly on the alert, scouring the country to the north and east, the most began to feel so secure that in the summer of 1814 they returned to their farms and dwellings. There were six, or eight families residing at that time in the forks of Wood river. The men were mostly absent from home in ranging service. At the residence of George Moore on the east branch of Wood river, a block-house had been built to which the women and children could flee should danger be apprehended.
The massacre occurred on a Sabbath afternoon. Reagan had gone two, or three miles from home to attend church, leaving his wife and two children at the house of Abel Moore, which was about a mile distant from where he lived, and half-way between his house and the block-house. About four o’clock in the afternoon Mrs. Reagan started back to her own dwelling, intending to return to Abel Moore‘s in a short time. She was accompanied by her own two children, and the four children of Abel and William Moore. A little afterward two men of the neighborhood passed along the road, in an opposite direction to that taken by Mrs. Reagan. One of them heard at a certain place, a low call, as of a boy, which he did not answer, and for a repetition of which he did not delay.
When it began to grow dark uneasiness was felt at the absence of the Moore children, and William Moore came to Abel Moore‘s, and not finding them there passed on toward Reagan‘s, while his wife started in a direct line, not following the road, for the same place. William Moore now came back with the startling information that some one had been killed by the Indians. He had discovered a human body lying on the ground which by reason of the darkness and his haste, he was unable to identify.
The first thought was to find a refuge in the block-house! Mr. Moore desired his brother’s family to go by the road directly to the fort, while he would pass by his own house and take his own family with him, but the night was dark, the road passed through a heavy forest, and the women and children chose to accompany William Moore though the distance to the fort, by the road only one mile, was thereby nearly doubled. The feelings of the party, as they groped their way through the dark woods, may be more easily imagined than described. Sorrow for the supposed loss of relatives and children, was mingled with horror at the manner of their death, and fear for their own safety. Silently they passed on till they came to the dwelling of William Moore, when he exclaimed, as if relieved from some dreadful apprehension, “Thank God, Polly is not killed!” The horse which his wife had ridden was standing near the house.
As they let down the bars and gained admission to the yard, his wife came running out, exclaiming, “They are killed by the Indians, I expect.” The whole party then departed hastily for the block-house, to which place, all the neighbors, to whom warning had been communicated by signals, gathered by daybreak.
It has been mentioned that Mrs. William Moore, as well as her husband, had gone in search of the children. Passing by different routes, they did not meet on the way, nor at the place of the slaughter. Mrs. Moore who was on horseback, carefully noted, as she went, every discernible object till at length she saw a human figure, lying near a log. There was not sufficient light to tell the size, or sex, of the person, and she called over again and again the name of one and another of her children, supposing it to be one of them asleep. At length she alighted, and examined the object more closely. What must have been her sensations as she placed her hand upon the back of a naked corpse, and felt, on further examination, the quivering flesh from which the scalp had recently been torn? In the gloom of the night she could indistinctly see the figure, of the little child of Mrs. Reagan‘s sitting so near the body of its mother as to lean its head, first one side, then the other, on the insensible and mangled body, and as she leaned over the little one, it said— “The black man raised his axe and cutted them again.” She saw no further, but thrilled with horror and alarm, hastily remounted her frightened horse, and quickly hurried home where she heated water, intending by that means, to defend herself from the savage foe.
There was little rest that night at the fort. The women and children of the neighborhood, with the few men who were not absent with the Rangers, crowded together, not knowing but that at any minute the Indians might begin their attack. Seven were missing, and the bodies of these lay within a mile, or two, mangled and bleeding in the forest. At three o’clock in the morning a messenger was dispatched with the tidings to Fort Russell.
At dawn of day the scene of the tragedy was sought and the bodies gathered for burial. They were buried the same day, in three graves, carefully dug, with boards laid beneath, beside, and above the bodies. There were no men to make the coffins.
The Indians had built a large fire, and also blazed the way to make the whites think that there was a large party. The news soon spread, and it was not long before Gen. Whiteside, with nine others, gave pursuit. Among the number were James Preuitt, Abraham Preuitt, James Stockden, Wm. Montgomery, Peter Wagoner and others, whose descendants now live in Moro and Wood River. The weather was extremely hot, and some of their horses gave out and fell beneath their riders. Gen. Whiteside gave out entirely. His orders was to keep up the pursuit. It was on the second day in the evening, that they came in sight of the Indians, on the dividing ridge of the Sangamon river. There stood at that time a lone cotton-wood free on the ridge, and this several of the Indians had climbed to look back. They saw their pursuers, and from that tree they separated and went in different directions, all making for the timber. When the whites came to the spot where the Indians had divided, they concluded to divide and pursue the Indians separately. James Preuitt and Abraham took the trail of one of the Indians. James Preuitt having the fastest and best horse, soon came within sight of his Indian. He rode up to within thirty yards of him and shot him in the thigh. The Indian fell, but managed to get to a tree top that was blown down. Abraham Preuitt soon came up, and they concluded to ride in on the Indian and finish him, which they did by Abraham shooting and killing him where he lay. In his shot-pouch was found the scalp of Mrs. Regan. The Indian raised his gun, but was too weak to fire, and had also lost his flint, or perhaps he might have killed one of the pursuers. The rifle is supposed to be in the hands of the Preuitt family yet. It was somewhere near where Virden now stands that the party came upon them. The Indians hid in the timber and in a drift in the creek. Night coming on is all that saved them. It was ascertained at the treaty afterwards at Galeua that only Indians escaped, and that was the chief. The Indians bled themselves on account of the heat to prevent them from fainting. Solomon Preuitt, who was not in the pursuit, assisted in the burial of Mrs. Reagan and the children. He hauled them in a little one- horse sled to the old burial ground south of Bethalto, where a simple stone marks their last resting place. There is also buried in the same burying ground an Indian girl who was captured by Abraham Preuitt during one of the campaigns in the war of 1812. The Indians had been pursued into the Winnebago Swamps, and Abraham Preuitt hearing firing in a distant part of the swamp concluded to go and see what was the matter. On nearing the spot he found Davis Carter and one other firing at the little Indian child who was mired and could not get out. He called them cowards and ordered them to cease firing at a helpless child. Preuitt went into the swamp and rescued the child and brought it home with him. She lived to the age of fifteen, being about six years old at the time of capture. She was always of a wild nature.” *
*from an article furnished by E. K. Preuitt