Transactions of the Illinois State Historical Society--1901




(By Volney P. Richmond, of Liberty Prairie, Madison county, Illinois.)


Since my earliest recollection I have heard and read of the Wood river massacre, by the Indians, and have often had the place pointed out to me where it occurred. I was early acquainted with Captain Abel Moore, and with several of Captain Moore's children. Major Frank Moore can not tell when he did not know me. I often stopped to hear his father tell pioneer stories. I knew, but was not intimately acquainted with, the other members of the Moore family.

Some years ago some one published an account of the Wood river massacre so very incorrect that I answered it and told what I knew about it. In that paper the scene was laid near where the two railways and wagon road cross wood river, at a place called Milton, some two miles or more from where I knew it to have taken place. Not long after I met Major Moore, and after thanking me for making the correction, said that I was nearer to it than any one who had written before me; but that I was still somewhat off. I said I would try again, and with his help, and his sister's, Mrs. Lydia Williams, I thought, could get a correct history of it. There has been no account of it heretofore written (not even my own), that is perfectly reliable; as this, being a part of the early history of Madison county, should be. Of course, there is no one who can personally vouch for the facts of this Indian massacre, in 1814, during the last war with England; but the remaining children of Captain Abel Moore would be able to come nearer to it than any one else,. They have often heard the story from their father and mother; and I too, have heard it from their father.

This Indian massacre occurred on the southwest quarter of section 5, in Wood River township, Madison county, Illinois, on the 10th day of July, 1814. The persons killed were Mrs. Rachael Reagan and her two children, Elizabeth (or Betsey) aged seven, and Timothy, aged three years; two children of Captain Abel Moore's, William, aged ten , and Joel aged eight years; and two children of William Moore's, John, aged ten, and George, aged three years. Mrs. Reagan and children went to spend the day at the house of Williarn Moore, on the farm now owned by Mrs. William Badley. Returning in the afternoon by way of Captain Abel Moore's farm, now the property of George Cartwright, two of whose children, William and Joel, started home with them to get some green beans. Miss Hannah Bates, Mrs. Abel Moore's sister, visiting there, also started to accompany them to remain at Mrs. Reagan's; but after going a part of the way, she suddenly changed her mind. as if warned by some presentment, and against the earnest entreaties of Mrs. Reagan, retraced her steps and hastened back to Captain Moore's. At the point where she turned back she could not have been more than two or three hundred yards from where the dead body of Mrs. Reagan was found. Mrs. Reagan and the six children were all tomahawked and scalped, and they remained on the ground where they were murdered all night; the Indians stripped them of all their clothing, as well as scalping them.

William Moore having returned that day from Fort Butler, near the site of the present village of St. Jacob, where he was on military duty, to look after the women and children at home, became alarmed as night approached and the children not returned, and went in search of them, first going to his brother's, Abel Moore's, place to see if they were there. His wife, who was Mrs. Reagan's sister, also started to look for them on horseback, taking a different route from the one her husband went. Although they did not meet until they both returned home, they both found the lifeless bodies in the ,darkness, lying by the wayside, and each placed a hand upon the bare shoulder of Mrs. Reagan. Mr. Moore returned as he went, by Abel's house, to notify the family there of the massacre, and warn them of possible danger that night. When Mrs. Wm. Moore found the children lying by the road she thought they had become tired and laid down to sleep. She got down from her horse to pick up the youngest child, but just then a crackling noise and flash of light from a burning hickory tree near by alarmed her, and fearing Indians might be in ambush there, she sprang on her horse and reached home in advance of her husband. Mrs. Reagan and her two children were killed nearest Capt. Abet Moore's place: the other children were found lying farther on, two at a place. One, the youngest child, three years old, when found was still alive. A messenger was sent for the nearest physician, who came and dressed the wounds of the little one, but it did not survive the treatment.

John Harris, a young man living at Capt. Abel Moore's, was sent that night to Fort Russell, near the present city of Edwardsville, where Captain Moore was in command, and to Fort Butler, commanded by Captain Whitesides, to notify them of the massacre. Leaving the latter post about one o'clock that same night, about seventy rangers from both forts, among whom were James and Solomon- Preuitt, arrived at Moore's block house (on the farm owned by the late Win. Gill, and now by a German named Klopmeyer), just as the sun was rising and proceeded on to the scene of the massacre. They soon found the trail of the Indians marked by broken bushes and trampled grass, with some stains of blood, made probably by the fresh scalps. In hot pursuit the rangers pressed upon the fleeing red devils, and overtook them about sunset upon a small stream in the northern part of Morgan county. One of the Indians hid in the top of a fallen tree and was shot by James Preuitt; of the other nine (they being ten in number) but one escaped, and he got away by diving in the water. (The stream mentioned was called by the early French traders La Belleause, but after the occurrence narrated it has been known as Indian creek, and the spot where the Indian escaped is now known as Cracker's Bend.) The rangers, who were led by Capt. Whitesides, camped on the creek that night and returned to their forts next day.

The morning after the massacre, the friends and relatives prepared to bury the dead; and that was no small undertaking. There was nothing like any sawed lumber in the whole country; and besides axes and hoes they had but few tools of any description. They decided to bury the dead bodies where a few of the early settlers, who had died some time before were buried, on Section 24, four miles east of the Moore settlement-, and that was the first burying ground in that part of the country. Their only means to convey the bodies to the burying ground was on rough sleds drawn by oxen. The graves were dug with coffin-shaped vaults at the bottom, which were lined with slabs split from trees near by as nearly like plank as possible; and after the bodies were placed in the vaults they were covered over with the same kind of split slabs. The seven were buried in three graves; Mrs. Reagan and her two children in one grave; Captain Moore's two children in another, and William Moore's two children in the third.

When I first visited that grave yard, which was situated in a heavy growth of timber, there was an old church near by, built by setting poles in the ground and siding up with rough split boards, and covered with the same. "Moore's Settlement" in the forks of Wood river was commenced in 1808, by George, William and Abel Moore, William Bates, Ransom Reagan, Mr. Wright, Samuel Williams, Mr. Vickery, and a few others, and their families. On George Moore's farm was a block house fort where the settlers assembled when apprehensive of Indian attacks. At the time of the massacre of Mrs. Reagan and the children there was but one man in that fort. He was George Moore, a gunsmith, who made and repaired rifles, for the settlement. Of those who took refuge in the fort that night there is now (1898) probably but one living, Mrs. Nancy Hedden, a daughter of Captain Abel Moore's. She resides at San Diego, Cal., and was at that time about a year and a half old.

Such is the true history of the Wood river massacre. I have taken much time to trace out all the facts here stated, and I believe them to be correct. I have often been over the ground where it occurred and well acquainted with the Moores and their descendents all of my life.

(The writer of the foregoing sketch, Mr. Volney P. Richmond, who resided in Madison county from his early boyhood, died on the 14th of January, 1901, at the age of eighty-four.-ED.)