For many years raiding parties of renegade Chickamauga and Cherokee stalked the Boone Trace, attacking small parties of travelers in the wilderness in order to steal their horses, cattle and other possessions. They also sometimes took prisoners from among the travelers.
Colonel William Whitley, who built the first brick house in Kentucky, “Sportsman Hill,” five miles west of Crab Orchard, was known far and wide as “the guardian of the wilderness.”
Whitley often went to the rescue of those who were attacked along the Boone Trace, and tracked down the raiding parties to recover the stolen goods and rescue captives taken prisoner by the renegades.
The McClure Defeat took place at the head of Skaggs Creek in present-day Laurel County in September or October of 1784.
According to William Whitley’s account, the McClure party was attacked shortly before daybreak. One man was killed and six persons were stabbed. Mr. McClure and several other members of the party were able to escape after firing back at their attackers.
Mrs. McClure and her four children were able to escape and hide in the forest, but one of the children cried, alerting their attackers to her location.
When they found Mrs. McClure, they killed three of her children immediately and took her and her youngest child prisoner. According to some reports, the youngest child survived and was later rescued with Mrs. McClure, but Whitley said the renegades killed this child, also, and his version of the story doesn’t mention rescuing the child.
The raiding party stayed at the McClure’s campsite until after daybreak, when they placed Mrs. McClure on a young horse that had been used as a pack animal but which had never been ridden.
She had a difficult time riding the horse through the thick underbrush and was battered and bruised by the experience.
Word of the defeat reached Sportsman Hill during Whitley’s absence, but his wife, Esther, sent for him and in the meantime raised a company of twenty-one men “true as steel” to accompany Whitley to pursue the renegades.
Whitley reported that his company caught up with the raiding party on the second night of their pursuit, about two hours before sunset.
The raiding party had apparently not traveled that day because they “had been busily engaged in dividing the plunder.” They were dressed in the clothing they had taken from the McClure party when Whitley and his men overtook them.
Whitley’s men fired on the raiding party, killing two, which enabled them to rescue Mrs. McClure and an African American woman who had also been taken prisoner.
Mrs. McClure told Whitley that “about a half hour before we fired on them one of the Indians had on a pair of shoe boots and was dancing merrily.”
Whitley said that if the dancer had waited a few moments longer “he would have got our music.” [Gunfire.]
Whitley stated that there were seven Indians in the raiding party. Whitley and his men recovered sixteen horses and “a great quantity of property,” which they later returned to the rightful owners.
The Indians also had six scalps stretched on hoops, and they forced Mrs. McClure to cook in sight of the scalps, some of which no doubt belonged to her murdered children.
Whitley took Mrs. McClure and the unnamed African American woman back to Sportsman Hill, where Mrs. McClure was eventually reunited with her husband.
Next week I will relate the story of the first postman, Thomas Ross, who was killed in Laurel County in March 1793 by a raiding party.
Thanks for stopping by.
Danna Estridge, guest blogger