McFarland’s Defeat

The McFarland Defeat took place in March or April of 1793 about four miles northeast of present-day London. This defeat was unusual because the man for whom it was named was one of the survivors rather than one of the victims.

Probably the most accurate and complete account of McFarland’s Defeat comes from Charles Robert Baugh, who heard it from his grandmother many years before he related it to the Lexington Herald newspaper, where it was published on January 20, 1907.

Following is an excerpt from that article. You can read a transcript of the entire article HERE: McFarland Defeat – Lexington Herald

“The first I ever heard about McFarland’s Defeat was from my grandmother years ago. It took place even before her day and time, but not so long before but that she had heard it discussed by parties well acquainted with the facts — possibly some who had visited the place the day after and had seen the awful evidence of the massacre.

“It took place about four miles to the northeast of London, the capital of Laurel County, in a narrow valley not over a mile long and drained by a branch of Big Raccoon Creek, ever since called McFarland’s Branch.

“McFarland was a hunter, a woodsman and a man experienced in Indian warfare. He was well acquainted with the winding path made by Boone, and had tasted the dangers of the dark woods on either side. Many descendants of the venturesome and hardy English colonists of Virginia and the Carolinas heard the call of the wild and the west and came to cast their fortunes with the new settlements beyond the Cumberlands.

“For the sake of company and for safety sake they traveled together and engaged a pilot like McFarland to take them through the Wilderness. At this time McFarland was leading a company of 28 besides himself.

“Knowing the dangers of the journey the company had, under the advice of McFarland, arranged a plan of action in case of an attack. At the appearance of the enemy it was agreed that the men should each seek the shelter of a tree and fight the Indians Indian fashion. The women and children were to push forward with the packhorses, leaving the men untrammeled.

“If the emigrants were victorious they could soon overtake the noncombatants. If the battle went against the whites the women would have some show of escaping by being out of sight.

“The little company passed where most of McNitt’s company had found their graves by the Trace side only four years before. Perhaps some friend or a relative had fallen here, and when McFarland pointed out the spot a shudder, a chill, passed over some of the timid — a premonition.

“Six miles beyond they passed down into the little valley. It was late in the afternoon. John Wood’s sheltering blockhouse was five miles away. The whoop of the Indians hidden by the trees was followed by a deadly fire.

“There were stout hearted women in the company. They had severed ties at the old home and willingly undertook the hazardous journey to find a new one. They had agreed to the plan arranged for them and had thought themselves equal to it, but when the test came they found the task too great.

“Their feet refused to carry them forward. Terror struck the company, terror and grim dispair. The women and children clung to their protectors who could neither protect nor save themselves. Without the shelter of a tree the men, women and children were at the mercy of those who never knew mercy.

“McFarland had no women folks, and he was able to get to a tree. From behind it he shot the leader of the Indians, who as he fell took off part of McFarland’s shot pouch with a last bullet.

McFarland was able to make his escape and went to John Woods’ blockhouse for help.

“It was sometime before McFarland could convince Woods who he was and how he came to be there. Then he was admitted, and soon the story of the massacre was told. After a consultation, made short for fear that the Indians had followed and would overwhelm them, Woods and McFarland left the blockhouse and hurried through the darkness over the long 30 miles that lay between them and Captain Whitley’s Station near where the town of Crab Orchard, Lincoln County, now is.

“Next day with assistance from Whitley’s they returned to the scene of the massacre. They found the bodies of the entire company and the body of the Chief that McFarland had killed. Upon examination they found that the Chief was a white renegade with a painted face and an Indian dress.

“It appeared at first that McFarland was the only survivor but a cry attracted them to a spot a little aside, and there they found a second survivor, a puny girl baby, and a third, a faithful dog that had lain huddled against her and kept her from freezing by warmth of his body.

“The mother and father and all the others sleep by the [Boone] Trace side where they fell. The child and her protector were taken to Captain Whitley’s. What became of the child I never heard.”

The rescue party also found a second little girl, Betsey Drake, who had been abandoned by her parents at Drake’s Defeat in March, 1793, and who had been taken by the Indians. She had escaped at the beginning of the McFarland battle and had been wandering alone in the wilderness until found by the Whitley party.

Both girls were taken to the Whitley home and eventually returned to their families.

Russell Dyche’s History of Laurel County, Kentucky (1954) also has a detailed account of McFarland’s Defeat. Read it HERE: McFarland Defeat – by Russell Dyche

Danna Estridge, Guest Blogger

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