Fort Bigham
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Fort Bigham and Indian Raids


History of that part of the Susquehanna and Juniata valleys, embraced in the counties of Mifflin, Juniata, Perry, Union and Snyder, in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania...
Edited by F. Ellis and A. N. Hungerford.
Published in Philadelphia by Everts, Peck & Richards, 1886
Pages 68-71


"Fort Bigham" was a strong block-house and small stockade located about twelve miles from Mifflintown, in Tuscarora Valley, on the plantation of Samuel Bigham, who, with three other Scotch-Irish settlers,--viz.: John and James Gray and Robert Hoag,--came and located at that place soon after 1754, and, joining their forces, built a "fort" on Bigham's land as a place of refuge and protection for themselves and families. It was also used as a shelter by the other settlers who came to the vicinity during the succeeding seven years, until June, 1756, when it was attacked, captured and burned by Indians, who killed or took prisoner every person who was in the fort. The Pennsylvania Gazette of June 17, gave this account of the massacre:

"We have advice from Carlisle that on Friday night last (June 11th), Capt. Bigham's Fort, in Tuscarora Valley, was destroyed by the Indians. There is no particular account come to hand, only in general it is said that all that were in it are either killed or carried off; and that a woman, big with child, was found dead and scalped near the fort, mangled in a most shocking manner."

From Pennsylvania Gazette, June 24. "The following is a list of the persons killed and missing at Bigham's Fort, viz: George Woods, Nathaniel Bigham, Robert Taylor, his wife and two children, Francis Innis, his wife and three children, John McDonnell, Hannah Gray, and one child, missing. Some of these supposed to be burnt in the fort, as a number of bones were found there. Susan Giles was found dead and scalped in the neighborhood of the fort. Robert Cochran and Thomas McKinney found dead, scalped. Alexander McAllister and his wife, James Adams, Jane Cochran and two children missed. McAllister's house was burned and a number of cattle and horses driven off. The enemy was supposed to be numerous, as they did eat and carry off a great deal of Beef they had killed."

At the time when the savages made their attack on the fort, John Gray, one of the above named original settlers of the place, was absent at Carlisle, whither he had gone to procure salt. On his return he found the fort destroyed and his family missing,--probably prisoners in the hands of the Indians. In the hope of finding, or hearing from them, he volunteered to go with Colonel Armstrong, in the expedition which went soon afterwards, against the Indian town of Kittaning, on the Allegheny, but he gained no intelligence of those whom he sought, and soon after his return he left the Juniata country, and went back to his old home in Bucks County, where he remained until his death. Meanwhile, his wife and daughter had been taken by their savage captors to Kittaning and thence to Canada, from which latter place Mrs. Gray escaped and returned to Tuscarora Valley in 1757. Afterwards, a young woman claiming to be the daughter made her appearance there also, and was said to have been recognized by the mother; a full account of the case will be found in Milford township, Juniata County.

SECOND PERIOD OF INDIAN WAR.--The plan of the great Ottawa chief was to unite all the Indian tribes east and west against the whites, and in the harvest time of 1763 to invade their settlements, carrying massacre and conflagration in their path. This plan was put in bloody execution in many localities, among which was the upper part of Cumberland County (northward of the Blue Mountain), which region suffered in the hostilities of that year perhaps more severely (in proportion to the number of inhabitants which it then contained) than any other part of the province of Pennsylvania. Again (as in 1756) the country was abandoned by the settlers, who fled from their homes across the mountain and sought refuge at Carlisle, Bedford, Shippensburg, Fort Littleton and other points.

A letter from Carlisle, under date of August 14, 1763, to the rector of Christ Church, Philadelphia, stated that in Cumberland County, principally in the Juniata Valley, seven hundred and fifty families had abandoned their plantations and crops from fear of Indian incursions. Several occurrences had given legitimate ground for this terror and flight. On the 10th of July, 1763, the Indians committed murders at William White's, on the Juniata, at Robert Campbell's, on Tuscarora Creek, and at William Anderson's, and committed depredations at Collins' and James Scott's, in the Tuscarora Valley, and burned Graham's house.

The white massacre and some of the other atrocities are interestingly and probably accurately related by Robert Robison, as follows:

"In the second war, on the fifth (tenth) day of July, 1763, the Indians came to Juniata, it being harvest time there, and the white people were come back to reap their crops. They came first to the house of William White; it was on the Sabbath day; the reapers were all in the house. The Indians crept up nigh to the house door and shot the people laying on the floor, killed William White and all his family that were there, excepting one boy, who, when he heard the guns, leaped out of the window and made his escape.

"This same party went to Robert Campbell's, on the Tuscarora Creek, surprised them in the same way, shot them on the floor, where they were resting themselves. One George Dodds, being there harvesting, had just risen and gone into the room and lay down on the bed, setting his gun beside him. When the Indians fired, one of them sprang into the house with his tomahawk in his hand, running up to where a man was standing in the corner. Dodds fired at the Indian not six feet from him; the Indian gave a halloo and ran out as fast as he could. There being an opening in the loft above the bed, Dodds sprang up there and went out by the chimney, making his escape and came to Shearman Valley. He came to William Dickson's and told what had happened, there being a young man there which brought the news to us, who were harvesting at Edward Elliot's other intelligence; we got in the night. John Graham, John Christy and James Christy were alarmed in the evening by guns firing at William Anderson's, where the old man was killed with his Bible in his hand, supposed he was about to worship; his son also was killed and a girl that had been brought up by the old people. Graham and the Christys come about midnight, we hearing the Indians had got so far up the Tuscarora Valley, and knowing Collins' family and James Scott's were there about their harvest, twelve of us concluded to go over to Bingham's Gap and give those word that were there. When we came to Collins' we saw that the Indians had been there, had broke a wheel, emptied a bed and taken flour, of which they made some water gruel. We counted thirteen spoons made of bark; we followed the tracks down to James Scott's, where we found the Indians had killed some fowls; we pursued on to Graham's; there the house was on fire and burned down to the joists; we divided our men into two parties, six in each. My brother with his party came in behind the barn, and myself with the other party came down through an oats field. I was to shoot. The Indians had hung a coat upon a post on the other side of the fire from us. I looked at it and saw it immovable, and therefore walked down to it and found that the Indians had just left it. They had killed four hogs and had eaten at pleasure. Our company took their tracks and found that two companies had met at Graham's and had gone over the Tuscarora Mountain. We took the Run Gap, the two roads meeting at Nicholson's. They were there. They first heard us coming and lay in ambush for us. They had the first fire, being twenty-five in number and only twelve of us. They killed five and wounded myself. They then went to Alexander Logan's where they emptied some beds and passed on to George McCord's.

"A party of forty men came from Carlisle in order to bury the dead of Juniata. When they saw the dead at Buffalo Creek, they returned home. Then a party of men came with Captain Dunning; but before they came to Alexander Logan's, his son John, Charles Coyle, William Hamilton, with Bartholomew Davis, followed the Indians to George McCord's, where they were in the barn. Logan and those with him were all killed except Davis, who made his escape. The Indians then returned to Logan's house again, when Captain Dunning and his party came on them, and they fired some time at each other. Dunning had one man wounded."

The names of the twelve were William Robison, who acted as captain, Robert Robison, the relator of this narrative, Thomas Robison, being three brothers; John Graham, Charles Elliot, William Christy, James Christy, David Miller, John Elliot, Edward McConnell, William McAllister and John Nicholson. The persons killed were William Robison (shot in the belly with buck-shot and got about half a mile from the ground); John Elliot, then a boy of about seventeen years of age, having emptied his gun, was pursued by an Indian with his tomahawk, who was within a few perches of him when Elliot had poured some powder into his gun by random out of his powder horn, and having a bullet in his mouth put it in the muzzle, but had no time to ram it down; he turned and fired at his pursuer, who clapped his hand on his stomach and cried, Och,' turned and fled. Elliot had run a few perches further on when he overtook William Robison weltering in his blood, in his last agonies. He requested Elliot to carry him off, who excused himself by telling him of his inability to do so, and also of the danger they were in. He said he knew it, but desired him to take his gun with him, and, peace or war, if ever he had an opportunity of an Indian to shoot him for his sake. Elliot brought away the gun, and Robison was not found by the Indians. Thomas Robison stood on the ground until the whole of his people had fled; nor did the Indians offer to pursue until the last men left the field. Thomas having fired and charged the second time the Indians were prepared for him, and when he took aim past the tree a number fired at the same time and one of his arms was broken; he took his gun in the other and fled. Going up a hill he came to a high log and clapped his hand, in which was his gun, on the log to assist in leaping over it; while in the attitude of stooping, a bullet entered his side, going in a triangular course through his body; he sunk down across the log. The Indians sunk the cock of his gun into his brains and mangled him very much. John Graham was seen by David Miller sitting on a log, not far from the place of attack, with his hands on his face and the blood running through his fingers. Charles Elliot and Edward McConnell took a circle round where the Indians were laying and made the best of their way to Buffalo Creek; but they were pursued by the Indians, and where they crossed the creek there was a high bank, and, as they were ascending the bank, they were both shot and fell back into the water. Thus ended this unfortunate affair to those engaged; but, at the same time, it appears as if the hand of Providence had been in the whole transaction, for there is every reason to believe that spies had been viewing the place the night before, and the Indians were within three-quarters of a mile of the place from which the men had started, when there would have been from twenty to thirty men perhaps in the field reaping, and all the guns that could be depended on were in this small company except one, so that they might have become an easy prey, and instead of those five brave men who lost their lives three times that number might have sufficed.

The two Christys were about a week before they could make their escape. The Indians one night passed so near them they could have touched them with their guns.

Interesting contemporary accounts of the occurrences of this period and the condition of the country, especially in old Cumberland County (which contained much of the territory here under consideration), are given in letters to the Pennsylvania Gazette, written from Carlisle in July and August, 1763:

"Carlisle, July 12, 1763.
"I embrace this first leisure, since yesterday morning, to transmit you a brief account of our present state of affairs here, which indeed is very distressing; every day almost affording some fresh object to awaken the compassion, alarm the fears or kindle into resentment and vengeance every sensible breast, while flying families, obliged to abandon house and possession, to save their lives by a hasty escape; mourning widows bewailing their husbands, surprised and massacred by savage rage; tender parents lamenting the fruit of their own bodies, cropt in the very bloom of life by a barbarous hand; with relations and acquaintances pouring out sorrow for murdered neighbors and friends, present a scene of mingled distress.

"When, for some time, after striking at Bedford, the Indians appeared quiet, nor struck any other part of our frontiers, it became the prevailing opinion that our forts and communication were so peculiarly the object of their attention that, till at least after harvest, there was little prospect of danger to our inhabitants over the hills; and to dissent from this generally-received sentiment was political heresy, and attributed to timidity rather than judgment, till too early conviction has decided the point in the following manner:

"On Sunday morning, the 10th inst., about nine or ten o'clock, at the house of one William White, on Juniata, between thirty and forty miles hence, there being in said house four men and a lad, the Indians came rushing upon them, and shot White at the door, just stepping out to see what the noise meant. Our people then pulled in White and shut the door; but observing, through a window, the Indians setting fire to the house, they attempted to force their way out at the door; but the first that stept out being shot down, they drew him in and again shut the door; after which one, attempting an escape out of a window on the loft, was shot through the head, and the lad wounded in the arm. The only one now remaining, William Riddle, broke a hole through the roof of the house, and an Indian, who saw him looking out, alleged he was about to fire on him, withdrew, which afforded Riddle an opportunity to make his escape. The house, with the other four in it, was burned down, as one McMachen informs, who was coming to it, not suspecting Indians, and was by them fired at and shot through the shoulder, but made his escape. The same day, about dinner-time, at about a mile and a half from said White's, at the house of Robert Campbell, six men being in the house, as they were dining, three Indians rushed in at the door, and, after firing among them and wounding some, they tomahawked, in an instant, one of the men; whereupon one George Dodds, one of the company, sprang back into the room, took down a rifle, shot an Indian through the body, who was presenting his piece to shoot him. The Indian, being mortally wounded, staggered, and, letting his gun fall, was carried off by three more. Dodds, with one or two more, getting upon the loft, broke the roof in order to escape, and, looking out, saw one of the company, Stephen Jeffries, running, but very slowly, by reason of a wound in the breast, and an Indian pursuing; and it is thought he could not escape, nor have we heard of him since; so that it is past dispute he also is murdered. The first that attempted getting out of the loft was fired at, and drew back; another, attempting, was shot dead, and of the six, Dodds was the only one made his escape. The same day, about dusk, about six or seven miles up Tuscarora, and about twenty-eight or thirty miles hence, they murdered one William Anderson, together with a boy and girl all in one house. At White's were seen at least five, some say eight or ten Indians, and at Campbell's about same number. On Monday, the 11th, a party of about twenty-four went over from the upper part of Shearman's Valley to see how matters were. Another party of twelve or thirteen went over from the upper part of said valley; and Colonel John Armstrong, with Thomas Wilson, Esq., and a party of between thirty and forty from this town, to reconnoiter and assist in bringing the dead.

"Of the first and third parties we have heard nothing yet; but of the party of twelve, six are come in and inform that they have passed through the several places in Tuscarora, and saw the houses in flames or burnt entirely down; that the grain that had been reaped the Indians burnt in shocks, and had set the fences on fire where the grain was unreaped; that the hogs had fallen upon and mangled several of the dead bodies; that the said company of twelve, suspecting danger, durst not stay to bury the dead; that after they had returned over the Tuscarora mountain, about one or two miles on this side of it, and about eighteen or twenty from hence, they were fired on by a large party of Indians, supposed about thirty, and were obliged to fly; that two, viz., William Robison and John Graham, are certainly killed, and four more are missing, who, it is thought, have fallen into the hands of the enemy, as they appeared slow in flight, most probably wounded, and the savages pursued with violence. What farther mischief has been done we have not heard, but expect every day and hour some more messages of melancholy news.

"In hearing of the above defeat, we sent out another party of thirty or upwards, commanded by our high sheriff, Mr. Dunning, and Mr. William Lyon, to go in quest of the enemy, or fall in with and reinforce our other parties. There also a number gone out from about three miles below this, so that we now have over the hills upwards of eighty or ninety volunteers scouring the woods. The inhabitants of Shearman's Valley, Tuscarora, etc., are all come over, and the people of this valley, near the mountain, are beginning to move in, so that in a few days there will be scarcely a house inhabited north of Carlisle. Many of our people are greatly distressed, through want of arms and ammunition; and numbers of those, beat off their places, have hardly money enough to purchase a pound of powder.

"Our women and children must move downwards, if the enemy proceed. To-day a British vengeance begins to rise in the breasts of our men. One of them, that fell from among the twelve, as he was just expiring, said to one of his fellows: Here, take my gun, and kill the first Indian you see, and all shall be well.'"

                      "July 13, 1763.
"Last night Colonel Armstrong returned. He left the party, who pursued further and found several dead, whom they buried in the best manner they could, and are now all returned in. From what appears, the Indians are traveling from one place to another, along the valley, burning the farms and destroying all the people they meet with. This day gives an account of six more being killed in the valley, so that, since last Sunday morning to this day, twelve o'clock, we have a pretty authentic account of the number slain, being twenty-five, and four or five wounded. The Colonel, Mr. Wilson and Mr. Alricks are now on the parade, endeavoring to raise another party to go out and succor the Sheriff and his party, consisting of fifty men, which marched yesterday, and I hope they will be able to send off immediately twenty good men. The people here, I assure you, want nothing but a good leader and a little encouragement to make a very good defense.

"Our advices from Carlisle [says the editor of the Pennsylvania Gazette of July 28th] are as follows, viz.: That the party under the Sherriff, Mr. Dunning, mentioned in our last, fell in with the enemy at the house of one Alexander Logan, in Shearman's Valley, supposed to be about fifteen, or upwards, who had murdered the said Logan, his son and another man about two miles from said house, and mortally wounded a fourth, who is since dead, and that, at the time of their being discovered, they were rifling the house and shooting down the cattle, and, it is thought, about to return home with the spoil they had got.

"That our men, on seeing them, immediately spread themselves from right to left, with a design to surround them, and engaged the savages with great courage, but, from their eagerness, rather too soon, as some of the party had not got up when the skirmish began; that the enemy returned our first fire very briskly, but our people, regardless of that, rushed upon them, when they fled and were pursued a considerable way, till thickets secured their escape, four or five of them, it was thought, being mortally wounded; that our parties had brought in with them what cattle they could collect, but that great numbers were killed by the Indians, and many of the horses that were in the valleys carried off; that on the 21st inst. (the morning) news was brought of three Indians being seen about ten o'clock in the morning; one Pummeroy and his wife and the wife of one Johnson were surprised in a house between Shippensburg and the North Mountain, and left there for dead, but that one of the women, when found, showed some signs of life, was brought to Shippensburg, where she lived some hours in a most miserable condition, being scalped, one of her arms broken and her skull fractured with the stroke of a tomahawk; and that, since the 10th inst, there was an account of fifty-four persons being killed by the enemy.

"That the Indians had set fire to houses, barns, corn, wheat and rye, hay,--in short, to everything combustible,--so that the whole country seemed to be one blaze; that the miseries and distresses of the poor people were really shocking to humanity and beyond the power of language to describe; that Carlisle was become the barrier, not a single inhabitant being beyond it; that every stable and hovel in the town was crowded with miserable refugees, who were reduced to the state of beggary and despair, their houses, cattle and harvest destroyed, and, from a plentiful, independent people, they were become real objects of charity and commiseration; that it was most dismal to see the streets filled with people, in whose countenances might be discovered a mixture of grief, madness and despair, and to hear now and then the sighs and groans of men, the disconsolate lamentations of women and the screams of children, who had lost their nearest and dearest relatives; and that, on both sides of the Susquehanna, for some miles, the woods were filled with poor families and their cattle, who made fires and lived like savages, exposed to the inclemencies of the weather."

                                   "Carlisle, July 30, 1763
"On the 25th a considerable number of the inhabitants of Sherman's Valley went over, with a party of soldiers to guard them, to attempt saving as much of their grain as might be standing, and it is hoped a considerable quantity will be preserved. A party of volunteers (between twenty and thirty) went to the farther side of the valley, next to the Tuscarora Mountain, to see what appearance there might be of the Indians, as it was thought they would most probably be there, if anywhere in the settlement; to search for, and bury the dead at Buffalo Creek, and to assist the inhabitants that lived along the foot of the mountain, in bringing off what they could, which services they accordingly performed, burying the remains of three persons, but saw no marks of Indians having lately been there, excepting one track, supposed about two or three days old, near the narrows of Buffalo creek hill, and heard some hallooing and firing of a gun at another place. A number of the inhabitants of Tuscarora Valley go over the mountain to-morrow, with a party of soldiers, to endeavor to save part of the crops. Five Indians were seen last Sunday, about sixteen or seventeen miles from Carlisle, up the valley, towards the North mountain, and two the day before yesterday, above five or six miles from Shippensburg, who fired at a young man and missed him.

"On the 25th July there were in Shippensburg 1384 of our poor, distressed, back inhabitants, viz.: men, 301; women, 345; children, 738; many of whom were obliged to lie in barns, stables, cellars, and under old, leaky sheds, the dwelling-houses being all crowded.

"In a letter dated Carlisle, 13th August, 1763, it is said that some Indians have lately been seen in Shearman's Valley, and that on the 11th the tracts of a party were found there, supposed to consist of eight or ten, coming through Shearman's Valley towards Carlisle, about twelve miles upward. In another letter, dated August 17th, mention is made that one John Martin, in the Great Cove, seeing an Indian coming up to a house where he was, fired at him, upon which the Indian raised a yell and took a tree; that Martin, imagining there might be more Indians near him, ran to a company at work and told what had happened, when they went to the place, found some blood and excrements, from which they concluded he was shot through the bowels.

"They followed his track down to a bottom, where they saw the tracks of six or seven more, but, being a small party, pursued no farther. In the same letter, it is also said that a young man, at a plantation about nine miles from Carlisle, near the foot of the mountain, saw an Indian and fired at him at about fifty yards' distance, but was not sure that he hit him. The Indian took a tree and the lad went back a little way, in order to load again, but on his return could not see the Indian. He then alarmed the neighborhood, and, the soldiers being all out in parties covering the people gathering in grain, upwards of twenty young men turned out immediately, from Carlisle, to scour the woods."

The condition of the people throughout this region at the close of 1763 is described by Colonel Armstrong, then in command of the forces west of the Blue Ridge, in a letter to Governor Penn, dated in December, 1763:

"The people drove off by the enemy from the north side of the mountains forms the Frontier, as they are mixed with the settlers on the south side, where, of course, the motions of the Ranging Party are required. At the same time, those who have been driven from their habitations have some part of their Effects yet behind and their Crops stacked in the fields in the different Valleys at a considerable distance beyond the Mountains.

"To these distressed People we must afford covering Parties as often as they request them, or will convene in small bodies to thrash out their Grain and carry it over to their families for their supplies. The last mentioned Service, necessary as it is, greatly obstructs the uniform course of patrolling behind the Inhabitants, that otherwise might be performed."

The terror created in 1763 did not subside sufficiently to admit the resumption of peaceful avocations in any marked degree until 1765. Colonel Henry Bouquet's victory in Ohio, in 1764, in a measure, cowed the Indians, and they were obliged to be peaceable. The settlers gradually returned, and by 1767 all of the best locations were taken up by "squatters." In 1768 the "new purchase" was made, and, in 1769, the Land Office having been opened, the "squatters" took up lands by warrant. From this time on there were no Indian massacres until about 1778, and these were principally confined to the valley of the West Branch.






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