Southern Illinois History Page

The Mound City Massacre

History of Pulaski County

CHICAGO (1883) — The earliest history of which we have any accurate account of the location where Mound City now stands dates back to 1812, that being the time of the Indian massacre, and as it tells of the life and fate of many early pioneers in Illinois, we give the history of the massacre, as told by Thomas Falker, and as written by the Rev. E. B. Olmsted, and published in the newspapers some years ago.

Thomas Falker, who died in Pulaski County in 1859, gave the facts of the massacre of the whites where Mound City now stands. The first white settlers of the extreme southern portion of Illinois were Tennesseans, but it is not generally known that they were driven here by an earthquake, which gave its first shake December 16, 1811. The present site of Cairo was then known as Bird's Point. Two families, one named Clark and the other Phillips, lived near where is now Mound City. A man named Conyer had settled below the old town, America, and a Mr. Lyerle, a short distance above, and a man named Humphrey lived where Lower Caledonia now stands. These were all the inhabitants of the country, from the mouth of the Ohio to Grand Chain - twenty miles.

They had made but small improvement, and as the land had not yet come into market, of course they did not own the soil. The families of Clark consisted of only himself and wife; their children were grown up and lived elsewhere, but paid them an occasional visit. The other family near Mound City, consisted of Mrs. Phillips and a son and daughter nearly grown and a man named Kenaday. The family originally were from Tennessee, and removed from that State into what is now Union County. Mr. Phillips having occasion to return to Tennessee, on business, Kenaday became acquainted with his wife and persuaded her to abandon Phillips and live with him. No disturbances followed this delinquency, and the easy morals of the times seems to have winked at it.

In the fall of 1812, these families were enjoying their usual quiet, when some Indians, ten in number, paid them an unexpected visit. They belonged to the Creek tribe, which inhabited the lower part of Kentucky, and had been exiled and outlawed for some supposed outrages committed on their own nation. They were known to the inhabitants of that country as "the outlawed Indians," and on the occasion of this unwelcome visit were returning from a tour of the northern part of the territory, where they had been to see some other tribes. On the same day, Mr. Phillips returned home, accompanied by a Mr. Shaver, who lived in Union County, and whose wife Mrs. Phillips had been attending in her sickness.

The cabin of Clark stood near the west boundary line of what is Mound City; that of Mrs. Phillips a short distance above, on the next elevation. Shaver stopped at Clark's and fastened his horse near the back door. When he saw the Indians, he expressed apprehension to Clark, but he told him he was acquainted with them, had traded with them, and did not suppose they had any bad intentions. Yet when Clark on one occasion went out to the smoke house Shaver saw by the pallor of his face that he was much alarmed. It was his opinion that Clark had seen or overheard through the openings of the house enough to satisfy him of the hostile intentions of the savages, but feared to speak of it lest Shaver should mount his horse and leave him to his fate. The Indians asked for something to eat. Mrs. Clark told them if they would grind some corn on the hand mill she would prepare them a meal. They did so and partook of the hospitality of a family they fully intended to butcher before night.

The Indians were armed with guns and tomahawks; one of them came to Shaver and felt the muscles of his thighs, his knees, etc., as though he wished to judge of his ability to run. "Do you wish to run a race?" said Shaver. "No." "Do you wish to wrestle?" "No." The situation of the white settlers were becoming more alarming. They hoped, after the Indians had eaten, they would take their departure, but they sauntered around as if unwilling to do so. It was Shaver's intention to carry home some whisky, but Clark was afraid to draw it while the Indians were there. At length, five of the Indians went up to Mrs. Phillips'; the other five remained at Clark's. Two of the latter took their station with apparent carelessness in the front door (next to the river), and two more stood near the fire-place, where sat Mr. and Mrs. Clark and Shaver. The latter happening to look at the Indians in the front door, saw one of them make a signal in the direction of Mrs. Phillips', which was in sight, by striking his hands together vertically several times.

Directly he heard screams and shouts in that direction, and the next instant received a stunning blow on his head from the hatchet of the Indian who stood near him. He fell forward, but being a powerful man, he dashed between the two Indians at the back door and ran for his horse, which, as said, was fastened near the back door. He soon saw, however, his retreat in that direction would be cut off, so he ran down to the river bank, with two of the Indians in full pursuit. They doubtless supposed, as Shaver was already wounded, he would fall an easy prey; but he was fleet of foot, and then he was running for his life. Blinded by the blood which poured down his face, and which he occasionally dashed away with his hand, he made for the bayou below the present Marine Ways. A hatchet just missed his head and fell many yards in front of him. His first impulse was to pick it up and defend himself, but a moment's reflection convinced him the chances were too much against him. It was a half a mile or so to the bayou; Shaver gained it in advance of the Indians. It was quite full and partially frozen over. He plunged in and gained the opposite shore. The Indians paused on the bank, afraid to follow. They told him he was brace, and endeavored to induce him to return. Tradition says he addressed some very strong language to the Indians and made his way to the Union County settlements. His escape, considering the circumstances, was wonderful. The Indians murdered Clark and his wife, Mrs. Phillips, her son and daughter and Kenaday. The ripped up the feather beds, destroyed the furniture and carried off whatever struck their fancy, including Shaver's fine horse. The crossed the river into Kentucky and were followed by the citizens of the settlement in Union County for some distance, but no trace of them could be found.

A few days after, Capt. Phillips, who was stationed at Fort Massac, came down with a company of men to bury the dead. A shocking sight met their gaze. Clark and his wife were found in their houses dead. The body of young William Phillips was found drifted ashore about a mile below Mound City. His sister was not found; one of her slippers was found on the bank of the river. It is supposed she and her brother got into a skiff and were shot down before they could get away. Kenaday was found some distance from the cabin of Mrs. Phillips. His shoulder and back much cut in gashes by the tomahawks of the savages. The body of Mrs. Phillips was found, and also the body of her unborn babe, impaled upon a stake.

Note: Although this story has the massacre taking place in the fall of 1812, contemporary sources date this massacre to February 9, 1813. On March 5, 1813, James Robertson, U.S. agent to the Chickasaws reported the following: "Seven families have been murdered near the mouth of the Ohio, and most cruelly mangled, shewing all the savage barbarity that could be invented. One woman cut open, a child taken out and stuck on a stake." The 10 Creeks had been led two chiefs, one of whom was Little Warrior. They were on their way back from negotiating a peace treaty with the Chickasaw when then attacked the families in Pulaski County.

Source: William Henry Perrin, ed. 1883. History of Alexander, Union and Pulaski Counties, Illinois. Chicago: O. L. Baskin & Co., Historical Publishers. 535-53. A footnote in the original states that Dr. N. R. Casey wrote Chapter 5 of his book from which this story is taken.

Created July 11, 2002 by Jon Musgrave © 2002