History Monday #25

Today in 1812, Southern Indiana falls victim to hostility from local Native Americans.

It’s time for #HistoryMonday once again, and today’s topic makes me nostalgic for my 4th and 8th grade social studies classes. For those unfamiliar, Indiana Department of Education requires that students in those grades study Indiana history as part of the social studies curriculum. Admittedly, I don’t remember learning about today’s event though.

On this day in 1812, several Native Americans comprised mostly of the Shawnee tribe attacked settlers in the Indiana Territory at a town known as Pigeon Roost. The town consisted of several houses near the current town of Underwood in Clark County. The town was named for its prevalence of passenger pigeons. This extinct species of pigeon is also the basis for the naming of Pigeon Forge, Tennessee.

Pigeon Roost.jpg

The settlers of Pigeon Roost were technically living in land not legally available until the passage of the Northwest Ordinance. Early American politicians didn’t enforce the legality of the settlement but warned that without official deeds there wouldn’t be guarantee of safety from unfriendly Native Americans and their British allies.

The war party killed many members of the Elias Payne family, and then moved on to kill members of the Collings family. William Collings is alleged to have killed four of the Native American raiders before escaping to the Zebulon Colling’s blockhouse. Mrs. John Biggs, sister of William Collings managed to escape the raiders too, but unfortunately lost a young child who suffocated after Mrs. Biggs stuffed a shawl around his mouth to muffle his whimpers to prevent the raiders from discovering the family’s whereabouts.

As news of the massacre spread, a militia from Charlestown was dispatched to deal with the Native American raiders. The war party escaped before the militia reached their position. Members of the Indiana Rangers, a mounted militia responsible for protecting white settlers from Native American attacks eventually met up with the war party near Bartholomew County and clashed with the war party, sending the Native Americans back to their homes. The Rangers did suffer a casualty, John Zink.

The leader of the raid was believed to be a Shawnee, Missilemotaw.  He claimed to be a confidant of notorious chief Tecumseh, who waged many more raids and battles with Indiana settlers in the pre-statehood era.

fast forward

As far as the impact of what this raid means today, there have been no Native American attacks lately. It’s worth noting that the Pigeon Roost Massacre was the first Indian attack in Indiana during the War of 1812. Missilemotaw confessed upon his capture that the Pigeon Roost Massacre was aided by British forces who hoped to cripple the young United States in the War of 1812.

Today, there exists a memorial placed near the site in 1904. The memorial is an obelisk [Washington Monument-style shape] carved from Bedford limestone and stands 44’ tall. It is dedicated to the memory of the 2 dozen settlers who perished in the massacre. Some 25 years after the memorial was dedicated, Indiana declared the area a state historic site. In 2004, Indiana placed a historical marker along US Route 31 near the site to help tourists find the memorial.

There is also a replica cabin and picnic shelter built in the area. The picnic shelter is host to an annual picnic of the surviving descendants on the Sunday following Labor Day. So, if you’re inclined or can prove your ancestry try to show up and enjoy the food and fellowship.

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