Narrative of Mrs. Clendenin – Indian Captivities

Narrative of the Destruction of the Settlement of Green-Brier, Virginia, together with the capture and surprising conduct of Mrs. Clendenin, who was among those Who Escaped the Tomahawk of the Indians at that Massacre. 1

After peace was confirmed between England and France in the year 1761, the Indians commenced hostilities in 1763, 2 when all the inhabitants in Greenbrier were totally cut off by a party of Indians, headed by the chief warrior Cornstalk. 3 The principal settlements were on Muddy Creek. These Indians, in number about sixty, introduced themselves into the people’s houses under the mask of friendship, where every civility was offered them by the people, providing them with victuals and other accommodations for their entertainment, when, on a sudden, they fall upon and kill the men, and make prisoners of the women and children. From thence they passed over into the Levels, where some families were collected at the house of Archibald Clendenin, where the Honorable Balard Smith now lives. There were between fifty and one hundred persons, men, women and children. There the Indians were entertained, as at Muddy Creek, in the most hospitable manner. Mr. Clendenin had just arrived from a hunt, with three fat elks, upon which they were feasted in a bountiful manner.

In the mean time an old woman, with a sore leg, was showing her distress to an Indian, and inquiring if he could administer to her any relief. He said he thought he could, and drawing his tomahawk, instantly killed her, and all the men, almost, that were in the house. One, named Conrad Yolkom, only escaped. He, being at some distance from the house, was alarmed by the cries and shrieks of the women and children, fled with all his might to Jackson’s river, and alarmed the people there. They however were loath to believe his tale until they saw the Indians approaching. All fled before them; and they pursued on to Carr’s Creek, in Rockbridge county, where many families were killed and taken by them. At Clendenin‘s a scene of much cruelty was performed, not only by the Indians but some such as the terrors of their approach influenced thereto. In this I refer to an act committed by a Negro woman, who is escaping from the Indians killed her own child, whose cries she had reason to fear would lead to her capture!

Mrs. Clendenin did not fail to abuse the Indians with her tongue, with the most reproachful epithets she could command although the tomahawk was brandishing at the same moment overhead; but instead of bringing it down upon her, the less effectual means of silencing her clamors was resorted to, namely, lashing her in the face and eyes with the bleeding scalp of her dead husband!

The provisions were all taken over to Muddy Creek, and a party of Indians retained them there till the return of the others from Carr’s Creek, when the whole were marched off together. On the day they started from the foot of Kenney’s Knob, going over the mountain, Mrs. Clendenin gave her infant child to another female prisoner, to carry, to relieve her for a few paces, and in a few moments after, a favorable opportunity offering for escape, she improved it with such alacrity into a dense thicket which they were at the time passing, that not an Indian saw her or could tell which way she went. The opportunity was rendered more favorable by the manner in which the Indians at the time were marching They had placed the prisoners in the centre, and dividing themselves into two companies, one marched before them and the other followed in their rear, having each flank open, and this gave her the desired chance of escape.

It was not until all had left the place that the cries of Mrs. Clendenin‘s child caused the Indians to inquire for its mother. When they found she had made her escape, a monster Indian observed “he would bring the cow to her calf,” and taking the infant by the heels, dashed out its brains against a tree! and as though this was not enough, the miscreant throwing it down into the van, the whole company marched over it, the hoofs of the horses tearing out its bowels, and the feet of the Indians tracked the ground as they went with its blood!

Mrs. Clendenin returned that night to her own house, a distance of more than ten miles. Here she found her husband’s dead body, which she covered with rails. She found him as he had been killed, with one of his children in his arms. He was shot down as he was making his escape over a fence. She now returned to her friends; and thus ends the remarkable, though short captivity of a woman, more to be admired for her courage than some other qualities not less desirable in the female character.Citations:

  1. Whether the following narrative was ever in print, except as it stands in Mr. Martin’s Gazetteer of Virginia, I have never learned. It would seem from the following note accompanying it in that work, “that it was extracted from memoirs of Indian wars on the western frontiers of Virginia, communicated to the Philosophical Society of Virginia, by Charles A. Stuart, Esq., of Augusta Co.” Ed.[]
  2. Hostilities had not ceased between the whites and the Indians, as will be seen by a reference to the Chronicles of the Indians for this and the preceding years. Ed. []
  3. The life and barbarous death of this great chief are given at length in the Book of the Indians, v. 42, 44. Ed []

Collection: Indian Captivity Narratives. A collection of first hand Indian captivity narratives from a variety of sources. For a list of sources, please see title page.

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