Anecdote of Col. John McDonald

From “Howe’s History of Ohio.”


This article comes from a manuscript written in the early 19th century. It describes an event which occurred between the Native Americans in Guernsey County and the white settlers. While I have cleaned up the language, I did not want to detract from his description of the event and have left the facts as he described them.

In the year 1791 or 1792, the Indians frequently raided the settlements along the Ohio River between Wheeling and Mingo Bottom. Sometimes, they killed or captured entire families, and other times, they stole all the horses belonging to a station or fort. In response, a company of seven men, consisting of John Whetzel, William McCollough, John Hough, Thomas Biggs, Joseph Hedges, Kinzie Dickerson, and Mr. Linn, met at a place called the Beech Bottom, a few miles below where Wellsburg has since been built. Their objective was to go to the Indian towns to steal horses. At that time, it was considered a legal and honorable business, as the Americans were at open war with the Indians. They viewed it as retaliation in their own way.

These seven men were all trained in Indian warfare and had lived in the woods since their youth. Perhaps, at no time, could the western frontier have furnished seven men whose souls were better fitted, and whose nerves and sinews were better strung to perform any enterprise that required resolution and firmness.

They crossed the Ohio River and proceeded with cautious steps and vigilant glances through the cheerless, dark, and almost impenetrable forest in the Indian country until they reached an Indian town near where the headwaters of the Sandusky and Muskingum rivers interlock. Here, they made a fine haul and set off homeward with fifteen horses. They traveled rapidly, only making short halts to let their horses graze and catch their breath.

In the evening of the second day of their rapid retreat, they arrived at Wills Creek, not far from where the town of Cambridge has since been built. Here, Mr. Linn fell severely ill, and they had to stop their march, or leave him alone to perish in the dark and lonely woods. The frontiersmen, notwithstanding their rough and unpolished manners, had too much of Uncle Toby’s “sympathy for suffering humanity” to abandon a comrade in distress. They halted and placed sentinels on their back trail, who remained there until late in the night, without seeing any signs of being pursued. The sentinels on the back trail returned to the camp, but Mr. Linn was still lying in excruciating pain. They tried administering all the simple remedies they had, but nothing seemed to alleviate his suffering.

As it was late in the night, they all lay down to rest, except for one guard. Their camp was on the bank of a small stream. Just before daybreak, the guard took a small bucket and dipped some water out of the stream. On carrying it to the fire, he noticed that the water was muddy. This woke his suspicion that the enemy might be approaching them, walking down the stream, as their footsteps would be noiseless in the water. He woke his companions and shared his suspicions. They all got up, examined the branch a little distance, and listened attentively for some time. However, they saw or heard nothing, and concluded that it must have been raccoons or some other animals paddling in the stream.

After this, the company lay down to rest again, except for the sentinel stationed just outside the light. Fortunately, the fire had burned down, and only a few coals offered a dim light to indicate where they lay.

The enemy had come silently down the creek, as the sentinel suspected, and had fired several guns over the bank, only ten or twelve feet away from the place where the men lay.

Mr. Linn, the sick man, was lying with his side towards the bank and received nearly all the balls which were at first fired. The Indians then, with tremendous yells, mounted the bank with loaded rifles, war-clubs, and tomahawks, rushed upon our men who fled barefooted and without arms. Mr. Linn, Thomas Biggs, and Joseph Hedges were killed in and near the camp. William McCullough had run but a short distance when he was fired at by the enemy. At the instant the fire was given, he jumped into a quagmire and fell; the Indians, supposing that they had killed him, ran past in pursuit of others. He soon extricated himself out of the mire and so made his escape. He fell in with John Hough and came into Wheeling.

John Whetzel and Kinzie Dickerson met in their retreat and returned together. Those who made their escape were without arms, clothing, or provisions. Their sufferings were great, but they bore this with stoical indifference, as it was the fortune of war.

Whether the Indians who defeated our heroes followed in pursuit from their towns or were a party of warriors who accidentally happened to fall in with them has never been ascertained. From the place they had stolen the horses, they had traveled two nights and almost two entire days without halting, except just a few minutes at a time to let the horses graze. From the circumstances of their rapid retreat with the horses, it was supposed that no pursuit could possibly have overtaken them, but fate had decreed that this party of Indians should meet and defeat them.

As soon as the stragglers arrived at Wheeling, Captain John McCullough collected a party of men and went to Wills Creek and buried the unfortunate men who fell in and near the camp. The Indians had mangled the dead bodies in a most barbarous manner. Thus was closed the horse-stealing tragedy.

Of the four who survived this tragedy, none are now living to tell the story of their suffering. They continued to hunt and to fight as long as the war lasted. John Whetzel and Dickerson died in the county near Wheeling. John Hough died a few years ago near Columbia, Hamilton County, Ohio. The brave Captain William McCullough fell in 1812 in the battle of Brownstown in the campaign with General Hull.


Sarchet, Cyrus P. B. (Cyrus Parkinson Beatty). History of Guernsey County, Ohio. Vol. 1, B.F. Bowen & Company, 1911.

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