Sluss Family Massacre Marker in the Ceres Lutheran Church Cemetery


The story below is taken from the book, GROSECLOSES AND DESCENDANTS IN AMERICA, compiled by B. Clark Groseclose in 1999.  Mr. Groseclose who frequently returns to Ceres from his home in California, granted permission to use this material. 

The Sluss Family Massacre of 1774

          This account of the massacre of the Sluss family at Sharon Springs was published in the July 13, 1928 issue of the Southwest Virginia Enterprise in Wytheville, Virginia.  While embellished with unknowable details, it nevertheless agrees in general with other descriptions of the attack.

         “Through the courtesy of our townsman, Mr. R. P. Johnson, we are able to give the readers of the Southwest Virginia enterprise an interesting article written by Mr. S. H. Williams of Lynchburg, one of the descendants of the massacre of the Sluss family.

         According to the tradition, a number of the Sluss family were members of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church on the Lee Highway west of Wytheville and they would walk from Ceres for the eleven o’clock sermon and back home that afternoon.  The women of the family would accompany the men when they attended service, making the trip across the mountains on foot.

         The massacre of the Sluss family occurred at Sharon Springs in what was then Fincastle County (now Bland) near the present village of Ceres, Va., August 2, 1774, the year of the Indian uprising known as “Lord Dunmore’s War” and just two months prior to the famous battle at Point Pleasant.

         It was common knowledge among the settlers of this section of Southwest Virginia that Indians, especially the Shawnees and Cherokees, had been on the warpath since early spring and were committing depredation along the Ohio and Kanawha rivers, and that scattered bands were making their way up New River and across the Allegheny Mountains toward the fertile valley where game was to be found in abundance, massacring all with whom they came in contact.

         Warning of the close proximity of the marauding savages had repeatedly sent the pioneers scurrying with their families to the protection of the blockhouse fort surrounded by dugouts or rifle pits (constructed by them for just such an emergency) only to learn after days of self imprisonment that the rumors were without foundation, when they would return cautiously to their homes.  Like the story of the shepherd and the wolf, these false rumors had caused so much inconvenience and waste of time that crops in the valley were getting little or no attention, yet time after time, in response to repeated warnings, they retreated within the walls of the blockhouse to defend themselves against redskins that never put in an appearance.

         Late in July, 1774, rumors were rife that Elinipsico, son of the famous Shawnee Chieftain Cornstalk, with a party of 50 or 60 braves were infesting the neighborhood, and that a family in Giles County had been massacred by them.  Jared Sluss, the pioneer, believing this to be another wild rumor and loath to lose the remainder of his crop, decided to remain at home while keeping a vigilant watch for any indication of the presence of Indians in the vicinity, thinking he would then have time to seek refuge in the fort, never permitting himself to get beyond sight of his house for four days and satisfied that the Indians were nowhere about.  On the fifth day he and his eldest son, James, a lad twelve years of age, proceeded to work in a field just over the brow of the hill and out of sight of home.  Two of his daughters being away from home at that time (one of them afterward married a Mr. Groseclose and the other a Mr. Sharitz), he left three of his children, Marion aged seven, Hazel 10, and Laura 4, playing in the bright sunshine of a perfect summer morning.  Their laughter ringing in his ears as he passed out of sight.  They had been cautioned to go no farther away than “the spring”, a short distance from the house, and to keep a sharp lookout for Indians.  Christina, the mother, after rocking her six months old baby, Mary, to sleep, had placed her tenderly in a cradle and shoved it under a high bed in a corner of one of the rooms to keep the flies from annoying her while she slept, little knowing that this act would save the child from a horrible death.

         Unaware that savages lurking in the underbrush a short distance away had their beady eyes upon them, the children continued innocently at their play.  The mother was busy with her housework and the first intimation she had of danger was a terrified scream from one of the children, closely followed by others from the trio.  Looking through a partly-open door she beheld a sight against which she had vainly tried for years to steel herself.  A party of Indians had stealthily worked themselves between the children and the house and before anyone was aware of their presence had cut off all avenue of escape within doors, forcing them to fly for their lives in the direction their father and brother had gone earlier in the day.  A rail fence some fifty yards distance obstructed their way.  Laura was almost immediately overtaken and her brains dashed out with a war club.  Hazel managed to climb over the fence and was well on her way to safety when glancing back she discovered that her seven-year-old brother, Marion, would certainly be caught before he could get over unless someone went to his assistance. 
Without further thought of trying to save herself, she darted back and bracing herself against the top rail, reached over and lifted him across, shielding his body with her own as best she could while they ran.  But for this heroic act she paid with her life.  The twang of a powerful bowstring drawn its full length and released from the grip of a Herculean savage and an arrow sped through to its mark, piercing her frail body through and through while the impact caused its shaft to quiver for seconds in her lifeless form as she had fallen.

         The sudden appearance over the brow of the hill of father and son just at this time who, greatly alarmed by the screams they had heard, were on a dead run for home, was a moment too late to save this little heroine but did have the effect however of momentarily halting the pursuers thereby enabling the boy to make his escape.

         Meeting his father and brother, he was told by them to hurry to the fort for help and that was the last time he saw them alive.  Arriving at the fort bruised and bleeding, the little fellow, through his tears implored those within to hurry to the rescue.  After some deliberation a party rallied forth and reached the scene of the massacre without sighting the enemy.  The scene they beheld was long to be remembered.  James, though a lad of tender age, had fought and died valiantly by his father’s side.  The habit of the Indians to invariably carry off their dead and wounded made it impossible to estimate the extent to which they inflicted casualties upon their adversaries but the condition of their bodies, the ground about them, and the scattered pools of blood was mute evidence that had sold their lives dearly in defense of their loved ones.  Both had been scalped.  The body of the girl lay just over the fence, her scalp missing and the arrow still in the wound.  The mother was found just outside the kitchen door, her body hacked to pieces with tomahawks, her scalp town off, her forearm broken, and bearing other evidences of a terrific struggle, but still alive.  She afterwards regained consciousness and was able to relate some of the terrible details of the tragedy, but was unequal to the heart-rending struggle for life, and after three days of indescribable suffering with her torn and mutilated body, the blessedness where the great riddle of life, the meaning of which we can only guess at here below, was unfolded to her in the quick consciousness of a heavenly reward.

         While the victims were being buried (in Sharon Cemetery very near their home), the people grouped around the graves could plainly hear the war hoops, howls, and jeers of the Indians who had appeared on a ridge in the distance in full view, dancing in glee and defying the settlers to pursue them for their deed.

         Of three of the survivors the writer has been able to learn no more than has been mentioned in a previous paragraph.  But Mary, the six months old babe, who was found in her cradle under the high bed in the corner where loving hands had tenderly placed her, somewhat fretful at having been so rudely awakened, but otherwise unharmed, under the care of a friendly neighbor, grew to womanhood and married Nathaniel Cregar.  A daughter of this union, Mahala, married Abraham Goodman.  Another daughter, Delilah, married John Moore who for years drove a stage coach between Christiansburg and White Sulphur Spring, having many hair-raising experiences. He was a member of the Moore family of Abbs Valley, most of whom were massacred or taken captive by the Indians some ten years after the tragedy which practically wiped out the Sluss family.

         Mary Sluss Cregar died in 1878, having attained the ripe old age of one hundred four (104).  The mother of the writer was twelve years of age at that time and the story of the massacre of the Sluss family related to her in detail by Mary Sluss (who was the babe in the cradle) and she in turn related it to me as has been set forth in this article.

         The exact spot where the Sluss home stood can be located on a farm owned by a Mr. Elbert Crabtree (now owned by Kim Crabtree Dillow) and known as the old Crabtree place not far west of Sharon Lutheran Church and Sharon Cemetery.  The graves of the victims are in Sharon Cemetery in Ceres.  The fort itself (located near the intersection of Routes 622 and 625) was only torn away about forty years ago.

 S. H. Williams
Lynchburg, Virginia
July 11, 1928

This picture of the massacre site appeared in the
1961 Bland County Centennial Official Program

Also see: Sluss Massacre and SWVAE