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
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
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
July 11, 1928