Editor’s note: The following excerpt is reprinted with permission from “From Cabins To Coal Mines, 1799-1999, Volume I.” This is the third part of “Indian Territory.”
One of the better-known and better-documented episodes between the Indian and the white man occurred in August of 1783 at Clover Bottom (now Shawnee Lake, located between Princeton and Matoaka), in present Mercer County. This was the killing by a band of Shawnee Indians of Bartley and Tabitha Clay, children of Mitchell and Phoebe Belcher Clay, and the capture and ultimate execution of their son Ezekial.
As related by historian Rev. Shirley Donnelly in this article, “The Massacre of Clay Children,” Beckley Post-Herald, September 5, 1979, the incident unfolded as follows:
“In the month of August, Mitchell Clay had harvested his crop of small grain, and wanting to get the benefit of the pasture for his cattle, ... he asked two of his sons, Bartley and Ezekial, to build a fence around the stacks of grain...
“While Mitchell Clay was out hunting, the two sons were building fence pens around the grain stacks. The older daughter, with some of the younger girls, was down on the river bank putting out the family washing. While this was in progress, a marauding body of eleven Indians crept up to the edge of the field and shot young Bartley Clay dead.
“When the girls ... heard the shot that killed their brother, they lit out for the house for safety. Their path to the house was directly by where Bartley had fallen. An Indian attempted to scalp the youth and at the same time capture the older girl, Tabitha Clay. She was trying to defend the body of her brother...
“In the struggle the girl reached for the knife which hung on the Indian’s belt. Missing the knife, the Indian literally cut her to pieces before killing her...
“Ezekial Clay, about 16, was captured by another Indian...
“About the time of the Indian attack, a man named Lincoln Blankenship called at the Clay cabin. When Mrs. Clay saw her daughter Tabitha in her death struggle... she begged Blankenship to go and shoot the savage and save her daughter’s life. But Blankenship ran away from the scene and reported to settlers on New River that the Clay family had been murdered by the Indians.
“When the savages got the scalps of Bartley and Tabitha Clay, they left the area with Ezekial Clay as their prisoner. Mrs. Clay took the bodies of Bartley and Tabitha to the house and laid them on the bed. She then took her small children and made her way through the woods to the home of James Bailey, six miles distance.
“Meanwhile Mitchell Clay... retraced his steps homeward and discovered the scene of horror... Thinking all his family had been killed or captured, Mitchell Clay left his cabin and headed for the settlements on New River.
“A party of men under the leadership of Captain Matthew Farley went to the Clay cabin and buried the two Clay children. They then pursued the Indian party. They caught up with the Indians in present day Boone County. Several of the Indians were killed.
“Charles Clay, brother of the two murdered Clay children, killed one of the Indians... Ezekial Clay, the captive lad, was hurried away by the Indians who escaped the Captain Matthew Farley party and was taken to their towns in Ohio. There he was burned at the stake, the third of Mitchell Clay’s family to meet an untimely death at the hands of savages.”
This episode has significant connection to the history of Oceana and Wyoming County since Mary Clay (1772-184?), daughter of Mitchell and Phoebe Clay, sister of Bartley, Tabitha, and Ezekial Clay, and wife of Capt. Ralph Stewart, lived most of her life in Wyoming County and lies buried at Crany, a short distance from Oceana. Mary Clay, eleven years old at the time, was no doubt a witness to the Indian attack at Lake Shawnee. Mary Stewart’s brother, Henry J. Clay (1782-1866), who lies buried in the Stewart Cemetery at Matheny, was a mere babe-in-arms when the attack on the Clay family occurred.
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Probably in the summer of 1787, the Indians, possibly led by Boling Baker, raided settlements along the Falls of New River, stealing about 20 horses. Capt. Charles Hull, with about 20 men, chased the Indians northward. Known as the Hull Expedition, this group, which included John Cooke and Thomas and Peter Huff, trekked its way to present-day Oceana. Crossing over a mountain and onto a stream, the Hull party was accosted by a band of Indians and Peter Huff was killed. After burying Huff the next morning, Hull and his men decided to return back to the New River settlements. The stream became known as “Peter Huff Creek,” a geographic locale that was used on land grants as early as 1789, now shortened to Huff Creek. (Some sources state the Hull Expedition occurred in 1779, but that seems unlikely if John Cooke was a member of the Hull party. John Cooke was not discharged from the Continental Army until December 29, 1779, and did not move to the Narrows of New River until 1783.)
— Paul Ray Blankenship of Oceana is a retired teacher and college professor, who has written several books about the history of Oceana and surrounding areas.