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The Wood River Massacre

Madison County ILGenWeb Coordinator - Beverly Bauser


The most startling and cruel atrocity committed by the Indians within the bounds of Madison County was the Wood River massacre, on July 10, 1814, that resulted in the death of one woman and six children. This tragedy took place in the forks of the Wood River, east of Upper Alton. The victims were the wife and two children of Reason Reagan, two children of Abel Moore, and two children of William Moore.

At the beginning of the War of 1812-14, citizens of Madison County who lived at exposed locations on the frontier sought refuge in the forts and blockhouses. When no Indians made their appearance, and the Rangers were constantly on the alert, people began to feel secure. In the summer of 1814, people returned to their farms and dwellings. There were six or eight families residing at that time in the forks of the Wood River. At the residence of George Moore on the east branch of the Wood River, a blockhouse had been built to which the people could flee should danger arrive.

Abel and Mary MooreJuly 10, 1814 began as a pleasant Sunday. William Moore was on duty at Fort Butler near St. Jacob, and Abel Moore had gone to Fort Russell for the day. Rachel Reagan and her two children spent the day with her sister, Mrs. William Moore. Rachel’s husband, Reason Reagan, had gone three miles away to the Wood River Baptist Church on Vaughn Hill. Also at the Moore home was Miss Hannah Bates, sister of Abel Moore’s wife. The time was spent peacefully while the women talked and the children played games. Later in the afternoon they all went to the Abel Moore home. As preparation began for the evening meal, Rachel, who was in advanced stage of pregnancy, decided she would go back home and pick some beans that would be added to the evening mean. Rachel’s two children, two sons of William Moore, and two sons of Abel Moore accompanied her. Hannah Bates went along, but for some reason decided to turn back to the Moore house. Some say she had a premonition. Others say her shoes did not fit well and hurt her feet. Regardless, that decision saved her life.

Two days before, Reason Reagan and his brother-in-law, Samuel Thomas, had gone to a deer lick [spot of ground where deer assemble, due to natural salt in the ground] about ten miles west of the settlement [this would have placed the deer lick in Jersey County, north of Lockhaven], and camped there for the night. It was later ascertained that a company of eleven Indians had been three miles distant [near Dow], and the next morning found the abandoned camp of Thomas and Reagan. The Indians determined the group was a small one, and decided to follow their tracks eastward.

The Indians may have reached the empty Reagan cabin first. They continued on the trail eastward, towards Abel Moore’s home, as Rachel and the children approached from the east. It was on this trail that Rachel and the children met their untimely death. They were stripped of their clothing, bludgeoned with a tomahawk, and scalped.

William Moore, having returned that day to look after the women and children at home, became alarmed as night approached and the children had not returned. He first went to his brother, Abel Moore’s place, to see if they were there. His wife, who was Mrs. Reagan’s sister, also started on horseback to look for them, taking a different route from her husband. Mrs. Moore chose to go through the woods, and William walked along the wagon path. Mrs. William Moore found the children lying by the road, and at first thought they had laid down to sleep. It was nighttime, and there was little light to see by. She called their names, but they did not answer. She got down from her horse, and it was then she discovered the lifeless bodies in the darkness. She placed her hand on the shoulder of the naked corpse of Mrs. Reagan. On further examination, she could feel the flesh from which the scalp had been torn. She looked over and could see the figure of the little child of Mrs. Reagan’s sitting so near the body of its mother as to lean its head toward its mother. The little one said, “The black man raised his axe and cutted them again.” She picked up the youngest child, and then heard a noise. Alarmed, she grabbed the boy, Timothy, and sprang on her horse and rode away, thinking she would be the next victim. The wounded child died the next day.

Unknown to Mrs. Moore, her husband, William, had also found the bodies. He had returned to Abel Moore’s home, telling that someone had been killed by Indians. He could not see in the dark who it was. Thinking the Indians were having an uprising, he wanted to warn the others and get them to safety. From Abel’s house he took Abel’s wife and her remaining children, along with Hannah Bates, and they headed to William Moore’s house, with the plan of going on to the blockhouse at Fort Wood River, where they would be safer. Approaching his home, he saw the horse which his wife had ridden. “Thank God, Polly is not killed,” he said. His wife came running out, exclaiming, “They are killed by the Indians, I expect!” The whole party then departed for the blockhouse, and waited for daybreak.

At dawn a search for Rachel and the six children was held. They gathered their loved ones for burial. Mr. Solomon Preuitt assisted in the burial of the victims. He hauled them on a small one-horse sled to the burying ground on Vaughn Hill. [Note: Vaughn Hill Cemetery, about 4 miles “as the crow flies” from Abel Moore’s home, was established by the Wood River Baptist Church - presumably where Reason Reagan was at the time of the massacre.] The graves were dug and lined with slabs split from trees nearby, as nearly like planks as possible, and the bodies were covered with more planks. The seven were buried in three graves: Mrs. Reagan and her two children, Elizabeth and Timothy, in one grave; Captain Moore’s children, William and Joel, in another; and William Moore’s two children, John and George, in the third. A stone slab marked their resting place. Also buried in the Vaughn Hill Cemetery is an Indian girl who was captured by Abraham Preuitt during one of the campaigns in the War of 1812. Preuitt, pursuing Indian into the Winnebago Swamps, heard firing in the distance and went to investigate. He found Davis Carter and another man firing at the little Indian child, six years old, who was mired and could not get out. He called the man cowards, and ordered them to cease firing at a helpless child. Preuitt went into the swamp and rescued the child, and brought it home with him. She lived to the age of fifteen. It was stated that she was always of a wild nature.

A young man by the name of John Harris, living at Able Moore’s home, traveled on horseback bearing the alarming news to Fort Russell. Leaving the Fort about 1:00AM, seventy rangers arrived at Abel Moore’s about sunrise, and proceeded to the scene of the tragedy. News soon spread, and it was not long before Captain Whiteside and nine others gave pursuit of the Indians. Among them were Reasan Reagan, James Preuitt, Abraham Preuitt, William and John Sample, James Stockden, William Montgomery, and Peter Waggoner. When the Indians learned they were being pursued, the frequently bled themselves to facilitate their speed and give them greater endurance. The weather was hot, and some of the rangers’ horses gave out. Others kept going. On the evening of the second day, between sunset and dark, they came within sight of the Indians at a stream entering the Sangamon River, about 70 miles in Morgan County. This site was later named Indian Creek to remember what took place there.

On the ridge was a lone cottonwood tree. Several Indians climbed the tree and saw their pursuers. They separated and went in different directions. James and Abraham Pruitt, taking the trail of one of the Indians, overtook him and shot him in the thigh. He fell, but managed to climb a tree. Abraham then shot again and killed him. In the Indian’s pouch was the scalp of Mrs. Reagan. Reason Regan lost his life in the pursuit of the Indians. He was either buried where he died, or in the Vaughn Hill Cemetery. The remaining Indians hid in the woods, near where Virden now stands, about 44 miles north of the scene of the murder. It was learned later that only one Indian escaped, and that was the Chief who led the party.

Today there stands a monument, dedicated in 1910, in memory of those killed in the massacre. It is located on Fosterburg Road, east of Upper Alton, in front of the Hilltop Auction and Banquet Center. The massacre took place 300 yards behind the monument, and about one mile from the Abel Moore home.

                                   Wood River Massacre Monument                      Details of the Wood River Massacre Monument

      Monument Dedication, 1910         Family visits the Wood River Massacre Monument


Read before the Illinois State Lyceum, December 6, 1833
By Rev. Thomas Lippincott
Source: Alton Telegraph, April 4, 1873
Travelers who have passed on the direct road from Edwardsville to Carrollton will remember at a pleasant plantation on the banks of the east branch of the Wood River, a short distance from the dwelling house and powder mill of Mr. George Moore, an old building, composed of rough round logs, the upper story of which projects about a foot on every side beyond the basement. This, in times of peril, was a blockhouse, or in the common phrase, a fort, to which the early settlers resorted for safety. Pursuing the road about two miles to an elevated point of the west fork, where the road turns abruptly down into the creek, another farm, now in possession of a younger member of the family of Moores, exhibits the former residence of Reason Reagan, and midway between these two points resides Captain Abel Moore, on the same spot which he occupied at the period to which our narrative relates. William Moore lived nearly south of Abel’s, on a road which passes towards Milton. Upper Alton is from two to three miles, and Lower Alton four or five miles distant from the scene of action.

It appears that while the gallant rangers were scouring the country, ever on the alert, the inhabitants, who for several years had huddled together in forts for fear of Indians, had, in the summer of 1814, attained to such a sense of security that they went to their farms and dwellings, with the hope of escaping further depredations. In the forks of the Wood River were some six or eight families, whose men were for the most part in the ranging service, and whose women and children were thus left to labor and defend themselves. The blockhouse which I have described was their place of resort on any alarm, but the inconvenience and difficulty of clustering so thickly induced them to leave it as soon as prudence would at all permit.

Nor had the hardy inhabitants forgotten amidst their dangers, the duties of social life, nor their highest obligations to their Creator. The Sabbath shone, not only upon the domestic circle, as gathered around the fireside altar, but its hallowed light was shed on groups collected in the rustic artifices which the piety of the people had erected for divine worship.

It was on the Sabbath, July 10, 1814, that the painful occurrence took place which I now record. Reagan had gone to attend divine worship at the meeting house some two or three miles off, leaving his wife and two children at the house of Abel Moore, which was on his way. About four o’clock in the afternoon, Mrs. Reagan went over to her own dwelling to procure some little articles of convenience, being accompanied by six children, two of whom were her own; two were children of Abel Moore; and two of William Moore. Not far from, probably a little after the same time, two men of the neighborhood passed separately, I believe, along the road, in the opposite direction to that in which Mrs. Reagan went, and one of them heard at a certain place a low call, as of a boy, which he did not answer, and for a repetition of which he did not delay. But he remembered and told it afterwards.

When it began to grow dark, the families became uneasy at the protracted absence of their respective members, and William Moore came to Abel’s, and not finding them there, passed on towards Mr. Reagan’s to discover what had become of the sister-in-law and children. Nearly about the same time, his wife went across the angle directly toward the same place. Mr. Moore had not been long absent from his brother’s, before he returned with the information that someone was killed by the Indians. He had discerned the body of a person lying on the ground, but whether man or woman, it was too dark for him to see without a closer inspection than was deemed safe. The habits of the Indians were too well known by these settlers, to leave a man in Mr. Moore’s situation, free from the apprehension of an ambuscade still near.

The first thought that occurred was to flee to the blockhouse. Mr. Moore desired his brother’s family to go directly to the fort, while he should pass by his own house and take his family with him. But the night was now dark, and the heavy forest was at that time scarcely opened here and there by a little farm, while the narrow road wound through among the tall trees, from the farm of Abel Moore to that of his brother, George Moore, where the fort was erected. The women and children, therefore, chose to accompany William Moore, though the distance was nearly doubled by the measure.

The feelings of the group as they groped their way through the dark woods may be mor easily imagined than described. Sorrow for the supposed loss of relatives and children was mingled with horror at the manner of their death, fear for their own safety, and pain at the dreadful idea that remains of their dearest friends lay mangled on the cold ground near them, while they were denied the privilege of seeing and preparing them for sepulture.

Silently they passed on till they came to the dwelling of William Moore, and when they had approached the entrance, he exclaimed, as if relieved from some dreadful apprehension, “Thank God, Polly is not killed.” “How do you know?” they inquired. “Because here is the horse she rode.” My informant then first learned that his brother-in-law had feared, until that moment, that his wife was the victim that he had discovered.

As they let down the bars, Mrs. William Moore came running out, exclaiming, “they are killed by the Indians, I expect.” The mourning friends went in for a short time, but hastily departed for the blockhouse, whither by daybreak, all or nearly all the neighbors, having been warned by signals, repaired to sympathize and tremble.

I have mentioned that Mrs. William Moore went, as well as her husband, in search of her sister and children. Passing by different routes, they did not meet on the way, nor at the place of death. She jumped on a horse and hastily went in the nearest direction, and as she went, carefully noted every discernable object, until at length, she saw a human figure lying near a burning log. There was not sufficient light for her to discern the size, sex, or condition of the person, and she called the name of one and another of her children, again and again, supposing it to be one of them asleep. At length, she alighted, and approached to examine more closely. What must have been her sensations on placing her hand upon the back of a naked corpse, and feeling, by further scrutiny, the quivering flesh from which the scalp had been torn! In the gloom of the night, she could just discern something, seeming like a little child, sitting so near the body as to lean its head, first one side, then the other, on the insensible and mangled body. She saw no further, but thrilled with horror and alarm, remounted her horse and hastened home. When she arrived, she quickly put a large kettle of water over the fire, intending to defend herself with scalding water, in case of an attack.

There was little rest or refreshment, as may well be supposed, at the fort that night. The women and children of the vicinity, together with the few men who were at home, were crowded together, not knowing but that a large body of the savage foe might be prowling round, ready to pour a deadly fire upon them at any moment. A neighbor and six children of the little settlement were probably lying in the wood, within a mile or two, dead and mangled by that dreadful enemy! About three o’clock, a messenger was dispatched to Fort Russell with the tidings.

In the morning, the inhabitants undertook the painful task of ascertaining the extent of their calamity, and collecting the remains for burial. The whole party, Mrs. Reagan and the six children, were found lying at intervals along the road, tomahawked, scalped and dead, except the youngest of Mrs. Reagan’s children, which was sitting near its mother’s corpse, alive, with a gash, large and deep, on each side of its little face. It were idle to speak of the emotions that filled the souls of the neighbors and friends and fathers and mothers, the husband, who had gathered round to behold this awful spectacle. There lay the mortal remains of six of those whom but yesterday they had seen and embraced in health, and there was one helpless little one, wounded and bleeding and dying, an object of pain and solicitude, but scarcely of hope.

To women and youth, chiefly was committed the painful task of depositing their dear remains in the tomb. This was done on the six already dead, on that day. They were interred in three graves, which were carefully dug so as to lay boards beneath, beside, and above the bodies – for there could no coffins be provided in the absence of nearly all the men – and the graves being filled, they were left to receive in aftertimes, when peace had visited the settlement, a simple covering of stone, bearing an inscription descriptive of their death.

It was a solemn day, observed my informant, to follow several bodies to the grave, at once, from so small a settlement, and they too, buried under such painful circumstances. Could we have followed that train to the cemetery where they were embowered, would we not feel that the procession, the occasion, the ceremony, the emotions were of a character too awful, too sacred to admit of minute observation then – or accurate description now? The seventh, however, was not then buried. The child found alive received every possible attention. Medical aid was procured with great difficulty, but in vain. It followed within a day or two at most.

On the arrival of the messenger at Fort Russell, a fresh express was hastened to Captain (now General) Samuel Whiteside’s company, which was on Ridge Prairie, some four miles east of Edwardsville. It was about an hour after sunrise on Monday morning when the gallant troop arrived on the spot – having rode some fifteen miles – ready to weep with the bereaved, and to avenge them of their ruthless foes. Abel Moore, who was one of the rangers then on duty, and of course absent at the catastrophe, was permitted to remain at home to assist in burying his children and relatives, and the company dashed on, eager to overtake and engage in deadly conflict with the savages. I regret that I have no recent account of the particulars of this interesting pursuit, and that my memory does not hold them with sufficient distinctness to warrant an attempt at the narration. At Indian Creek, in what is now Morgan County, some three or four of the Indians were seen, and one killed. It is a current report among the rangers that not one of the ten that composed the party survived the fatigue of the retreat before the eager troop.


Source: Alton Evening Telegraph, September 12, 1910
The dedication of the Wood River Massacre memorial monument on Fosterburg Road, east of Upper Alton, on the afternoon of September 11, 1910, drew an immense crowd. It was a quiet, reverential crowd that assembled, and notwithstanding the fact that the sun was beaming down with its rays uninterfered with by any covering, an immense crowd waited patiently for an hour after the starting time for the program to begin. J. Nic Perrin of Belleville, a principal speaker, failed to arrive on time, but one there, the program was under way.

The monument, paid for by the grandchildren of Abel Moore, was constructed by a Methodist preacher from Wichita Falls, Texas, who was taking his vacation and came here to help raise money for his church. He claimed to be an expert concrete worker, and he took the job. The monument is 20 feet high, and has a 9-foot base. On one face of the tower is the inscription:

“To the memory of the victims of the Wood River Massacre, July 10, 1814. William and Joel, 10 and 8 years, sons of Captain Abel and Mary Moore; John and George, 10 and 3 years, sons of William Moore; Rachel Reagan, and Elizabeth and Timothy, 7 and 3 years. This occurred about 300 yards in the rear of this monument. Dedicated September 11, 1910, by the descendants of Captain Abel Moore.”

Frank E. Moore of Chicago, a newspaper man, served as chairman for the program. A quartet consisting of Jay Dodge, Alan Atchison, Fidel Deem, and Joel Williams, sang several numbers, opening with “America.” Rev. T. N. Marsh offered the invocation, followed by the opening remarks by Frank E. Moore. The quartet sang “The Sword of Bunker Hill.” The unveiling recitation, given by Miss Edith Culp, was a brief historical account of the incident that was being commemorated, and at the close of her address, the string was pulled by Miss Hazel Moore of Wichita Falls, Texas, and the monument was unveiled. Miss Edith Culp then formally made the presentation of the monument to the county, and it was accepted by John U. Uzzell. The quartet then sang “Illinois.”

Norman G. Flagg gave a historical address, reciting the story of the massacre of the Moore and Reagan children, and Mrs. Reagan by Indians, and the subsequent attempts of the settlers to avenge their deaths. Mr. Flagg made a good address that was instructive, and he showed ability as a public speaker. J. Nic Perrin then gave a brief historical talk on the troubles with the Indians in the early days. E. K. Preuitt, one of the oldest of the old settlers, then made a talk, recalling the early days. The program was closed with singing of “Nearer by God to Thee.”

The wagon road was choked with buggies and automobiles for a long distance in the neighborhood of the monument, and there were many who went on foot to attend the dedication.

The murder of the Moore’s and Reagan’s occurred on July 10, 1814, about 300 yards behind the monument, which is located on Fosterburg Road, near the Hilltop Auction and Banquet Center. The bodies were hacked with a tomahawk and scalped, and were found stripped of their clothing. Rachel Reagan was in advance stages of pregnancy. They were buried in the Vaughn Hill Cemetery, off of Rt. 111, near Belk Park. A group of rangers from Fort Russell pursued the Native Americans. They caught up with them near the Sangamon River in Morgan County. One Native was killed by Abraham Pruitt. In the Native’s pouch was the scalp of Mrs. Reagan.


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