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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


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