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Last week in this space, I told of the upcoming commemoration of the Cox Massacre, the first Indian attack ever recorded in Bond County. My story of the attack combined several sources, and this past Saturday, I learned even more after attending the Hill’s Fort Living History Days in Greenville.
Three Indians were involved in the attack on the Cox family cabin on June 7, 1811. On a manhood quest, they had found no settlers in the Missouri lands to kill, and had crossed over into Illinois on their way back to their Northern Illinois home when they came upon the Jesse Cox family cabin.
The door to the cabin was open, and Rebecca and her 20-year-old brother Elijah were inside preparing a birthday dinner for their mother while the parents were out picking wild strawberries. Rebecca was later to wonder if the scent of the venison stew led the Indians to their cabin.
Elijah, left behind to protect his sister, was churning butter when they both detected movement outside. Before they could close and bar the cabin door, the Indians were inside.
Once inside, they rushed about, stamping and screaming. They ate the food and tore up the clothing and furniture, all the while waving their knives and tomahawks.
Rebecca and her brother fought desperately, but Elijah was soon overpowered and was on the floor screaming. She saw one brave grab her brother by the hair and scalp him. Another one tore his heart out and laid it on his head.
They then turned to Rebecca and told her if she did not show them where their money was hidden, she would share the same fate as her brother.
She went to a trunk and handed them a small bag of money, at the time concealing several more under some clothing. They grabbed her by her long braid of hair and dragged her outside, where a pony was tied. They threw her on the pony and an Indian mounted in front of her.
With her hand tied to his arm so she could not escape, Rebecca’s ordeal began.
She knew if she cried out she would be killed, so she kept her wits about her. The route the Indians took was north along the Shoal Creek timber. As they traveled along, another group of six Indians joined the party.
They traveled through the night, stopping to rest once which historians have placed as near Litchfield. Rebecca was not allowed to dismount and was too sick to eat any of the food offered her.
She remembered that the Indians retold and re-enacted the story of her brother’s murder for their new friends, a horrifying trial for the young girl.
The party continued their journey, and although they had a half-day’s head start on Rebecca’s rescuers from Hill’s Fort, the rangers soon caught up with them, in part, because Rebecca had been tearing off little pieces of her apron and dropping them along the trail.
Near the current site of Springfield, the Rangers, including her father, beau William Gregg, and uncle Henry Cox and his son Ephraim, under the command of William Pruett, caught up with the party. When Rebecca first noticed them, she kept quiet. But as soon as they got closer, she made her break. Grabbing the knife from the Indian’s belt, she cut the thongs that bound her wrist and sprang from the horse.
Rebecca tried to run, but the Indian began to hack at her with his tomahawk. He cut a big gash in her head and almost severed three ribs. She hid in the bushes by the trail while the Rangers followed the Indians, killing them as they went along.
William Gregg and her father turned back to see about her. They found her unconscious and covered in blood. They revived her with water from their canteens and carried her back to a stream they had passed to wash off the blood and dress her wounds.
Her trip back to the Cox cabin on Beaver Creek was made in William’s arms. When they reached the Cox farm, it was to find friends preparing to bury her brother. The joy at finding Rebecca alive was tempered by the sadness of Elijah’s death.
After Rebecca regained her strength, she made a deposition, telling the events of her ordeal. This is how we know the number of Indians involved and that others joined the party as they traveled north.
An emissary was also sent to Chief Gomo of the Potawatomie tribe near Peoria to ask for an explanation of the atrocity. The chief, a friend to the whites, provided the names of the warriors who had attacked the Cox cabin.
Rebecca’s story did not end here. She married William the following year, and bore him a son, Jeremiah. They moved to Missouri in a party of 100 other settlers, and in 1817, William was ambushed and killed by Indians when he went to bring the cow in for milking.
Rebecca’s last four months of life were spent living with her son and his family near Austin, Texas. She was buried in a little country cemetery at Brushy Creek.
A granddaughter remembered that each night after the dishes were put away and the chores done, and with grandmother in her favorite rocker, the children would gather around. Rebecca would say, “Chunk up the fire and poke the coals till the sparks fly and look like Indians shooting.” They knew that this night grandmother would tell them an Indian story, which they liked best.