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Early in 1811, the Indians still made annual visits to Fayette and Bond counties for hunting.
The Council Tree that stood along the banks of the Kaskaskia River just south of Vandalia was the gathering place of the Indians who inhabited this area – including Sac-Fox, Pottawatomie and Kickapoo. At those gatherings, topics such as the division of hunting lands would be discussed.
There were no known blockhouses or forts built in Fayette County, so far as historians can tell. Hill’s Fort and Jones’ Fort, southwest of Greenville, were the closest forts to our county.
Likewise, we had no massacres, although we came close at least once. Neighboring Bond County had several incidents of attacks on settlers by Indians angry at the encroachment of the settlers.
On June 7, 1811, two miles north of Pocahontas, the Cox Massacre claimed the life of Elijah Cox, while his sister, Rebecca, was kidnapped.
As the story goes, Indians of the Pottawatomie tribe, hearing that much money was kept in the family cabin, went to the cabin while Jesse Cox and his wife were away, some sources say, picking berries.
Home alone were 16-year-old Rebecca Cox, also known as Patsy, along with 20-year-old Elijah. Patsy was cooking in the cabin and her brother was churning butter. All of a sudden, they heard war whoops and saw a number of Indians approaching, most of them on horseback.
The Indians rushed in the doorway stamping and screaming and swinging their tomahawks. They ate the food, tore up the furniture and clothing, and turned over the churn.
Some tellings of this event say that Rebecca shot several of the Indians before she was overwhelmed.
Before her eyes, she saw her brother brutally murdered and scalped. This would come to be known as the first murder in Bond County. The Indians intimated to Rebecca that the same would happen to her if she did not show them where the money was.
Reaching in a small trunk, she took out a little bag of money. 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. Her hand was tied to his arm so she could not escape.
The Indians stole the horses and took Rebecca prisoner, heading north up the Shoal Creek timber. The Bond County Sesquicentennial booklet tells that Rebecca was shrewd enough to tear strips and ravelings from her apron and drop them along the trail as a guide for her rescuers.
They traveled through the night resting only once for food and drink. She was not allowed to dismount, and was too sick to eat the food they offered her. Early the next morning, as they were tramping along, her rider and herself lagging a little behind, Rebecca saw the rescue party.
At the sight of her rescuers, so the story goes, Rebecca loosened her binds with a knife she took from the Indian, and dropped from the pony. As soon as the Indian discovered this, he threw a tomahawk, which struck her in the back, but did not kill her. At least three of her ribs were broken, and she lost a lot of blood.
The long journey home began, and Rebecca was returned to her mother’s care to be nursed back to health. She carried the scars the rest of her life. Rebecca later married William Gregg, and they had a son, Jeremiah, before William’s premature death at the hands of Indians in 1817.
The second attack on a farm family took place in August of 1814. Jesse Cox’s brother, Henry Cox, had an improvement on land on Beaver Creek, where he farmed. Due to the fear of Indian attack, many of the settlers had moved their families into Hill’s Fort.
Henry Cox was said by some sources to have been a crack shot, a fact known by the Indians. He and son, Ephraim, left the fort to return to their farm to tend crops. Arriving at their clearing, Henry approached the cabin, and the minute he opened the door, he was shot by an Indian who was inside.
According to Elizabeth Lindley Harbour, the first round fired hit Henry Cox through the left thigh. The ball went through the horse and lodged on the opposite side, against the skin. She went on to say that she had seen the horse often, and the scar, and had felt the ball. This was the same horse the little boy was shot off of.
For many years, it was believed that the Indians had taken Ephraim. During peace negotiations at St. Louis, members of the Pottawatomie tribe revealed that Ephraim, too, had been killed that day. The Indians said he had attempted to flee on horseback, was shot from the horse and buried near the creek.
This coming Saturday, June 11, a bi-centennial commemoration of the Cox Massacre – in which Elijah Cox was killed defending his home and Rebecca was kidnapped in the first Indian attack ever recorded in what is now Bond County – will be held on the grounds of the American Farm Heritage Museum near Greenville.
Held in conjunction with Hill’s Fort Living History Days, a $5 admission fee includes a lunch to be served beginning at noon, followed by a commemorative program featuring Kevin Kaegy. Following the program, participants will travel to the Cox Massacre site for a dedication of a memorial plaque.