Thursday, August 13, 2015

"The Ogly Massacre"

* Author’s Note: In March 1818, two massacres occurred in Butler County, Alabama. The first one was a night-time attack on the Ogly and Stroud families by Savannah Jack, a notorious Indian who was terrorizing settlers in the area. This story is my imagining of that horrible night and the atrocities that were committed then.*

“The Ogly Massacre”

Scream, whoops of Indians, dog barking.

It’s not easy being a pioneer woman. You have to contend with disease, having lots of children with a high risk of dying trying to get them here, bad crops, and worst of all, Indian raids. My name is Mary Ray Ogly, and I’d like to share with you my story.

            March 13, 1818, was a cold, blustery day. My husband William had gone off to a muster of volunteer soldiers at nearby Fort Dale, but I had spent the day clearing the land around our cabin, just a little ways off Federal Road in Poplar Springs. At the time, much of the region was still a wilderness, but William and I were determined to have our homestead and raise our growing family. We already had six children, but we hoped for more.

            About midday, my old dog Rufus begin to kick up a fuss. He wouldn’t stop barking. My children all ran to the house, and I grabbed an axe, the only weapon I had. We all knew that several of the Indians in the area were still angry after losing their land following the Treaty of Fort Jackson, when the great Andrew Jackson made William Weatherford, now known as Red Eagle, and the other Creeks sign over their land to the government following the Creek Indian War of 1814. The Indians’ land had been given to settlers like us, looking to making a go of it out here in the frontier. We hadn’t really seen any Indians around the cabin, but we were always at the ready in case the treacherous Savannah Jack and his band might be lurking nearby. Now that Savannah Jack, he was one mean Indian. Rumor had it that he had lost all his land around the Line Creek area in Montgomery during the session. He swore then that he’d take his revenge on the settlers, and although he’d been stirring up unrest, so far, nothing bad had happened.

            Still, we stayed ready just in case. But, Rufus wasn’t barking at Indians. No, it was my husband William leading Mr. Eli Stroud, his wife Elizabeth, and their little baby to our cabin. Lots of folks traveling the Federal Road to get to Claiborne would stop by our place during their journey. Because I don’t get much female company, I was real happy to see Mrs. Stroud. She was a pretty lady, and her baby was a happy one. William and I offered our visitors our hospitality, and we all began to sit about the cabin, sharing news and swapping stories of the goings on in our area. My daughters Mary Ann and Elizabeth took a special liking to the Stroud baby, so they played with it while we women folk chatted and got some food started on the fire.

            Darkness still comes early in March, and we knew the Strouds wouldn’t make it to Holley’s Store several miles from the house much less to Fort Bibb, the closest fort going southwest towards Claiborne, before nightfall, so we offered to put them up for the night. As evening began to close in on us, Eli Stroud told us that he’d seen and heard some unusual things on their way from Fort Dale to our cabin. He was pretty sure that there were Indians in the area, so we took extra precautions to secure the horses and livestock and to barricade the door before we settled in for the evening. We made up a little pallet in front of the fireplace for the Strouds, and the rest of us climbed into our sleeping spots in the little one-room cabin. We all hoped for a good night’s sleep to get us ready for the hard day of work and travel ahead.

            I heard the first “Whoop!” around midnight. The hair on the back of my neck stood on end, and the children started to whimper. William jumped from the bed and grabbed his gun, while Mr. Stroud tried to calm his wife. After the first noise, we didn’t hear anything for a long while. I had begun to think that maybe it’d been an ol’ hoot owl we’d heard, but then there came such a commotion from the woods surrounding all sides of the cabin that I knew we were in an Indian raid.

            Rufus started to bark as the gunshots pierced the air. We could hear the pings on the side of the cabin where the bullets hit the bark. As long as we stayed in the cabin, the bullets wouldn’t reach us, but we all knew that the Indians would set fire to the cabin to drive us out. That’s when William devised a plan. He’d throw open the door, and the rest of us would run for the cane break at the back of the cabin. With any luck, perhaps we could still come out of this alive. I’d lead the group out since Mr. Stroud didn’t know the area. But he’d be right behind me with the axe followed by the children with Mrs. Stroud and William left to pull up the rear.

            When William threw open the door, he stepped back behind it, and let the bullets fly in. He knew that first volley would come quick, but it’d take those murderous renegade Indians a few minutes to reload. As soon as he yelled, “Go!” I was out the door, with Rufus right on my heels. Mr. Stroud was close behind; I ran as hard and fast as I could. Just as I reached the cane, I saw a dark figure slowly emerge from the path in front of me; the figure raised its hand in the darkness, and a sliver of moonlight glinted off a razor-sharp blade. I screamed, but before the man could bring it down right-square in the middle of my forehead, Rufus lunged at him. I could hear a ripping sound, then the man clutched his throat, as blood gurgled out of his mouth. His work done, Rufus came charging back towards me, and as I started to run behind him, I could hear another volley of gunshots, and the screams of my girls. I started to turn back, but Mr. Stroud grabbed me by the wrist, and yelled into my face, “Run! There’s nothing we can do. They’ll kill us all.”

            I did as he said. As I ran, I screamed, too, but my screams couldn’t drown out the ones coming from the cabin. Even against all the other gunshots, I could recognize the sound of William’s gun firing. He was still alive! Then, it fell silent, and I knew, they’d got him. Finally, all the guns fell silent, and the only sound that came was of hacking and tearing, of furniture being overturned in the cabin. The children’s voices carried out to my ears, yelling, “Mama! Mama!” but one by one, each voice fell silent, until only the pitiable moans of the dying remained. The Indians whooped and yelled in the dark. I couldn’t understand what they were saying, but I knew they’d seen me and Stroud get out of the cabin. They wouldn’t leave anyone behind to tell the tale.

            I hadn’t made it far into the cane, but I dropped to my knees and crouched down in as small a ball as I could make myself. The slightest rustle of movement would alert them to my presence. Terrified, I held on to Rufus, who had still not left my side. I put my hand over his snout, but he seemed to sense our danger and didn’t move. The Indians began to move around in the cane on all sides of me. Any minute and they’d step right on top of me and Rufus. I didn’t know where Stroud had gotten off to at that point, but I couldn’t worry about him just then. Slowly, one by one, the men moved next to, then past my hiding place. As I huddled there in the darkness watching them, one more man approached. He stopped only inches from my feet. And when I glimpsed him, a trill of terror ran down my spine. I’d never seen him before, but I’d heard of the long scar that ran from his temple down to his chin. An ugly gash that still remained red years after the Battle at Horseshoe Bend. The moonlight caught that hideous mark, and I knew I’d come face to face with the villainous Savanah Jack.

            I felt the scream rise up in my throat, but I crammed my knuckles into my mouth and bit down as hard as I could to stifle it. I could feel the blood trickle between my fingers. Jack held up a hand to halt his warriors, then he crouched down into an attack position. Knowing he’d somehow heard me, I prepared to bolt. But just as that moment, another sound, further up from where I was, arrested Jack’s attention. He and his men plunged on into the darkness. I lay there and prayed to God, thanking him for sparing my life thus far.

            I don’t know what distracted Jack from where I was, but he and his men never came back my way. Still, terror surrounded me, and the night was eerily quiet…too quiet. At some point, I must have fallen asleep or passed out, but I awoke with the morning sun to the sounds of Eli Stroud calling my name. I uncurled myself from Rufus, stood up, and saw Mr. Stroud motioning for me to join him at the cabin.

            William lay where’d fallen, inside the cabin door. His shirt was bloodied with long straight tears, wounds from a hatchet. His skull was exposed from where the death blow had split his brains in half. But inside the cabin was the real horror, among the scattered bodies in the center of the floor sat Mrs. Stroud, gently rocking her infant child. Stroud and I moved slowly into the room, but she caught sight of us out of the corner of her eye. She let forth a low, inhuman wail as clutched her babe to her chest. Clearly dead, the baby’s head was practically severed from its body. Mrs. Stroud was in a sad state, too. Her face had dried, caked blood encrusted in pools under her eyes and running in rivulets down to her chin. She’d been scalped and left for dead. At some point, she must’ve regained consciousness and crawled over to her child. She had sat through the night with it cradled in her arms. Eli Stroud sank to his knees in front of his wife, staring in disbelief, but she, well, she just looked right through him, like he wasn’t even there.

             I began to move among my children. All dead, all scalped, I thought to myself. But then, Rufus went to Mary Ann and Elizabeth, who were heaped in a mass together. He whimpered softly, and to my amazement, Mary Ann moved. I ran to my child, and as I grabbed her up, Elizabeth opened her eyes and weakly cried, “Mama.” Like Mrs. Stroud, they’d been scalped. The front of their heads were devoid of flesh and hair, with the remaining strands a rusted blood color. I cast about for something to stem the flow of blood, but I had to tear off a part of my dress to wrap their heads. They were hurt, but they were alive! God be praised! Savannah Jack hadn’t taken them all.

            Mr. Stroud and I knew there was only one thing we could do. Not knowing where Jack’s party was, we couldn’t risk another attack. We knew we wouldn’t be so lucky a second time. Eli left the cabin and went outside looking for a horse. He finally came back with one, and he hitched it to the wagon. I got my daughters and Rufus loaded in. We tried to pry the baby loose from Mrs. Stroud, but when we did, she grappled at our necks with an unholy look in her eye. In the end, we let her keep the child. We left the others where they lay because we did not have time to spare. It is my greatest shame that I left my husband and children there without a proper Christian burial, but I had to help the living. The dead were beyond my aid.

            Mr. Stroud and I managed to make it up to Holley’s Store, but there Mrs. Stroud died, with her baby still clutched in her arms. We buried the two together on the side of the road, then proceeded on to Claiborne for Dr. Watkins. Mary Ann died as soon as we reached the doctor, but my daughter Elizabeth lived, though she weren’t ever right again. A week after Savannah Jack massacred my family and the Strouds, he attacked Captain William Butler and his men while they were enroute from Fort Bibb to Fort Dale. Jack murdered three more men that day. It was after the brave Captain Butler, who went down fighting, that Butler County came to be named.

            As for me, well, my tale doesn’t quite end here. I eventually moved back to Poplar Springs, near my old homestead. I remarried to a neighbor, Archelaus Dickerson, and together, he and I had six more children. Of course, those children could never replace the ones I lost in the massacre. Nothing could ever make that right.

            And what of Savannah Jack? Was he ever caught and punished? A bounty was put on his head after all the murders he committed, but last we heard, Jack had moved west to Texas. Who knows what became of him out there, but he never came back to Butler County, Alabama.

            Well, that’s my story. It’s sad, but true. Although I am old now, I will never forget the terrors of that night, when a band of Indians attacked my family, killed all that I loved, and destroyed my world. No, I’ll never forget the night I survived the Ogly massacre.