1812 Pigeon Roost Massacre

Pigeon Roost State Historic Site is located between Scottsburg and Henryville, Indiana, near Underwood, Indiana. A one-lane road off U.S. Route 31 takes the visitor to the site of a village where Indians massacred 24 settlers shortly after the War of 1812 began.

Pigeon Roost Village

Pigeon Roost was established in 1809 by William E. Collings (1758-1828), and consisted mainly of settlers from Kentucky. Collings and his large family held the original land grants in what is now Nelson County, Kentucky, signed by the Governor of Virginia, Patrick Henry. After passage of the Northwest Ordinance, many families moved across the Ohio River to homestead the fertile fields of southern Indiana. Families living in what is today Scott, Clark, Jefferson and Washington Counties still can often trace their ancestry back to these early Hoosier families.

The town was named Pigeon Roost because of the great number of Passenger Pigeons in the area. The settlement consisted of a single line of cabins stretching north and south approximately one mile east of the present town of Underwood. The nearest Indian village was located some 20 miles north near the Muskatatuck River. None of the Indians from this settlement are believed to have taken part in the attack on Pigeon Roost. The closest forts (called "blockhouses") were one to the north in Vienna in present day Scott County and another built by Zebulon Collings to the south near what is now Henryville in Clark County.

Pigeon Roost Massacre

Pigeon Roost memorial site
Pigeon Roost memorial plaque
Pigeon Roost memorial obelisk
On September 3, 1812, a war party of Native Americans (mostly Shawnee, but possibly including some Delawares and Potawatomis) made a surprise attack on the village, coordinated with attacks on Fort Harrison (near Terre Haute, Indiana) and Fort Wayne the same month. Twenty-four settlers, including fifteen children, were massacred. Two children were kidnapped. Only four of the Indian attackers were killed.

The hostile Indians first struck the cabin of Elias Payne. Payne's wife and seven children were all killed and scalped; Elias was later found by the Indians in the woods with his brother-in-law Isaac Coffman, and they too were killed. Elias Payne had been only wounded, but with no one to tend his wounds, he bled to death. Payne's grave was later destroyed during construction of Interstate 65.

Some settlers managed to escape to the blockhouse of Zebulon Collings, but the Collings family lost many members. Henry Collings was killed and his pregnant wife stabbed to death. The scalp of her unborn child was among those presented to the British at Fort Detroit as proof of the Indian's deed. Henry Collings's brother, Richard, was serving in the army under General William Henry Harrison, but his wife and seven children were among the dead.

William Collings' actions during the attack have been the subject of conjecture. One account has him killing four Indians singlehandedly and then holding off the remainder of the attackers with broken or unloaded rifles. Another version has Collings and his youngest son sneak out the back of his cabin and hide in a nearby cornfield, until they finally were able to escape to Zebulon Collings's blockhouse.

The wife of John Biggs, a sister of William Collings, heard the war party approach her cabin, and fled with her three children to hide in a thicket. The raiders could tell the cabin had just been evacuated, so they burned it and searched for the family. As one of the Indians approached the thicket, the youngest child began to whimper, and Mrs. Biggs stuffed her shawl into the infant's mouth to keep it from betraying their hiding place. When the raiding party moved on, the Biggs family was able to reach Zebulon Colling's blockhouse, but the infant had died of suffocation.

As news of the massacre spread, the other Pigeon Roost settlers fled and assembled at Zebulon Colling's blockhouse. The Indian war party left before the local militia based in Charlestown could react. The militiamen, led by Major John McCoy, followed the attackers as far as the Muscatatuck River, where the trail was lost. A force of Indiana Rangers from Washington County, Indiana under Captain Henry Dawalt intercepted the Pigeon Roost raiders at Sand Creek (in modern Bartholomew County, Indiana). One of the rangers, John Zink, was shot and later died, but the war party was able to escape with only a few casualties.

According to contemporary reports, the leader of the attack was rumored to be an Indian named Missilemotaw. He was captured on September 20, 1813 and under threat of death confessed he had led the raid. He claimed to be a close confidant of the Indian chieftain Tecumseh and told his captors the British had been supplying the Indians with arms and equipment since 1809 in preparation for war.

The raid was the first Indian attack in Indiana during the War of 1812. The Pigeon Roost settlement was rebuilt, but was eventually abandoned. Most of the victims were buried in a mass grave, to include members of the Collings and Richey families. Indian Ranger John Zink was buried in Salem, Indiana's Brock Cemetery.